Maggie Stiefvater: So, Tessa. Your nickname in our writing group is "Blood Bunny." I cannot remember whether this delightful moniker pre-dates Blood Magic, but it's irrelevant; it's apt regardless. There is much blood in your debut. If I recall correctly, we begin with a double murder, proceed to a blood-stained journal, observe as our narrator spills blood in a cemetery, and go from there. The question that this begs is: Are you a fan of bloody novels? And is Band-Aid your sponsor?
Tessa Gratton: Considering The Scorpio Races is my favorite of all your books, and it's also your most bloody by far, I'm going to have to plead guilty here. I'm a huge fan of fictional violence, especially the medieval kind. Though in my defense, my Band-Aids are all Hello Kitty"“ decorated. Speaking of cute things gone bloody, how long have you been wanting to write a novel about flesh-eating horses? Is this some kind of childhood trauma thing? Because all the horses I want to write about are shiny and magical and take me"”I mean my characters"”to castles in the sky.
Stiefvater: I grew out of my My Little Pony stage (and yes, I had one) very young. I never grew out of horses, though, and I actually attempted to write several novels about water horses before I landed on The Scorpio Races. The thing is, telling a pleasant story about horses that live under the ocean for part of the year and want to eat you for the rest of it is a sort of difficult task, and it took me quite a few years to figure out how to manage it. Somewhere along the way, I realized their fearsome nature would be more tolerated in a society that kind of needed them, too. Which is how I ended up with the vaguely historical Thisby, a tiny island that relies on the water horses for much of their income.
While we're on the topic of historical stuff, I should talk about Josephine, one of your characters from Blood Magic. Some of my favorite chapters in Blood Magic are the ones from her point of view. They're historical, vain, and certain of immortality. So, in other words, eerily similar to my college experience. Where did Josephine come from? Are you Josephine?
Gratton: Josephine is one of the few characters whose core remained essentially intact from the first draft to the last--I wanted a character who loved the blood magic as much as I do, and who was merrily free of the moral constraints I grew up with. She's fun to write because of her gleeful disregard for silly things like consequences, which makes her the perfect vehicle for bringing up the darker side of magic.
One of my favorite characters in The Scorpio Races is the American, a.k.a. George Holly. He's a charming, virile Californian dandy, and not quite like anybody in your other books. Where did you dig him up?
Stiefvater: I remember I was having problems getting Sean Kendrick, the taciturn hero, to open up to anyone, and I decided someone from off the island, someone new to the culture, might do the trick. I remember that he didn't have a name at first; I just had Sean refer to him as "the American." I was trying to think of something to call him, and this absolutely ridiculous and larger-than-life name--George Holly--came rolling out of the keyboard, and this huge personality with it. I remember wailing to you, "This man is taking over my novel!" So, no, I do not know where he came from, but he is hands down one of the favorite characters I've ever written. Some of my favorite parts of The Scorpio Races are his scenes with Sean. They provide a lot of levity.
In fact, I am a fan of witty repartee in general, which is why one of the other things I really enjoy about Blood Magic is Nick's relationship with his stepmother. He calls her Lilith, the mother of all demons, but really, she mostly reminds me of Delia Deetz from Beetle Juice. You know, the sort of evil that can only come from an upper-middle-class upbringing and too many pottery classes. Do you have a method to writing witty dialogue? Or does it just come out of the faucet that snappy?
Gratton: Now that you mention it, I'm thinking of several disturbing parallels to Beetle Juice. So I'm going to avoid that and say that witty banter requires daily practice, I've found. Fortunately, you're always there waiting on the Internet, so we can exercise our banter muscles. Not that I'm suggesting I call you Lilith behind your back. (It's actually just flat out Satan for you. Only the best.)
Stiefvater: I expect no less.
Gratton: Let's talk about the opposite of witty banter: I remember when you were writing The Scorpio Races, and the dialogue was a focus. It's very toned down and reserved and beautifully realistic, because of the characters, so what was it like being unable to let your funny bone have its way with your dialogue?
Stiefvater: Horrid. Absolutely horrid. I never realized how much I use humor as a crutch until I had scene after scene where I needed to measure it out like a precious metal. Actually, that's really true of nearly every component of The Scorpio Races. Everything was very, very calculated. Everything in moderation.
Okay... but seriously. You're Josephine, right?
Gratton: No, I'm George Holly.
Stiefvater: Ha. Double ha. So. In Blood Magic, I cannot help but notice that there are no creatures. By which I mean werewolves, vampires, fairies, kraken, mermaids, or elves. I believe there are some raccoons, but that's it. There is just this: Blood. And Magic. And body switching. And a few possums. Why body-switching? If you could swap bodies, would you? (You may not have mine.)
Gratton: There are possums because possums are nastier and scarier than vampires and kraken"” or even vampiric kraken. The body-switching was actually the genesis of the entire plot of Blood Magic, back when it was just about a brother and sister who could jump bodies, and the proto-Josephine went around stealing other people's lives. If I could swap bodies, I'd definitely go the bird route"”because all of my schemes to acquire magical power have just one goal in mind: flight. It's a simple dream, but it's mine.
The Scorpio Races is going to be one of those books where people talk about the setting being its own character"”it takes place on Thisby, a pastoral, old-fashioned little island where everybody knows everybody, and it just happens to be the only place the water horses come for breeding and snacks. What drew you to that setting? Was it only an excuse to visit cliffs across half the world? I know you like to do hands-on research, so tell us about The Tea Experiment.
Stiefvater: Oh, you want to know about Benjamin Malvern's tea. Malvern, a rich landowner, plays bogeyman and mentor in the novel. He's well traveled"”Thisby's not his first home"”and I wanted to hint at that with some exotic habits. I thought an interesting one would be to have him drink his tea in a Tibetan style, with butter and salt. Proper Tibetan Butter Tea requires a bit of work to prepare, and I can assure you, it tastes precisely like drinking a biscuit after you've dropped it on the carpet.
And why Thisby? I love miserable bits of rock jutting from the ocean. Call me sentimental. I also love it when it rains.
So, right back at you, Gratton. Your book is set in Yaleylah, which I can only assume is in the same part of the world you live in. I know you love the prairie. Was there ever a time when you thought the book would take place anywhere else?
Gratton: I know that on the East Coast it's hard to remember that there are differences between Missouri and Kansas, but I promise it's true. I do live in and love the prairie, and the companion novel to Blood Magic takes place right here in Kansas. But Yaleylah is in the more forested area of Southeastern Missouri on the edges of the Ozarks. I set it there mainly because I couldn't think of a book I'd read that took place in Missouri other than in St. Louis, and I also drive through Cape Girardeau (the real city very near where I pretend Yaleylah exists) frequently and have camped out in that area. It's got a flavor that's part Southern Gothic, part Midwest, so it seemed perfect.
Gratton: My final question: How did you manage to write a book with no musicians in it?
Stiefvater: An iron will. I never thought it would happen, but it turns out that I can have either musicians or horses in my novels, and The Scorpio Races has plenty of the latter.