Lili St. Crow's debut novel in the YA genre, Strange Angels came out in May 2009. Betrayals, the sequel to Strange Angels, will be released on November 17th by Razorbill. I'd like to extend a warm welcome to Lili who stopped by today to discuss this exciting new series.
Having what her grandmother calls “the touch”, Dru Anderson is a teenager girl who travels from town to town with her father “hunting things that go bump in the night and eat the unwary.” How did Strange Angels evolve from a tiny spark in your mind to a full length novel? Was there anything in particular that inspired or influenced you?
It's interesting because books come to me in two ways. Some are "what-ifs", where I examine a particular question (what would happen if law enforcement knew about the supernatural?) or situation. The other kind is what I call an "organic" book. I will be doing something—washing dishes, exercising, driving—and I will suddenly have a very clear and detailed mental picture, almost a hallucination. It's a full sensory experience, and the entire book or series grows around that one moment.
The genesis of Strange Angels was a very clear mental image of a girl standing in her kitchen, boxes half-unpacked around her, and staring at the back door. The camera panned around, and I suddenly saw a zombie at the back door, tapping on the glass with its meatless fingers. All of a sudden I knew two things: that the zombie was the girl's father, and that she was in a LOT of trouble. Everything in the book—and the series—flowed from that one point.
Strange Angels is your first foray into young adult fiction. Was writing a novel geared towards teens more challenging than writing an adult series like Dante Valentine or Jill Kismet?
I thought it would be. My main concern was subject matter—I write dark stories with characters who have sex and use profanity. I was initially reluctant to write YA because of that. I did not want the stories dumbed-down in any way. I hate talking down to readers no matter their age. Teenagers use profanity, teenagers are walking vortices of hormones. To write an honest book about and for teens requires that you take a look at those issues without being patronizing.
So after discussions with the editors, once that initial misgiving was out of the way, I just leapt in. I wanted to write the sort of book I wanted to read when I was fourteen. I think writing goes best when one writes sort of to please oneself that way. It wasn't more difficult to write a YA per se, it was just a new experience.
Strange Angels is different from other fantasy novels in that while the creatures are familiar, they also have their own unique mythology. For example, vampires are not handsome good guys deep down inside, zombies will turn to dust when killed, and wulfen run amok after dark. Out of all of them, which supernatural creature was your favorite to develop and why?
Actually, my favorite was the dreamstealer—the winged serpent bred by the Maharaj. We do get to see more of the Maharaj later, but the dreamstealer was the result of a very powerful, very creepy dream I had two years (or so) ago. It felt good to finally find a place to put this really neat thing my subconscious had thrown at me. Almost, I daresay, to exorcise it.
I was also tired of pretty vampires. I wanted ugly, nasty vampires for a change. And even though the half-vampire hunters, the djamphir, are technically on the side of good, I really wanted to explore the problems with those who conduct a war, especially a dirty secret war. I like very conflicted characters and ethically-ambiguous situations.
Characters like Dru Anderson or Dante Valentine are known for being strong, realistic, gutsy and intelligent female leads. What types of feedback have you received from readers regarding the empowering roles of women in your novels? Has there been anything that really resonated with you in particular?
It's funny, because for every two or three readers who say "this is a powerful female role model" there's at least one who says, "she's not that great." The "she's not that great" contingent either thinks the gutsy female lead is too bitchy and abrasive, or they think the tenderness that she does show—like Dante's love for Japhrimel or Dru's grief over her father—makes her weak and conventional as a heroine.
I suppose it's impossible to please everyone.
As for me…there are certain things I admire in my leading ladies. I admired Dante's uncompromising code and her loyalty, I admire Jill Kismet's sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and refusal to quit, and I absolutely admire Dru's struggle to think and be as brave as possible. Dru's bravery is even more striking when you consider that she's sixteen, she doesn't have an adult's power over her own life or circumstances. She's dealing with being thrown into these situations that even an adult would have trouble with, and doing rather well.
Out of all the great paranormal series you’ve written, is there one book in particular or character that you had the strongest connection with an enjoyed writing the most?
I think the character I've enjoyed the most is Francesca Barnes in The Demon's Librarian. Librarians are heroes, and it was a real joy for me to write a motorcycle-riding, demon-hunting defender of Mark Twain. I like different things about all my characters, but Chessie was the heroine I'd most like to sit down and have dinner with on a regular basis.
You contributed to the recently released vampire anthology, The Eternal Kiss. Can you tell us a little about your story “Ambition” and whether it may ever develop into a full length novel?
Funny you should ask…no, I never thought of it extending into a novel. It's almost the story-that-wasn't, due to its subject matter—there was a lot of concern about whether it would fit into the anthology, whether it was too much. I firmly believe in trusting the reader, and I loved that story. I don't really have plans to make it a full-length novel. For one thing, the narrator is nameless. That was deliberate, and it's a hard conceit to turn into a novel.
Still…never say never, right?
The next book in the Strange Angels series, Betrayals will be released November 17th 2009. Can you offer us any teaser or insider scoop about Betrayals?
Well, let's see. There are two first kisses, a car chase, a vampire that can make things explode into flame with her mind alone, and Dru is not the only svetocha. That's about all I can say for right now.
At this point, are you still planning on keeping the Strange Angels series at three books? Is there any chance of a spin off ever developing?
Actually, the series is five books. I'm working on the fourth one now. I have an idea for another YA series after that, and of course there is this character I've been thinking of from the same world as Strange Angels. She's one of the Maharaj, and it would be interesting to tell her story…
Can you tell us about any other upcoming projects you are working on?
Certainly! I have several short stories coming out—one in a supernatural-detectives anthology edited by Justin Gustainis, one in The Girl's Guide to Guns and Monsters, one in an anthology tentatively titled Chicks Kick Ass, and a short essay in the upcoming Ardeur: Unauthorized Essays on Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter.
As for novels, the fourth book in the Jill Kismet series, Flesh Circus, is due out at the end of November. I'm hard at work on both another Strange Angels book and almost done with the fifth Jill Kismet novel. So I've been keeping pretty busy.
Thank you Lili for taking the time to interview with me!
Thank you so much for inviting me!
Poor Dru Anderson. Her parents are long gone, her best friend is a werewolf, and she's just learned that the blood flowing through her veins isn't entirely human. (So what else is new?)
Now Dru is stuck at a secret New England Schola for other teens like her, and there's a big problem - she's the only girl in the place. A school full of cute boys wouldn't be so bad, but Dru's killer instinct says that one of them wants her dead. And with all eyes on her, discovering a traitor within the Order could mean a lot more than social suicide. . .
Can Dru survive long enough to find out who has betrayed her trust - and maybe even her heart?
To learn more about Betrayals or Lili's other novels, visit her Official Website.