Hi Riley, Jana
Thanks so much for agreeing to chat to My Favourite Books.
Riley, if I could start with you.
• What was your life like before you decided to join the Trappers?
Pretty boring. Normal, even. I’d go to school three days a week and the rest of the time I’d spend studying with my friend Peter or hanging around the apartment and watching TV. Sometimes I’d go to visit my friend Simi at the coffee shop. Since Dad slept most of the day because he’s out all night, I had to find ways to keep busy without making a bunch of noise.
• What sort of training did you have to undergo? Was there martial combat instruction as well as lore research?
For an apprentice like me there are two ways to learn: reading the Demon Trappers Manual and trapping Hellspawn. The manual is interesting, but it’s written like a text book. Catching the demons? Never dull. They’re smart and quick and don’t have to worry about what kind of mess they make. I haven’t had any martial arts training, but I think that would be fun. Beck keeps telling me I should lift weights, but I’m not so sure about that.
• Why do you think there is such dissent / hostility in the Trapping community – I get the idea that no one seems very comfortable around each other, really?
My dad said these guys are a lot like the old wilderness fur trappers. They’re independent, territorial and stubborn. And because they’re guys I think it’s harder for them to get along. Some of them are really nice, others not so much.
• I’d like to know about you before you decided to become a Trapper. Obviously you and your dad miss your mom a lot. Do you remember those good old days and take strength from them, before everything changed?
I do miss when things were good, though thinking about when my mom and dad were alive makes me really sad sometimes. They were cool parents. They were strict, but fair, and not all ’rents are like that. (Peter’s mom is a good example.) Dad was into his Civil War research and where sometimes I thought that was a snooze he always had these amazing stories to tell. I miss Mom because I could talk to her, tell her stuff and not get a lecture if I did something stupid. I was lucky with my parents. I just wish they could have hung around longer.
• What did you first think when they told you that you would have to guard your dad’s grave after he was killed? To us norms, necromancers are things from Dungeons and Dragons but they sound nasty!
I just couldn’t deal. I mean, what is this craziness? My dad’s dead and now some necro could steal him out of his grave? Make him a servant? That’s so wrong. I mean, I knew about the reanimates and all that, but I never figured my father could be like that. It’s creepy. It was great that Simon was there that first night to help me set the circle and everything. He was *so* sweet. If I’d had to face those necromancers on my own I would have freaked out.
• Beck is such a mystery. What is your gut feeling about him at the moment. What do you think he’s going to get up to next?
At the moment? I’m confused, big time. Beck is so hard to understand. One minute he’s nice and then the next he’s doing his Third World dictator thing and ordering me around. I know he’s trying to help, but I’m smart enough to make my own decisions. I guess I’m still a little nervous about him because when I was fifteen I thought he was the coolest guy ever. He totally blew me off. Like I was a bug and he was the windshield. Splat! It really hurt so it’s hard for me to trust him when he’s nice because I keep waiting to get smacked down again. Maybe someday I’ll forget all that past stuff, but it’s going to be tough. So like they say on TV, the jury is still out on Backwoods Boy.
Thanks so much for taking time out to chat to us, Riley!
Thanks! You ask really good questions. *eee!* fan-girl moment by Liz
• Can you tell us about your road to publication?
I took a different path than most. I self-published my first few books to learn something about the publishing industry. Then I wrote a trilogy for a small press. That series won a number of awards and helped me sign with a literary agent. We sold the Demon Trappers Series to a New York publisher (St. Martin’s Press). They, in turn, sold the UK rights to Pan Macmillan. The process was a longer one, but I feel like I have a clue how the industry works so not everything is a surprise.
• Have you always wanted to be a writer? Also, why write for the YA market? What appeals to you about writing for teens and younger adults?
I didn’t always want to be a writer like some authors. In sixth grade I decided I wanted to be a spy. Instead I became a registered nurse. I did like to scribble out stories, so years later when I had the chance I just let all those ideas bubble forth and made books out of them
My earlier works were for adults for the most part, though I did have teens in the stories. The move into the young adult market was, in a way, a challenge to myself. I like to keep trying new things so I don’t get stale. Having to step into the mind of a seventeen-year-old girl is definitely a challenge since it’s been a number of years since I was Riley’s age. Those extra years wear us down, but for a teen, life is raw-edged and immediate. Experiences are magnified beyond reality. And young adults are often impulsive so Riley occasionally makes bad decision and has to live with the consequences.
• Jana, what made you decide to write Riley’s story? And also, what came first – Riley or the overall story?
I love urban fantasies and wanted to write one with my own special twists. The kernel of the story came first: an adult heroine who exorcised demons. When I got to the end of the first chapter I realized two things: the heroine sounded like every other kick-butt chick and I didn’t know her name. If I don’t have a name, I don’t know the character. So I stepped back and rethought the concept. While grousing down the phone to an author buddy about the problem, she suggested I try a teen protagonist. Since the young adults books I’d been reading lacked that angst and action mix, I decided to give it a try. Seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne stepped up, introduced herself, and the series took off from there.
• Your demon-lore is just great. How much research did you do for this?
A lot. Most young adult novels steer clear of religion, but I wanted to look at the bigger picture. I spent considerable time thinking through the world I wanted to create and that required me to read about Lucifer, his fall from Heaven, and all those rebellious angels. I researched the origins of demons and purgatory in Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts. I’ve tracked Lucifer’s convoluted path from ha satan (The Adversary) to Satan in the Christian writings. Then I had to figure out what kind of demons lived in my world and how to trap them. Luckily I live to research.
• There is this great sense of the world teetering on the edge of an abyss with only the Trappers and even the Hunters standing between us and them. How did you go about creating Riley’s world (and kept it believable)?
This was just as difficult as making Riley a believable teen. Some authors have their world completely worked up before they write the first word. I had a lot of it figured out, but I’m still having new revelations with each book. A couple of those show up in the second book, for instance.
Dystopian stories are very popular right now, perhaps as a mirror to our unease about the world’s economic situation. My goal was to show a society that was in a state of collapse, one small step at a time. I set the stories in 2018 Atlanta, but it’s an alternate Atlanta since we (clearly) don’t have demons running around our streets. As the series plays out the readers will learn more about this delicate balance between Heaven and Hell, the hunters and the trappers and what roles each of those play in the Grand Game. At the heart of it all is the belief that though all of us are pawns in this Grand Game, we have free choice. That free choice allows us to decide whether we topple into that abyss or rise above all the chaos.
• What is your advice regarding creating believable strong female characters?
I’m not fond of female characters that can’t get out of their own way. There is a time for introspection and angst and a time to take charge. I dislike perfect characters because they’re annoying. Real characters have flaws. Riley is headstrong and makes mistakes. She can be self-centered and bitchy. Who hasn’t said something nasty and then regretted it? Who hasn’t whined a bit too much about how life isn’t going their way? Those are real human traits and I try very hard to weave those into my characters.
The stories are as much about how the characters grow and change as to what happens to them. Almost all of the characters have a story arc of their very own. The Riley we meet at the beginning of the series will be different than the Riley on the last page, though her strengths (courage and tenacity) will still be in place. Same thing with Beck and Peter and the others. I don’t have to love a character to enjoy their tale. I just want to see how they learn and grow. And that, to me, makes a great character no matter whether they’re male, female or an otherworldly creature.
• What books grace your bedside/coffee table at the moment?
I just finished Paola Bacugalupi’s SHIP BREAKER (a gritty dystopian tale) and Brenna Yovanoff’s THE REPLACEMENT (sort of Tim Burton for teens.) I’m currently reading a couple of books: THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK (Mark Hodder) and working my way through Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampire Series. I’m an omnivore when it comes to books.
• Did you create a playlist for Demon Trappers: Forsaken?
• I noticed the acknowledgements in the book – there are some big names in there in the adult urban fantasy genre. How did you come to know some of these authors?
P.C. Cast is a close friend of mine and we’ve watched each others’ careers blossom over the years. We even share the same literary agent. My friendship with Ilona and Gordon Andrews came from my love of their Kate Daniels Series. All of these authors have influenced my writing to one extent or another and I felt I should thank them.
• And finally, what is the best advice you’ve ever received as an aspiring author?
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Some readers are going to adore your writing, others are going to hate it. The most important thing is staying true to the tale.
** For those of you who do not have Spotify, these are the songs on Jana's playlist:
THE DEMON TRAPPERS: FORSAKEN Playlist
RILEY BLACKTHORNE & SIMON ADLER:
Steve Winwood - “Higher Love”
Steve Earle - “Copperhead Road”
Peter Bradley Adams - “For You”
Dispatch - “Out Loud”
Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood - “Georgia on My Mind”
Taylor Swift - “You Belong to Me”
Loreena McKennitt - “Never-Ending Road (Amhrán Duit)”
Joshua Radin - “Brand New Day”
Death Cab for Cutie - “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”
Kelly Clarkson - “Breakaway”
The Chemical Brothers - “Galvanize”
Newton Faulkner - “Dream Catch Me”
Foreigner - “I Want to Know What Love Is”
R.E.M - “Until the Day Is Done”
Alter Bridge - “Rise Today”
Muse - “Resistance”