[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Amelinda Bérubé and ask her five(ish) questions. Amelinda’s novel ‘Here There are Monsters‘ is out August 1st!]
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Amelinda: HERE THERE ARE MONSTERS crystallized from a few different sources. I’d been reading about the idea of “Canadian gothic” and was dying to write something in that vein: something set against the backdrop of a haunted landscape. The creepy, swampy woods behind my family’s old home, which I’d set stories in as a teenager, seemed like an obvious candidate. We moved there when I was thirteen, and though my younger siblings and I were initially eager to explore, those woods felt hostile, a little dangerous, and singularly unwelcoming.
When I came across Charles Fréger’s photography collection Wilder Mann, which portrays mythological creatures that haunt European midwinters, I knew I’d found the kind of monsters that would live there. And because they’re portrayed by people in masks and costumes, there was a weird human subtext to those monsters that made them truly riveting.
What character do you most relate to and why?
The story’s two sisters, Deirdre and Skye, are both sort of thought experiments based on pieces of myself; they’re basically different takes on “what if teenaged me was the actual worst…and had power?” I don’t think I realized, as an awkward weirdo teenager, just how angry and powerless I felt. I think these two characters came out as…revenge, a little bit, maybe? And a certain suspicion that if I had somehow come by social capital at that age, I would have abused it.
Why do you feel young adult books are so popular and have such a voice right now? Who is your favorite young adult author?
In the 90s, when I was actually part of the target audience for young adult, there was a huge gap between YA – most of which we’d now think of as middle grade books – and books for adults. As it developed over the years, I think YA moved to speak specifically to that more mature space in the middle. To put it in terms of spooky books, it’s the space between Christopher Pike and Stephen King. Which is interesting, actually, because Christopher Pike’s books all featured teenaged characters and seemed pitched for teenaged readers…but when I really devoured them was between 10 and 12.
As an adult, it’s often seemed to me that the highs and lows of my teen years were the first flashpoints of things I’ve loved or struggled with ever since. What you wrestle with as a teen will always haunt you; it will always be relevant. I think this is a lot of the appeal of YA books to grownup audiences, and also the source of a lot of the pushback against adults reading YA. I suspect the people who disdain YA are eager to put as much distance as they can between their adult and teenaged identities.
As for my favorite YA author – phew, tough question! My seize-the-next-book-immediately list at the moment includes Frances Hardinge, whose twisty-turny fantasies are all utterly original and delightfully bizarre; Nova Ren Suma, whose unapologetic mix of ordinary life, unexplained weirdness and beautiful prose is sheer magic; and Erin Bow, whose thinky science fiction is human, compassionate, and imbued with a somehow very Canadian sense of humor.
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.
HERE THERE ARE MONSTERS is about sixteen-year-old Skye’s search for her missing sister, Deirdre. Skye is sick of playing the knight in shining armor for Deirdre and is determined to start over in their new neighborhood, carving out a place for herself among her peers. But when Deirdre vanishes, monsters come scratching at the window in the middle of the night, telling Skye she’s the only one who can save her sister. The question is what it’s going to cost.
I tried to write the kind of story I love best – a slow-burn, atmospheric, supernatural yarn with lots of questions, not all of which are answered.
What’s next for you in the book world?
More books, hopefully! I daydream about being the eccentric lady who jetsets around the country to seek out and write about all the weirdness lurking in its corners. There is, delightfully, a lot of it out there. I’ve got two young adult projects on the go at the moment, as well as one experiment that may turn out to be middle grade, and after that my next research destination is Newfoundland in the dead of winter. As they say, excelsior!
What’s your favorite writing method that you follow for inspiration?
I seem to have settled into a groove of spending a few weeks inhaling research and brainstorming, and then hacking through a too-short first draft a couple of pages at a time over the course of several months. That’s the hard part; Delilah S. Dawson tweeted once that it’s like running a race through the fog with no path and no finish line while being chased by zombies.
Once I’ve made it through the story from end to end, I turn it over to my trusty readers, ask them where the gaps are, and spend a few months papering over said gaps with new scenes and adjustments. By the time it gets to my agent and editor, I’m having a lot more fun; it’s a lot easier to make progress once you actually know what you need to do!