Interview with the Vampire Prince: A Conversation with Darren Shan
To fans of the popular "Cirque Du Freak" series, Darren Shan is a half-vampire who must serve the mysterious Mr. Crepsley after sacrificing his humanity to save a friend. But to those who've met him in person, Darren Shan is also the very human and very talented author of the "Cirque Du Freak" books, which have sold over 10 million copies in 30 different countries.
Born Darren O'Shaughnessy, Shan intended to write for adults. But when his agent (who happened to be representing a then-unknown J.K. Rowling) helped him sell his first "Cirque Du Freak" book, Shan's writing career took off. Today, he divides his time between writing his new "Demonata" series and touring the world thrilling kids with news about his upcoming projects.
I spoke with Darren Shan after one of his author visits and got him to disclose some thoughts about his writing process, children's literacy, and his relationship with the other Darren Shan.
Michael Jung: You began as an adult fiction writer but found success as a children's author. How do you find the process of writing for children different from writing for adults?
Darren Shan: For me there's not a huge difference—my children's books are often as dark and bloody as my adult books!!! But there are certain themes I don't explore when writing for kids, and certain places I don't take my stories. In my adult books, my characters are sometimes nastier, even the heroes—they explore a moral grey area which I'm wary of exploring in too much depth when I write for younger readers.
MJ: Your books have been applauded for appealing to reluctant readers, especially boys. How do you feel books should be presented to entice kids to read?
DS: I think the important thing is not to pigeon-hole books. A cover should reflect the contents of a book, but I don't think covers should be driven at any particular group., i.e. I don't think it should say "Recommended for boys" or "For 13 years or older". I have an equal mix of male and female readers, of 10 year olds and 16 year olds. A good book will find and determine its audience.
MJ: During your book signing, one young fan mentioned he'd been reading your adult novels, Procession of the Dead and Hell's Horizon. Have you found your adult novels appeal to many children as well?
DS: Lots of my teenage fans in the UK have read my adult books (Procession of the Dead will be published in the USA in 2009, under the name of D B Shan), and the response has been great. I don't openly recommend my adult books for younger readers, but as I said, books will find their own audience. I read my first Stephen King book (Salem's Lot) when I was 8 or 9, so I'd be a huge hypocrite if I actively said my adult books are unsuitable for kids!!! Each reader is different.
MJ: With that in mind, do you feel there should be a split between "children's" books and "adult" books since a lot of adult and children's books have crossover appeal?
DS: It depends on the book. Some, like [Philip Pullman's] His Dark Materials or Cirque Du Freak, DO appeal equally to kids and adults, while others appeal more to one than the other. I think a split is normally useful, especially if the novel in question is intended for adults and features adult content, but it's not essential in many cases.
MJ: How much of Darren Shan, Vampire Prince is based on Darren Shan, writer?
DS: I share certain things in common with Darren, as I do with all my main characters, but we're not one-and-the-same. He's his own person, and I always let him go his own way and do his own thing.
MJ: What do you need to do to write from a young boy's perspective—particularly one with Darren Shan's abilities and problems?
DS: I just thought about what I was like when I was 10, 12, 13 years old!
MJ: One popular part of your author visits is when you invite kids to come up on stage and help you act out your stories from the perspective of a different character. Did you create these stories while writing the Darren Shan novels?
DS: It was something I did for touring. I get tired of doing the same scenes too many times, so I try to come up with fresh things to do at events. It was fun seeing the story-line from a different character's point of view, but I wrote it after I'd written the book, so it didn't have any real influence on the book.
MJ: Your first novel Mute Pursuit was never published, but did any characters and/or events from the story make their way into your published work?
DS: I haven't used anything from Mute Pursuit in later books, but I have cannibalized some of my other early work—some of the scenes in City of the Snakes (the third book in my adult trilogy) were adapted from an unfinished book I created when I was 16 or 17. Everything in writing is connected. Readers only see what gets published, but there's usually a lot more that has gone on behind the scenes, which is all as important as what actually sees print.
MJ: Some people are surprised when you mention Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden is one of your favorite books. Did this book influence your own writing?
DS: Yes, that book has definitely influenced me. So have lots of other non-horror books. It's important to read widely—that way you can draw from all sorts of different influences.
MJ: Speaking of reading widely—I know you enjoy collecting and reading comic books. What are some of your favorites?
DS: The Watchmen, From Hell, The Dark Knight Returns, Cerebus, Sandman...
MJ: Have you ever thought about branching out into writing graphic novels?
DS: I'd like to try writing a comic one day—it's something I used to do when I was younger— but I don't know if I ever will. Time will tell.
MJ: What upcoming books or events would you like readers to know about?
DS: The next two "Demonata" books (Wolf Island and Dark Calling) come out in the States in spring and fall 2009. Watch out for the Cirque Du Freak movie and manga as well in 2009!!!
MJ: What is the best compliment a young reader has given you?
DS: I get lots of cool compliments, but the one that always gives me the biggest buzz is when someone says "Your books are what made me want to read." There's nothing more rewarding for a writer than creating a new reader—you feel like Dr Frankenstein when he's breathed life into his monster—"It's ALIVE!!!!" Er... not that I'm comparing my fans to monsters, of course!!!!!!!
Learn more about Darren Shan's books and his future projects at www.darrenshan.com.
Arizona-based freelance writer Michael Jung has often been compared to a monster, especially when he's interrupted while devouring a particularly good book.
Contributor: Michael Jung
Bec is the fourth book in the "Demonata" series. Bec is an orphaned apprentice priestess. Her teacher died leaving her to care for her village. The village struggles to defend itself from nightly demon attacks, where every night more villagers are injured or killed. Other villages in the area are being destroyed. Survivors come to Bec's village for sanctuary. When things seem hopeless, Bec is offered an opportunity to save her village. She is frightened, but a vision encourages her to leave the relative safety of her childhood home. She and several of the village's warriors strike out on the epic adventure. Along the way, Bec discovers why her mother abandoned her. Will this new information jeopardize her mission? She is terrified her friends will no longer accept her. She also gains great power in working men's magic. As she continues on her journey, she comes across a demon who begins to stalk the group. He is a little too interested in Bec's magical development and the group's destination. Although the adventurers get the information to defeat the demon hordes, they discover they will not reach their destination in time. Even if they could get there in time, Bec questions whether she will have the courage and strength needed. This book is a great read for reluctant readers. It is quick paced. It addresses the topics of choices and consequences and bonds of friendship. It is a great book to examine for character development. 2007, Little Brown and Company, $16.99. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Jennifer Mitchell (Children's Literature).
Cirque du Freak
Cirque du Freak is the first of a series of four books by Darren Shan, an Irish writer who has long been fascinated by vampires. The novel is full of thrills and chills and slowly building suspense and will appeal greatly to any reader interested in the horror genre. Darren and his friend, Steve, obtain tickets for a freak show in a rather dirty, dingy, run-down old theatre which, in itself, lends an air of the macabre and supernatural to the story. Fifty pages of the book are given to a detailed, gross and gruesome description of this unreal entertainment. The freaks run the gamut from a vicious wolf man to a contortionist, a fat man, and a spider who apparently works from telepathic signals. The boys are mesmerized by their journey into this world of grotesque creatures and find their experience both, thrilling and disturbing, amazing yet horrifying. Steve is attracted by Mr. Crepsley whom he recognizes to be a famous vampire. Darren, on the other hand, has always been intrigued by spiders and so is fascinated by Mr. Crepley's pet, Madame Octa. This love of arachnids ends up changing Darren's life completely. Events spiral out of control: Darren steals the performing spider and subsequently Madame Octa bites Steve, leaving him paralyzed and in a coma, near death. To obtain the necessary antidote, Darren must......literally.....sell his soul. Shan introduces themes of horror, magic and friendship. The book is somewhat reminiscent of R. L. Stine, but Shan's writing is darker and more frightening and, therefore, would probably appeal to somewhat older readers. The entire story is told from the viewpoint of an adolescent boy, and so there is a definite emphasis on the gross qualities of the freak show, yet the book remains imaginative and displays a rather dark sort of humour. There is plenty of chilling action throughout as the boys get caught up in an unexpected trap which leads to an equally unexpected ending. Certainly the reader is left wanting to know more about Darren's adventures in the sequels! Cirque du Freak is soon to be a motion picture from Warner Brothers, and, as well, the novel won the IRA Children's Choice Award in 2002. Highly Recommended. Rating: **** /4. Grades 5 and up. (The Darren Shan Saga) 2002 (orig. 2000), Scholastic Canada, 256 pp., pbk., $8.99. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Ann Ketcheson (CM Magazine, March 14, 2003 (Vol. IX, No. 14)).
Cirque du Freak
When a mysterious freak show comes into a small town, four young, curious boys find it intriguing and will do anything to attend. They soon meet disappointment when they can only acquire two tickets and must decide who the fortunate twosome will be. The show is much more than the two boys, Darren and Steve, expected. The boys are fascinated by the variety of unnatural figures they see but do not realize that they are in the heart of danger when an overly anxious Darren takes one of the venomous acts home. The only problem: his newfound creature belongs to a vampire. Later, when this creature seriously injures Steve, Darren must decide between the fate of his best friend and a life of darkness. This exciting first installment in the "Cirque Du Freak" series proves Shan's ability to frighten while leaving certain horrors to the imagination of the reader. The book gives an explicit picture of these "freaks," and its compelling story makes readers wonder what the world is like on the dark side. This mysterious and ghostly look into the unspoken and abnormal aspects of the supernatural will keep readers of any age in suspense until the last page. 2001, Little Brown, $15.95. Ages 9 to 13. Reviewer: Michelene Kost (Children's Literature).
Wasting no time in setting a tone of spine-tingling horror, Darren Shan tells his readers right at the beginning, "This is a true story." Darren and his best friend, Steve, secretly buy tickets for an illegal freak show. They are spellbound at the fascinating performances of the Wolfman, Rhamus Twobellies and Alexander Ribs. But nothing can match the amazing feats of Mr. Crepsley and his deadly spider, Madam Octa. Steve recognizes the man from the cover of one of his horror books--Mr. Crepsley is a vampire. Darren's envy of the spider prompts him to make a foolish attempt at thievery. And when Steve lies near death, the victim of a lethal spider bite, Darren's only chance to save him drives him to a terrifying decision--to become the vampire's assistant. The author's choice of using a "mock-umentary" style is a brilliant one. Rather than the usual frights associated with the horror genre, the reader is further addled by the sense of reality when Darren falls into a nightmare of vampirish proportions. Readers will be howling for the sequel (due September, 2001) to this bone-chilling novel. 2001, Little Brown, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning (Children's Literature).
- The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002; Bank Street College of Education; United States
- Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, 2000; Voice of Youth Advocates; United States
- Children's Book Sense 76 Picks, Spring/Summer 2001; Book Sense 76; United States
- Children's Choices, 2002; International Reading Association; United States
- Parent's Guide to Children's Media, 2001; Parent's Guide to Children's Media, Inc.; United States
Travel between dimensions and back in time with Cornelius, aka "Kernel" Fleck, the bald, eccentric youth whose only friend is his little, razor-toothed brother Art. Although Kernel has seen plenty of dark times, including the death of his little sister, Annabella, and a friendless existence at school, he is perhaps the only boy on Earth who has never seen physical darkness. Why? Kernel is plagued by mysterious, puzzle-shaped patches of pulsing light-his constant companions. When Kernel's parents take a mini-vacation and Art is kidnapped by a gruesome demon, Kernel finds himself catapulted into the Demon's universe on a mad search to rescue his brother. Fans of Lord Loss (Little, Brown, 2005/VOYA October 2005) will be thrilled to see a nose-ringed, purple-spiked-haired younger version of Uncle Dervish Grady, a punk-rocker with a mission to destroy evil, one of the "Disciples" of Beranabus, the great magician. And not to be outdone, Lord Loss makes a grisly appearance as Kernel's nemesis. It does not take long for Kernel and Dervish to become loyal friends and for Kernel to learn that the omnipresent lights are a magical tool with which to be reckoned. Although littered with putrid scenes that at times become repetitive and over-the-top even for this writer, the book skillfully addresses the themes of family loyalty and the devastation of betrayal without moralizing. With a twist ending that borders on tragic, Shan leaves plenty of room for another piece of Kernel's story-a piece for which fans will search in order to complete the puzzle of the Demonata world. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Little Brown, 244p., $15.99. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Erin K. Kilby (VOYA, October 2006 (Vol. 29, No. 4)). Best Books:
- Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to Ninth Edition, 2007; H.W. Wilson Company; United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
- Lancashire County Library Children's Book of the Year Award, 2007; Shortlist; United Kingdom
Hunters of the Dusk
Things are really heating up in this novel, the seventh installment in Darren Shan's Cirque Du Freak series. Darren Shan--the character shares his name with the author of the series--is a half vampire, and now one of only five Vampire Princes in the world. Vampires are six years into "The War of Scars," against their blue-veined cousins, the vampaneze. Vampeneze are creatures that, unlike vampires, kill their victims after they feed on them. The powerful yet shady Mr. Tiny has prophesied that Darren and two of his brethren will have four chances to kill the Lord of the Vampeneze. Darren, together with his mentor, Mr. Crepsley, and another Vampire Prince, Vancha March, set out on a mission to hunt down and destroy the vampaneze. First, they visit a powerful witch named Lady Evanna, who sometimes provides aid to vampires but more often refused to take sides in the war. Darren is briefly reunited with his friends at the Cirque Du Freak, but soon is engaged in deadly combat with the enemy. Well-paced and smoothly flowing, Darren Shan has crafted another finely wrought effort in the best selling "Saga of Darren Shan." 2004 (orig. 2002), Little Brown and Company, $15.95. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Christopher Moning (Children's Literature).
Killers of the Dawn
This is book 9 in the best-selling "Cirque Du Freak" series, as Darren Shan and his fellow vampires continue their war against the evil race of vampires known as the vampaneze and their human allies, the vampets. For much of the story, Darren and his friends are being pursued by the police and their vampeneze enemies. This includes a daring escape from police headquarters and a fast-paced and suspenseful pursuit through the city. The pursuit leads to a violent underground confrontation between Darren and the vampires and an army of vampaneze and vampets, including their leader, the Lord of the Vampaneze. Darren and his friends believe that they will win the war if they can kill the Lord of the Vampaneze. Also at stake in the fight is the freedom of Debbie, Darren's girlfriend, who is being held captive by the vampaneze. This is an exciting, action-packed novel that older kids, particularly horror fans, should enjoy. However, be warned, there is a high level of violence--sometimes graphic--throughout the book. 2005, Little Brown and Company, $15.99. Ages 14 to 18. Reviewer: Mark Love (Children's Literature).
Grubitsch "Grubbs" Grady's life changes in one moment. Grubbs starts out as a normal kid who gets punished for a playing a cruel joke on his sister--he put dead rat guts on her bath-towel. Then, abnormally, the Grady parents and sister forgive Grubbs and send him to stay the night with an aunt. In an act of determined curiosity, Grubbs heads off to spy on his family, only to find demons murdering all three of them. Each gory description tempts readers to prove that this deliciously gruesome tale is for the stout of heart--or those reluctant teens that think they are. With a tale filled with everything from murder to werewolves, readers will race through each page to find a conclusion, if not to satisfy their own curiosity. Unfortunately, the text screams horror and suspense while the author hurries through the climax, resulting in a serious lack of consistency in the grotesque elements and action. However, Shan's book will intrigue horror fans while attracting those looking for a good scare. 2005, Little Brown and Company, $15.99. Ages 14 to 18. Reviewer: Joella Peterson (Children's Literature). Best Books:
- Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog 2006 Supplement to the Ninth Edition, 2006; H.W Wilson Company; United States
- Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2006; American Library Association; United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
- Soaring Eagle Book Award, 2007-2008; Nominee; Grades 7-12; Wyoming
Any novel that starts out with such immediate action as "My eyes! My eyes stabbed out my eyes!" must be full of page-turning adventure. Right from the start you are hooked in this third installment of the "Demonata" series. This book comes from the bestselling "Cirque du Freak" series author, Darren Shan. When the initial action settles, and Dervis, Grubbs' uncle, realizes that Lord Loss did not, in fact, take over his eyes or body, readers are faced with a strong warning telling them not to trust fairy tales, happy endings, and stories that go on as long as they are breathing. Things seem almost back to normal, when film producer "Diva" asks Dervis to be a consultant on his new movie. Not wanting to turn down the acclaimed horror film producer, he decides to help. The big scene is set on Slawter Street. In for a few surprises, Dervis finds that the demons he feared have taken over again. Will he be able to convince others of what he knows about Lord Loss? Will he be able to remedy the situation before people start to disappear? Or, by some freakish chance, is it all in his head? Find out in this powerfully well-written novel. The language and characterization will envelop the reader. 2006, Little Brown, $16.99. Ages 14 up. Reviewer: Kelly Grebinoski (Children's Literature).
Sons of Destiny
In the twelfth and final book of the "Cirque du Freak" series, Darren Shan must face the final battle between himself and his childhood friend turned archenemy, Steve Leopard. In the War of the Scars only one side can be victorious, and with Darren leading the vampires and Steve leading the vampaneze, this means one must die. Yet a witch's prophecy declares the winner irrelevant. No matter who lives and who dies, the victor will become the Lord of the Shadows. And Des Tiny still has secrets up his sleeves that once revealed will change Darren's view of destiny and how to change the world. With an ending that brings many surprises, Shan brings his life and series full circle. Some readers might be left with unanswered questions, but in a series so long, this is mostly to be expected. A fantasy-horror series not to be missed, "Cirque du Freak," and especially this volume, ends in a satisfyingly cyclical way. 2006, Little Brown and Company, $16.99. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Kathleen Foucart (Children's Literature).
Tunnels of Blood
My name is Darren Shan. I am a half-vampire," says the protagonist in the first line of this chilling trilogy. Darren Shan was just another kid from around the block until he met Mr. Crepsley, a full-blooded vampire, who put a curse on Darren that changed him into a half-vampire. Now confined to the Cirque Du Freak, a circus of weird performers, Darren must live a new life under the wing of his master, Mr. Crepsley. Although Darren reminisces about the life he has left behind, he moves on and accepts himself for what he has become. This spine-tingling horror-mystery begins when Gavner, who now works for the vampire police force, pays Mr. Crepsley a visit. After Gavner's departure, Mr. Crepsley announces that he and Darren must leave the circus and move to a nearby city. Mr. Crepsley allows Darren to bring his companion, snake-boy Evra. The city life seems to work out for Darren and Evra until a news report informs them that six corpses drained of their blood have been found. Darren embarks on an electrifying adventure to find out what has happened to the bodies. In the process, Darren creates new friendships and expands on old ones while he faces many decisions as he tries to save the life of his friends without killing himself in the process. This novel is a quick read that is guaranteed to scare even the bravest reader. Part of the "Cirque du Freak" series subtitled "The Saga of Darren Shan." 2002, Little Brown Company, $11.17. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Myra Bodrick (Children's Literature).
My name's Darren Shan. I'm a half-vampire." So begins the third installment in Darren Shan's imaginative "Cirque Du Freak" series. Books one and two related how young Darren becomes the half-vampire assistant to Mr. Crepsley in order to save his friend's life. They join the Cirque Du Freak, which is about the only place the pair won't be ostracized. In this latest novel, Darren learns more about Mr. Crepsley's past life as a vampire General, whose job included tracking down and killing wayward vampires and vampaneze. Darren and his friend the snake boy, Evra, accompany Mr. Crepsley to the city where Darren learns more about vampaneze, a renegade type of vampire that holds no respect for human life. A mad, murderous vampaneze named Murlough is lurking in the tunnels beneath the city. Darren also learns his first lesson in love as he meets and befriends a pretty, lively girl named Debbie. This is not an easy lesson for young Darren--half-vampires, you see, age at only one fifth the rate of humans. After a dark, suspenseful chase of Murlough, Darren shows his resourcefulness in overcoming evil. Darren Shan is building a loyal following with his highly original, highly creative, deliciously creepy tales. 2002 (orig. 2000), Little Brown, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning (Children's Literature).
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
- Soaring Eagle Book Award 1st Runner-up 2006 Wyoming
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
- Soaring Eagle Book Award, 2005-2006; Nominee; Grades 7-12; Wyoming
The fourth installment in Darren Shan's "Saga of Darren Shan" series takes place eight years after young Darren has been blooded into a half-vampire by his mentor, Mr. Crepsley. Darren still looks like a teenager, however, because vampires age at one fifth the rate of humans. Mr. Crepsley feels that it is time to present Darren to the Council of Vampire Generals, which convenes once every twelve years. The journey to Vampire Mountain is arduous and Darren and Mr. Crepsley, accompanied by two of the Little People introduced in earlier books, escape some close calls along the way. The mysterious and powerful Mr. Tiny has given one of the Little People this message to impart to the Vampire Generals: The night of the Vampeneze Lord is at hand. It has been prophesied that the Vampaneze, a renegade branch of vampires who take pleasure in killing humans, will one day annihilate the rest of the vampire race. Only the Stone of Blood, a mystical source of power, might be able to avert the disaster. Like all good series, this book provides two new mysteries for every one it explains. The action is well-planned and the dialogue feels more accomplished than in Shan's previous books. Shan clearly has enough material for several additional offerings. Here is hoping he keeps churning them out. I can hardly wait for book five. 2002, Little Brown, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning (Children's Literature).
The Vampire's Assistant
In this horror novel, the author and protagonist share the same name--Darren Shan. With that crafty twist, the action gets underway fast and furiously. Young Darren is a half-vampire, torn between the worlds of the living and the dead. Though attached to Mr. Crepsley, who made him a vampire, Darren cannot bring himself to partake of human flesh. Quickly he is learning that vampires do not live on animal blood alone. Driven by loneliness, Darren and Mr. Crepsley hook up with the Cirque Du Freak, a freak show circus that features a snake boy, a bearded lady, and Cormac Limbs, a man who can grow arms, legs and fingers as fast as you can chop them off. Darren finds friendship in the snake boy, Evra, and in Sam, a local boy who longs to join the freak show. But an overzealous animal rights advocate is determined to set free the insanely violent wolf-man, and we know that a gory, bloody climax is just around the bend. Shan is uncannily skillful in sucking readers into his macabre world. Against all reason, we really do get the sense that this is real. With this book, the second in Shan's creepy "Cirque Du Freak" series, it won't take long to gain a faithful following. 2001, Little Brown, $15.95. Ages 12 to 16. Reviewer: Christopher Moning (Children's Literature).
In this, the second book in Darren Shan's series, Shan tells of his transformation into a vampire. In the first book of the series, Darren was bitten by a vampire and turned into the vampire's assistant. This book starts with Darren commenting on his struggle with being a vampire and wanting to stay a human. The vampire, Mr. Crepsley, is set on turning Darren into a full-fledged vampire by making him drink human blood. He tells him that the choice is his, but it is either take on all the ways of a vampire or suffer a very painful death. Darren befriends Evra, a snake boy, at a freak show. A human rights activist shows up at the freak show and releases a caged wolf-man, who ends up hurting Darren's friend, Sam, and Darren then has to make a choice to become a full-fledged vampire or not. This is a very good book for young adults, as many readers of this age today are into fantasy, and the different men/monsters in the novel will appeal. Darren Shan does a good job with the plot of the book and ends with cliffhangers reminiscent of soap operas and television series. I would recommend this book to any young adult who likes to read and enjoys fantasy. Part of the "Cirque Du Freak" series. 2001, Little Brown and Company, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Jack Hendrick (Children's Literature).
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
- Soaring Eagle Book Award 2nd Runner-up 2005 Grades 7-12 Wyoming
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
- Soaring Eagle Book Award, 2004-2005; Nominee; Grades 7-12; Wyoming
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