Lytherus Exclusive: Interview with Tessa Gratton, Author of ‘The Blood Keeper’

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Hi all! The site was down for a few days, so this has been delayed, but I’m happy to post another exclusive interview with awesome author Tessa Gratton. Her newest book, The Blood Keeper, came out on Tuesday, and Tessa sat down with us to talk about it.

WARNING: There are spoilers in this interview. If you haven’t read The Blood Keeper, proceed with caution. You’ve been warned!

Take it away Tessa!

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1: give us a quick summary of The Blood Keeper for those who are curious.

TBK takes place 5 years after Blood Magic, and in Kansas where Mab Prowd has become the new Deacon – leader of the community of magic users, and responsible for binding and keeping safe curses and any other harmful magic. Her first act is to destroy the cursed roses in her garden, but curiosity and love of magic convince her to explore the curse before binding it, accidentally releasing it into the world. The first person the curse finds is Will Sanger, a jock from a military family who’s trying to figure out how to be his own person. His life collides with Mab’s magic in a dramatic way that drags up old grudges and dangerous, long-hidden secrets buried under the Kansas prairie.

2: For The Blood Keeper you decided to introduce new main characters to the reader. We see visits from Silla and Nick, but the story is from the POVs of Mab and Will. Did you always intend to have it be this way? Clearly, from things we read in this book, Silla and Nick’s story isn’t over. Why the shift?

To me Nick and Silla did finish their story – as far as young adult novels are concerned. They grew up, they became who they needed to be, and if I were to write more about them, it couldn’t be a YA novel. I knew immediately that whatever I did, Nick and Silla couldn’t be the focus. I wanted Reese to be the focus, and spent about 6 months writing this book called Crow Magic that was more directly a sequel, dealing with Reese and his transition, a girl named Mab who was very different from the current incarnation, and a sexy young Arthur Prowd. I tried about 3 different iterations of it, and none of them worked. It all hinged on Reese and my desire to give him a happy ending being in conflict with the reality of his situation and rules of magic I’d established as well as psychological realities. I had a long conversation with my MIL, a Jungian psychologist, and at the end was pretty sure Reese couldn’t ever be a healthy, complete boy again. I cried for a few weeks and then rebooted entirely. Mab got a revamp into the wild, passionate, powerful girl she is now, and I built Will to be the best foil/partner I could for her.

3: Let’s talk about Mab for a bit. She is wonderfully unashamed of who she is, and that more than anything else is what I love best about her. It makes her confident, because she feels no need to be self-conscious. Take us through developing such a strong and unique character.

Thank you! I knew I wanted the female POV to be contrary to Silla in that Mab always, always grew up with the magic. She lives and breathes it from the beginning. I made her Josephine’s daughter because a) I love Josie and needed a way for her to appear and b) I wanted to embrace Josephine’s passion and power in a more healthy way as well as show a totally different side to Josephine. The biggest thing Josephine would teach Mab was to never be ashamed, to always be confident and believe she could do anything, deserved to do anything. The characters in The Blood Journals are always very overtly the product of their parents/family history. Mab is who Josephine made her, tempered by Arthur and Evelyn who raised her.

4: Your books are always filled with lovely kissing scenes, and they definitely leave me feeling tingly. I’m curious though: have you ever thought about venturing further into sexual territory with your YA novels? Upping the stakes with that too? Why do you draw the line at the kiss?

I don’t draw the line at kissing – I’m completely open to taking it further when the story and characters both call for it. There’s higher sexual stakes in my current WIP as well as plenty of my short stories. But stakes are a thing you have to be careful with – it can’t be overwhelming or too complicated, and you have to know it’s necessary to the story. In both Blood Journals books it didn’t fit because of story and characters. Nick and Silla are super horny and desperate for each other, but the story didn’t give them time or energy for it. They were too busy fighting for their lives, being traumatized, and mourning to really give into each other. Mab and Will have the luxury of time, but as people they’re less focused on sexuality, less hungry for it. For them it will be a slow burn toward more intimacy. It was outside the constraints of the novels.

5: The Blood Keeper has a lot of characters from the first book, many of whom were only mentioned briefly or with some mystery (I’m thinking Donna and Arthur in particular). Did you always intend to have them come to the forefront for this second story? What was it like to develop their characters into more tangible entities?

I always wanted my companion novel to expand on the world, the magic and the characters specifically. I’ve wanted to write about Arthur since the earliest drafts of Blood Magic (which he was actually IN), and originally the historic narrative of The Blood Keeper was Arthur’s voice. (Then it was Gabriel, and only last did I land on Evelyn!) I wanted to explore the origins of the community Arthur initiated, and wrote a lot of outtakes from his point of view, developed lots of historical story-lines about him and Gabriel. Regarding Donna, she was, to me, the most unanswered question in Blood Magic, so I wanted to see what happened to her, to offer some closure for Nick, and also hit him with additional parental angst (it’s his lot in life). I only ever explored Donna’s character from Mab’s point of view, because I wanted to be as accurate as possible in how Mab specifically interacted with her. She is, in several ways, a foil to Josephine.

6: I really enjoy how you not only jump between the male and female lead in your books, but also how the story is also interjected with journal entries from the past that tie into the story in the now. When writing the stories, was this premise always there from the start? Because the characters that pen these entries have a strong presence in both books.

There was always a journal in Blood Magic, written by an early version of Josephine, because I was invested in the magic being strongly connected to family and history. I knew The Blood Keeper needed a similar POV connecting the story to the past because I wanted the structure to mirror the first book. I had more trouble finding the right voice for it the second time around, as I mentioned above.

7: You’ve talked about how ideas for this book you’ve had in your head since you were a child. What parts have you been carrying around all these years?

The cursed roses! I love the idea of beautiful things hiding darkness, and for my entire life I’ve dreamed of flying and transformation.

8: In our last interview we discussed a bit the research you had to do on American folklore and blood magic. Was it more intense researching for this second book, to find more ideas, or did you just build on the knowledge that you had acquired when you set the world up in Blood Magic?

Honestly, I did very little additional research for The Blood Keeper. Mostly it was the specific kind – like figuring out what was going on in the Adirondack mountains in the 1750s (when Arthur and Gabriel met)(it was mostly the French and Indian War). The magic was already practically second-nature to me, though I infused it more explicitly with the folk magic because Mab learned primarily from Arthur whereas Silla’s magic was more influenced by her father, who prized the “higher arts” of alchemy.

9: I’m sure I’m not the first to ask this question, and I won’t be the last, but what happened to Reese? Did he sort of just fade away? Did he give up the raven space by choice so Will could have it?

Mab and Silla assume his spirit moved on, either to some heaven, or into the magic of the land around him.

10: I know you’re working on your Asgard series right now, but do you think you’ll ever venture back into the world of The Blood Journals?

There’s a third book in my head, and it will probably be written at some point, but there’s no official plan right now. I’ll give you one hint though: Lukas.

Bonus question!

11. In both your books death is a heavy, prominent theme. Was this a deliberate similarity? Do you think the characters have a deeper, richer experience with magic because of where they are emotionally due to the losses they’ve experienced?

Because I was trying to parallel the two novels without making them sequels, I needed for a death to trigger the events of TBK in the same way it was death that triggered BM. In Blood Magic, it was dark and tragic and horrible in every way, so in TBK I made the death more of a relief, beautiful and timely. It was still sad, but Mab and Arthur understand death to be a part of life, and that his transition was natural and normal, unlike Silla’s parents who were murdered. That was another way for me to make TBK the day to BM’s night. They’re dark/light mirrors. So I think it was more about theme than the characters having deeper experiences with magic – Mab certainly didn’t need death to make her go deeper into the magic, since she embodies it every day. (Will’s relationship to death via his brother Aaron was a later addition and had to do with creating a specific conflict in his family and in his heart about the military and his future.)

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Thanks Tessa! You can find Tessa on twitter (@tessagratton) and at www.tessagratton.com.

 

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