Tuesday, October 14, 2014

beyond happily ever after

Vampires of Manhattan review and exclusive interview with New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz


BEFORE

The Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz is one of my favorite book series of all time and one that's very near and dear to my heart; I grew up with this YA paranormal saga the way some people grew up with Harry Potter, counting down to each release date and marathon-reading until the early hours of dawn. When the series finale was released in 2013, I read about how much my favorite characters had grown and realized how much I'd grown too since the day I picked up the first book when I was twelve years old. For me, it was more than just an epic tale of fallen angels damned to live out the rest of eternity on Earth as vampires—Blue Bloods was like my gateway drug to discovering so many of the things I love.

I first discovered Mel's Blue Bloods series in 2007, back in the days when I had the luxury of spending entire Sunday afternoons reading at the local Borders bookstore. I read to escape the mundanity of public middle school and how utterly bored I felt by the algebra problem sets and head-to-toe Hollister uniform everybody was wearing at the time: I was already dead set on leaving that dreary town, and after picking out Blue Bloods from the young adult bookshelves, I was instantly mesmerized by the darkly glamorous world Mel had concocted. The lychee martinis in dark nightclubs and Egyptian exhibitions at the Met Museum was the Manhattan of my dreams and the world I couldn't wait to escape to.

When I left the bookstore that night, I couldn’t get the cigarette smoke-filled alleyways and marble-floored prep schools out of my head. Of course, those dreams of escapes were always fleeting: there were always new books and new worlds to discover. But even though I'd read plenty of wonderful novels with murder mystery plots and rich debutantes and seductive vampires, Blue Bloods was different: none of the other novels I'd read told such rich back stories bursting with history and literature and mythology like Mel's books did, and it was those allusions that took me down rabbit holes of discovery.

I looked up everything from the story of Milton’s Paradise Lost (one of the main sources of inspiration for the series) to Olaf Eliasson’s and Dan Flavin’s fluorescent art; I was inspired to read Franz Kafka and Anne Sexton; and I still remember how excited I was when I recognized the Chinese deities the beautiful Chen twins were reincarnations of, and how surprised my mum was when I asked to know more about them: this was the first time in years that I'd expressed an interest in the same heritage I spent so much of my immigrant childhood denying. I continued to learn more about fashion and pop culture and people through these books, and most importantly, I became fascinated with the world I lived in.

In the year before the finale's release, I spent some time on Tumblr making graphics and writing a bit of meta on my favorite characters; what started as just a passion project for me to attempt to visually represent some of my favorite passages led me to some fantastic conversations about the books I loved so much, and even a chance to interview the author as part of her Gates of Paradise blog tour in January 2013. The final installment of the Blue Bloods saga was released during my senior year of high school, and the end to one most influential book series of my adolescence was the first of many bittersweet goodbyes that year for me.

AFTER

...so imagine my surprise when I reached the end of the epilogue of the last book only to find out that it wasn't quite the end after all. Vampires of Manhattan, a new novel released by Hyperion in September 2014, follows many of the main protagonists from the original Blue Bloods series ten years after the war has been fought and won, and as a longtime reader of this series this book was based off of, I was pleased to find that the spin-off was filled with the same attention to detail and fast-paced plot that I'd loved so much about the original.

One of the things that instantly drew me to this spin-off was how it centered around this question of what happens after that so-called happily ever after:
"What was a happy ending after all? It wasn't as if once the credits rolled and the lights came on or the author wrote 'the end' you stopped living, because there was so much more life to live." 
Because it's a question worth considering, and one that I've been thinking about a lot lately. This theme in particular is what really made this novel a departure from the YA genre for me: part of adulthood is realizing that maybe the things worth fighting for aren't effortless, and real life is a lot messier and complicated than I thought it would be. It was refreshing to see my favorite characters again dealing with the messiness of their life "after," set against the grittier but still glittery backdrop of the Manhattan I'd fallen in love with all those years ago. Some things change, and some things always stay the same.

I received a copy of Vampires of Manhattan from its publicist and was also fortunate enough to have a chance to post an exclusive interview with the author, Melissa de la Cruz. Below, Mel answers a few of my questions.

INTERVIEW

VIVIAN: The majority of the books you've written are in the young adult genre. What draws you to write YA, but also, what themes or ideas drew you to writing a Blue Bloods spinoff for adults that you feel you otherwise would not have explored if your spinoff was also in YA? 

Photo © Denise Bovee
MEL: For my adult books I do like to explore adult themes, which to me are not focused on growing up and discovering who you are, but about dealing with the person you became. So there's a lot about disappointment, fidelity, responsibility. What does it mean to have a happy marriage? In Blue Bloods we leave all the characters at the start of their eternal relationships. Weddings are all about promise. But as we know half of marriages end in divorce, and there is a struggle there. I wanted to explore all those issues that don't belong in the YA genre.

V: One of the things that immediately struck me was how much the War continues to affect the main characters' lives even a decade after its resolution. Vampires of Manhattan is in many ways a post-war story about how people have to reconstruct their lives after it's been so irrevocably changed, even though they were the ones who won. Why was it important for you to tell a story beyond happily ever after?

M: Because there's no such thing as happily ever after, there's just life really. So I wanted to show a realistic approach to fantasy. The victory has been won, but life goes on, with all its darkness and pain still. And maybe winning isn't what we thought it would be.

V: The Blue Bloods are back in New York, where it all began. What was your favorite part about returning to Manhattan? 

M: It's so fun to explore the city again and to celebrate it in its latest incarnation. I was in New York in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s. But now in 2014, so much has changed, it's vibrant, more expensive, harsher than ever, but also beautiful and quirky still.

V: Many of your main characters either are or have been Venators at various points in your series. What inspired this idea of a secret vampire police force?

M: When I created the character of Kingsley Martin, the Venators came with it. I wanted to give him a purpose and a background and I like undercover spy stories.

V: In Vampires of Manhattan we're reacquainted with some of our favorite protagonists from the Blue Bloods series, now in their late twenties. Even as teenagers, your Blue Bloods were wiser and braver than they were given credit for—in fact, they were constantly underestimated and weren't taken seriously by the adults in the Coven. What was it like to see your characters be the ones running the City and finally have their authority respected? In what ways do you think they're still the same people they were when they were teenagers? 

M: They're still who they are, but they've grown up and now they see the obstacles their adult counterparts had, and understood what it was like to be Charles Force maybe. It's easy to be the kid, the rebel, but when you're the boss it's even harder. I think that's what Oliver has come to realize, everything really is upon him now.

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V: Most of the chapters are told from the point of view from your female protagonists, and one of my favorite things about your books is that you have always written a variety of very different yet still wonderfully complex women, from Mimi Force, the reincarnation of the Angel of Death, to Finn Chase, the human familiar of Oliver Hazard-Perry. What would you say inspired the diversity represented in your characters? 

M: They're all part of me and I have a lot of sympathy for women like Mimi and Finn, who are not the typical "spunky" girl. Mimi is spoiled and bratty, but she has a big heart, and Finn was inspired by all those women who are married to powerful men who have to stand to the side, 'stand by their man' who gave up their own dreams to help his. I wanted to write about what that was like.

V: Finally, is there anything you would like to share about where the Blue Bloods might be headed in the sequel?

M: They are headed to Stockholm, to the underground clubs and the dark forests of the archipelago. Old faces return and take center stage!

Mel, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! As always, I look forward to the forthcoming sequel. 

xoxo, vivian

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