Marta Acosta is the author of the award winning Casa Dracula novels and NANCY’S THEORY OF STYLE, and was a frequent contributor to the San Francisco CHRONICLE and the CONTRA CONTA TIMES. A graduate of Stanford University, she has degrees in literature and creative writing. She’s a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her family and rescued dogs. More than one reviewer has made the comparison between DARK COMPANION and JANE EYRE. To what extent did you want to pay homage to this classic story with your very contemporary novel?
I’ve loved JANE EYRE from the first time I read it when I was a kid, and I wanted to honor Charlotte Brontë’s gothic without writing a literal update. Brontë’s book needs no updating: it is perfect as it is. I was fascinated by Jane’s character, her fierce determination, and sense of self despite her destitution. Those qualities are not fixed to any time period.
Bronte’s novel was probably the first gothic I read, but I have always enjoyed stories about a solitary young woman who finds herself in sinister circumstances. I used tropes found in JANE EYRE and in other gothics, such as the poor orphan, “twinning,” isolated locations, eerie natural settings, light and dark imagery, blood as symbolism, and supernatural elements. Much has been written about the lack of ethnic diversity in YA literature. Jane Williams, the protagonist in DARK COMPANION, is biracial. Why is it important to you that races and ethnicities that may not be considered the American “majority” be represented in YA literature?
I don’t believe that characters must look like us in order for us to empathize with them. However, I do feel that the lack of diversity in fiction presents a false and simplistic view of contemporary society. This is not the world I inhabit, and these are not the teens I see every day. I think it probably sends a message, “You are not worthy of our attention,” to girls who don’t fit the beautiful, blond, secret-princess clichés. “You are not the ideal.”
I’m creating characters who happen to be Latino, or African-American, or Asian, or just a big ol’ mix. Race and ethnicity are elements of their identity, not the entirety of their identity. My characters have the same hopes, aspirations, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks as anyone else. If I have any message, it’s that I believe that what unites us is greater than what divides us. Our humanity transcends skin color, gender, heritage...
I’d like to mention that some of my own favorite characters are blond, blue-eyed girls, including poetry-spouting Mary Violet, who becomes Jane’s best friend in DARK COMPANION. She’s my anti-Mean Girl. You’ve said that you like to write about girls who are “bright, interesting, and [have] more on their minds than clothes and boys.” How does Jane Williams go beyond the typical YA heroine?
I cannot speak for other YA heroines, but Jane is passionate about her science and math studies. They help her understand and interpret the greater world. She remains loyal to those she left behind at a poorly funded school in the hood. She accepts that she’s not pretty enough to use her looks for instant admiration, and she works hard to get ahead.
She does become dazzled by a beautiful, spoiled boy, because he represents those things that she has never had in her life: beauty, family, status. Her precarious situation makes her vulnerable to those who wish to exploit her. She has an acute sense of the divide between the haves and have-nots, yet she’s also open enough to become friends with her new classmates. You’re finishing up the “Girls’ Nightmare Out” book tour with fellow Tor authors Kendare Blake (GIRL OF NIGHTMARES) and Lisa Desrochers (Personal Demons series). Book tours are obviously about meeting your readers and promoting your new book, but what inspiration can be found from traveling and spending time with fellow authors?
A few authors live in New York and can easily meet and talk to agents, editors, and writers, but most of us operate in isolation. DARK COMPANION is my sixth book, and I’m still learning about the publishing biz. It’s great to talk to other writers, share experiences, offer advice and connections, and just be with others who “get it.” You write romantic comedies under the name Grace Coopersmith. In addition to being your pseudonym, Grace is a pretty fantastic alter ego for you. What kind of freedom does stepping into a new name provide?
Oh, I don’t think I would have been a credible author of a book about a fashionista since I live in old jeans, sensible walking shoes, and routinely ruin my nails by gardening. Grace is the sort of person who irons her clothes and always brings the right bottle of wine, instead of re-gifting whatever is in the cupboard. Grace never cusses and always has fresh flowers throughout the house. She likes pink and doesn’t think being a sissy is a bad thing for a girl.
© 2012 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. 5 Questions With... R.J. Palacio (WONDER)