Saturday, April 30, 2011

Throat by R. A. Nelson: Last Stop on the Tour

Throat is the fourth book from author R. A. Nelson, a fast paced tale of a girl, Emma, who has a seizure while being attacked by a vampire. Emma becomes a vampire herself--but one who doesn't need to drink blood. Hunted by the vampire who attacked her, Wirtz, she takes refuge at the Huntsville NASA base.

What I loved about Throat, as well as the fiendish Wirtz, was the original take on the vampire trope. Nelson blends traditional vampire lore with astrophysics, creating a world in which vampires worship the sun and can be "healed" by solar storms. There's a rather lovely young man on the base too, called Sagan (named after the brilliant and charismatic astronomer, Carl Sagan), that Emma becomes involved with.

There's something different about Nelson's style of writing in Throat compared to his earlier books. It's just as descriptive and evocative, but the manner is more direct. I enjoyed Emma's fresh voice. In a landscape of vampire literature, or bit-lit, Throat stands out.

I'm very pleased to welcome Russ to my blog to answer a few questions about the book.


RH: Much of the action in Throat takes place on a NASA base where you work. What was it like imagining supernatural creatures in such a familiar place? What do your co-workers thing about it?

RAN: Hi, Rhiannon! I love OZ and I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for having me.

Okay, first question. I’ve been coming to the Marshall Space Flight Center ever since I was a young kid. My dad worked there on the Apollo moon program and later on Skylab. So, counting my day job, I’ve sort of been around the base my whole life! It’s an amazing place full of history colliding with the most modern technology imaginable. A lot of the center is thousands of acres of fields, woods, and cows surrounding all the space center buildings. So it made the perfect setting for Throat where the monster vampires lay siege to my main character in her “tower.” It was a lot of fun setting the story there because I could use so many real details and for the fact that it is a lonely, deserted, HUGE place that can be more than a little creepy at night. Also the Tennessee river runs through the space center, so this ties in perfectly with the story in Throat as well. It’s simply a perfect place for supernatural creatures to battle to the death without much chance of discovery. As for my co-workers, I kind of keep a low profile. I haven’t mentioned Throat to anyone out there, though they do know that I write. There have been some articles in the local paper, though, and I’m always surprised at who will come up to me and mention reading about it!

RH: Your tastes seem very broad and you like to mix vampires with astronomy, ghosts with preachers and so on. What unusual combinations can we expect from you in the future?

RAN: Gosh, I’m not sure what will be mixed in next! But I’m sure something will. I can’t seem to write a book without filling it with ideas from one (or more) of my various passions. But yes, I do love to mix in science and other passions with the stories I write. I feel it adds an air of believability and the concrete details make the sometimes outlandish things that happen in my books more plausible. Also, I love indirectly spreading the joy of science or history or poetry among my readers in such a pain-free way! I’ve always had a passion for these things, but they can be an “acquired taste” for some. J My next book, which has a working title of BEYOND WHERE I CAN SEE,  is going to be extremely different from anything I have ever written before, with a really fresh “voice” that I think will be utterly usual when compared with anything else out there. Still in the thinking stages, though work is proceeding. As I go, I’m sure all those crazy fun thoughts I have about everything under the sun will start to tumble out onto the page as well. So I will probably be just as surprised as anyone else.

RH: Why do you think people like to imagine a world in which supernatural creatures exist, be it good or evil? What do you think these novels can offer that contemporary or "real world" novels can't?

I think sometimes people with big imaginations are a little disappointed with real life. As a kid your head is popping with all these incredible possibilities and thoughts of adventures and mysteries. But all too soon things like school, Little League, safety rules, bullies, etc., start chipping away at that early “sense of wonder.” Some people lose the ability to think this way entirely by the time they get to be 12 or 13 or even younger, while others keep it all their lives. I once had a character in a book say this: “I’m desperate for life to turn out to be more interesting than it really is.” Probably a lot of people feel that way because we get to spend so little time on the passions that really excite us because we are constantly taking care of the day to day necessities. I think that reading about imaginary worlds and creatures is a way to kind of keep that connection open to the infinite wonder contained within the universe (and our own heads). We want to be engaged, alive, challenged, fully “in the moment.” Maybe most of all, we want to be dazzled…feel our jaws drop in collective awe. And reading this kind of fiction is a way of doing this that simply can’t be had in almost any other way.

RH: My favourite character in Throat is Wirtz. He's about as far from a kissable vampire that you can get--which I love. A real monster, and a rarity in contemporary young adult fiction. Do you think that monsters such as vampires and werewolves still have the scope to be monstrous in YA lit, or are they becoming "declawed"?

RAN: Thanks, I had a great time writing the character of Wirtz and digging into everything that made him tick. Really I think it all depends on the story and the skill of the storyteller. I definitely think there is room for monsters in YA fiction, as long as it’s done in a unique way. I think if a writer tried to go back and recreate the old Universal movie monsters from back in the day, this would fall flat on its face. There has to be a sense that this is something entirely new, and monstrous characters/villains also work much better if you can “humanize” them in some way, so that the reader experiences the hurt and bitterness inside the rage of the monster. Ruthless, heartless villains are powerful, but also very hard to pull off in an interesting/believable way unless you give them some kind of depth to go along with their “monsterness.” I have no idea if there will be a trend toward this sort of thing. I knew I was taking a risk in doing this in Throat, particularly with vampires, as readers these days are so indoctrinated into the perspective that vampires are glamorous, universally gorgeous, socially dazzling, etc. I didn’t want to be a copycat – I was determined to kind of start at “vampire ground zero” and build from there. If you take the condition at its most realistic, vampires would be bloodsucking homeless people. But I also have some that worship the sun. I love books that surprise me, and this is what I try to do with everything I write.

Thanks again!


Links to previous stops on the tour:

Monday, April 25th : Books with Bite
Tuesday, April 26th : Patricia’s Vampire Notes
Wednesday, April 27th : Bite Club
Thursday, April 28th : SUVUDU
Friday, April 29th : Random Acts of Reading

Most of you will have heard about the tornadoes that have ripped through Alabama in the last week. At the time of posting Russ, who lives in Alabama, has been silent online. I hear much of northern Alabama is without power. I hope he and his family are safe.

Edit 1 May: Russ's little sister has posted on his Facebook that he and his family are safe and well.

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