Spoiler alerts ahead for Wicked Saints and Ruthless Gods!
About the Author: Emily A. Duncan is the New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints. She works as a youth services librarian and received a master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and Dungeons and Dragons. She lives in Ohio.
In this interview, Emily talks about, in no particular order: all of the body and eye horror in Ruthless Gods; dark fantasy and horror in YA; YA genre conventions, trends and expectations; her writing process; her experience working as a youth services librarian; what she’s working on now; what she’s been reading in quarantine and her current favorite books; Cassandra Clare’s books; love triangles; and more.
Note: We’ve only highlighted select questions and answers from Emily and Caroline’s talk. Watch the video to experience the full interview!
Caroline Ross: The imagery, especially once they were in the forest, is so visceral and creepy, and so good, and I was so sucked into it… How did that come about?
Emily A. Duncan: It’s the hardest thing to pull off, because there’s never a point where I feel like I have pulled it off correctly, especially with atmosphere. I really like horror that isn’t necessarily scary, but more so that it induces a feeling of dread. My favorite horror movies are the ones that are like folk horror, where the imagery isn’t necessarily scary but you just feel like something terrible is going to happen the entire movie long. I loved Midsommar because of that. The visuals in Midsommar, outside of a few scenes—it’s not that scary, but you just feel bad watching it. And I wanted to tap into that. I wanted you to just feel bad—just feel that something is wrong, something is off, and you just feel bad. And so it was extremely difficult. I listen to a lot of metal, but I listen to a lot of metal that is not entirely pleasant to listen to, which helps when you’re writing that kind of thing–to be listening to what is essentially, like, ambient screaming.
CR: How difficult was it writing Malachiasz’s story? He’s so complex and morally loose.
ED: He talks so much! That’s the other reason [Book 3 is] seven hundred pages long—his chapters, you can’t get him to shut up… He’s fun to write. He’s a lot of walking contradictions, and so it’s kind of hard to keep him on track and it’s very hard to balance those contradictions, especially when you are finally in his head and you get to see that he kind of has no idea what he’s doing. But also he’s an asshole. He’s just as bad in his head as everyone’s expecting him to be. He’s just the biggest jerk. And so, it was both easier and harder than I was expecting. It was really easy to jump into his chapters and immediately have his voice even though I hadn’t really written it up to that point. But I had written him enough in other people’s points of view. It was hard because so much of his character is structured around how the other characters are viewing him and because he is molding his actions to his awareness of how people perceive him…
CR: So, I know you work in a library. Do you ever rec your books to your patrons?
ED: I will occasionally rec my own books if they are asking for something that I know—if they’re asking for YA fantasy, I will rec my own book. I will not necessarily say that it’s mine. I tend to always forget to wear my name tag, so they don’t always know what my name is. Only the regulars know what my name is. The regulars I’m more likely to than the ones I don’t have any normal interactions with.
CR: Do you have anything in the works after the Something Dark and Holy trilogy?
ED: I’m drafting something now… I’m trying not to talk about it much because one, it is not sold… But what I have said about it is it’s about twins. My comps keep changing as this book keeps getting more convoluted and complicated. This book is a structural nightmare, and it will either be extremely good or it’s going to kill me. So, we’ll see what happens. My comps are like a YA House of Leaves meets Gormenghast meets Gideon the Ninth. It’s capital-G Gothic, as opposed to Something Dark and Holy is just like the aesthetic gothic. This one is like, actually the creepy, haunted house and stuff. We’ll see what happens!
PRR Writer, Caroline Ross
Check out our review of Ruthless Gods here!