An Interview with M.L. Brennan, Author of Generation V
These days, books find their way onto my to-read list for any number of different reasons, but I like to think that coming upon Generation V was somewhat of a serendipitous fortune. M.L. Brennan was a name I first came across when I followed a few random links in my Twitter feed and came upon this post on her blog. My first thought was, “Damn, this author has great taste!”
And now, as they say, you know the rest of the story. I discovered that not only does M.L. Brennan read fantastic books, she’s also written her own fantastic urban fantasy debut, Generation V. It’s also incredibly apropos that that particular blog post should be the one I stumbled upon, because if I had to make my own list of “Authors Who Deserve More Recognition”, M.L. Brennan would be at the top of it.
Seriously, HOW did I not know about Generation V before?! Original, humorous, and highly entertaining, as you can see from my review, this book is a gem that deserves way more attention! To my absolute glee, M.L. agreed to be interviewed, and I hope you enjoy her answers as much I did!
Mogsy: GENERATION V stood out to me because of its many creative and fresh ideas. You take a lot of our notions of vampires in Urban Fantasy and turn those on their head. What inspired you to write about these unique vampires like Fortitude Scott and his family?
M.L. Brennan: Firstly, thank you so much! I’m a big fan of Urban Fantasy – I read a lot of it, and there are a lot of series that I love. But when I decided that I wanted to write an Urban Fantasy, I was really cautious about what parallel points would exist between my book and the other books in the sub-genre. Vampires are all over Urban Fantasy – with good reason, of course (they’re FUN!). I wanted to use vampires, but I made the decision early on that I wouldn’t use them unless I was able to make mine look completely different from what everyone else was doing. I’m not sure I ever got that far, but they are a bit off the beaten path!
Mogsy: Specifically, one of the things that blew my mind was your take on how vampires propagate. There’s just something so disturbing but also fascinating about it, which is a feeling I love to get from a book. Did you intend for that idea to be central to the book’s story, or did it grow out of the writing process?
M.L. Brennan: I wanted my vampires to be born, not made, and that was almost a mission statement when I sat down and started designing my vampires. One of the major reasons was that I didn’t want my characters to have those memories of being human before being turned into something else – for “turned” vampires, that transformation always gives them a little bit of a tragic air, because each vampire was essentially victimized at some point in their past – turned from something natural into a predator, but a predator who will always have something in common with her victim. I didn’t want that kind of baggage with my vampires. For Fortitude’s sister, Prudence, for example – she has never been human, and completely lacks the frame of reference that could prompt her to feel empathy for her victims.
This took about two years to completely hash out, and it developed a lot over that time. I had it completely worked out before I sat down to start the book, because this one was so important for me. In a big way, it defined my vampires for me. The process of figuring it out was a very organic one – I did research on predator-prey reproductive balances as well as how parasites reproduce. (There were some pretty gross pictures on the latter.)
Mogsy: Another thing that struck me as very original was the inclusion of Suzume Hollis and her family of kitsune, fox shapeshifters that are a prominent subject in Japanese folklore. What can you tell me about your interest in mythology and your decision to feature aspects of it in your book?
|“Fox Fires at New Year’s Eve”
M.L. Brennan: I was one of those kids who loved mythology. When I was little it was mostly Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology (shout-out to Edith Hamilton here), but when I was older I became interested in folktales. What I find so fascinating about folktales are what they represent about the ideals and values of the culture that created them – what traits heroes have, how monsters are presented, and so on.
The kitsune have an extremely complicated presentation in Japanese folklore. In some stories they are extremely nefarious, and need to be driven away. In other stories they are creatures who can show surprising loyalty and helpfulness to a person who has shown them kindness. In some stories they are simple pranksters who can be scolded into an apology, and in others they can be extremely dangerous and seductive.
My decision to include the kitsune was a combination of a lot of things – firstly, all of what I loved about their presentation in folklore was something I wanted to try to present in a complicated character. Secondly, I was trying to be mindful of not focusing solely on a European selection of monsters of creatures. Thirdly, it gave me access to a rich and nuanced shapeshifter character without using werewolves – now, I love werewolves, but as a creature they can bring along some baggage. And finally I really liked the idea of a creature that was going to be primarily female and matrilineal.
Mogsy: Fort may be a bit of an underdog, but he definitely lives up to his name. He’s also often hilarious and I love his sense of humor. Where did you get your inspiration for him and what was it like writing his character?
M.L. Brennan: Buffy The Vampire Slayer premiered when I was in high school, and that combination of seriousness and snark is something that really appeals to me. I think there are a few links between Fort and some Joss Whedon characters – the literary bastard half-cousin three-times removed of Xander and Wash, perhaps? Fort goes through a lot of grim events, but I didn’t want him to be a grim character himself – he’s someone who can have fun, and can also have fun at his own expense.
I also really wanted Fort to be a true underdog – which means that he gets beaten up, walked over, and generally abused for a good chunk of the first book. I was pretty tough on him! But nothing bugs me more than authors who present characters as underdogs, but at the start of books they are beating people up, coming out on top, and generally acknowledged as total badasses. That’s not quite an underdog – that’s a little more rugged rebel. Fort has an arc – you see in this book just how much he is willing to take before he does something, but you also get to see where he draws the line, and how much he’s willing to commit at that point.
Mogsy: Both Fort and Suzume show examples of a couple prominent themes in this book, specifically the struggle against one’s own nature as well as the need to strike out on one’s own and be independent. Did you draw from any personal experiences when developing the background for these two characters?
M.L. Brennan: To a certain degree every character has a piece of my own ideas and experience in them. (Yes, even Prudence). But I think that we all carry a certain amount of genealogical and heritage-related baggage. Maybe it’s a history of alcoholism, maybe it’s just a history of crummy marriages. How we deal with that baggage and to what degree we allow it to influence our decisions and lives is a theme I’m very interested in, and I do play with it a lot in this series.
Mogsy: Another theme that stood out for me is that of family and tradition. I think Fort’s relationship with his mother and siblings is as dysfunctional as it gets! Still, he interacts with each of them very differently. What was it like writing Madeline, Prudence and Chivalry, three people in Fort’s life who come from such different eras and backgrounds?
M.L. Brennan: Very fun! Each of the three was born in a different historical period, and each of them views Fort very differently. What each wants from him (and for him) is different, but the fundamental truth about each of these characters is that their love for Fort is true and unbreakable. This doesn’t make them nice or good, and it can lead to some pretty extreme actions and horribly dysfunctional relationships, but that is the bedrock for each of my “adult” vampire characters. As long as I always remembered this, it led to interesting scenarios that still had an interesting emotional grounding to them. In a lot of ways the book is primarily a family drama.
In terms of the origin eras – I researched a bit, but I used it more as background color than as an absolute directive for how the characters acted and spoke. Think about a normal family setup – you might have grandma born in the 1920s, mom born in the 1950s, and you born in the early 1980s. These are incredibly different eras when you look at them – yet all three use fundamentally the same language and terminology, because while all had a different point of origin, they’ve been living in the world and have ended up in the same era. There will be differences in outlook and experience, but there will also be commonalities that come from the family structure. That was one of the ideas I had when I was putting together this very diverse group of vampires.
Mogsy: Tell me about your experience writing GENERATION V. Did you have a solid idea of where the story will go when you started? Were there any surprises? Did the finished book end up how you’d envisioned it?
M.L. Brennan: I’m a pretty serious outliner, so most of my big surprises and hair-pin turns came when I was constructing an outline of the plot. Once I had my outline (about ten pages long on Generation V), I sat down and wrote the book pretty close to what the outline was, so when I had the finished manuscript on my desk it looked almost exactly how I’d envisioned it. (The last scene, for example, was something I’d had in my head for two years before I started writing the book.)
Some changes occurred during the editing process – all wonderful improvements. I’m extremely lucky to be working with Anne Sowards, who edits Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, and Anne Bishop (among others!), and every time she made a suggestion or a comment, it always made the book better.
Mogsy: I know that you’ve written short works in other genres, but decided to branch out and to write the kind of book you love to read, which was how GENERATION V came about. What is it about Urban Fantasy that draws you in? What would you like to see more of from this genre in the future?
M.L. Brennan: What I like about Urban Fantasy is the most fundamental part of it – monsters in the big city. I like seeing how monsters and creatures fit into a contemporary setting. I like seeing our familiar world and city streets house something unexpected and magical. I like plenty of other genres as well, but there’s just something in me that would rather see an elf riding an elevator than riding a horse through the Woods Of Peril (across from the Plains Of Mystery. Turn left at the Endless Ocean).
In terms of where the genre is going – I think it’s going in a great direction. Right now we’re a big tent genre – there are gritty cop procedurals, there are steamy romances, there are action/adventures, and sometimes all of those things happen at once! But there are so many different authors bringing in what they’re good at or interested in, and I think it makes Urban Fantasy more representative and interesting. It’s a genre that has something for everyone.
Mogsy: I see in the book’s author page that you hold a Master’s degree in the humanities and you teach basic composition to college students. How has your professional experience influenced your writing and storytelling?
M.L. Brennan: Working toward my MFA helped me learn the value of editing, and it made me better able to accept and utilize constructive criticism. It also really helped hone my writing, so it absolutely influenced the way that I write and construct.
In terms of my day job…well, the truth is that basic composition is a freshman course, and it has a lot of remedial aspects to it. There’s a good reason why all the professors who have tenure avoid teaching basic comp – it’s not fun. Not fun to teach, not fun to take. It’s an important course, don’t get me wrong, but any professor with control over their own schedule does their best to stick to the higher-level literature courses or the creative writing stuff. My basic composition is about 400 essays and 1,000 homework assignments (five classes, twenty students average, 4 essays and 10 homeworks) of explaining to people how to use an apostrophe, how to support a concept clearly, and why a paragraph shouldn’t be the length of a page.
In short – it funds the writing and storytelling. 🙂
Mogsy: I also read that you live in a house that’s more than 100 years old! I can’t help but notice in the book that you include a lot of description, history, and culture of the Rhode Island and the New England area. Did your own personal environment play any role in shaping the setting of GENERATION V?
M.L. Brennan: Oh, definitely! I grew up in New England, and I wanted the books to have a very defined sense of place about them rather than being just generic Americana. So unless it’s actually important to a character’s background, they won’t live in some new subdivision with a generic house that could be found anywhere from Kansas to California to Maine and was built within the last ten years. So there are references to a house being a “New Englander,” and Fort’s apartment is in an older building that used to be a private residence, and was carved into apartments in the 1950’s.
Setting the “home base” for the vampires in Newport, RI was also a lot of fun, because that’s a place that I’m very familiar with. I’ve spent a week there every summer since I was four, and I was lucky to live there on my own for a full year during my first year of college. Just about every location reference I make for Newport is absolutely real – you can visit the Thames Glass Company and the Newport Fudge Company, you can walk up the cobblestones on Thames Street, you can drink an Awful Awful from the Newport Creamery (which I highly recommend!), and you can even tour the mansion that I modeled Madeline’s home on – it’s Rosecliff.
|Pictures of Rosecliff – inspiration for Madeline’s mansion
|Mogsy: So what’s next for Fort and Suzume? Can you tell us something about the sequel IRON NIGHT that’s coming out in early 2014, and what it has in store for us?
M.L. Brennan: I can’t give too much away, but I’m really excited about this book!
Here’s a tidbit you’ll like – I reveal some more about the background of the kitsune in this book, along with some of their legends. You’ll also be seeing a lot more of one of the creatures that got a brief cameo in Generation V – in Iron Night they get fully fleshed out. And you’ll also be seeing a lot more of Prudence – and probably not in a way that you might’ve expected!
|Book 2, coming out in
Mogsy: Of course, I was ecstatic to see there will be more books in this series and am hoping we’ll see the adventures of Fortitude continue for a while yet, but is there anything else on your plate at the moment or any future plans or ideas to write other stories?
M.L. Brennan: Right now I’m writing the third book Fortitude Scott book – I’m really hopeful that people like it, since I’ve got a lot of ideas for more books, and some of the plotlines that I’m building up just won’t be completely told by the end of book 3. But I do have a few other ideas on the back burner – even if I get contracted for more Fortitude Scott books, I’ll definitely be working on building up some other stuff. I have another Urban Fantasy idea, but I’ve also been a lifelong fan of SF, so that might happen at some point!
Mogsy: Is there anything else you would like to add, or anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your book?
M.L. Brennan: Just how delighted and grateful I am that people have responded so positively to Generation V, and I hope that they enjoy following Fortitude Scott through Iron Night! And thank you again for the marvelous interview – this was such fun!
Thank you for the interview! For more information about M.L. Brennan:
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