Welcome to our newest feature on The Book Smugglers: SMUGGLED! For this new feature, we briefly video interview authors. Today’s guest is Kelly Creagh, YA paranormal fantasy/horror author of Nevermore (which Thea read and loved).
Please give a warm welcome to the lovely, talented Ms. Kelly Creagh!
And now for the rest of our Chat!
The Book Smugglers: Thank you for the taking the time to chat with us, Kelly, and welcome to our blog! Your debut novel, Nevermore is a Young Adult book blending the harsh realities of high school with a twist of the fantastic and a generous dose of the horrific. Can you tell us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write Nevermore in all its Edgar Allan Poe glory?
Kelly: Thanks for having me! I’m a huge fan of your blog and I love reading your reviews and articles.
Nevermore is a tale about a goth boy and a cheerleader who are paired together for an English project. Varen, my goth character, chooses Edgar Allan Poe as the focus of the project. Needless to say, bright and sunny Isobel is less than thrilled about studying gothic literature let alone being paired with Trenton High’s foremost weirdo. Yet she is also somehow drawn to Varen and she can’t seem to grasp what makes him tick, or why he’s so scathing and aloof. Or why, ever since being paired with him, strange things have begun to happen.
When I first began writing Nevermore, I had only two things—an unnamed goth boy and a cheerleader. At the time, Poe was not yet a major factor in the plot. In fact, he was simply who my goth character happened to pick. So, in between writing, I conducted a bit of surface research on Poe. I soon learned about the strange circumstances surrounding the poet’s death in the fall of 1849. From there, Poe’s presence in the novel became more prominent. I continued with my research and, as I did so, all of these Poe elements began to surface, arising out of my subconscious to spread through every chapter until Poe (and the mystery behind his demise) became the very backbone of my tale.
The Book Smugglers: Is it safe to say that you are a huge Poe fan? Can you remember your first exposure to his work? And – if possible – do you have a favorite poem/story/Vincent Price movie adaptation/etc?
Kelly: Yes. I’m a total fan girl. And even though I’ve always been into Poe and his works, I don’t think I reached the true status of being an official die-hard fan until I started writing Nevermore. Since then, I have traveled to Poe’s Baltimore house and gravesite on three separate occasions. Actually, the last time I was in Eddie’s house, I had a bit of a mishap. I followed the tiny enclosed spiral staircase up to his attic room. Then, while positioning myself to perch on the top stair so that I could snap a photo, I accidentally touched the floor beyond the security point. The alarm sounded and blared through the entire house! When I came hurrying back downstairs, the looks that I received from fellow museum visitors made me want to crawl beneath the floorboards. It was like they thought I’d tried to steal Eddie’s boxer shorts or something!
In regards to my first exposure to Poe, I think that must have happened when I read The Masque of the Red Death in middle school. That one in particular can make quite an impression on a young mind.
But the moment that sticks out most vividly in my mind happened during my sophomore year of High School. Everyone in English class had to choose a poem to read aloud. I chose Annabel Lee, which sparked a huge classroom debate. I remember the class splitting into two teams, one half of the room arguing that the poem was “creepy,” the other insisting that it was “romantic.” I love this memory because I think so many of Poe’s works, particularly his poems, often incite similar disputes.
My favorite story written by Poe is William Wilson, which is a doppelganger tale. I’m also partial to The Raven because it seems to be the epitome of a classic Poe tale. It contains everything that makes Poe’s stories his own. Not only that, but it’s so rhythmical and precise. It’s truly the work of a genius.
In terms of my favorite Poe adaptations, I like Vincent Price in The Fall of the House of Usher. I also love the Simpsons spoof of The Raven and Tim Burton’s short film “Vincent,” which contains several Poe references.
The Book Smugglers: Of the real-world teen heroines out there today, it seems that the quiet/studious/artsy/cute-but-awkward type dominates YA fiction – especially in books that deal with the paranormal. Your heroine, on the other hand, is a popular, perky, pretty cheerleader – and her love interest, the sardonic, aloof goth boy. What made you write Isobel as your heroine and Varen as your hero?
Kelly: I chose a cheerleader and a goth because I liked the idea of opposites being forced to collaborate. With this recipe, the conflict is immediate and engaging and also very fun to write. But as my story evolved, I realized that I wanted to go deeper with this idea of opposites being joined against their will. With Nevermore, I strove to go beyond creating the type of tale involving themes of tolerance, reconciliation and acceptance. As a result, I think that Nevermore is not only a supernatural tale, but a story in which labels are tested and the very foundation of stereotypes are challenged.
The Book Smugglers: On the same subject, recently we’ve seen some interesting discussion about stereotyping in YA novels. In particular, there is something of a derisive attitude towards girls that dress a certain way (“slutty”) or behave in a certain way (go out to clubs/parties, etc). It’s not much of a jump to equate “stupid” or “silly” labels to popular cheerleader types, like Isobel. What do you think of this sort of stereotyping, and did any of these factors cross your mind when writing Nevermore?
Kelly: I have to admit that this kind of stereotyping drives me crazy, especially in regards to cheerleaders. I think cheerleaders are too often picked on in YA fiction and singled out as the best choice when casting the “mean girl.” Now, with that said, I do think that there are mean girls out there who happen to be cheerleaders. Just like there are mean girls who happen to be goths. Or chess club members. Or drama club members. As long as the motivation behind a character’s behavior is at least hinted at, I think that a popular girl can (and does) work as an antagonist inYA fiction. It only really irks me when I perceive that a character is mean (or stupid or slutty or silly) because she is a cheerleader—or as a result of whatever sport, activity, hobby or social sphere she is involved in. It is as though the author is insinuating that the activity itself is what insights the character’s behavior or defines her personality. But these stereotypes do exist in real life and naturally, this became a large part of my story. Though it’s not just Isobel who finds herself battling the popular, pretty, dumb cheerleader label. Varen, too, struggles with all the preconceived notions and fears associated with gothic culture. And even though Isobel and Varen each suffer from stereotyping, they are also guilty of labeling each other. This was just one dynamic which made their interactions and dialogue so interesting and enjoyable to write.
The Book Smugglers: Paranormal is hot right now in YA – especially anything of the fanged, furred or fey variety. Your take on the supernatural, however, is a little different. Can you tell us a bit about your version of the otherworldly in Nevermore?
Kelly: It’s true. You will find no vampires, faeries or werewolves in Nevermore. Instead, the supernatural elements center around the existence of a dream world, one which (in my universe) Poe visited and later wrote about and described in his poetry and fiction. Like Poe, my goth character, Varen, is a writer and it is through his writing that Varen stumbles upon this same alternate dimension that Poe discovered. That’s not to say that there aren’t supernatural characters in Nevermore because there certainly are! Beyond that, I don’t think I can reveal much more without spoilers.
The Book Smugglers: Why did you choose to write a young adult novel? Do you have any YA authors you particularly admire? Do you have any intention of writing for adults one day?
Kelly: I wanted to write a YA novel because, when I began Nevermore, the voices that popped into my head were those of teenagers. This happens with most of the stories I write. I think that, in many ways, I am a perpetual teenager. So, for the moment, I’m happy writing fiction for young adults, though my hope is that my work will appeal to adult and teen readers alike.
The Book Smugglers: The zombies are coming! The zombies are coming! You only have time to save ONE book, ONE movie, and ONE TV show. QUICK! What are they?
Kelly: OMG. Okay. Book = Phantom by Susan Kay. Movie = The Nightmare Before Christmas (though I know I would waste precious seconds trying to decide between that one and Edward Scissorhands. Actually, I’d probably waste too much time and get eaten over that decision.) And I don’t get to watch a lot of television, but I freaking love Sponge Bob.
The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ’smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?
Kelly: I work at the library so when I hear about a new YA book that’s coming out I immediately put myself on the reserve list for the next available copy. I check out YA books in droves and either cart them home or keep them stuffed in my cabinet at work. That way, I get to sneak little sips whenever I get a moment. So I suppose I don’t smuggle them as much as I hoard them! I also purchase a lot of books and usually in hardback. So sometimes my bank account gives me a grumbly look though my dog, Annabel, never seems to mind.
As a child, Kelly would hold elaborate one-kid plays for patient relatives, complete with song, dance, and over-the-top melodramatics. Then, whenever Mom or Grandma called for a break, she would venture outside to slay dragons, run from make-believe ghosts and create magical feasts for fairies out of mud and pinecones.
In the third grade, Kelly wrote her first book titled Pink Lettuce, a story about a young girl who comes to the aid of her mad scientist neighbor, helping him to return his potion-pink lettuce patch to its original green and leafy luster.
Kelly holds an undergraduate degree in Theatre Arts and Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Today, she finds true joy in transcribing her dramatic daydreams onto the stage of the blank page. When not writing or curled up with a good book, Kelly can be found teaching, learning and performing the ancient art of Bellydance.
Thank you, Kelly for the wonderful interview! For more about Kelly Creagh, make sure to check out her (beautiful) website www.kellycreagh.com. Also make sure to check out our review of Nevermore HERE.