Since they published the first House of Night book in 2007, mother-daughter writing team P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast have been drawing in many, many fans to their stories about this preparatory academy for fledging vampyres. The five books--Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, and now Hunted--follow Zoey, who has been marked as a future vampyre. Zoey finds out quickly, though, that she's special--she's also been marked as a future priestess. At the same time, she's an average teenager: she has two BFFs that are forever at each other's throats (sometimes literally), conflicts over boys (and the occasional man or god), and doubts about where she is going in her new life. It's a super fun, sexy series with a smart girl sensibility. I'm definitely a fan, so I was excited to get a chance to send a few questions along to P.C. about her vampyres and what it's like to write with her daughter...
Amazon.com: Why vampyres? What was intriguing to you about them? (Also, why "y"?)
P.C. Cast: Actually, the idea for the series originated with my fabulous agent, Meredith Bernstein. We were at RWA Nationals in Reno several years ago and Meredith said she had an idea for a series she'd like to see me write. Then she said the three magic words: vampire finishing school. I instantly thought of YA because I'd been reading the Hawksong books by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes--so my head was already in YA. Also, I've been teaching high school English since 1993 (I'm from a family of teachers), so I definitely knew my audience. Basically, it sounded like fun to write, so I jumped in even though I'd only written fantasy and paranormal romance up until then.
Amazon.com: I don't want to draw too many comparisons between your series and Twilight, because they are completely different types of stories. However, I am curious if the popularity of that series has changed the way you see your genre, or do you even see it being the same genre?
PC: I see my genre as YA, and to me that encompasses everyone from Rowling to Laurie Halse Anderson to Janice Erlbaum. So, yes, Twilight fits in the same genre. And while I enjoy Ms. Meyer's books very much, I think the genre has been growing and changing and gaining popularity steadily over the past decade--mostly thanks to Ms. Rowling! As a high school English teacher I certainly noticed the increase in sophistication and popularity of the genre some time ago. Today's YA has an incredible range and depth, and it deals with real coming of age issues in varied and interesting ways. I'm proud to be a member of the ranks of YA authors!
Amazon.com: Can you talk a little bit about the role that religion plays in the novels? The whole series revolves around the worship of Nyx, the Goddess of Night, and Hunted really digs into questions of faith and free will (often related to what guy Zoey will be drawn to next... very clever to make that her weakness!). At various points in the series you also have People of Faith, Catholic nuns, and Cherokee legend. How do you see all these elements working together?
PC: Very clever of you to recognize the ramifications of Zoey's weakness!
It's easy for me to weave the different religious elements of the world together because it's not really "religion" I'm dealing with when I create the conflicts and faith foundations in the House of Night. Instead I see it as a way to illuminate coming of age issues, which often deal with conformity and obsession and trying to learn boundaries. I chose to give my heroine a belief system in which to live that is matriarchal because my purpose is to empower young women, and by allowing Zoey to join a world where women are valued as leaders and really have no glass ceiling, except the ones they create for themselves, as exemplified by Neferet, I have a springboard for a lot of girl power.
Amazon.com: One of the most interesting things about your series, I think, is the vampyre mythology you've created. It contradicts and expands on traditional pop culture vampire lore. The whole idea of being marked (vs. bitten) is unusual. Then you have the hierarchy of fledglings, true vamps, and undead dead. How did you develop that, and how does it continue to develop?
PC: When I decided to write a vampire series I focused on creating a new mythos for my world. Right away I knew I would make it matriarchal, and that automatically was a shift in the traditional vamp lore. As I said before, I'm from a family of teachers and they are mostly science teachers. My father is one of the most knowledgeable biologists I know. In my fantasy books he has always kept my ecosystems in check and made sure I didn't create a world that wouldn't really work ecologically. So I turned to him for brainstorming help with my vamps. As the daughter of a biologist, I was always strong in the sciences myself, and took lots of biology electives in college where I was a literature major. I already had an idea about using what science slang calls junk DNA--Dad loved the idea--and we brainstormed from there! The red vampyres developed naturally. Dad and I talked about what would happen if someone tried to bring back a kid who had died when his body rejected the Change. Of course dying and then un-dying would cause a large amount of physiological injury, and many of the more bestial characteristics of the red vamps grew out of that. I then add the paranormal element of Nyx's influence, as well as the earth magic that is alive and well in the HoN world, and I have a whole new depth to my vampyre mythos!
Amazon.com: What were some of your influences for the House of Night school?
PC: South Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma! I just looked around me and wrote what I saw. I also write what I wish I could see, as in the amazing HoN facility and their very cool classes. I'd love to teach a Vampyre Sociology class!
Amazon.com: How has Kristin being in school affected the series as it's progressed? (The scenes with friends hanging out and geeking out on movies in the dorm seem pretty familiar...)
PC: When the series started Kristin was nineteen and was still living at home her first semester in college. And then when she did move out it certainly wasn't into a dorm that looked as cool as the HoN dorms! But she does DEFINITELY geek out with her friends. (She's going to kill me for that"¦)
Amazon.com: When did the two of you decide to write a book together? How does your writing process work?
PC: I brought Kristin in while I was writing the first three chapters of Marked. I kept stumbling over silly little things, like specific slang that I thought I knew, but found out once I started writing about teenagers that MY deeply buried inner teen from the 70s kept trying to resurface and butt in with her slang! Kristin keeps me straight about that. She also says she keeps Zoey from "sounding like a 40something disgruntled school teacher." Sigh.
We're on book six of the series, and we have the process down. We do some brainstorming, then I write the first draft, often asking Kristin questions right in the manuscript or leaving blanks for her to fill in. Then I send the entire thing to her, and she goes through it, answering questions, filling in blanks, and asking me questions/making comments of her own. She sends it back to me and I go through it again. Then it's ready to go to St. Martin's and our lovely editor, Jennifer Weis. It sounds like a tedious process, but it's really very freeing for me. I can write whatever and know Kristin has my back.
Amazon.com: Zoey has a few mother-daughter-like relationships--with her mom, her grandma, Neferet, Nyx. How much does your mother-daughter relationship inform your writing? Is it ever awkward?
PC: Hum"¦that's a good question. Kristin and I have a unique writing relationship. Actually, I probably wouldn't even consider writing with anyone else--it's unusually easy with my daughter (perhaps because I can beat her?). She and I have always been close, and we have a very honest relationship. Talking with each other has never been a problem, so we're used to communicating. That helps a lot in a co-author situation.
Regarding the mother-daughter relationships in the book: clearly Zoey's relationship with her own mom is nothing like Kristin and mine. Sadly, both of us have met many Linda Heffers here in Oklahoma, which is why she is so easy--and disturbing--for us to write. When I write Nyx's words I often think about how I feel about Kristin, and then try to expand that to how this goddess would view the vampyres, especially Zoey, as her children.
We get the awkward question often because of the sexual tension in the books. Kristin and I do discuss the temperature of the books and the specific situations a lot. It doesn't feel awkward between us because we're used to communicating, and because we don't just stick sex in our series to be gratuitous. The sexual issues are there because they're realistic to teenagers. Yes, Zoey has several boyfriends--often at the same time. But in six books she has had sex once, and that was because she was manipulated and used by a charismatic adult. It wasn't awkward writing those parts with my daughter--we believe in the reality of the books and the points we make about mistakes and consequences.
Amazon.com: Each of the books sort of has its own personality. Chosen, for example, was more focused on the friends and the guys, and Untamed was much more deeply focused on folklore and goddess rituals. Do you think that's influenced by each of your interests, with Kristin having more influence on one book and P.C. showing up more in another? Or is that just the natural arc of the story?
PC: I think the shifting emphasis is because of the natural arc of the story. Think about your own life. Doesn't your focus shift from time to time? I know mine does. Actually, sometimes it feels like events happen in waves: lots of guys"¦no guys, friend stress"¦no friend stress, crazy stuff at school"¦kinda calm school, etc. So I guess fiction is just mimicking the patterns I see in life.
Amazon.com: Even though it has a satisfying ending (no spoilers!), Hunted certainly doesn't seem like the end of Zoey's story. What's next?
PC: Zoey has to save the world! And it's definitely a big job. Seriously, now that the dark influences that have been lurking on the periphery of Zoey's world have been brought out into the open, it's time to deal with them. Of course that's a lot harder than "Okay, Z, kick their butts and save the world now!" sounds. Especially as there are many layers to the House of Night world and often good appears bad, and bad seems terribly attractive"¦