Recently, we were asked to answer a few pre-launch questions to tell our readers more about how we got started. We thought some of those questions would serve as a good introduction on our website:
What inspired you to write a novel specifically for young adults?
Dina: We weren’t really thinking of the age group when we started writing (at least I wasn’t). We wanted to write a story that started with all the things we desperately wanted when we were teenagers. So first came the teenage characters and it grew from there. Once we really started thinking about it though, we realized how universal the desires of our characters are for people of any age group. I’m no longer a teen, and I still want many of the same things our characters want.
Plus (and this is probably the REAL answer to your question), as any of our friends will tell you, neither one of us has really grown up. And I don’t mean that in the way every adult says it. It’s not that we’re “young at heart”. It’s that we’re terminally immature—and we get worse when we’re around each other. Once, I visited Dan at work and unleashed a chain of events that ended with him angrily quitting his job. Once, Dan and I went to Spain and I ended up on top of a statue. Dan and I still read teen books, watch teen flicks and high school TV shows. Daniel gobbles up young adult media like it’s his job (which it is) and I volunteer at local high schools. We both have a large contingent of teenage Facebook friends. The teenage years are the years we know best. Somehow, those were the years that resonated most with our personalities. Plus, we have so much fun when we’re together… A joint creative endeavor was sort of inevitable.
Daniel: Yeah, what Dina said. My first few projects were all YA novels, and I’ve always been a comic book/ video game geek. I think the YA genre allows for more creativity. Young readers are willing to suspend disbelief and go off on crazy adventures. For YA books to compete with all the other media out there, I think they have to do what all the other forms can’t—which is exploring a story deeper and with more detail, and giving us multidimensional insight into the characters.
How did you divide the writing duties? How would you describe your ‘all in the family’ co-writing experience?
Dina: I love working with Dan. As I’ve said numerous times before, he is responsible for most of my belly laughs. But it wasn’t so fun at first. I was at Harvard Business School when we started (which is not a place you go to write novels, though you could get some inspiration as far as deals-with-the-devil go), and Dan was totally immersed in a creative world. We fought ALL the time; so much that I actually consulted the professor of a class entitled, “Managing for Creativity,” which is basically a how-to class on handling nutty creative-types. The next time we talked, I was biting my fist every two seconds and spewing lines like, “what I think I hear you saying is…” and “how about we just try making an outline?”
It took six months of monster fights before we got the hang of things. We learned so much from each other that now, as soon as a fight starts, one of us starts “managing” the other (either Daniel offers to take-notes-for-a-change or I agree to go on an internet-joy-ride through Dan’s favorite irrelevant websites) and we just crack up at the ridiculousness of it. Thankfully, we no longer fight over creative content. After all, a person can’t be wrong about creative preferences. If we disagree on those things, we just have to get off the phone and think about it for a long time, and each person gets to win half the time.
As for dividing up duties, writing with two people is actually a lot harder than writing alone. Plus, we have a whole extra step of having to outline the book in painful detail over Skype before we ever begin writing. Before each of our books, we’ve actually had to spend weeks discussing the voice and the tone (with sample paragraphs and scenes), so that when we begin writing, we can both be shooting for the same mark. Then, we divide up the chapters and write a draft and each person gets to thoroughly edit the other person’s chapter. Then we do that a couple of more times until the voice is smooth. I can’t imagine being able to do pull it off with a non-family member.
Daniel: A lot of our early fights were about trying to create a new method of working on creative projects. I was trying to bring my single-minded approach, and Dina was trying to incorporate “management” methods. Our mom was just trying to keep us from stabbing each other.
What drew you to adapting the Faust legend for teens? Were there other particular books or sources that you used for research?
Dina: Well, from my perspective, the Faust element didn’t come first. The story was originally supposed to be about five gifted teens and a beautiful witch who exploits them. The skeleton of the idea sort of came to me on Christmas Day 2005 when I was in my second year of business school and starting to realize that I didn’t want to have a traditional business career. I wanted to write. So I started to sketch out the characters as five teens that are extraordinarily gifted in various areas and how they misuse their gifts. I called Daniel and he and I talked for hours about it. That January (2006), he came to Boston and spent two weeks living with me and we outlined the whole book together. When we were discussing the motivation issue (what does the witch want?) Daniel pointed out that Satan would be a much better exploiter of genius. Daniel has studied Faust extensively, so he suggested making it a Faustian bargain (which was brilliant!) and we immediately started brainstorming the idea of a series where each book is a retelling of a classic set at Marlowe (the place all the literary characters converge in modern times!). Before we came up with a title for the series though, we had this horrible working title called “Mephisto and the Children.”
As for sources, there are so many literary references in the book. We’ve quoted Lord Byron, Dante, Goethe (not just from Faust, but some of his personal quotes. In fact, we have Goethe as a character in one of our epigraphs). The epigraphs have been inspired by American works like Little House on the Prairie and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as stories from all over the world like Hatshepsut the Pharaoh-Queen, witch trials in Europe and the Americas, vampire lore, and even wives tales about the origins of golf. We have characters appearing in the text and epigraphs like the Romanovs, Goethe, Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Truman, Queen Elizabeth I, and the Persian poet Ferdowsi. We’ve referenced the Bible (there’s quite a major allegorical thread there), the short story “Young Goodman-Brown” and of course, our school is named after Marlowe, who wrote another version of Faust. We have a couple of references to video games and our favorite fantasy books like Lord of the Rings. We even used a raging debate that my class at Harvard Business School had about drug patents— Ninety overachievers in the angriest debate I’ve heard in a long time! Fabulous! There are so many layers in the book. That’s one of the things I love best about it.
Daniel: Don’t forget the great film classic, Bedazzled. And Wolfenstein. And if there isn’t a reference to Doc Holiday in Tombstone, there should be.
What do you hope readers can take away from Another Faust when they turn the final page?
Dina: I hope they start to see the difference between accolades and accomplishments, as well as what it takes to be truly beautiful or successful.
But also, I would love it if Another Faust was the impetus for readers to pick up the original Faust, and if future books in the series inspired readers to read the original versions of those. Our series is about retellings, but at the end of the day, it is about rediscovering all the wonderful literature that is already available to teens. It’s about empowering young adults to add their own mark to the literary world. I hope this series leads readers to experiment with their own writing.
Daniel: For me, the number one goal with this entire series is that readers can start to look at all these great stories we have in our libraries—Faust, Treasure Island, The Book of the Dun Cow—and they stop seeing them as this big unapproachable pile that boring old people call “The Western Canon”. All these stories are there to hang out with, to talk to. If you like Frankenstein, cool, write your own version and see how it’s different. What parts did you have to keep in order for it to stay a “Frankenstein story?” I want young adult readers to come up to me and say, “My Faust is better than your Faust.” That would be amazing. Sure, I’ll play you in Halo, but what if we teamed up and tried to beat Bram Stoker at his own game?
Basically, it’s all about getting readers to become ACTIVE, trade books, and trash talk Cervantes for that second book in Don Quixote (man did that get repetitive, but the first one, brilliant). We want to have a competition on our site to see who can write the best retelling of a classic. We’re thinking we’d go and visit with the winner, publish the work on our site, and I dunno, give him or her cool stuff (like more books).
I think the “Another” series is so much fun because we’ve tried to strip away so many of the austere elements related to books. Our whole approach is about coming up with new ways of doing things. For example, we want our readings to feature other people’s work. If some of our readers come with their own work, why not, have them read us something. I think any writer should get bored pretty quickly of only hearing his/her own stuff.
Are there any additional books in the works that feature the students at the Marlowe School?
Dina: Yes! We just finished writing Another Pan, which is the second book in the series. It does take place in Marlowe and has a wonderfully intriguing main character. We’ve decided to give a nod to every author whose work we recreate in this series by naming some school fixture after them. Since our school is called Marlowe in honor of Faust, in book two much of the action takes place in Barrie auditorium in honor of Pan.
Daniel: Another Pan. Tell your friends.