13 Evil Questions for the fabulous Libba Bray

Hello, dearest readers. What follows is an interview with Libba Bray, author of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. (The third book, The Sweet Far Thing, recently came out. You can see our review of it if you scroll down.) We asked her 13 questions, because 13 is a most excellent number. So, read on, the Dark Lord commands thee! (Warning: VERY LONG POST.)

Interviewingly yours,

1. What made you want to become a writer? Why did you choose to write YA/ historical fiction/ fantasy?

Hmmm, what made me want to be a writer? Could it have been the fabulous Special Writer Platform Shoes? The matching "Writer at Work" cape? The chance to RULE THE WORLD WITH METAPHOR AND SIMILE? Maybe not. After all, I've seen "The Incredibles." I know the cape thing is a bad idea.
I always enjoyed writing, but never took it too seriously, and then two things happened that made me realize writing was it for me. The first was my car accident at eighteen in which I lost my left eye and basically demolished my face and had to have it rebuilt. The only outlet I had for dealing with that was a little yellow journal. I wrote down everything I thought/felt/observed in that thing, and it was really empowering. It saved my life, actually. The other thing that made me realize I wanted to be a writer was writing a monologue for an original play that my friend Ed was putting together. The play, "One to the Sixth," was a collection of monologues written by various people, and I wrote a piece about a girl struggling with the not being beautiful in a world that values beauty. I turned it in to Ed, and he said, "Hey, this isn't bad. Why don't you write five or six more of these and we'll make a show out of it." I said okay, because sometimes I'm very agreeable, and that became my first play, "High Hopes and Heavy Sweatshirts." And that was it. I was hooked.
I don't know if I chose to write YA/historical fiction/fantasy or if it chose me. :-) I'm a sucker for anything Victorian and creepy. I just wanted to write the kind of stuff I enjoy reading and I hoped it wouldn't suck completely. Basically, I wanted to write a Victorian "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I love writing YA. I really do. And I love getting the chance to talk with teens. People underestimate teens and it's really annoying that they do that. I think I've never really stopped being in touch with my fifteen-year-old self. We never really stop coming of age, do we?

2. How do you go about doing research for your books?

In a meandering way. I always think about what Tom Stoppard once said to someone. He said, "I only research what I need to know." That's sort of my policy, too, although along the way, I end up getting sucked into exploring other interesting tidbits. I start by googling subjects: women in Victorian-era England, say. Then I see what pops up. Sometimes that will lead me to books or periodicals that can be ordered. (I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to research books.) The Internet also led me to people who could help: Dr. Sally Mitchell of Temple University, Lee Jackson, a Victorian scholar and novelist in England, and Colin Gale, the archivist for Royal Bethlem Hospitalin London. I relied on the largesse and mad librarian skills of several librarian pals, notably Jen Hubert and Phil Swann. And I took a trip to England early on and went to the British Library to do some research. Below is my bibliography. Some of these sources I used quite a lot; others I used only a bit (or ended up using not at all.)

Daily Life in Victorian England, by Sally Mitchell (Dr. Mitchell is a professor at Temple University; she was very gracious in answering some of my questions.)

The New Girl: Girls' Culture in England 1880-1915, by Sally Mitchell

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901, by Kristine Hughes

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England, byDaniel Pool

The Victorians, by A.N. Wilson

The Queen's London : A Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 (I actually got to handle this book at The British Library in London. I had to wear gloves so as not to ruin it.)

Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette, by Thomas E. Hill

Victorian London, by Lee Jackson (When it comes to Victorian England, Lee is the man. He and I struck up a correspondence, and he is as gracious as he is smart. He's also a good novelist.)

Moving Millions: A Pictorial History of London Transport, by Theo Barker (Bought this at the Transport Museum in London after taking a tour.)

Manners for Men, by Mrs. Humphrey

Manners for Women, by Mrs. Humphrey

Dickens Dictionary of London 1888, by Charles Dickens (Always nice when Mr. Dickens can be your tour guide...)

A World of Girls, L.T. Meade (A novel about schoolgirls written during the period. Dr. Mitchell turned me on to L.T. Meade.)

History of the Theatre, by Oscar G. Brockett (a former professor of mine at the University of Texas at Austin. Hook 'em Horns!)

The Great Mother, by Erich Neumann and Ralph Manheim

Man and His Symbols, by Carl Jung (I took this to the beach one day and my husband quipped, "A little light beach reading, eh?")

The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell

Paradise Lost, by John Milton ("Oh noes…they be stealin' my heaven bucket!" Sorry. Just a little I Can Has Cheezburger humor for you there...)

The Lady of Shalott, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats and Richard J. Finneran

The Bible

The Odyssey, by Homer

Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas, by H.A. Guerber (If you're looking for bloodthirsty, look to the ancient Norse. They can throwdown in the brutality department.)

Lonely Planet: Iceland

Discovery Channel's Insight Guides Iceland (When forming my ideas about the Winterlands, I looked to Iceland. It's so beautiful yet forbidding. And cold. And it comes with a Bjork soundtrack.)

How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood, by Jane H. Hunter

Victorian London Street Life in Historic Photographs, by John Thomson

Presumed Curable: An Illustrated Casebook of Victorian Psychiatric Patients in Bethlem Hospital, by Colin Gale & Robert Howard (Colin Gale is the archivist at Royal Bethlem Hospital, a.k.a. Bedlam, and this book is both a fascinating and poignant look at mental illness in Victorian society. He, too, was enormously helpful to me during the writing of Rebel Angels.)
The Victorian Lady, by B. Rees

The Golden Bough, by Sir James Frazer

The Etiquette of Dress (some little book I picked up in England)

Customs & Etiquette of India, Venika KingslandFodor's Exploring India

Lonely Planet India (I have always longed to go to India; this only made my longing moreintense.)

"Advice and ambition in a girls' public day school: the case of Suton High School, 1884-1924," by Stephanie Spencer, King Alfred's College of Higher Education, Winchester, United Kingdom, Women's History Review, Volume 9, Number 1, 2000 (Periodicals are our friends, and you can order articles online to bedelivered to your own home — huzzah!)

Full Color Victorian Fashions, 1870-1893, edited by JoAnne Olian (Oooh, pretty, pretty... like paper dolls for grown-ups.)

The Temple and the Lodge, by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh

Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable, by Thomas Bulfinch

A Nietzsche Reader, by Friedrich Nietzsche

Siddartha, by Herman Hesse

City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, by Judith R. Walkowitz (Not, it turns out, sorelevant to my books but what a great title, eh?)

London, a Societal History, by Roy Porter

The Templars and the Assassins: The Militia of Heaven, by James Wasserman (I've also had a lifelong fascination with the Knights Templar {blame IVANHOE}, and used aspects of that to shape what I thought the Rakshana would be like. Also, don't mess with the Hassassins, aka, the Assassins. Just sayin'.)
Early Irish Myths and Sagas, Translated with an Introduction by Jeffrey Gantz

3. We noticed that you like Buffy. We love Buffy! In that vein, we were wondering what your favourite episode/season/character is and why. Also, Aislinn wants to know whether you like Spike or Angel better.

Wow, it's been ages since I watched "Buffy." I hope my memory serves. My favorite episodes were probably "Halloween," "Hush" (creepy!), "The Body," which broke my heart, and, of course, "Once More with Feeling."It's difficult to name a favorite character because I think part of what makes the show work so well is the interaction of all the characters, the ensemble nature. They work so beautifully as a whole. But Buffy herself was a fantastic character--flawed and vulnerable and sarcastic and searching. Sometimes you wanted to say, "You are so stupid! Stop that!" and other times you wanted to hug her and say,"You are so bad ass." I also loved Xander. He cracked me up. As for the Spike/Angel question, it's not even a contest with me: I am Team Spike all the way. Oh my. *fans self*

4. Zombies or Unicorns?

Zombies, all the way. Unicorns would only exist so that zombies could feast upon their flesh and fashion their horns into mod zombie breast plates.

5. What was your favorite YA novel of 2007?

Okay, bear in mind that I was in a cone of silence while speed-writing TSFT and that meant not much reading for me, which sucked big time. But I did get to break free for quick gulps of reading. My top four were Holly Black's IRONSIDE, Cassandra Clare's CITY OF BONES, Cecil Castellucci's BEIGE, and M. Sindy Fellin's TOUCHING SNOW. I have so much catching up to do. So, so many books to read.

6. Do you like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain?

Not nearly as much as a bar called O'Malley's where we'll plan our escape.

7. What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?

Oooh, so tough. I can't name just one. I loved Wuthering Heights, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Bell Jar. But there was something about Catcher in the Rye and Salinger in general that just did it for me at the time. I don't know why I identified so strongly with Holden then. I read the book again when I was an adult and went, "Man, this kid is annoying the crap out of me!" But at sixteen, it rocked my world.

8. What do you like most about being an author (other than writing/publishing books)?

Hands down: getting to meet and talk with teens. I love that readers come to my LJ and tell me what they like and don't like, their thoughts and feelings about life, their music/book/movie suggestions. I love that they are so thoroughly willing to be themselves and be honest and that, in turn, has made me brave enough to be more myself, too. Thanks for that.

9. If you could be asked any question, what would it be, and how would you answer? (The Create-Your-Own-Question Question! Hooray!)

That is one of the best questions I have ever been asked. I bow to your awesome powers of interview coolness.
Well, my pal Brenda has a game called, "Which actor & actress would play you in the movie version of your life?" She then likes to answer before you do. (It's her world, we just live in it.) She said the two people who would play me would be Teri Garr and Bill Murray. Actually, I thought that was pretty solid.

10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don't kill off the hot guy. :-)
I would say read everything so you know what's possible, but find your own voice, because no one will write quite like you do, and what is personal in our work is also what is most universal. All those thoughts/weaknesses/insecurities you'd rather not admit to are what make characters who are real and memorable. Remember, super heroes aren't half so interesting for what they *can* do--fly, control the weather, shoot webs, leap small buildings in a single bound, wear bitchin' tights--as for what leaves them most vulnerable: love, pride, self-doubt, anger--all that juicy human stuff. Don't be afraid to go there. In fact, it's your job to go there. My friend Jennifer Jacobson always asks herself, "Is it true yet? Is it true yet? Is it true yet?" I think that's a good question to keep asking yourself. Keep digging until you hit that emotional truth. You'll know when you've found it. Trust me.

11. Who's your favorite Disney princess? Your favorite Sailor Scout?

You're trying to hurt me, aren't you? Admit it. My favorite Disney princess is...wait can I be Maleficent? She's got a kick-ass wardrobe and she can be a dragon! No? I really have to pick a princess? Oh. Okay. I pick Belle. She's got some spunk, and I can't help it--I'm a sucker for the story. As for the other question, I am embarrassed to say that I know next to nothing about Sailor Scouts. But according to the online test I just took, I am Sailor Mercury. Why do I have the sudden urge to rewrite my entire series as Manga?

12. What's your next project (if you are permitted to disclose)?
My next book is called GOING BOVINE. It's an absurdist, dark comedy about Cameron, a sixteen-year-old guy with mad cow disease, who goes on a road trip with his friend, Gonzo, a death-obsessed video gaming dwarf, and a talking yard gnome named Balder who wants to be a Viking hero. They are sometimes joined by a punk rock angel named Dulcie who has a propensity for spray-painting her wings and a love of microwave popcorn. You know, the usual.

13. What's your favorite kind of cookie?

There are no unloved cookies. I want to adopt them all. But oatmeal chocolate chip gets the job done most days.


readergirl said...

OMG! how'd you get to ask her questions?!?!

Aislinn Ai said...

We threatened her with the spork of doom, of course.

No, we just asked for an interview.

-- Aislinn Ai

Dory said...

That was one awesome interview. Libba Bray rocks.

And, have you evil cousins seen Maureen Johnson's latest blog entry? She does a video with Libba. It is awesome.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic interview! Libba Bray is amazing.

amie zane said...

3 Evil Cousins doing interviews = awesome. especially interviews with awesome authors. and very cool questions
also, Going Bovine sounds hilarious and awesome.

Bri said...

Fawesomeness. That is one amazing interview. And I haven't even read Libba's books. YET. I am totally going to. The bovine one sounds Fexcellent.

Oh and also where did she find that quiz. I am quite curious to know which Sailor Scout I am. I used to love that show when I was little. I forgot all their names, unfortunately.

Reese said...


But two things bother me:
1) Number ten is the exact same number ten I wrote for TSAP's interview with Ned Vizzini. Which means its highly unoriginal.
2) You have time to post the interview but not to say if your in or not??? We need to know!

Aislinn Ai said...

1) No, it's not a very original question-- it's a very common one. But it's also a very interesting one. None of us have seen your interview with Ned Vizzini, because it's not online yet (right?)and so we didn't know that you had used the same question (not that it would matter very much; as I said, it's a common question. It is a strange coincidence that they're both #10.
2) Twyla told Aella that we wanted to but couldn't-- I had thought that she told you. We'd love to, but there are a lot of things going on right now at la casa de las tres primas malevidas, and we can't make the commitment. Sorry... *sad face*.
Maybe we can work together at some point, when TSAP starts?

-- Aislinn Ai

Medeia Senka said...

That was a great interview, and I'm glad you didn't have to threaten her with a doomspork....though sometimes that's what it takes... do you have any other interviews coming up?

Avery Trelaine said...

Of course. But we aren't going to tell you what they are. Mwahahaha.

Evil, en't we?

...Avery Trelaine

Reese said...

No. The interview with Ned isn't done yet. He's agreed, but I haven't sent him the questions because I'm slow in finishing them.

And thanks for letting us know about TSAP. It isn't a huge commitment, but I understand.

Heather♥ said...

She's my FAVORITE author. I love her. And her taste in books is impeccable, except I wasn't too big a fan of Ironside by Holly Black, but the rest of her books choices are spectacular. I really wish she was coming here for her book tour.

(And I agree, don't kill off the hot guy--or make him the heroin's brother :D)

Lover Of All Things Origanal said...

First, and I would just like everyone to know that I love Libba to death, and I seriously hope that she reads this, but I was really distressed by your comment about killing off the hot guy. I thuoght that was the singular best ending, ever. Period. At the time, you must have written it and loved it, but I am really worried that since you have read all the things that people have said, you've changed your mind. I am really, seriously distressed. I mean, I LOVED THAT ENDING. I dont think that it could have gone any other way. And then all these people get upset. People die. We make sacrafices. It's an important part of life. And this is not to say that I didn't love him, becuase I did, I really did, he was my favorite character, but his death made me love him more. It was just utterly amazing. I'm really distraught about the idea of you thinking that was a big mistake, because it really wasn't. It was amazing.

(PS. Obviously heather <3 has been reading City of Bones)

Anonymous said...

Is there room in the 3 evil cousins for one more? Can I be the fourth evil cuousin? You guys are just so awesome, I was to stand in a little of your glimmering glow.

Anonymous said...

I want to marry her. And you evil three.

Anonymous said...

omg libba thats why i love u [the answer to the zombie or unicorn question]u rock and u will always even after u DIE!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, this interview was one of the best seven minutes of my life ever used!!! Those questions and answers were flippin awesome! Mrs.Bray, I'm obsessed with your books!!! This blog page is sweet, keep interviewing you evil cousins. Lol, such a cool name.

Good job, AnOnYmOuS ;-)

The Baron Aaros of Ahnduron said...

This is quite possibly the best writer interview I've ever read. And I've read quite a few, because I'm a weirdo and sit around reading such things. I hadn't heard of Libba Bray before this, but I'm intrigued by what I know of her now, and I'll seek out her Gemma Doyle Trilogy in particular. Because hedgehogs are awesome. :-)

Nat said...

I ADORE HEATHER (and the interview) just beacause she had the exact same reaction the city of bones as me. Grrr Wat The Foshizzle!?!?!

Anonymous said...

Loving this interview! You chickies are awesome! Also loving Ms. Libba Brays very interesting answers. Yay to interview questions and answers that make me laugh! :)

Madame Invisible said...

Wow, I love Libba Bray. I wish I could do an interview with her! Anyway thanks for posting this awesome and entertaining interview.

E'lena said...

Wow, I lover Libba Bray. That was a stellar interview. I'm with Libba with Team Spike, indeed! The questions rocked by the way.

Mrs. Magoo said...

Oh my gosh! How were you able to contact her????