As I was writing The Heart Thief, there was a constant, nagging worry in the back of my mind. Is the violence in it too much, too graphic for the YA audience? Despite my concerns, I forged ahead because that was the story that formed itself in my head and needed to be told; it was what it was. My beta readers didn’t seem to mind, nor did they mention anything about it being too bloody for teens. Yet, I continuously fretted over the notion that young adults wouldn’t be able to handle it. YA authors never get that graphic, right? Of course, right!
And then I read Anna Dressed in Blood.
A lot of fans of the horror genre grew up on a steady diet of the stuff. Not so with me. I’d watch the occasional monster movie and what not, but I just was never into the overzealous use of gore that most horror flicks were deluged with (add to that the fact that it all looked so fake and cartoony–I mean, I’ve never seen blood that looked orange and had the bubbly consistency of milk).
When it came to my reading choices, I usually gravitated toward fantasy and science fiction. And I’m still a huge fan of those genres today. But, when I was a youngster, horror wasn’t something that was even on my radar.
And then things started to change. Horror movies got more psychological, spookier, and some of them even succeeded in sending genuine chills down my spine. I loved that. And then, in high school, I started reading Stephen King. The first of King’s works I read was It, the horrifying tale of a killer clown named Pennywise, who lurked beneath the streets of Derry, Maine and preyed on little kids. That book changed my life. And then came The X-Files, but I won’t get into that just now.
All that is to offer a basic explanation as to why I now write horror/paranormal. We write what we love and would want to read (hopefully).
But how did Anna Dressed in Blood allay my fears that the violence in the THT was too much? By being the first YA book I’ve read that was as graphic as mine. Not to mention the overabundance of profanity (which I tend to shy away from, btw) in the book. It was actually a bit shocking. And this isn’t some indie-pubbed book, where the author could pretty much do whatever he/she wanted. ADIB was traditionally published by Tor Teen (granted, edgier than a lot of publishers), which means it had to get by a literary agent and the editors of a publishing house. If they thought the market could handle a healthy amount of rawness, then surely my book can be tolerated.
At this point, some of you might be thinking, just how graphic is The Heart Thief? Well, it would definitely get a hard PG-13 rating on screen. In fact, were it made into a movie, I think they would probably tone down some of the more graphic elements. But, hey, it does focus on a villain who “steals” people’s hearts, so you do the math.
But while I’m on the subject, I should probably talk a bit about how I liked Anna. I thought it was decent. Enjoyable, even. I guess I liked it. It certainly wasn’t the most original ghost story I’ve ever encountered. In fact, it was pretty much a (kind of) rip-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except the main character was a boy and he killed ghosts instead of vampires. If you’re a Buffy fan, you’ll recognize a direct correlation to every major character in the show. There’s even an old, mentor-like Giles character. I will say that this is something the author, Kendare Blake, seems to be aware of, though, because she basically mentions it in the book. So meta, right?
Its derivative (for lack of a better word–maybe it was supposed to be an homage) nature didn’t kill it for me, though. I’m a fan of Buffy, so maybe that made me actually like the book more. I don’t know. I finished Anna only a couple of days after I started it, so that’s usually a sign that I enjoyed a book, at least on some level. Plus, I’ve already purchased the sequel, so there’s that, too. I rate Anna Dressed in Blood (a fairly solid) three out of five stars.