Paranormal author Syrie James wowed us with last year's stunning Nocturne, and we were absoloutely giddy when we learned she would be releasing her YA debut, Forbidden, co-written with son Ryan M. James. RT reviewer Maria Planansky interviewed the writing team to learn more about this supernatural tale of young love and the duo's method for crafting stories together.
You guys are a dynamite mother-son writing team. What was it like working together?
Syrie James: Thank you for the kind words! We had a blast writing Forbidden. We began the way I always do—by writing a detailed storyboard and outline, hashing out the characters, plot, and all the details of the world—which was extensive, since we were creating our own version of angel mythology, with many paranormal elements that aren’t usually part of the angel myth. Then we sat down together at my computer and wrote it.
Ryan M. James: Working together was a lot of fun. We came to know the characters and the world so well; it was like we became one mind. We often spoke the action and dialog aloud as we were typing, and found ourselves finishing each other's sentences and cracking each other up. I learned a lot from my mom, and I hope that she gained something from me being part of the equation.
SJ: Oh, absolutely! Ryan brought his own unique, creative vision to the novel, which was invaluable. He challenged me to explore new ideas and look at things a different way, especially when it came to the paranormal world, the supernatural abilities of the characters, and the action scenes. I was more adamant about certain things in the real world, the heroine’s character, her relationship with her mom, and the romance.
RJ: We went into this committed that it would be a 50/50 collaboration, so whenever we disagreed on something, we listened and welcomed each other’s input, and always found a compromise. Sometimes our best ideas came because we challenged each other to work harder and think deeper. It was a remarkable and very rewarding experience.
Claire Brennan is such a delight--what was your inspiration for creating such a compelling young woman?
SJ: For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of psychic phenomenon. Is it really possible for some people to “see” the future, to read others’ thoughts, and/or to channel another person’s spirit? I’ve had experiences where I was certain I’d heard a voice in my head issuing a warning about something, which later proved to be true. Was it intuition, or a psychic experience? I wanted to explore the idea by writing a book about a teenage girl who gets mysterious psychic messages, and discovers she has psychic abilities. She’d fall in love with a boy at school who’d help her figure out what was going on with her. While pondering this concept, I recalled a screenplay Ryan and I had written years before, about a young superhero who was tired of his slayer-like job, dreaming of just having a normal life and passing for human. It occurred to me: what if I combined the male character from that story with my psychic girl?
RJ: I felt personally invested in my character and asked if we could write the book together. My mom decided to give it a shot. We were excited when we came up with a way to have both the girl (Claire's) unusual psychic powers and the boy (Alec's) supernatural abilities come from the same source—a back story that made it possible for us to embed the novel with mystery and make Claire instantly sympathetic. To ground the story and make it feel more believable, we set it in a very real high school environment. The story blossomed from there.
Forbidden is jam packed with wit—how do you keep the levity in what has the potential to be really tragic?
SJ: It’s all about finding ways to stay optimistic, looking for the fun turn of phrase or action to lighten the mood, and trying to remember (or have our characters remember) that something good can come from even the most difficult or tragic situation. When we created Claire’s friends Erica and Brian, it was not just to help ground the action in reality, but to add a level of “fun” to the novel. The way those two look at things is just plain funny. They’re the kind of friends we’d want on our side when the going gets rough—the type who’ll always be there for you, who’ll make you laugh when you feel like crying, and will listen and believe even when what is happening seems to be impossible.
RJ: We hoped to create characters that—though they are teenagers—are capable of acting and reasoning like adults, and don’t just freak out when they encounter something supernatural. We live in a culture so saturated with films/TV/books/comics/games/etc. about vampires and other things that go bump in the night, we believe people wouldn’t be ridiculously shocked to learn that “X” is real. Instead, we think they’d wonder “is X in reality like the ones I see on TV and film?”
Syrie, I loved your last book Nocturne, a paranormal story for adults. Why the switch to Young Adult fiction?
SJ: It wasn’t a switch so much as a segue. Because I wanted to write about a sixteen-year-old girl, it meant the story would be characterized as Young Adult fiction—but we didn’t write Forbidden specifically for young adults. Many of our reviewers are adults who’ve said they enjoy this genre because it’s a fun, romantic read—which we’re really happy about. We wrote the novel with the hope of appealing to people of all ages and genders. Adults went through the experience of high school too, and we believe they can just as readily relate to the situations and emotions experienced by Alec and Claire as anyone under 18.
I’m dying to know what your next projects will be ...
SJ: I just finished writing The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, a new, romantic novel for Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Books, which I’m very excited about! It will be published in January 2013. I have plenty of other historical fiction novels in mind, but I enjoyed writing Forbidden so much, that I also hope to write more Young Adult fiction, either on my own or with Ryan (we’d love to write a sequel to Forbidden).
RJ: I’m hard at work every day at video game developer Naughty Dog on their new title, The Last of Us. But in my spare time I’m working on a fantasy-noir novel with another co-writer, finishing my web series A Clone Apart, and hoping to write a sequel for Forbidden.