Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Enchanted Interview: Bethany Griffin, author of MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

I first "met" Bethany Griffin back when we were both soon-to-be debut novelists as part of the Class of 2k8/2k9, when her contemporary YA novel Handcuffs was getting buzz. When I learned that her long-awaited new book would be a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe's "Masque of the Red Death," well, I think my squee was audible from the next county over!

Everything is in ruins.
A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.
So what does Araby Worth have to live for?
Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.
But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.
And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

So I'm delighted to present our conversation with Bethany Griffin about her fantasy debut. ;)


I am a big, big fan of retellings, so this one has been in my TBR list for a long time!  So let's start with your inspiration for this novel, Edgar Allen Poe's short story by the same title. What drew you to it, and how did you go about adapting it into the original, full-length novel it became?

I think most of the re-imagining happened in the planning, and then I wrote the book without thinking too much about Poe (too intimidating). I knew the theme of the story (no one, no matter how wealthy, can escape death) so the story immediately had to deal with class warfare issues, and because of the plague had to be post-apocalyptic. Everything else sort of fell into place? The short story is so atmospheric and dark, which was exactly what I wanted the novel to be! So within the framework of Poe's plague and a world defined by that plague, I came up with the characters and the plot.

The setting of MASQUE is wonderfully dark, atmospheric, and beautiful, with touches of steampunk and Victoriana, as well as traces that feel startlingly modern. What went into building Araby's post-apocalyptic world--how much was Poe, and how much is pure invention? What about those crocodiles?!

 I'm terrified of all reptiles, more snakes than anything, but having killer crocodiles roaming the streets was terrifying to me, and repulsive, so I threw it in there! Building the world, well, in the very first partial, it was actually futuristic...the Debauchery Club was a dance club (in that version I think it was called the Morgue, which was a Poe reference, in the actual book, the Morgue was the club next door). But, as I considered the book and the idea for the book, I was also reading a biography of Poe, so it occurred to me to make the book somewhat historical, and then I was like, historical/post-apocalyptic, is that a thing? Turns out it's rather popular in video games, but not done so much in books, so the setting of the book grew from there. The elevator in the Akkadian towers is somewhat anachronistic in that the time period I was imagining would have only had very primitive elevators, but...I left it in there.

Many of Poe's tales are a natural fit for young readers attracted to the gothic and the macabre, and this month's release of the film "The Raven" will no doubt fuel lots more interest in his work. Do you have any particular recommendations for kids who loved your novel (or the movie) and want to read more? Are there any other Poe-inspired novel adaptations you can suggest?

Oh, well Nevermore by Kelly Creagh is a lot of fun and the sequel, Enshadowed comes out later this year. And I haven't read it yet, but I love the idea of Annabel by Mary Lindsey, so lots of Poe inspired YA books all of a sudden (which is great).

Your first novel, 2009's HANDCUFFS, was a straightforward contemporary. Speaking as a fantasy fan, I'm delighted you've crossed over! But what inspired the switch of genres, and how did you find the process? What are your plans for future books? Do you find one or the other a more natural fit for you, as a writer?

I don't think my agent will be pleased if I make another huge change! Honestly, my first love in books were always speculative, and on top of that I spent my middle school years reading all these gothic thrillers that my mom may or may not have given me because they were very tame from a sexual standpoint, but lots of atmosphere and dark settings, so having read so many mixtures of things, mixing genres came pretty easy to me. I feel like a lot of people can do what I did with Handcuffs (tell a high school story) and probably do it as well if not better.  But, what I did in Masque, which some readers at least have loved, is sort of my own mix of crazy influences, so I feel like I've sort of found my thing? And I'll probably stick with some mix of dark, speculative literature for the next few books.

In addition to writing, you're also a high school teacher. How does that demanding and rewarding career play into your writing for young adults? Do your students share your affinity for Poe?

Well, I teach 10th grade and Poe is technically 11th grade, so oddly I don't teach that much Poe, but I do touch on the poems, and maybe a bit of The Tell-Tale Heart, which I think is Poe's most accessible story. And it's always a mix, some love Poe, some not so much. 

Araby's story has such a surprising ending--please tell us we'll see more of her adventures!

Book 2 will be out in 2013, so yes, everyone can read on, go to the Masque and see if a certain young man can redeem himself! 

Thanks, Bethany, for stopping by the Enchanted Inkpot!

Elizabeth C. Bunce is the author of A Curse Dark as Gold and the THIEF ERRANT novels, StarCrossed and Liar's Moon
Visit Elizabeth at

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