FOUR MORE DAYS UNTIL TBF! I chatted with Alisia Kwitney, the author of CADAVER & QUEEN. Take a look:
Miranda Reads: Your first YA novel CADAVER & QUEEN will be released in February. What can readers expect with this book?
Alisa Kwitney: I call the book my “Feminist Frankenstein meets Grey’s Anatomy,” because it’s part reimagined Frankenstein and part medical school drama. My heroine, Elizabeth Lavenza, is the only female medical student at a school that manufactures Bio-Mechanicals—mechanized cadavers intended to serve in Queen Victoria’s army. Bio-Mechanicals aren’t supposed to have any thoughts or feelings, but Lizzie discovers one who seems to have self-awareness—and memories of his former life as Victor Frankenstein, a former student who died under mysterious circumstances.
As a reader, I enjoy reading about the kind of romantic conflict that challenges characters’ sense of themselves and the way they see the world. I also like it when a story has a range of emotional tones—moments of lightness and humor, moments of emotional intensity, and moments of horror or suspense. So when I write, I try to deliver the kind of story I like to read.
Miranda Reads: What was the inspiration behind CADAVER & QUEEN?
Alisa Kwitney: I have been fascinated by Victorian death culture and medicine for ages. I first got the germ of the idea years ago and thought it might make a good YA graphic novel, but as the idea germinated I realized I wanted to explore it in prose first.
In terms of the inspiration, there were a few different elements that sparked my interest. First, there’s the setting. On the surface, the Victorian period appeals because of the dark glamor of the gothic architecture and clothes and jewelry, but underneath, the social issues are startlingly similar to the ones we face. Also, we tend to think of the Victorians as being melodramatic or sentimental, but teenagers and people in their twenties were perfectly capable of humor and snark. They talked about feeling down as “getting the morbs,” which is the perfect way to puncture a Heathcliffian hero’s boughts of brooding.
I was also intrigued by the question, “When are we our truest selves?” Are we most fully ourselves when we are at our best? What happens if we are injured or get sick or lose confidence and can no longer perform the way we once did?
Last but not least, I was inspired both by Mary Shelly’s novel and the stories of how she came up with the idea during a ghost story competition with her husband, the poet Shelly, and their friend Lord Byron. Two of the characters in the novel, Byram and Will Frankenstein, Victor’s younger brother, are loosely based on Byron and Shelly. And gender swapping the main role (in Shelly’s novel, Elizabeth Lavenza is Victor’s fiancee) felt like an important way to reconsider the themes of the original novel. I remember a friend of my mother’s coming up to me and suggesting that, when I had children, I would no longer have the same need to create stories—as if writing, for a woman, was just sublimated baby-making. I wanted to write a story that didn’t pit a woman’s ambition against her desire for love.
Miranda Reads: Is there a different writing process when writing for comic books versus writing a full-length novel?
Alisa Kwitney: Writing comics is collaborative, and even if I don’t know who the artist is while I’m working on the script, I try to keep him or her very much in mind. In a way, I’m writing for the artist, trying to use my words to spark their imagination but not make them feel overly directed. In writing for DC Comics, there’s also more editorial give and take based on which characters are available and what’s being done with them elsewhere. In a way, it’s a little more like writing for TV—these are not just your babies and your vision, although your take on them is the critical factor.
Also, the bulk of what I do in comics is invisible—it’s the structure of the story and the pacing and choice of scenes, and all the art direction to the artist. What goes into captions and word balloons is a tiny fraction of the work, but it’s the only part the reader sees.
That said, my comics writing has definitely influenced my prose. When I started out writing, I was definitely not a visual writer. The longer I worked in comics, the more I’ve learned how to visualize scenes, which has informed my prose writing.
Miranda Reads: Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to? Do you have a playlist?
Alisa Kwitney: I listen to music when I’m walking around or driving and plotting, but not when I’m actually writing, because I’m a bit ADD and too distractible for outside stimuli when I’m trying to write. Some of the songs I listened to while plotting: Strange Music (ELO); Come Out of a Lady (Rubblebucket); Alison (Elvis Costello); Walpurgisnacht (Faun); Least Complicated (Indigo Girls); Wuthering Heights (Kate Bush); Walk Away from Love (Yaz).
Miranda Reads: Which TBF Author are you most excited to meet this year?
Alisa Kwitney: I have met Tamora Pierce twice before, but am extremely excited to see her and hear more about her new book. I’ve also been hearing great things about The Belles, so I’m looking forward to meeting Dhonielle Clayton.
Thank you so much, Alisa! We can't wait to meet you this weekend! (My hands are shaking at the thought of meeting all of these authors this weekend!)
You can purchase CADAVER & QUEEN at Barnes and Noble or Amazon (Be sure to use Amazon Smile and make the Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival your charitable organization) or check out it out at your local library!
That's it for today! This is the last week of book reviews and fun posts before TBF so you do not want to miss it!