Thursday, July 29, 2010

Introducing 2011: Jeff Sampson

Jeff's debut novel, VESPER, will be published by Balzer + Bray in January 2011!


1. In what ways does Vesper relate to the original Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde story?

Vesper wasn't actually based on or inspired by Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but after writing the book I realized that main character Emily Webb's experiences during the first half of the book--before you really know what, exactly, is up with her weird transformations--were sort of similar. Case in point: by day she's quiet, shy, and geeky, but by night she becomes fearless, reckless, and more than a little dangerous. So because of the superficial similarities, Jekyll and Hyde is an easy way for me to sum up the initial premise of the book without rambling for too long, since everyone knows the premise of that particular tale. But that storyline in Vesper is really a prelude to something much bigger...

2. As a male, what were the pros and cons of writing from a female perspective?

I actually don't find it too difficult jumping between gender voices, mostly because I view each character I write as a person first and a gender second. I've heard people use rules of thumb like "girls are more open with emotions and guys keep emotions closed up!", but I always think, "Well what if I want to write about a girl who hides her emotions?" I'm not a big fan of following stereotypes and rules when it comes to characters.

When I write a character I always take the bits and pieces of myself that I think fit the character--this makes it easier for me to enter her head--and then work in observations of other people I've known in my life. As I write, I get to know her even more as the pages unfold, as I never quite know where my brain will lead me. A part of Emily Webb's story is learning to embrace all the weirdness that comes post-puberty, so that also helped to keep the voice female.

Not that I always got the voice 100% right. But that's where excellent editors--male and female alike--come in, to tell me when something sounds too overtly masculine. Because, well, I am a guy and I don't know what a cami is, so they had to write that in for me. This is just one of the many reasons why I love working with editors--they make me look better!

3. What was the inspiration for Vesper?

I grew up watching shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias, and so I always wanted to write my own take on "girl gets powers, kicks ass, and grows as a complex character to boot." I never quite had the right idea until several years back. I was at a conference with an editor named Nina Hess. I'd been tossing out ideas to her for awhile, as we wanted to do a book series together, but none quite stuck. So I asked her what her publisher might be interested in. She gave me a particular one-word topic, which I can't say as it will spoil the book. I told her I'd run with that, but only if I could do it in a way that... Well, I can't say that without giving the book away, either, though that way naturally included a heroine that could (sometimes) kick ass and take names.

Basically, this one-word topic gave me the opportunity to pour my own personality and my love of genre books, TV, movies, and comics all into one cool little series. Because of that, I went home after that conference and the story just flowed. Before I knew it I had a huge document full of plans for multiple books, all following a specific geek character: Emily Webb. The book didn't end up being published with Nina's company (though not for a lack of trying), but luck led me toward the Balzer + Bray imprint of HarperCollins, where they are all totally excited to publish the sci-fi/paranormal craziness I created for this book.

4. Is there a specific message/lesson you want readers of Vesper to take away with them?

Well the main thing I want readers to take away upon finishing is, "Wow, I can't wait to read what comes next!" Because Vesper is the first of three books in a sequence that we are currently calling Deviants. Book one is very close to Emily throughout, but the subsequent books pull the story back further and further to reveal a bigger picture--which means the ultimate themes won't reveal themselves until the very end.

For this first book specifically, I wasn't necessarily going in with a concrete moral or lesson. My first goal is always to entertain, as not many people want a novel--especially a genre novel--to be preachy. That said, Emily begins the book as very shy and reserved, someone afraid to leave her shell. The Jekyll/Hyde change--as well as an unknown person who is murdering teenagers in her small town--forces her to step out of line and shed her inhibitions. How Emily grows to reconcile her situation and these different sides of herself was the main story I wanted to tell--for this book. Ultimately there will be multiple throughline stories with their own arcs and conclusions, but of course I can't give too much away just yet.

5. In what ways do you, or people you know, relate to Emily?

I touched on it a tiny bit above, but Emily Webb more than any other character I've written is a big part of me. But that may not be saying much as part of my process is taking some specific personality trait of myself and creating a new character out of it, using that one trait as a way to always see where the character is coming from. (For instance, Emily's friend Megan, who is a very different character than Emily and has very different goals, is also a specific part of me.)

Beyond the sides of myself that I put into Emily, I based her on a few specific people I know. The easiest one to pinpoint is my sister, who had similar quirks as a teenager that Emily has now--though, just to be confusing, I also used part of my sister's current day personality to create Emily's step-sister, Dawn! At the end of the day, Emily and the other characters are all amalgams of myself, people I know, people I've observed, and other characters I may have absorbed over the years, all packaged into one brand new character ... though I have to admit, it's no coincidence Emily Webb happens to love all the geeky stuff that I do, too!


Thanks so much, Jeff!

Click here to visit Jeff's website.


  1. Great review.I am excited for this book to come out. I'm loving the cover

  2. Like the cover so much!
    So THAT's the thing you were talking about.. hmm... :)) I'm so excited.

  3. Sounds like an interesting read!


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