As you might know, last weekend was New York Comic Con 2012 – a ginormous event, drawing in over 100,000 geeks of all fandoms and followings. I was one of the many fans at the convention, taking in panels, waiting in ridiculously long lines to meet authors and buy some books and other wonderful limited edition comic con items. On Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the delightful Adrienne Kress, author of the upcoming YA novel The Friday Society.
Ladies and gents, please give a warm welcome to Adrienne!
The Book Smugglers: You are both an author and an actor (and according to your website, a playwright, producer, director, and plenty of other professions besides). This is fascinating! Do you consider yourself an author or an actor first (or some hybrid in between)? What made you decide to turn to writing novels, and novels for young adults especially?
The simple answer is, being an actor and being an author are intertwined, equal passions. Adrienne started writing as a professional in 2005, but has been acting ever since she was a child. Writing actually came as a natural evolution of Adrienne’s passion for acting and directing, after writing plays in high school and university. And, after reading and discovering a passion for such books as Harry Potter and classics like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, Adrienne decided to try her hand at writing middle grade fiction. From there sprang her two children’s novels Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate.
As for the question of adult versus YA, Adrienne writes what she enjoys to read, heedless of marketing niche or age classification. (Thea’s Note: A very sensible opinion, in this Smuggler’s mind!)
The Book Smugglers: Your new book, The Friday Society, is set in an alternate turn of the century London and features a trio of capable, strong female leads as they band together to solve a murder and rash of related crimes. If you had to pick three key elements – selling points – to get readers excited for your story, what would they be?
This was a tough, on-the-spot question, but Adrienne rallied brilliantly. The first selling point for The Friday Society is its Steampunkishness. The Friday Society is set in an alternate vision of London, with plenty of steampunk-y elements, which Adrienne loves dearly (more on that in the next question).
The second distinguishing point for the book is that its main characters are assistants, and these subordinate roles actually help reinforce the idea of The Friday Society as a team. Each of the protagonists begins the book as a certain stereotype/archetype that grows and changes as the book progresses, subverting said stereotype. Cora begins the book very much like Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady (a low class girl who is trained in the manners and speech of the upper class) and works as a lab assistant – she’s very organized, street smart and upstairs smart, and has a phenomenal arsenal of weapons (who doesn’t like weapons?). Nellie is the magician’s assistant, who fills the character trope of former dancing girl with a heart of gold. Nellie’s particular strength? Her fearlessness and abilities as an escape artist. Michiko is the fighting assistant to a character based on Sir Edward Barton-Wright (the actual historical figure who created the mixed martial arts style Bartitsu, which you might know as the fighting style employed by Sherlock Holmes). Michiko, a Samurai trained fighter and teacher, met her employer during his travels to Japan and who now works in London as his teaching assistant.
Finally, the biggest distinguishing point for The Friday Society is that the book features a trio of strong young adult heroines – not necessarily just physically strong, but strong in character – that all get along with each other and respect each other as women.
(Thea’s note: Hallelujah!)
The Book Smugglers: Let’s talk steampunk! Tell us a bit about the steampunkish elements to The Friday Society. Are you a steampunk fan? And if so, what works (books, film or otherwise) helped shape or influence this novel?
(Thea’s note: I preface this answer by letting you, dear reader, know that Adrienne showed up at the signing in a wonderful steampunk-y outfit, complete with brass door-knockers for earrings and some killer goggles. And an amazing wooden mustache on a chain, monocle-style.)
In a word: YES. Adrienne loves the steampunk aesthetic, and while she doesn’t think of her book as a full-on seminal work of steampunk fiction, she does agree that it is steampunkish and describes The Friday Society as London in the year 1900 with a generous sprinkling of steampunk on top. As for influential films, Adrienne has much love for the Disney films of the ’60s (Marry Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) to help shape her love for the Victorian/steampunkish aesthetic.
The Book Smugglers: There has been plenty of chatter on the interwebs about the amount of research that goes into a text – especially one that features historical settings or diverse/PoC characters. Your novel has both – a historical London setting, and empowered female heroines (including one who is Japanese). Tell us a bit about the research that went into The Friday Society and your characters.
In addition to being an actor and author (and many other things besides), Adrienne also has worked many, many temp jobs. And, as an experience temporary hire, she knows how people treat others – especially women – in administrative positions. When she set out to write The Friday Society, she thought this experience (combined with the social mores of the time) would be a perfect opportunity to expand on the idea of women in subordinate roles and subvert popular expectations/interpretation. The Friday Society is a book that examines feminist, class, and race issues, and in order to speak to these issues, Adrienne did a lot of research. She researched London in the year 1900 – which buildings were around, which underground stations, which foods and fashions were popular and available – and professes a love of old maps. And, where Michiko is concerned, Adrienne made sure to do her homework, researching women in Japan in 1900, the history (and historical precedent) for Samurai women, and especially paid close attention to honorifics.
The Book Smugglers: Speaking of heroines, your book has three of them – all of whom are intelligent women in their own right, and by day are assistants to powerful men. By night, they are masked heroines akin to superheroes. Talk about this dynamic and your take on each of your heroines.
The three heroines of The Friday Society have very different relationships with their employers. Michiko’s relationship with her employer is uncomfortable at best – he is, in short, a racist ass – making Michiko’s personal quest all the more meaningful and powerful. Nellie’s relationship with the Magician is more along the lines of a father-daughter bond – though his fatherly protective/meddling instincts sow the seeds for some future discontent in the series. The most complicated relationship of the group is that between Cora and her employer, Lord White – they are almost like an old married couple (though they certainly are not romantically involved). While Cora cares about Lord White, respects him, and is grateful for all he’s done for her, she is also emotionally conflicted because she feels trapped and tired in this relationship, and yearns for her freedom.
The Book Smugglers: Is there another FRIDAY SOCIETY book in the works? What other writing plans do you have on the horizon that you can divulge?
There is another book planned in Adrienne’s head, but no deal on paper yet! The Friday Society is very much the Batman Begins of this hopeful series – and so if book 2 does happen, there is one spoilery bit Adrienne divulged: we’ll see the suffragette movement come into full force by the next novel.
The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ‘smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?
Adrienne’s never had to smuggle books home in a handbag, BUT she has had to hide her obsessive reading habit before, especially when she was a child. A particularly prickly babysitter told Adrienne to turn out the lights and go to sleep, and, to her chagrin, Adrienne was caught red-handed, trying to steal a few more pages in the wee hours of the night.
Adrienne Kress is a Toronto born actor and author who loves to play make-believe. She also loves hot chocolate. And cheese. Not necessarily together.
We have ONE copy of The Friday Society available for giveaway! The contest is open to all, and will run until Sunday October 28 at 12:01am EST. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!