I have a special treat for you today! Thanks to her immense generosity, Lindsay J. Pryor (author of the Blackthorn series) has agreed to an interview for our website.
The Blackthorn series, for those unaware, is one which we've reviewed before (here, here, and here). It is the tale of urban segregation in a world where vampires and other supernaturals are regulated to living in crime-ridden slums while the elite of humanity dwell in their own districts. Each novel, a new couple of star-crossed lovers form along class lines as outsider heroines deal with the dangerous supernatural men who make the Blackthorn district their home.
Despite the United Federation of Charles not being known for its Paranormal Romance reviews, I find this series one of the most evocative titles of the genre. Its excellent world-building and well-conceived mythology appeals to both my urban fantasy as well as Gothic Punk sensibilities. The seamy Noir mood is a cherry on top of an already rich dessert.
I hope our readers will enjoy the insights shared by one of our site's favorite authors!
Q. Blackthorn is a class-conscious place with the rich separate from the poor who are separate from the supernatural. Where did you get the inspiration for this?
A. It was inspired approximately eighteen years ago when I’d moved 300 miles away from home to a city where I began my teaching career. I got lost on my way home one night and ended up wandering the streets of this city alone in the dark. With a non-existent sense of direction anyway and no one waiting for me at home (and no mobile phones back then), I was absolutely terrified. I ended up in a really run-down part of the city where they had reinforced doors and bars on windows. The whole place screamed deprivation, neglect and a high crime rate. To distract myself from panic, I started to plot stories (I’d already been writing for several years by then) about social divide as I struggled to find my way home.
Because I was already hugely into mythology, I imagined what it would be like to have a district where the supernatural were segregated from humans. A whole social and political world started to form as to why the divide would be set up and how it would be maintained. I started to get really excited about the potential of this new world, let alone all the possibilities of how this seemingly infallible system could be broken. It wasn’t long before romances started to filter in. As soon as I got home, I scribbled all my ideas down and I continued to do so over many years. What started out as individual stories of characters’ plights whilst struggling to survive against the odds in this dystopian backdrop, gradually developed into an entire story arc for a series I never saw coming.
Q. How did you get the idea for humans being the oppressors of vampires rather than the more reverse?
A. Making vampires the oppressors was too obvious. Historically, the perception of vampirism as evil was heavily influenced by the introduction of Catholicism (hence why crosses, holy water and sunlight – the representative of good - etc are seen as deterrents). Understanding of vampires is now based on these beliefs rather than the original traditions. Even today, with so many new concepts of vampirism explored in popular media, some people still insist on established vampiric traits as if they’re facts. But if you span back as far as the Ancient Greeks when vampirism was first mentioned, there is only one prevailing trait – they feed on human blood. The rest is fair game. So, basically, I wanted to flip things on their head and explore the concept that vampires aren’t the undead and they aren’t evil, nor were they once human, but just a misunderstood co-existent species labeled with human-motivated tags of being a threat.
Once I’d formed the concept behind the story – that the third species (vampires, lycans etc) would be the ones to be contained in these impoverished core districts – I continued to work with it. It seemed logical that if the third species started to reveal themselves, the human authorities would have to do something to protect their own.
Although Blackthorn sits in the realm of fantasy, I still see it as a reflection of themes applicable to human society. It is a world riddled with species divide, discrimination, assumptions, prejudices, social ignorance and political abuse. It’s about the destructive influence of control and raises questions of the extent some will go in order to remain (or claim) top of the hierarchy.
Q. What role do prophecies play in your setting? How are they different from other worlds?
A. The prophecies are central to my setting because they’re the driving force behind maintaining the oppression and subjugation of the third species through the system set-up by the human-run Global Council who established it. The third species are trying to make a pact of equality but in the background are whispers of a prophecy that dictate it’s just the first step to them overthrowing humans.
As will become more apparent in Blood Deep, Blackthorn’s prophecies reveal pre-destined events. Ultimately though, it’s freewill that governs them. Instead of having my heroes and heroines as helpless puppets no matter what they do, their decisions shift the goal posts. I think this makes for a much more exciting and unpredictable read – not least because each of my couples are, by the very nature of their forbidden romance, flipping the middle finger of defiance up at what destiny tells them they should be doing. Unfortunately, it’s not without consequences though.
At the heart of it all (because I’m an optimist), is the capability of the individual to change the world around them. Through my leading cast of four couples, I explore how even extreme social divide and prejudice can be overcome and that love can be the most powerful force in making that happen.
As to how Blackthorn’s prophecies are different to other worlds, I’ll leave that to readers who are more widely read in PNR and UF to comment on.
Q. We have witches, werewolves, soul-rippers, and vampires so far. Are there any other species we haven't met yet?
A. There are. A couple more get introduced in Blood Deep but I’m not going to give you any clues as to what they are. I’ll just say one is another established species but with my usual twist on it. And there’s another new creation too, not unlike the soul ripper from Blood Shadows.
I’ve had huge fun developing a variety of species over the years but some won’t make it into the series because they’re not relevant enough to the story arc. There’s always potential for a Blackthorn spin-off one day though! ;-)
Q. Blackthorn is very solidly in the paranormal romance genre. Do you think it crosses over into any other genres? Would you ever write outside it?
A. I’ve seen comments about Blackthorn straddling various genres, not least urban fantasy. It’s probably the complex extent of the worldbuilding and the thriller/action backdrop that prompts some readers to believe it lends itself more to UF. But, at the core, Blackthorn is a PNR because it’s the developing romantic relationships that take centre stage and drive the plot forward. More so, it’s the love between my heroes and heroines that ultimately influences the decisions they make which subsequently impacts on the world in which they live.
Blackthorn was created before UF or PNR became genres, so how people choose to label it is up to them. It just means the series will meet some readers expectations and not others depending on what pre-beliefs they come with. I can’t do anything about that, only make it clear that it’s dark PNR.
If there’s any genre I believe Blackthorn crosses with, it’s Gothic Romance. I’m much more heavily influenced by the Gothic genre than any other. Gothic fiction combines the elements of both supernatural horror and romance, with suspense and mystery added to the mix. With a “damsel in distress” in an unfamiliar, frightening and atmospheric environment set against an oppressive and decaying dystopian backdrop that reflects the social issues of the time, I think Blackthorn fits neatly in that genre. Above all else, the Gothic genre is primarily based on fear and desire, and contains both physical and psychological terror, often delving into the dark and twisted psyche of the main characters. I think that goes a long way to describe Blackthorn.
As to whether I would write outside PNR – absolutely. I’ve already done so (though all of that is still safely tucked in my bottom drawer). Having been published for less than two years, I’m still just at the beginning of what I hope is much more to come for Blackthorn and other books.
Q. We've (obviously) seen a lot of Blackthorn, will we ever see the other districts in-depth? What do you think the flavor of the other districts are by comparison?
A. For those unfamiliar with Blackthorn… When the third species (vampires, lycans etc) outed themselves, towns and cities were disbanded then re-amalgamated to form locales. Within each locale are four segregated districts. Blackthorn is the core of just one locale. The most affluent district is on the periphery and neighbours equivalent districts. The closer you get to the core (where the third species are primarily contained), the greater the deprivation, let alone fewer opportunities for jobs, healthcare, education and progression. Each district has a guarded border that increases in impenetrability the further you move away from the core.
In terms of seeing the other districts in depth, I’ve had to hold back on quite a lot, not least because the backdrop of each book needs to remain focused on the romance. The first four books occur primarily within Blackthorn, so you’ve seen more of that (and its neighbour, Lowtown) than any other so far. You’ll see a bit more of the other districts as the series continues.
During the years spent constructing Blackthorn, I’ve written short stories in all four districts whilst trying to find my central heroes and heroines. A lot of what I have written will never see the light of day, but I think for any author building a complex world, they need to know every aspect of what they’ve created even if it doesn’t make it onto the published page. Maybe one day I’ll release some of those short stories for those who particularly love the worldbuilding of Blackthorn.
Q. Is there a difference between Shadows and Souls in your mind or is this just semantics?
A. The difference between souls and shadows is explained in more detail in Blood Deep, so I won’t spoil it here.
In essence, the Global Council needed a basis for difference to justify the segregation. One of the key differences between humans and the third species is that humans have light inside them (souls) and the third species have darkness (shadows). As darkness is traditionally associated with all things evil and the absence of a soul as being a rejection by God, it gave the Global Council moral and religious foundations to deem the third species as a risk (supported by the prophecies of vampires overthrowing humans). As for whether any of it is true, as with all things Blackthorn, it’s probably best to keep an open mind.
Q. Is it difficult writing your characters at such odds when they begin their romances? Do you think you'll ever have a couple not quite so antagonistic?
A. The premise of all Blackthorn romances is forbidden love and how my protagonists overcome their significant differences to be together. As this is the basis, antagonism is key otherwise the depths of their conflicts become invalid. These characters are not fighting over minor things – they are fighting for survival, not least of their own kind. The stakes are extremely high as will become more and more apparent.
Antagonism is great fun to work with as a writer, let alone challenging. And, yes, it is difficult at times. The psychological warfare can get uncomfortable but, for me, antagonism makes for a more interesting read and certainly keeps me filling the pages as I write. I rarely hit a blank wall because there is so much baggage my characters bring, let alone a wealth of issues they are surrounded by. Blackthorn isn’t about light-hearted and sweet romances –particularly because my heroes and heroines meet as blatant enemies. Blackthorn explores how love can be dark, testing and even cruel. My couples really have to fight against the odds, both internal and external, to be together and, for me, every bit of antagonism is worth it to help them get there. I think it makes their love even more worthwhile.
As for whether I’ll ever have a couple not quite so antagonistic at the outset – not in Blackthorn. Jessie and Eden certainly have their moments too – and they’re the final couple for you to meet before it all kicks off.
Q. Did the third species ever have a chance of winning equality? Would the vampires have been content with it if they could?
A. Yes, the third species did have a chance of wining equality and still do. Whether they would/will be content with it, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I’ll say, as with all species, some yes and some no.
Q. Your relationships can get very intense, especially the Caleb/Leila romance. Did you ever have a character go "too far" when you were writing them?
A. There’s so much that goes on in Blackthorn where characters go too far in my eyes – the torture of Kane, Rob hitting Caitlin, Phia’s goading of Jask, Sirius’ entire plan for the treatment of the third species, let alone how so many privileged humans stand by and allow the system to continue whilst so many of their own suffer. But as it’s Caleb and Leila you used as an example, I’ll stick with the romantic relationships.
Whether my heroes and heroines go too far is such a subjective question. All of my couples skirt close to the edge in their interactions with each other. And in order to keep them real to the darkness of the world they live in, let alone the gravity of their issues, intensity is definitely the order of the day.
One of the toughest and most intense emotional journeys is between Caleb and Leila in Blood Roses. Caleb is seemingly the most controversial Blackthorn hero in terms of going “too far” according to romance rules (who invented those anyway?) – that is unless you have the label of erotic PNR where an author can get away with huge amounts. Blackthorn is not erotic PNR but it is dark. By the very nature of that category, it deals with issues that are emotionally challenging, that reflect the darker side of life and deals with interactions whereby characters do not always toe the line as far as what, according to some, is socially acceptable. My job is to stay true to the characters and true to the story, however far that goes.
My heroes are dark and, at times, they are bad, but they are also strong, brave, loyal and have the potential to fall deeply in love. They do not molly-coddle my heroines but deem them as equals and, at times, a threat. This can lead to some head-on battles of will and power. I let them sort out between themselves what they’re willing to put up with or not and where they draw the line. None of my heroines are walkovers, even someone as placid and controlled as Leila, they just have a soft spot for bad boys – and what’s wrong with that? I’ve always though the best thing about love stories is each is unique as attraction itself and that, ultimately, couples make their own rules. In essence, that’s why I love writing Blackthorn.
Thank you, Lindsay! We appreciate you taking your time to do this!