Adam Rex is an amazingly talented children’s illustrator, as well as being an author of both children’s and YA novels. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person last month at BEA, and I made sure to line him up for an interview later before we parted ways. His new novel, Fat Vampire, is due out next month, and it ‘s not your typical vampire novel. Nor is it your typical coming of age novel.
Here I’ve got Adam talking about his inspiration for the story, his influences as a writer, his view of what it would be like to live forever (hint: it’s not all sunshine and roses), and much more. Sink your teeth in and enjoy!
Elena Nola: Fat Vampire is a Young Adult book. What is your background as a writer, coming into this book?
Adam Rex: I’ve previously published a middle-grade novel called The True Meaning of Smekday, and I’ve written a number of picture books. This is my first book aimed specifically at teens and adults, although I’m proud to say that I’ve heard from a good number of each who like my previous work.
Otherwise I can’t claim a lot of training. I don’t have an MFA or anything. I took one very influential intro to fiction writing course as an undergrad, and I learned the rest by reading and doing.
What made you decide to write a YA book after starting with children’s books? Do you think you’ll continue to write YA fiction? What about adult novels?
I didn’t so much decide to write a YA as I just got an idea I wanted to pursue and I pursued it in what seemed to be its proper direction. I started writing and thinking about this idea, and it seemed to be a YA or adult novel, so that’s how I shaped it. My next idea might be a picture book or an early reader or a middle grade novel, and I hope I’ll have the clearheadedness to see it for what it is.
Will I write an adult novel? I guess I don’t really draw hard and fast distinctions between these categories. I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I was eleven. I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird (a novel which has frequently been categorized as a children’s book) right now. To me the only difference between a YA and an adult novel is marketing.
Fat Vampire is, as the title suggests, about a not-so-hot teenager who becomes a vampire. What was the inspiration behind this story?
Well, frankly, it began when I misread a banner ad online. It featured obviously vampirey sort of imagery and the title My Dork Embrace. Ha, I thought, what a great idea, because I assumed it must be some kind of story about the sort of person who never becomes a vampire in other books–someone awkward, not so attractive. But as I kept clicking around my mind wouldn’t let go of it, because the tone of the ad hadn’t really gelled with the title. So I went back and checked, and indeed it was really called My Dark Embrace. It just wasn’t a very good “a”. But then I got excited, because this meant I could write that awkward-teen-vampire story myself.
Your character main character, Doug, certainly spotlights one of the hidden truths of becoming a vampire—if you’re changed at a low point in your life, that is where you will always be. Did you mean for this aspect to be a warning or a comedic element?
A warning? You mean like “start jogging now, just in case the vampires come?” Actually, I guess I’m taking that advice, if you replace “the vampires” with “problems with cardiovascular health brought on by high cholesterol.”
How do you view the prospect of living forever?
I think it would be a drag, honestly. I love my wife, so I wouldn’t be happy unless I could take her along with me. But even then we’d have to constantly move around, forge new identities (which would only get harder and harder to do), and eventually we’d probably end up as the only two living people left on Earth. Which I think I could handle because I like to read, but still….
I guess whenever I get this question I want to start negotiating: does living forever just mean I’ll never die of old age, or that I’m actually impervious to harm, hunger, disease, poison, etc.? Or do I just heal well? If I lose an arm would it grow back? What if I break my spine? Auto accidents are pretty common. The longer I’d live, the greater and greater the odds that I’d meet with some devastating accident. Such an accident would be a near certainty for an immortal. What if my entire body were irreparably broken but I continued to live? For thousands of years.
You know, this is reminding me of an old DC comic from the seventies called PREZ, about the first teenaged president of the United States. Neil Gaiman used the titular character in an issue of Sandman. In one story Prez meets Dracula, to whom the years have not been kind–he’s legless and has to wheel himself around on a little skateboard. So anyway, I think it would be a drag. Aren’t you sorry you asked?
When we were talking about this book at BEA, you said that despite his seeming handicap of being chubby and nerdy, once Doug becomes a vampire he gains a certain cache and maybe starts to manipulate the world to his advantage. (Is this a hint of will to power?) How much of your own perspective on psychology does this reflect?
Well, one thing the vampirism affords Doug is a certain animal magnetism–but only after he begins to really accept what it is he’s become. I do believe that confidence and intelligence (not to mention humor) will make anyone more appealing. I look at someone like Patton Oswalt and see the sort of adult Doug could become if he followed the right path. Unfortunately, Doug doesn’t do a lot of good with his newfound confidence—he turns from a victim into a victimizer.
How much of your own teenage experience informs what this kid is going through?
I went through something similar in high school myself, without the literal vampirism but with plenty of the metaphorical kind. Years of being picked on somehow hadn’t instilled in me the empathy to always understand when I was hurting other people. As high school progressed and I carved out a nice niche for myself, I started getting the right kind of attention–people liked me, I dated, etc. I became kind of a junkie for all this positive attention so I started blundering in and out of people’s lives, doing and saying whatever I thought would ingratiate myself to them in the short term without considering the long term consequences. Fairly typical teenage stuff, maybe–I wasn’t a terrible person, but there were plenty of examples around me of peers who had their act together more than I did, and I wish I’d been more like them.
What sort of research (which could include things like re-reading your favorite books from the year you were 14) did you do to remind yourself of the teenage mindset?
Boy, that book idea would have been a good one. I didn’t do any overt research, but serendipity worked in my favor: while I was working on the book I was finally convinced by an old friend to join Facebook, so I had that sort of slow-motion telegraph high school reunion everybody has when they first join. Suddenly hearing from all kinds of people (many of whom I had to look up in old yearbooks, which then led to a lot of yearbook browsing) I hadn’t thought about for ten or fifteen years brought a lot back.
How does it feel to be a male writer in a subgenre (vampire fiction) that is, at least currently, dominated by women writers and readers? Did that factor into your decision to write the book at all? Do you see more men taking up the mantle of re-claiming vampires any time soon?
To be honest, I didn’t even think about it until this question. I started Fat Vampire back in 2007. I’m not the fastest novelist, since I’m usually working on two or three other projects (some entirely illustration) at any given time. So when I began FV I was aware of Twilight and several other vampire books, but I didn’t realize what a force they were about to become in the YA market. I guess you could say that what’s really been popular the past few years have been a sub-subgenre–vampire romance. Naturally such a category might be dominated on both sides by women. I didn’t write a romance.
One last question—I always like to ask writers about their actual writing process. How do you go about taking a story from an idea to a finished work? Do you like to write from an outline or just let the characters take you where they want to go?
I don’t really outline, though I’m trying to do a bit of that at the moment because I’m working on a trilogy. In any stand-alone novel, I’m fairly confident that I can just plow my way into it with some vague ideas about where it might go, and then fix things in the rewrites. And as you suggest, a lot of it just has to do with listening to my characters. I like a lot of dialogue, and I think of dialogue-writing as something like slow improv. I may think I know where a conversation is going, but then a character says something I wasn’t expecting (which is to say, a piece of dialogue just pops into my head quickly enough to take me by surprise–I’m not trying to sound metaphysical or anything), and the story goes off in a new direction.
The only reason I’m not entirely trusting in improv and rewrites for this trilogy I’m working on is because I’m afraid I won’t realize I needed to rewrite something in book one until I’m halfway through book three–and book one has already been in stores for six months.
Very big thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions! I also grilled him on his work as a children’s illustrator over at BSC Kids, so be sure to check that interview out as well. If you want to know more about Adam and his work, then visit his website, which has lots of examples of his amazing artwork. And keep your eyes out for Fat Vampire, due on shelves July 27.