Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Conversation with Danielle Vega, Author of THE MERCILESS

Danielle Vega, Author of THE MERCILESS, (Razorbill/Penguin July 2014)

Hi Danielle! Thanks for stopping by. Your debut novel, THE MERCILESS, sounds absolutely terrifying. Being locked up in a house with a bunch of perfect girls is frightening enough without an exorcism to boot. What made you decide to write an all-girl cast horror story (and I'm assuming it's all girls due to the Goodreads blurb - am I right?)?

I didn't even realize my book was up on Goodreads until you mentioned it here. Yes, it's all girls I love horror novels, but I feel like they're aimed at boys most of the time. I really want to write something where the girls are in the spotlight (or maybe I've just seen The Craft too many times?)

True confession. I am not so much a horror movie girl. I can read horror novels, but the music in movies kills me. I like my scary with a side of "shut the book" option. So tell us, why YA horror? What about the genre is awesome to you?

I totally get you not being a horror movie girl. My husband actually HATES anything horror-related. He's reading a Tana French book right now and keeps having nightmares and not being able to finish. Not sure how he's going to deal with my new profession...

I think you have to get into the scary stuff really early to learn to love it. It's an acquired taste, like coffee or wine. My mom used to tell me really scary stories when I was a kid, and I just always kind of loved the adrenaline rush that comes with being truly terrified. You know how all of your instincts kick into high gear? I live for that feeling, but when you start reading/watching horror really early in life, it takes more and more to get you afraid. Eventually it just seemed like a good idea to write something I thought was terrifying rather than wait around for someone else to take care of that for me. Hence, The Merciless. 

Does that help? I'm reading Stephen King's Danse Macabre right now (it's his treatise on the horror genre), and he spends chapter and chapters trying to explain the "Why Horror?" question. I think it's one of those impossible questions, like "Why do you write?" 

Oh, I actually love Tana French. Like I said, I don't mind a good book scare, it's just that dang movie music that gets me. I have to cover my eyes and if it's a DVD, I end up fast forwarding and watching events sped up so I don't hear the ominous dum-dum-dum.

So I guess my next question has to be "why do you write?". Snort. Kidding. But why don't you tell us about your writing habits and habitats. Do you have a perfect time of day, a desk, special chair? Do you have rituals to get you in the mood to write the freakiest scenes? (I ask this because author friend, Pat Esden, burns scented candles for certain scenes and manuscripts which I've always thought was cool.)

Ooh, I love the scented candle thing! Might have to steal that. I remember reading on Maggie Stiefvater's website that she has special playlists to get her into the mood of each scene, which I love as well. 

I am SO boring because I actually don't have any rituals. For the longest time I worked one (and sometimes two or three) jobs while going to school and trying to write, so I became a master of sneaking in words whenever I had a spare moment. I learned to be comfortable with writing everything out longhand on whatever was available and, when I got home, I'd transfer what I'd written on scraps of napkin or the backs of homework assignments onto the computer. Now I write full time, which gives me much more freedom, but I still manage to get flashes of brilliance when I'm on the subway or out to dinner with my husband, so the scraps of novels still find their way into my tote bag. 

The only other odd thing I can think of is that I write in my closet. I live in NYC, land of teeny tiny apartments. My husband and I got really lucky because our apartment has these two huge closets on either side of our itty-bitty one bedroom. I shoved a desk on the wall opposite my hanging clothes and voila: walk-in-closet/home office. We NY writers have got to be creative. 

Okay, so you're writing in this closet in your teeny tiny NYC apartment. (sounds kind of cool and cozy actually!) What are the things that fuel the scare in your fiction?

Hmm...this is a difficult one. I don't get scared all that easily, so I try to take note of what does manage to freak me out, and what scares others. The idea for my book, THE MERCILESS, actually came from a newspaper article about a similar real life situation, where some teenagers tried to perform a violent exorcism on a girl they thought was possessed. That was a great spark for the story, but I think the real challenge came from trying to twist the idea into something fun, as well as scary. For instance, the girls in THE MERCILESS are cool. They're not cold, humorless church girls--they're a little bad, those popular girls in school that you always wanted to have a slumber party with. This is my favorite part about horror novels because then, when the scary hits, the stakes are higher. I want you to like these characters, so that it'll terrify you to think of anything bad happening to them. 

Holy cow! This started as a snippet of real news? That is scary!
We're coming to an end and I have a few final questions. Tell us the next three books in your TBR pile, what liquid is in your cup, and what's playing on repeat. And thanks so much for stopping by, Danielle! THE MERCILESS sounds like an intense and awesome read.

The next three books in my TBR pile: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, Vicious, by V.E. Schwab and Dr. Sleep, by the King himself. In my cup? Coffee, taken black as midnight on a moonless night (Twin Peaks reference, anyone?) And what's playing on repeat--The Hazards of Love album, by the Decemberists. 

This was a blast! Thanks for including me.

Thanks again to you, Danielle!

And be sure and stop in week after next (next week is PitchWars) when I'll be chatting with CHEMISTRY OF FATE author, Meradeth Houston.


  1. I'm going to have to go read this blurb, asap! I can't handle horror movies either, Jaye. And you're totally right, it's the music that gets you and those-BAM!- moments where they throw stuff right in your face and you jump like you've been shocked or something. And btw, great pic, Danielle! :)

  2. Yes, one of the big advantages of a book -- YOU control the pacing and the head-music. :)


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