Danielle Vega: “I grew up completely enamored with horror”

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[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Danielle Vega and ask her five(ish) questions. Danielle’s novel The Haunted is out now!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Danielle: My idea for The Haunted actually started with a single scene, which is now the prologue of the finished book. It was one of those perfect writer moments where I could actually see what was going to happen play out from start to finish inside of my head, almost like I was watching a movie: I knew a little girl was going to follow a kitten into the cellar of an abandoned house, and then something very bad was going to happen to her. I wrote that scene in, like, twenty minutes and it’s changed very little from that early rough draft.

In terms of what inspired this scene, I’d have to go back to the kinds of stories I loved reading and hearing and watching when I was very young. I grew up completely enamored with horror and, in particular, with ghost stories. I can still remember my mom retelling chapters from whatever Stephen King novel she was reading as bedtime stories to help me and my little brother fall asleep.

Usually, they involved little kids wandering into an abandoned house only to be chased out by monsters, or ghosts, or other creepy, terrible things…

What character do you most relate to and why?

I actually don’t relate to any one character from The Haunted! Because it’s an ensemble cast, I wound up using different parts of my personality to help flesh out a bunch of different characters. As a result, they’re all very different from me, except for the one or two traits that we share.

For instance, I used my history of hopping from school to school to flesh out Hendricks’s experience as the new girl. Hendricks also has a baby brother who’s much younger than she is, and that comes directly from my past—my youngest brother is ten years younger than I am.

Portia got my bossiness, and my tendency to be a little blunt. Raven got my high school fashion sense (little boy t-shirts, bold accessories and lots of vintage.) Connor’s middle-class home life was inspired by my life growing up, and Eddie got my misanthropic attitude toward the rest of the world. Ileana is nothing like me, but I dream of visiting her magic shop.

If I had to pick just one character, though, I’d point to Gillian, who only appears in a single scene. She’s described as wearing vintage jeans and an old band t-shirt, having short, purple hair, working as a nanny while she’s going to college, and being unprepared for an Astronomy test. Every detail of that is taken directly from my life.

Why do you feel YA books are so popular and have such a voice right now?

YA books have been popular for the last decade, now! Longer than that, actually… Which makes me think this is less about “YA having a moment” and more about popular fiction course correcting. In other words, publishers simply didn’t realize that there was such a need for stories about young people until they started publishing more stories about young people. But if you’re asking me why there seem to be so many adult readers turning to YA again and again, I’d say it’s because of the quality of the work. Young Adult novels tend to be written in a more immediate voice; these are vast generalizations, but I’ve noticed a lot of first-person present tense, and tighter, pacier plots. There’s also the content. Coming of age stores have always been popular, but it’s only fairly recently that we’ve started labelling them “young adult.” In fact, if you think about some of the most famous classics — works by Dickens and Austen and even Shakespeare — they tend to tell stories of young people growing up, falling in love, and figuring out who they are. These are themes that people are always going to be drawn to, because they’re stories about when everything changes.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.

The Haunted is a story about new girl, Hendricks, moving to a small town with her family to escape some drama in her past. She’s running from a bad ex, and she’s hoping her new school will give her the fresh start she desperately needs. Only problem is that her new house is haunted – and the ghosts seem intent on recreating the exact horrifying events that Hendricks is running from.

The Haunted is my take on the traditional haunted house story. It’s about being haunted by your past, and how that can feel like a very literal haunting, and about how ghosts and evil can come in all forms, and from the unlikeliest places. There’s also smooching.

What’s next for you in the book world?

The Haunted 2! I’m currently hard at work at the second installment in Hendricks’s journey, which I’m hoping will be even more terrifying than the first! It’s still set in Drearford, and there are going to be more ghosts and more of all your favorite characters from The Haunted, and there may be a haunted farm situation, and drama on prom night, and even MORE seances and a creepy graveyard and GAH, you’re going to love it.

Who is your favorite writer right now and why?

For the last five years or so, the answer to this question has been Tana French. I…just cannot find enough wonderful things to say about her. Her writing is lush and evocative and gorgeous and, sometimes, when I’m done with one of her books I turn right back to the beginning and start reading again. I think I’ve read most of her books at least three times. Her characters are so real, and the mysteries are messed up and scary and twisty and perfect. If you haven’t read her yet, I’m jealous of you for getting to discover her for the first time.

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