Recently I got the opportunity to read/review the third book in the series, Tainted Blood (out November 4 from Roc) and I loved it. I also got the opportunity to pick Brennan’s mind about the series.
NICK SHARPS: Sell me Tainted Blood (American Vampire #3) in one sentence.
M.L. BRENNAN: Fortitude Scott gets thrown into the deep end when his brother’s personal crisis means that he’s stuck monitoring the family territory – just in time for the murder of the werebear leader to land him and his wingwoman, kitsune Suzume, on the trail of a killer.
NS: Family — family seems to be at the core of the series as well as Fort’s problems. Why is that?
MB: Family is one of the major themes of the book — partly because it’s something that I find really interesting as a writer, but also because I think it grounds the series in an emotional reality. I might be writing about vampires, kitsune, and werebears, which it’s kind of hard to feel much empathy with, but we all know the feeling of family pressure, or not doing what our family members think we should be doing with our lives. We know that the bonds of affection we have with our family can be simultaneously interwoven with bonds of duty, annoyance, and many other things as well. Fort’s ongoing and fairly fraught relationship with his family is something that I find reliably interesting for me as a writer, and I’ve had a lot of fun developing those relationships over the course of these three books.
NS: It’s definitely an area in which I can empathize with Fort (not that my family is an ancient vampire clan). I think the ability of the reader to connect with Fort is one of the greatest successes of the series — have your experiences in life influenced his own?
MB: First, thanks so much! Secondly — in a moderate way, certainly. Being tied to a person by both duty and affection even though you actually have about zero things in common is something that I’ve experienced with members of my own family. It’s certainly not to the extent that Fort feels it (I’m happy to report that none of my family members have body counts associated with them), but the seed of that is present. I built it up a great deal, but I’ve experienced (in a smaller way) plenty of the emotions that he has.
NS: Switching gears here a bit to Fort’s partner-in-crime-stopping, Suzume the Kitsune. If Fort is the angel on my shoulder, inspiring me to be a better person, then Suzume is the little devil. Tell me, is she as much fun to write as she is to read?
MB: Absolutely. Any scene with Suzume in it is just going to be easier to break into and get through because Suze is there to pull pranks and make jokes. At the same time, when things get serious, she is absolutely the kind of person you’d want at your back, because she arrives ready for business. One of the things I really value the most about the Suzume character is that she brings with her a brutal honesty. She’ll stick around when things get tough because she and Fort are friends — but she isn’t happy sticking her neck out for anyone else, and she’ll make that known. Similarly, if Fort is doing something that she thinks is dumb, she’s going to say it. And if she has the opportunity to pull a prank on Fort, she totally will. When I saw that scene in Guardians of the Galaxy where Rocket sends Peter to steal a guy’s prosthetic leg, supposedly as a key component for their escape plan, but actually just because he thought it would be really funny — that was totally something I could’ve seen Suzume doing to Fort.
NS: Now that you mention it I can totally see Suze pulling that on Fort! I think she’d get along famously with Rocket. I’ve said this in my reviews but I’m continually impressed by how Suze continues to develop. She’s not a typical, one-dimensional, love interest as some might expect to find in an urban fantasy story. Is there any chance readers might one day get a spin-off series?
MB: I have a few different ideas bouncing around my head for things that could progress further down the line, but right now it’s pretty dependent on whether readers show a sustained interest in the series. In terms of Suzume’s development — at the time that I wrote the first book, I actually didn’t consider her a love interest at all. My main focus was on these two very different characters forming a real and sustained friendship. It was only after the book was sold that the question of a relationship between the two of them came up. I ultimately decided to pursue that possibility because I really did want to do a relationship that really did have its roots in a solid friendship, rather than the kind of insta-love/lust that tends to haunt the genre, where you know that a character is going to be a love interest primarily because they flash a set of chiseled abs.
NS: I suspect sustained interest in the series will require that you further explore and [looking for the right word here] monster mythology. In Generation V you took vampires and made them scary again, and not just scary but cunning. In Iron Night you showed readers a side of elves I never even imagined. Where do you get your inspiration and what might we have to look forward to in future entries of the series?
MB: Once I’d decided how I wanted to rethink and present vampires, that really did set the tone for how I deal with monsters in my series. I wanted there to be a certain level of biological grounding to what I did, but also a sense that these species were something that could actually function. I didn’t want anything to have an otherwordly kind of wish fulfillment — look at Anne Rice’s vampires (when you’re a vampire your hair and skin become magically fabulous!) or the Lord of the Rings‘ elves (which, let’s face it — I’m not sure they poop — and if they did, I’m confident that it would be composed of glitter). I’m also pretty aware at all times that urban fantasy is a very crowded genre, and that it’s pretty important not just to present a monster species in an “off the shelf” style. That really pushes me, in a great way, during the planning phases of a book. Either I try to find a monster that readers haven’t seen too much of (such as the kitsune), or I make sure that my presentation of a monster is different than what else is out there (such as with the vampires and elves). Tainted Blood does have a monster that’s new to the series. I wanted to bring in a large shapeshifter group — both because I thought it might be an interesting thing for the series, and because it would give Suzume and the kitsune a chance to be a bit snobbish. Given that I was already working with vampires, I wanted to stay far away from werewolves — they’re just so thoroughly established in UF. But werebears aren’t seen as often, but it turns out that bears have a fascinating place in the mythologies of many cultures. So that’s how I brought in the werebears, which readers will encounter for the first time in Tainted Blood.
NS: I love self promotion but I love it even more when authors promote others. I think that’s one of the coolest things about the industry and I’ve found a lot of great reads because of it. Say someone is making a trip to the bookstore in a couple of months. Tainted Blood obviously makes it into their cart but what else should they consider buying?
MB: Oh, definitely Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names. And Teresa Frohock’s Miserere should be on everyone’s bookshelves. V. E. Schwab’s Vicious is unbelievably good, and so is Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead. And don’t forget to pick up Stephen Blackmoore’s Eric Carter books plus Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series. I have to stop before I go any further, so that’s the short list.
NS: I believe that I’ve mentioned in my reviews of both Generation V and Iron Night that Fortitude Scott needs his own television series. Say that the stars aligned and someone optioned American Vampire — how would you like to see it done? Any particular station/actors/directors/style?
MB: I certainly wouldn’t say no if someone called and was interested in making the books into a series — I think it would be pretty cool, and certainly there are quite a few scenes that would look really cool. I really enjoyed the short-lived TV version of Jim Butcher’s Dresden series, so that kind of adaptation would probably be neat.
NS: I’m sure I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’d like to thank you for answering these questions. I’d also like to give you the final word to the readers!
MB: First, thanks so much for the lovely conversation — it was a lot of fun! To the readers — Tainted Blood comes out in November. It has an amazing cover, and I’m able to push the series in a direction that I’m really excited about — big things are on the horizon for Fort and Suze, and longtime fans will probably get excited about a few changes that occur in the book. I’m currently working on the fourth book in the series, so there will be even more to look forward to!