Science Fiction and Fantasy are enjoying increasing popularity in children's books. Television's Star Trek and Star Wars introduced our children to the idea of other worlds and strange looking citizens of those worlds and most children are ver y sophisticated about space travel and all it entails. Fantasy, of course has always been around with fairies, elves, witches and unicorns, but the newer fantasy for children has a different look and feel than in the past. Harry Potter and Hogwart s has encouraged many a reluctant reader to pick up a book, as has R. L. Stine with his Goosebumps series of horror books for children. Here is a link to a science fiction and fantasy bibliography for children.
In this month when autumn really shows it's colors and pumpkin pie smells begin to come from the kitchen, we begin to think of scary things, and there are a great many Halloween books on the market.
While publishers say that horror for children is on the decline, Darren Shan's vampire series may the be next phenomena in publishing. I talked to Darren about his Cirque Du Freak series. Be sure to check out the Vampire's Assistant Trivia Game and win a prize.
Bev: Hi Darren. I read and reviewed Cirque Du Freak for MyShelf.com and passed the book on to grandchildren. We all loved it. They are eagerly waiting for the Vampire's Assistant I am reading it now to review for the MyShelf.com column on children's books. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Could you tell us a little about yourself....who IS Darren Shan?
Darren: The "real" Darren Shan (the guy who writes the books) is 29, lives in Limerick in Ireland (with his parents!), watches too many movies, and loves all things horrific. He writes full-time, both adult books and children books. He wanted to be a vampire (or else a vampire hunter) when he was a little kid. He ISN'T really a half-vampire -- but that doesn't mean the Saga Of Darren Shan isn't true! As he keeps telling people, if you read to the very end, you'll see what he means ...
Darren: I loved vampires when I was younger, and spent lots of time thinking about them. The old myths (that they're evil monsters who rise from the dead and can be repelled with crosses and holy water, etc) are fun, but didn't make sense to me. So I tried inventing my own brand of vampires, more realistic creatures who had to drink blood to survive, who could live a long time, who were very tough -- but who were still (almost) believable. The half-vampire idea came when I wondered how a vampire would turn another person into a vampire -- I decided it should be via a blood transfusion, and it seemed logical to assume that the amount of blood transferred would influence how "vampirish" the human would become.
Bev: I understand that you have a whole series planned...Vampire Mountain? Will these be sequels to Cirque Du Freak continuing the adventures of Darren Shan?
Darren: The series is called The Saga Of Darren Shan, and will run to 20 books or so (!!!!!!!). The books tell the story of Darren Shan, and through him explore the world of vampires, Little People, and various other creatures of the night!
Bev: Do you outline and complete the plot of a new book, or just start writing?
Darren: I always write a plot outline, then break it down into chapters, and then start writing. I often change things while I'm writing, but it helps to have the structure clear and written down at the start.
Bev: There are some lessons on the value of friendship and self-sacrifice in your books. Did those moral lessons just happen?
Darren: The books, primarily, are exciting, gruesome, intriguing stories -- but I also want to explore moral issues, such as friendship, loyalty, the nature of good and evil, honour, and so on. I think a really good book is one which tells a cracking story, but which also works on other levels. The best books are both thrilling AND thought-provoking -- and they're the type of books I want to write!!
Bev: You must still have a little boy hiding in there somewhere, you write from the child's point of view so well...but you have written some adult stories, too haven't you?
Darren: Yes, I write adult books too. For me, the division between adults and children (especially teenagers) isn't as wide as many people think, and I don't approach my children's books any different to my adult books -- I just avoid certain areas, avoid too much violence, and keep the language a bit plainer.
Bev: Do you have any other books currently in print?
Darren: I have had 2 adult books published in the UK -- Ayuamarca and Hell's Horizon -- but they haven't sold very well and are very hard to find!!
Bev: Have you looked beyond Vampire Mountain?
Darren: I'm working on other books at the same time that I'm writing the Saga Of Darren Shan, and will hopefully publish some of those during the course of the series -- though possibly under a different name, to avoid confusion.
Bev: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Darren: Stick with it -- the more you write, the better you get. There's no magic involved -- just lots of honest hard work!
Bev: Darren, again I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to ask questions. I can't wait for your next book. That teaser for Tunnels of Blood in the back of The Vampire's Assistant really leaves me wanting more. Gosh, I have to wait until September 2002????
Next Month: Children's Poetry Column and interview with children's poet Charles Albano
This book is reminiscent of Richard Laymon's Traveling Vampire Show, but written for a younger audience with a non-evil vampire monster, compelling characters, and a hook at the end of each chapter to keep you reading. Darren Shan and his friend Steve manage to get tickets to the illegal Cirque Du Freak show. The show is exciting and disturbing, promising performances by a wolf man, a snake boy and Madame Octa, a huge, hairy, poisonous spider. Steve recognizes Madam Octa's keeper, Mr. Crepsley, as the vampire Vur Horsten from a picture in an old book. Steve confronts the vampire and unsuccessfully tries to blackmail the vampire into making him into a vampire.
Darren has a fascination for spiders, and decides that he must have Madame Octa for his own. The boy's troubles start when Darren steals the spider and through music and ESP, gets her to do his bidding. All is well until the spider bites Steve, sending him into a coma. Darren must make a deal with Vur Horsten for the antidote to save Steve's life...but the vampire only deals in blood.
This book has the promise of an exciting series with a teaser at the end for volume 2, THE VAMPIRE'S ASSISTANT. Children's literature is becoming more exciting every year, and Darren Shan is a writer to watch. CIRQUE DU FREAK is his first children's novel and he definitely has the touch.
The Vampire's Assistant is the frightening sequel to "Cirque Du Freak - The Saga of Darren Shan."
Darren is learning to cope with his new identity as a half vampire. He is lonely and misses his family and friends now that he must accompany his vampire mentor, Mr. Crepsley. Darren has a conscience... he hates having to drink blood, and steadfastly refuses to partake of human blood, even though Mr. Crepsley tells him he will die unless he does.
They decide to search for the Cirque Du Freak, that was originally responsible for Darren's present state, and to join them where Darren will be accepted regardless of what he has become, and he can make friends.
The Circus has some strange members; vivid, interesting characters like the Snake Boy, Evra, who becomes Darren's friend, his poison python (real ones do not have fangs, and are not poison... but hey, this is a fantasy!) and the wolf man who must be kept caged. There are the small, silent people in the dark blue capes, and Hans Hands and the ever-helpful Truska. Darren makes friends with Sam, a boy from the local countryside and starts a chain of events that lead to a fast paced gruesome finale.
Will Darren hold to his principals and NOT drink human blood... and die???
Shan writes compelling, scary stories for kids, but while they do have blood and gore in them, they also address some moral issues, and show the importance of friendship and sticking to your moral and ethical standards. Older teens would enjoy this series and it's just in time for fun Halloween reading.