Monday, June 11, 2012

Behind the Scenes with DARK COMPANION: the Spoiler Edition!

I recently had fun exchanges of emails with fans, and one told me how much she enjoyed getting a "behind the scenes" look at Dark Companion, so I decided to share my author's view. If you have any questions about my book, just send me an email or leave a comment and I'll be happy to answer them.

SPOILER ALERT: Please do not read this if you don't want to read spoilers, because there are lots! 

You call your book a modern Gothic, but it looks like a paranormal romance. What's the difference?

Dark Companion has themes common in classic gothics like Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre: a poor orphan is sent away to a strange isolated location. There is a spooky natural setting, eerie buildings, twinning of light and dark elements, and sinister secrets. The focus is on the main character discovering the mysteries. There is romance, but it is not the focus.

In a paranormal romance, the central theme is a couple falling in love and working to make the relationship survive. A paranormal romance also has a true paranormal theme.

Jane seemed so strong at first and then she became passive.

Jane was always damaged. She went from foster home to foster home. She was an incorrigible runaway; when Jack asks if anyone has ever hurt her, Jane doesn't answer, but the answer is "yes." She lived in fear her entire life. Like other foster children who've been constantly moved and abused, she has a degree of dissociative syndrome: she doesn't form relationships easily and yet she's susceptible to abuse. She thinks it's normal.

Jane is like a starving pitbull found wandering on the street. She may initially cower, but she's watching things, looking to her own survival, and if you win her trust, she will be your most loyal companion forever.

Jane has insta-love with Lucky, but I hate him and their romance.

Jane never says that she loves Lucky. She’s dazzled by everything that he represents: beauty, comfort, status, family. She mistakenly believes he's responsible for her new heightened perceptions, and she's stunned that he pays attention to her.

Jane recognizes that Lucky's spoiled and often thoughtless and she calls him on it. In his defense, his parents brought him up this way and society gives preferential treatment to gorgeous people.

Wilde comments that Jane thinks she's smarter than the kids at Greenwood and she's right. Jane believes that she's smarter than Lucky and can convince him to love her. I believe she would have succeeded in the same way that smart, broken girl Claire Mason won the love and devotion of handsome, privileged Tobias Radcliffe. But notice, Jane's thinking of ways to get Lucky to feel things for her: she's not thinking about falling in love with him.

As far as insta-love goes, Jane is both wary and desperate for connections. She develops an instant and loving friendship with Mary Violet, and earlier she wishes that she could have a friendship with Orneta, the girl at the grocery store.

Why doesn't Jane see that Jack is so much better than his brother? And how old is Jack, because he orders beer at the pizza place.

She believes that Jack and Hattie are in love with each other so he’s off-limits. Beyond that, Jack is able to make Jane react instinctively. She says from the very beginning that she has to watch herself around him because he makes her say things and feel things that she’s been trying to control. He's a threat to her carefully constructed facade.

When Jane smiles at Mrs. Radcliffe, it's calculated to make the headmistress like her, not because she actually feels happy or friendly. If Jane showed her rage, those in power would not want her around.

Jack is 18. Most of the kids in Greenwood, especially the Radcliffe boys, are exempt from the rules. Jane learns that when Hattie first drives them off campus. Mary Violet mentions that her mother was driving at age 14 and the other girls tell her that as long as she's in uniform, no one will hassle her.

I don't like Mr. and Mrs. Radcliffe.

Neither do I! They're deceptive, manipulative people who feel entitled to exploit others and destroy lives. As 2Slim rightly says, "They hide the bodies and think they're so nice and clean."

It's horrible that Jane let Lucky abuse her! Why did you write a heroine like this?

Jane is not a romance heroine, but a protagonist (main character). She's academically successful, but deeply emotionally damaged. In fact, that's exactly why she was selected by the Family to be Lucky's Companion. Just as pimps hunt for runaways at bus stations, the Family seeks out neglected orphans who have never had adult guidance or love because these orphans will be so grateful that they'll accept the terms of the relationship.

Jane's concept of abuse is being beaten, raped, starved, or tortured. Her experience is so far from what Lucky requests that Jane doesn't associate it with abuse. He always asks politely and tells her he doesn't want to hurt her.

A girl from a safe and loving home, like Mary Violet, would know immediately that this was wrong and would never agree to it.

Do you think Jane is a good role model for young women?

Jane is too broken to be a role model. In fact, she desperately needs a role model. She finds that in Mary Violet's mother, who is creative, loving, supportive, and yet sets guidelines and rules for her children. Jane gravitates toward this positive role model even though she doesn't really understand her.

Mary Violet's family is the mirror reflection of the Radcliffe family. But where the Radcliffe's are corrupt and broken, the Holidays are kind and loving. Mrs. Holiday becomes the maternal figure Jane desperately needs in her life.

I thought this was a vampire novel. These aren't real vampires. Why did you include faery references?

I did a little deconstruction of the vampire mythology, which is to say that I took it apart to show its components in a different perspective. I named the Radcliffe family in honor Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), who wrote Gothic novels that always explained what had seemed to be supernatural events.

I thought gothic stories about faeries, alternate realities, and String Theory of physics could be connected in Dark Companion. The faerie reference was initially inspired by Edward Rochester calling Jane Eyre a faery in Charlotte Bronte's novel.

Those scenes of the Lucky cutting Jane and drinking her blood made me feel sick. Are you encouraging cutting and abusive relationships?

No, I can't even take a splinter out. I don't think there should be any cutting or biting through skin in a healthy relationship, and I don’t think any girl should let a boy hurt her. But the vampire/human dynamic is a predatory one of a powerful creature feeding on a weaker creature. Writing about a subject isn't the same as advocating that subject. I'm fairly sure that Stephen King isn't promoting murder in real life.

So is Claire supposed to be the Dark Companion in the title?

My original title was The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove, because Jane was like a shadow in her own life, hiding in the darkness and being afraid. My publisher's marketing department suggested The Dark Companion and I like it even better because the story has many dark companions, including Claire Mason, who killed Bebe and is spying on Jane. The Family's secret is a dark companion, and Jane's own anger is her dark companion. Jane sees strange shadows in the trees, and I think that Bebe's spirit is there, the dark companion of childhood's lost.

What does that poem at the beginning mean?

"Paper Matches" by Paulette Jiles is a feminist poem about questioning why women work and serve men "because that's the way it is." The males of the Family see themselves as entitled to Companions and their wives go along with it "because that's the way it is." Hattie questions this right and considers the system exploitive.

I don't get all those quotes with each chapter.

The quotes are from classic works of gothic fiction and poetry. They hint at genre tropes within the chapter that follows, so there's a quote from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey about corrupted beauty and then we meet Lucky, who's using his great beauty for corrupt purposes.

Why does Hattie suddenly fall in love with Lucky at the end?

They've always been in love, and there are clues throughout the book. Mary Violet and Constance comment that they always thought that Hattie and Lucky would be a couple. When Hattie gets the phone call at the slumber party, she goes to meet Lucky in the grove. Jane sees Hattie and Lucky talking alone at the party. Lucky tells Jane that he cares about another girl who would disapprove of him having a sexual involvement with Jane. She thinks he is referring to Catalina, but he means Hattie.

Hattie and Lucky are in conflict over his decision to have a Companion and by his self-indulgence. She’s punishing him by pretending to date Jack.

Mary Violet was funny. I wish the book was about her.

Believe me, Mary Violet wanted to take over the book, and every time I did a rewrite, her part would get bigger. I'm planning a series featuring Mary Violet as a poetry-spouting sleuth.

The friendship between Mary Violet and Jane is a good one, and there are more positive female relationships in the story. Jane is true to her friend Wilde. Hattie tries to help Jane even though she regrets that Jane accepts the Family’s offer. Constance has a wide circle of friends. Even Catalina, the snob, tries to clue Jane in on suspicious activity at the school.
Teenagers don't talk like that.

I know how teenagers talk. If you wrote a book with dialogue that was exactly like real conversation, no one would want to read it. Uh, hm, what was that? Do you know where I put my shoes? Is that a..huh? What? Why? I didn't hear you. I forgot. I forgot that I didn't hear you. Something bit me, maybe a spider. I'm allergic to that. I hate it. Can you give me twenty dollars? Huh? Why not? (Except with cursing.)

I like your funny books better. This was too dark. The trees scared me.

My humor and cynicism are flip sides of the same coin. My romantic comedies carry many of the same themes about social issues.

I can write scary things, but I can’t read scary things that other people write. I would be terrified if I was in a cottage alone in a grove!

Is this supposed to be a series? Is Jane supposed to be half-faery, and is there a mystery about Jack's family, and what happens to Claire?

No, it is an individual novel. I like series, but I also like self-contained stories. I left the ambiguity so readers can decide what they think happens.

Do you have other secrets about these characters that you aren’t telling?

Yes! I'll tell you one. When I first wrote this book, years ago, Jack was named Edward for Edward Rochester. However, another Edward became famous in Young Adult fiction so I changed my characters name to Jacob aka Jack after a friend of mine who is hilarious and wonderful. Now there are Jacks all over the YA landscape!


  1. Ooh I'm really happy to read that you are planning a series on Mary Violet! I loved her character! :)Thank you for posting these Behind the Scenes questions/answers! It's a great idea!

  2. Hi, Charlene! I'm glad you liked my Behind-the-Scenes feature and that you like Mary Violet! I love writing comedy and she and Jack let me express the funny in an otherwise grim little tale.

    The working title of my MV story is Mary Violet and the Case of the Silent Songbird. Mary Violet is invited to stay with Birch Grove's most famous alumna, a poet who was nicknamed the Songbird of Birch Grove. Naturally, there will be poetry!

    1. The comedy in Dark Companion is definitely a highlight! I love the title of the MV story too- sort of reminds me of Nancy Drew. Is that series going to deal at all with the secret society at Birch Grove? It seems like Mary Violet would be the perfect person to undo all the Radcliffes have worked for. :)

  3. Hey, Charlene, you asked this question so long ago! Please forgive my belated response. I hadn't thought of having Mary Violet solve the mysteries at the school -- I think I'll keep her unaware of the dark secrets, but let her solve other problems. I'm starting to collect French phrases that she can "translate" in her own fashion. Thanks for the question!

  4. I loved the book! I could feel the grove! For me it was a very sensory read. I would love to dive more into the cult aspect and learn whats behind jack's past. Please write a sequel! Maybe an adult sequel! I think maybe the the depth of the characters stories were lost on young adults because most haven't lived to experience. I just love the dark side of your coin. Thank you for an awesome read! 😍 Virginia