Questions and Answers
At the end of August, I announced on my Facebook, Twitter, and here, that I was going to celebrate the one-month birthday of Dark Ascension by answering questions about the series. Any questions, I’d have answers for. Some really fun questions came in, so here are my answers on a number of subjects that have been close to people’s hearts — questions about the intricacies of vampire reproduction, whether Fort made a massively bad decision at the end of Dark Ascension, and also the really big question, which a lot of people have been asking, which is about the future of the series itself.
Before you go any further, keep in mind that there are HUGE SPOILERS for the events of Dark Ascension. If you haven’t finished the latest book, then you might want to go do that before you read all of these.
We’re all clear on that, right? Spoilers ahead? Okay, to the questions!
From Facebook, Soozy Peez asked:
Why does Chivalry insist on killing his wives as opposed to draining other victims?
I wanted the way that Prudence and Chivalry approach their feeding to reflect both their value systems and their weaknesses. For Prudence, feeding is entirely divorced from any kind of morality and sensibility – she selects a victim based on convenience to her, makes no effort to supplement her feeding with stocked blood (because, inconvenient and gross taste), and simply feeds from that individual until they are exhausted and need to be disposed of. Her body count is huge, but it doesn’t bother her, and she views this as the most practical approach possible.
Chivalry, however, is very different from his sister. Unlike his sister, for whom feeding is simply a bodily requirement, Chivalry has wrapped feeding up with emotionalism and romanticism. Feeding requires an element of intimacy, and Chivalry’s most formative years were during the 1860s – he’s a romantic guy, and I mean that in the Romantic sense. Chivalry’s wives become his focus for both a chunk of his nurturing impulses (it’s no accident that all of his wives who have been mentioned in the series have had some kind of passionate career or hobby – Chivalry thrives on being the supporting husband, and probably several of his past wives would get teary-eyed upon listening to “Wind Beneath My Wings”), the entirety of his sexual and romantic impulses, and, in addition, his blood requirements. The extent to which Chivalry idealizes and beatifies each individual wife results in him desiring for her to physically sustain him – he idealizes and loves her, and in return she is literally consumed by him until her death. Does Chivalry consciously realize this – no. He loves each wife with all the consuming (and, honestly, unhealthy) passion of the classic vampire lover. If confronted on how deeply problematic this love and its expression is, Chivalry would respond by referencing the truth and depth of his feelings – which is, much though he would like it to be, is a rationalization rather than a legitimate counter-point.
Fort has the morality his sister lacks, which has been stated overtly in the series many times so far, but also a willingness to critically self-analyze that is anathema to Chivalry (and which would’ve been brought out more in books 5 & 6). There’s also a strength to Fort that Chivalry lacks – Fort’s been in more than a few unhealthy relationships, but he was always the victim (his willingness to accept that – well, that’s one of Fort’s other issues) – if Fort was in a relationship and realized that it was toxic or damaging for the other person, he would walk away, regardless of his love for that person, or the pain that it would personally cause him. Chivalry would never do that – and has proven that in each of his marriages – and would probably package that answer in not just romantic ideals, but also in the defense that each woman knowingly chose her fate.
I’ve had a lot of fun with Chivalry during this series. He is the sibling of the three who is the most representative of vampire presentation in the media for the last thirty years – reader response to Chivalry from the first book was basically that he was universally beloved, and Prudence was hated. That was consistent with what my intentions had been for the book – and then for the series, one of my goals was to start shifting audience perception of these characters around until they had almost swapped places, but without ever compromising the essential integrity of who these two characters were.
On the website, Sigmacheck asked:
I can’t help but feeling that Prudence might be right in a horrible way and that Fort is being blinded by his emotions. Is Prudence correct that a territory can’t be run like Fort wants to do it? After all, Fort has no idea about the alternatives to his family’s way.
You’re not wrong. Fort is who we naturally empathize with because, firstly, he’s our hero, and secondly, he’s not a murdering psychopath. But just because we like him doesn’t mean that he’s right – particularly in this instance. One of the things that I really wanted to explore in this series was that the nice person with the best of intentions isn’t always the one with the answers. In Dark Ascension, both Prudence and Fort are unable to find compromise positions – they can’t give up even a little of what they feel is important, and so both are unable to get Chivalry’s swing vote. It’s a failing on both of their parts.
The events at the end of Dark Ascension were what I’d been moving toward since the beginning of this series. When the series was first picked up, it was called the American Vampire series (later it was changed to the Generation V series – causing, I’ll be honest, absolutely no end of confusion for series fans and panel moderators everywhere – why we didn’t just go with urban fantasy tradition in the beginning and call it the Fortitude Scott series, I just don’t know, but I’ll admit that part of that is just hindsight talking), and one thing that I really wanted to do was play on a part of American history that perhaps gets a little less play – the Articles of Confederation. Basically, having just wrested themselves from the control of England, the colonists were completely gunshy about having anyone in a position of authority to tell them what to do. The thirteen original colonies had a tremendous amount of personal autonomy, and what bound them all together was basically a mutual “Hey, bro, I’ve got your back (but not with the support of armies, centralized taxation, or regulation of interstate commerce).” It was a really nice and idealistic idea, failed kind of spectacularly, and was replaced with the Constitution and the institution of a federal government in 1789.
One of the first lines (if not THE first) of book five was going to be: “Democracy sucks.”
Had Madeline wanted, could she have used Fort’s host parents to have another child (after Fort, I mean)? Are the host parents naturally “one use only”?
Technically, yes. Functionally, no. Hosts have had about 99% of their blood supply replaced with vampire blood, which they cannot naturally replenish or even entirely maintain. For a vampire to maintain their two hosts is a massive and physically expensive undertaking – and maintaining a host through a successful pregnancy is even more draining. One of the reasons why killing both host parents immediately upon the successful birth of a baby vampire became common practice was basic self-interest – most vampire parents were simply exhausted and tapped out. Also, remember that Madeline’s parental responsibilities didn’t stop at the birth – she was Fort’s only safe blood source until his transition.
In terms of whether Henry and Grace could’ve physically conceived a second vampire baby after Fort’s birth, the answer is yes. Could Madeline have maintained that pregnancy, with its massive requirements of blood and energy, while also maintaining Fort through his vampire infancy? No, she simply would’ve been unable, and the vampire fetus would’ve died in utero. By the time she would’ve had the physical resources to attempt another vampire baby, about a century would’ve passed – and Henry and Grace would be dead of old age (even had Madeline been able to maintain them that long, which is also a question mark). Many vampires are able (and willing) to create no more than a single child during their entire lifespan. Two is considered unusual, and three is almost unheard of.
And, on Goodreads, November05 asked the big question:
Would you happen to know when the fifth book of the series will be released? I’m addicted.
This is a question that I’ve gotten a lot. Up until now, every time a Generation V book debuted, I already had a scheduled release date for the next book ready to be announced. Iron Night and Tainted Blood even came out in the same year!
When I originally sold this series to Roc, I had a completed draft of Generation V, and I signed a contract for a trilogy. By signing me for a trilogy, Roc was showing a commitment to my concept and giving me a chance to build up an audience – after all, this was my debut, and they had no way of knowing if I could sell a single book. If I think of urban fantasy as a genre, one of the things that really differentiates it from other types of fantasy is its feature of very long-running series. Think of the Mercy Thompson series, the Dresden Files, the Cal Leandros series, etc. Roc was hoping that my series could be one of those as well (and, let’s be honest, I was as well). The trilogy was intended as a test – neither Roc or I ever had any intention of Fort Scott’s story being tied up neatly by the end of the third book, and I designed my plotlines and my plans accordingly. (I actually plotted out six books)
What became apparent very quickly was that this series just wasn’t catching fire like Roc had hoped. There were lots of reasons for this – urban fantasy is a crowded marketplace with a lot of fantastic voices, vampires are so overplayed and sexualized that I think that 90% of potential fans went screaming in the other direction as soon as they even heard the word “vampire”, a lot of people picked up the first book expecting a paranormal romance and were pretty disappointed, a male lead who isn’t an alpha male who punches things a lot is a lot harder sell than I ever would’ve expected, the marketing and covers were a little disjointed, I’m not exactly a natural marketer, and probably a hundred other reasons. If Roc had had to make a decision about continuing the series or not in the months after Generation V came out, I can tell you with confidence that it wouldn’t have happened at all.
So there was a very sluggish sales start to the series. Generation V as a novel had a mixed reception – there were a lot of readers who were pleasantly surprised (and it got some incredible support from bloggers and reviewers who went on to be tireless cheerleaders of my quirky little series) and a bunch of others who were completely confused at what they’d just read. Thinking back, there were two main reactions: “This wasn’t the romance I was expecting, Fort is a doormat, and I hate this series,” and “I had to hear from five different friends that I needed to read this, and I expected this to be a disaster, but I loved it.” Believe me, that wasn’t quite the reception that Roc was hoping for.
Initial sales for Iron Night were a lot stronger than Generation V’s had been, but still not enough – I was told around that time that it wasn’t likely that there would be a fourth book. I was writing Tainted Blood at that time, so I made some adjustments accordingly – in my original plan, Madeline died at the conclusion of the third book, and the fourth book would be the immediate fallout from that event, but I just didn’t like the idea of potentially ending the series with an event that would never have its necessary payoff. I moved elements around until I had a book that I thought readers could be okay with if this was the end of the series. I had intended for Fort and Suze’s relationship to change in the third book, and that was something that readers had been very focused on in their feedback to me, so I hoped that it would be enough of a payoff.
What ended up happening was unexpected – the people watching the sales numbers began to feel optimistic about the series. Iron Night didn’t have a wave of initial sales, but the sales for Generation V perked up when the second book came out, and, for the first time, there began to be a lot of e-book sales in the series. There were apparently some discussions at the publisher, and what they ultimately felt was that there was a chance that the third book (which was at that point rumbling toward publication, as I’d already handed off the completed manuscript) could be the breakthrough moment that they’d been hoping for. And if that happened, they wanted the fourth book to be ready to go. So I was offered a contract to write a fourth book for the series – but only the fourth book, because Roc was very well aware that it might NOT result in the series hooking into the big sales that had been passing it by, and they didn’t want to be committed to a lot more books in a mid to low selling series.
I thought a lot about writing the fourth book. For one thing, it came with a pay cut – for reasons that I think are pretty reasonable from their end of things, Roc was not offering me as much money to write Dark Ascension as they had paid me to write each of the first three books. An industry professional who I respect very much advised me not to accept the contact and to put my efforts toward a new series instead. Ultimately, I did take the contract. Part of it was optimism – that bit of hoping against hope (and all previous evidence) that the series would actually start doing well. Mostly, though, I knew that the fourth book was when I was finally going to get to pull the trigger on a lot of key events that I’d been building toward – Madeline’s death, Fort’s transition, the first feeding on human blood, Fort’s first major loss, and the coup. I wanted to write it, and I really wanted all of the people who’d hung in there, read the series, talked about the series, and showed so much support to be able to see what happens (at least a little of it).
That’s why I signed the contract and wrote the book, so that’s why Dark Ascension exists at all. And I’m really proud of it, and pleased with it, even though it’s pretty clear at this point that there were a lot of readers who were really not okay with the sharp left that I took the series on. (for the record – yes, that was intentional. The first three books always had a murder mystery as the primary element with other plotlines brewing in the background, the second three were going to flip that ratio around and be much more about politics and factions, with a particular inciting incident going on in the background – in this case, the succubi. For one thing, I was getting tired of how formulaic it was getting, for another, that wasn’t who Fort was anymore – the problems had gotten bigger, and removing Madeline from the equation needed to destabilize everything – no more end scene where Mommy sorted everyone into their corners and tied up loose threads)
In terms of sales – Tainted Blood was the best that the series ever did. The best preorders, initial book sales, and initial e-book sales. You guys, the fans, you did everything you could, and I’m so incredibly grateful.
And then came the flatline. Because, unfortunately, this series never tapped in to the major urban fantasy market. Again, there are a hundred possible reasons for that. But when Dark Ascension came out, it had a good first week (again, you guys were so great with pre-orders and with buying in the first week), but it was an almost identical week as Tainted Blood. The series just hasn’t expanded, and Roc just isn’t going to continue a series with this level of readership. When I talk with authors who have been in the business ten or twenty years longer than I have, they say that things used to be different. Series were given longer to build audiences. There were series that were continued even when they didn’t have huge numbers. More publicity was given to the smaller authors and series. Would the Generation V series have been continued under those conditions? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.
This has been a very long way of answering what was a very simple question. I think part of that is because I hate to say “no” to that question. I had a lot of confidence in what I had planned for the fifth and sixth books, and I was excited about where things were going. There’s also a real feeling of disappointment to all of this – there’s a large part of me that feels like I failed. Now, I keep reminding myself that I didn’t – after all, I published four books with a major publisher! The books actually did sell copies! But it’s hard to shake that feeling, and it’s been a bit of a sad month for me.
Here’s the bottom line – I don’t have contracts for the remaining two books in the series. I have all of my notes and plans written down, but the books aren’t written, and without a contract in hand I am not going to write them. It would take me about six months to write each of the books, and that’s six months that I’m probably a lot better off devoting to a new series that had a chance of getting published. I’m actually working on a new series right now, which I’m very optimistic about.
Dark Ascension is, at the present time, probably going to be the final book for Fort Scott. It’s not where I had wanted to end the series, but if I had to end it early, it’s probably the best possible stopping point. It is, without a doubt, pretty sad. But I’m going to do the best thing I can, which is to move forward. After all, if I write something later that is a hit, and the Generation V series suddenly gets more attention, I can pick my old notes back up and write the last two books. This isn’t like Firefly – in a book, Nathan Fillion will always fit into his tight pants. Fort will always be waiting right where I left him – standing at the edge of a brave new world of idealism and individual voices that is, I assure you, about to go disastrously wrong.