When I started thinking about why I loved The Monstrumologist series (the series is The Monstrumologist, The Curse of the Wendigo and the forthcoming Isle of Blood, which – DON’T FORGET – releases next week and is the book we’re currently doing a PR push for!) why I thought it was so damn special in a crowded young adult literature field, I kept coming back to the kind of books they were – they way they straddled genre and were something entire unique, entirely compelling in how original they were.
With that in mind, I had one major question for Rick Yancey about the series’s providence. That question was:
The Monstrumologist series is unique in the way it blends the horror genre and what we usually refer to as “literary fiction”. How did you decide to bring these two genres together? What ways do you see these genres as complimentary, particularly when it comes to the appeal of this series?
His answer was so perfect, so much more than I was expecting, so fabulous and thoughtful and comprehensive, I knew I had to share it all with you. Enjoy and thanks so much to Rick for participating in all this and for this amazing reply. (and make sure you stop by tomorrow when you can comment for a chance to win a copy of The Monstrumologist!!)
Call it a product of naivete or denial, but when I completed the first Monstrumologist book, I did not consider it horror or “literary.” I looked at it (and still do to a certain extent) as an adventure yarn, sort of like a darker version of “Treasure Island.” That was the original concept and still there is a part of me that cringes when I hear those two descriptions of the series slammed together. The stylist in me rebels at the mash-up, “literary horror,” and I will confess I’ve never read anything of Lovecraft, read “Frankenstein” just once and that was years ago, and hadn’t even picked up a King novel since I was in my twenties. Recently (between writing Book One and Book Two), I tried to get through “Dracula,” and couldn’t.
I think if I purposely tried to write something “literary” I would fail miserably. What I have been attempting to do (as I have with all my books), is create – or re-create – an authentic voice. I first tried writing the story in third-person, which is not comfortable for me, and quickly abandoned the attempt and recast the story through the voice of an older Will Henry. I did want to capture a 19th Cent. feel, because in many ways Will was trapped in that era, unable to extricate himself from the memories of that time when his childhood vulnerability was tested to the extreme. In a sense, I was trapped there with him – in a time when people wrote – and even thought! – in full sentences. That cuts against the grain in most of current YA fiction (and adult), so maybe that’s why some folks call it literary (Full sentences! Big words!)
I knew, of course, that the adventure would have to have a certain dark flavor, since monstrumology, by its very nature, is dark and dangerous – it ain’t butterfly collecting, after all. If Warthrop hunted something equivalent to a three-toed sloth . . . well, where’s the thrill in that? And if you have these outlandish and nightmarish things running about, it’s going to get a little intense.
And I wanted INTENSITY. Not just intensity of the chase and the inevitable physical dangers of monster-hunting, but psychological intensity, emotional intensity. 19th Century writers never shied away from this and Will, being forged in that time period, would not have either. There was, and still is, a danger in these stories of descending into the cartoonish (Headless bipeds with teeth in their bellies . . . come on!), and I knew beyond elevating the language a little I had to elevate the complexity of the characters and the intensity of their relationships. Whenever I get bogged down in the esoterica of monsters or the convolutions of a plot set a hundred plus years ago, I tell myself, “Go back to the characters. It’s about them and their relationships.” It adds a richness to the tale, the chief function of which is to keep me from getting bored. These characters fascinate me – not the gore, not so much the “big themes” of love, faith and what it means to be human (though I like that these themes have emerged as a by-product), i.e., the “literariness” of the books. As I said in another interview, I fell in love with my characters. They are quite real to me. I suffer with them, laugh with them, cheer for them and fear deeply for them.
I worried when the first book came out about some of its more challenging aspects, particularly since it was published as YA. But I don’t worry about that anymore. Like real people, Will Henry and Warthrop are who they are. The stories are what they are. Readers, whether they are sixteen or sixty, who like a good story well told, will discover the books and share a little, with me, the thrill and satisfaction that is unique to fiction: immersion in an alternate universe we are loathe to leave when the last page is turned.