{Interview/Giveaway} Jackie Morse Kessler, author of the Riders of the Apocalypse series

Check out the full Tour Schedule for more chances to WIN,
as well as more guest posts and interviews with Jackie!

Stop by The Book Smugglers tomorrow for the final stop on the tour!

Check out today's review of BREATH!

Haven't read the previous books in the series yet?
Check out my reviews!
(and my exploration of the mythology in LOSS!)

Check out my previous interviews with 
Billy from LOSS
Jackie Morse Kessler!

Jackie Morse Kessler grew up in Brooklyn, NY, with a cranky cat and overflowing shelves filled with dolls and books. Now she’s in Upstate NY with another cranky cat, a loving husband, two sons, and overflowing shelves filled with dragons and books (except when her sons steal her dragons). She has a bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature, and yet she’s never read any Jane Austen (with or without zombies). She also has a master’s degree in media ecology. (The living study of technology and culture. Which is cool, but she still can’t figure out how to use Tweetdeck.) 

Jackie spends a lot of time writing, reading, and getting distracted by bright and shiny new ideas. (She just came up with a new idea right now.) She has a weakness for chocolate and a tendency to let her cat take over her office chair.

Visit Jackie on her blog and Twitter!
An interview with 
Jackie Morse Kessler

How hard was it creating the history of Death? What was your writing process like?

Believe it or not, when I first started thinking about BREATH, I didn't truly know what Death's origin was. I had a vague notion, but that was it. But then one lyric from "Snuff" by Slipknot really resonated: "Angels lie to keep control." And bam, that got my creative juices flowing. Other songs helped, too, like Breaking Benjamin's "I Will Not Bow" and pretty much all of Nirvana's Unplugged in New York album. It was a little daunting at first; coming up with the origin of an entity that is as close to all-powerful as can be is a little mind-blowing. How could a mortal ever really conceive of a beginning of something immortal? But I think I came up with a good solution. 

The writing process for this book included a ton of sticky notes, with one question or topic per note. This book had a lot to do: It had to wrap up the entire series, which meant answering the big questions raised in the other books; it had to be a complete story on its own; it had to tell Death's story; it had to tell the story of Xander (the teen protagonist); and it had to tie everything together in a compelling way. No pressure! Once I figured out the correct beginning (which wasn't what I'd originally expected; in the early drafts, the beginning wound up becoming Part 2), it flowed. Sort of. A little.

I can see traces of the way various cultures view death and dying in BREATH. Which mythologies or beliefs are your favorites? How did you decide on which ones to incorporate into BREATH? (Especially the coins!)

I've always had a soft spot for Greco-Roman mythology; maybe that made the notion of a supreme-sort of being walking around in a human skin a little easier to grasp when I was writing BREATH. That's where the coins come from -- two coins for Chaeron the Ferryman, who transports dead souls across the river Styx. As for the other notions that get touched on, I sort of cherry picked what I felt worked. Death's early chapters in the book shows that while he is outside of religion, he respects people's beliefs. And people, in turn, respect him. (And if they don't, well, that tends to go poorly for them.)

What has been your favorite part about writing this series? What was the hardest?

If, after people have read this series, they start to think a little more about issues they might not have before -- eating disorders, depression, self-injury, bullying -- and even talking about those issues, then I did my job. My favorite part about writing the series is when readers tell me how the books have had an impact on them. People have told me that after reading RAGE, for example, they were able to finally stop injuring themselves. That's amazing and powerful, and I couldn't be more grateful. 

Other than HUNGER -- which was an extremely cathartic book to write; see what happens when you let something percolate for 10 years? -- the rest of the series was extremely difficult to write. The things the protagonists go through were very draining on me. I visualize when I write. I have to feel what the characters feel when they're going through something, and when it's a scene where someone is humiliated, or someone is depressed to the point of considering suicide, it's extremely upsetting. I needed a lot of rainbows and bunnies to get me back to a happy place. (Chocolate too!) 

That being said, I'm still glad I wrote the series. :)

I loved seeing small snippets from past books in BREATH; we haven't really had "tangible" moments in previous books. (The HUNGER references were especially intriguing and I want to re-read it now!) Did you always know you'd do this?

I knew I needed to have all four Riders in the book. I'd set it up back in RAGE that when the four of them gather together as Riders, well, that's sort of bad. (Other than when they're playing cards. And even then, look out, because War cheats.) Because I knew that this was Death's book, and he was suicidal -- and what that would mean -- it was a given that the other three Riders would play their parts. And because this was the last book in the series, I owed it to the characters and the readers to show them how those three Riders have been doing over the years that had lapsed between LOSS and BREATH. Having all of that power -- and all of that responsibility -- changed them in different ways.

I love that proceeds from each book in the series go towards various organizations. One thing that particularly drew me to the series in the first place was the way you merged "real-life issues" into a fantasy setting instead of giving teens yet another straight-forward contemporary novel, drawing in teenagers who may not otherwise be reached. Why did you decide to have each book revolve around serious issues such as eating disorders, bullying, etc.?

It's all HUNGER's fault. :) When I wrote that book, I knew it was going to be about a girl with anorexia who happens to become Famine, and not a girl who becomes Famine who happens to have anorexia. If I had taken the supernatural out of the book, I still would have had a book. Granted, it would have been a very different book, but it still would have been its own story. But if I'd taken the issue out of the book, I wouldn't have had anything there. It was always a book with an issue at its core. 

Once I did that for HUNGER, and my agent convinced me to write books about the other Riders, well, I sorta had to keep focusing on issues. So I guess it's my agent's fault as well as HUNGER's fault. :)

Can you tease us in regards to what you're working on next?

Absolutely! I have a completely new book coming out in spring 2014 from Month9Books. That novel is TO BEAR AN IRON KEY, and its YA fantasy. No Riders at all. Instead, there are witches and fairies and a thief. Bromwyn is a powerful witch who is trapped by her grandmother's curse, her mother's love, and a promise to marry the wrong boy. When her best friend picks the wrong pocket just before Midsummer, what happens next will change Bromwyn's life forever. 

I'm also rewriting a book for my sons. I hope to get that done before this summer. :)

If Death granted you a boon the way he does Xander in BREATH, what would you request?

Yikes. I think I'd rather just have a drink with him and listen to some tunes. Boons tend to have consequences. ;)

Thank you so much, Jackie!
I'm always so curious about this series and your creative process,
especially now after reading the elaborate BREATH!
O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Release Date: Out April 16, 2013
Publisher: Graphia / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Received: For Review

Contrary to popular belief, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren’t just harbingers of doom—they actually keep life in balance. But what happens when their leader and creator, Death, becomes suicidal? 

Before the first living thing drew its first gasping breath, he was there. He has watched humanity for millennia. And he has finally decided that humanity is not worth the price he has paid time and again. When Death himself gives up on life, a teenager named Xander Atwood is the world’s only hope. But Xander bears a secret, one that may bring about the end of everything. 

This heart-pounding final installment of the Riders of the Apocalypse series looks at the value of life, the strength of love, and how a small voice can change everything . . . forever.


You could win...
A set of all four books in the
Riders of the Apocalypse series
and posters!
This giveaway is US only, ages 13 and up.

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  1. I like where she said " I have a completely new book coming out in spring 2014 from Month9Books. That novel is TO BEAR AN IRON KEY..." That would give me time to read all 4 of the Riders of the Apocalypse series, if I win.

  2. I just wanted to say this was a great interview, and I enjoyed following the blog tour for BREATH and learning more about these books! I want to read them very badly :) I commend Jackie for being able (and wanting) to deal with such difficult issues as eating disorders, self-injury, depression, bullying, etc, while at the same time writing such amazing books that people get lost in and learn without necessarily feeling like they are learning -- if that makes sense! I think that, especially for young people, sometimes fictionalizing such difficult topics - embedding them within something that entertains them, whether a book, movie, video game, whatever - is the best way to really reach them and make them actively language with the issues. Thank you for recognizing that, Jackie!!


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