Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kathleen Stalks the Secrets of PALE IMMORTAL

As of today, Anne Frasier's PALE IMMORTAL dwells among us.

Set in contemporary small town America with a well-drawn cast of characters, PALE IMMORTAL (just released!) is simply an irresistible read. I defy you to set the book aside after reading the Author's Note at the beginning. Legend has it that a vampire once roamed the streets of Tuonela, Wisconsin. An autopsy has it that town’s first murder victim in a hundred years was drained of blood. However, if you're looking for the typical fang-in-the-neck vampire story, this isn't it. Tuonela has its dark history and attending lore, but the characters are perfectly believable human beings. Mostly.

I'm a straight-shooter with endorsements, so this has nothing to do with friendship. I tell you true, the characters in PALE IMMORTAL drew me in and held on long after I finished the book. I'm not a regular paranormal reader. It's not that I'm offended by blood spillage or suckage. It's just that without good relationships and characters I care about, a book will lose me in short order. Beyond that, the premise has to work for me. You can't just hand me some ready-made hokum about monsters. You have to build a world I can buy into. PALE IMMORTAL does that in spades.

KE: So, Anne, I won’t say you had me at hello, because we do not go gentle into the PALE IMMORTAL night. But the characters had me early on. Can you guess my favorite?

AF: Graham is definitely my favorite, so i'm going to guess Graham. Am I at all close? Or was it Tuonela? :)

KE: You got it on the first try. Graham is one of the best teenagers I’ve read in a very long time. Graham’s mother drives non-stop from Arizona, dumps him on the doorstep of the village recluse, whom she says is Graham’s father, and takes off. During Graham’s first couple of days in Tuonela a pretty girl (Isobel) befriends him, but so does a group of Goth types who call themselves "The Pale Immortals" after the town’s infamous former resident. All this and the discovery of two corpses—one a bit fresher than the other—and poor Graham ought to be looking for a ride to Minnesota. You put this kid through some horrific stuff, but he keeps bobbing back up from the pits with that terrific, slightly twisted adolescent eye for the ironic. Sort of a blue collar Holden Caulfield. The “initiation” scene into the Pale Immortals is so Graham. He has to drink blood in near darkness, of course, and he remembers there’s been some stolen from the hospital. “For some reason that didn’t seem so bad. Already packaged and on a shelf. Kinda like grocery shopping.

Where did this character come from? Did he evolve with the writing, or was he conceived as such a strong character with the story concept?

AF: I just happen to love that age. I love writing characters who are 16. They think they know everything and approach life that way. They can make you mad and break your heart all at the same time. I have to say teenagers come much easier for me than adults. I wanted to write Graham for about eight years. I wanted him to be the main character, and the adults would just be Charlie Brown adults, but I began to doubt that story would ever get written, so I used him for this book.

KE: Graham gives Isobel a CD with his favorite music, which he thinks about almost apologetically as upbeat, allowing to himself that “a young heart could only take so much.” He’s been abused and shuttled around all his life. And Isobel’s parents are classical musicians who are always gone. Vulnerable teenagers. Dare I suggest the dreaded T word? Do we have a bit of a theme going here? How does that fit with a story that borders on horror?

AF: This book is packed with themes. I happen to love themes! I think the book mirrors the isolation, loss of identity, and sense of displacement that's so prevalent in society today. The lack of a strong family unit. Another similar theme is the outsider. Both isobel and Graham are outsiders. So is Evan -- and even Rachel to some extent. Of course Evan is the ultimate outsider, yearning for answers he will never find and a life he can never have. People trapped by circumstance is another recurring theme and something a lot of people deal with in their lives. The weight of responsibility. Do you turn your back on the people who need you for the chance of a better life? No. At least most of us don't. There is also the recurring theme of the love of a father for his son. This plays out with three generations of Stroud men.How does it fit with a story that borders on horror? I can't explain my attraction to horror or the psychology of it, but for me it's very powerful. I think it some ways it can make us face what we most fear and move beyond it. Or maybe it's just the buzz. :D

KE: It’s more than buzz. Good horror forces us to look squarely into the face of our worst fears, and you’re doing it with themes that run the gamut—from the safety of home and community, parental love and commitment to the beast within and the danger of losing our children or driving them away. Lots to chew on here.

Evan Stroud is my favorite kind of hero—the wounded outcast. Because he has a potentially fatal allergy to sunlight and only goes out at night, people only half-jokingly call him a vampire. I loved Graham’s first inkling of trust when Evan serves him breakfast: “Would a vampire say something about a good breakfast? Would a vampire even fix breakfast?

I’ve gotta say, I've finished the book, but I’m still thinking about Evan Stroud. He’s turned on his ear by the end—which means there’s more to come—but he’s totally sympathetic and totally human. Isn’t he?

AF: Haha. That's definitely the big question here, isn't it? Is he just a victim of subliminal persuasion? Of myth and superstition? Of paranoia? Or is something more going on?

KE: (Grrr. Where's my scoop?) Okay, so you left me thinking about Evan, but still smiling over Graham. He has such a distinctive voice. Notices the things kids notice. Like when the principal calls an assembly. "She hardly ever smiled, because being a principal was serious shit. And being a small woman who was also a principal was even more serious shit."

Talk about a little bit about juxtaposing Graham’s voice with Evan’s.

AF: I'm not sure I always pulled that off. I'm not as comfortable writing adults, so i struggled a little with Evan. Didn't want him to sound too pompous or grouchy, but also didn't want him to come across as too laid back or too similar to Graham.
KE: You pulled it off nicely. Evan’s voice rings true to the character’s situation, which is certainly unique. But I have to touch on Tuonela. You got me with the Author’s Note, too. I’ve wrestled on a couple of books with the question of whether to use an author’s note and where to put it. What was your thinking on this one?

AF: The author's note is something i wanted people to think about and wonder about. I wanted them to get up, walk to the bookshelf, and pull out a map to see if they could find Tuonela. I wanted to take the story outside the book and into the reader's own life. That has been a big part of this book -- adding layers outside the pages. I've never done an author intro before, and I'm not sure I would do it again. It was just something I did for this book because I had external plans for it.

KE: I’m still trying to figure out whether Tuonela exists. You actually had me Googling. You say that 90% of the time you won’t find Tuonela on the map, so I’m about to start buying maps of Wisconsin on E-Bay.
AF: Kathleen, you're doing exactly what I wanted you to do! Look for Tuonela. Just call me ambiguous. ;)

KE: It’s a delicious setting. Lovely small town, creepy past. “In Tuonela, twighlight never lingered and darkness always came quickly, like an extinguished flame or a dropped curtain.”

Our heroine, Rachel Burton, did the sane thing and got out while the gettin’ was good. But she’s back, and she’s the coroner of all things. What’s that about?

AF: That ties into the responsibility theme i was talking about earlier. At first she returned because of an ill parent. Then she didn't want to leave her father alone. Then the town needed her. But of course deep down the town was really calling to her. I've experienced this pull with my own hometown. Something is always calling me back, and I have to fight it because I don't think it's a good place for me. But it's always there, and I sometimes I wonder if I should just quit fighting and move back. I think many of us long for the roots and heritage of quaint town and a life that doesn't exist. And of course with Rachel we have to think that subconsciously she also stayed because of Evan.

KE: It’s funny—someone on the Romance Readers Anonymous loop mentioned Theresa Weir yesterday, wondered whether she was still writing. Someone else said she thought Theresa had morphed into Anne Frasier and listed your latest books. I don’t often post, but I jumped on the opportunity to report that PALE IMMORTAL is hot off the press this week. Described the setup and ended with: You've got a grisly murder in a small Midwestern town where nothing this exciting has happened in 100 years. Plenty of suspense and some pretty gory deeds, but this is a character-driven novel, and this romance lover was hooked from page one.

And that’s how I’ll end here, with both thumbs up for PALE IMMORTAL!


Jeff said...

Great interview, Kathleen. I'm glad you joined the party. :)

Betina Krahn said...

Anne and Kathy, absorbing interview! I can't wait to read the book now! And Anne, I'm surprised you're still coherent after such a day! he,he!
Yeah. . . I confess. . . I've been scoping out the maps of Wisconsin, too. So far, no luck. But I'll keep trying. . .

Bon Chance!

Bailey Stewart said...

Great interview Kathleen, thanks for doing it.

Being one of those lucky enough to read the ARC, I can tell you that there is also elements of a love story - bone to the romance readers. LOL

I loved the author's note.

Helen Brenna said...

It is a great interview, Kathy. And I was wondering about the possibility of a romantic thread, Bailey. Gotta get to it!

anne frasier said...

kathleen, thank you so much for a fantastic interview!!
i really loved that you zeroed in on the teenager in the story. for eight years i've wanted to write a kind of modern catcher in the rye, but i don't know if that will ever happen -- so to satisfy some of that desire i put some of that character in this book. i'm afraid my catcher book might be the kind a person has to write when she's rich and doesn't need the money. i used to think it could write it on the side, but i can't work at that pace anymore.

love the maps!!! that is SO FUNNY!!!!!

Helen Brenna said...

Anne, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this book MAKES you rich. Then you can write anything you want.

Michele said...

I still say it sounds creepy.



anne frasier said...

aw, helen. thank you.

michele: creepy is always good i my world. :)

Candace said...

Another book I have to add to my to-buy list for my next trip to my local Borders!