When I asked Geoffrey to share his experiences writing the duology, here's what he had to say ...
KC: My first question has to be how you came up with the idea of writing companion books aimed at different market sectors – Project Cain aimed at the YA audience and Cain’s Blood aimed at a more adult audience. Many authors have written companion books from different characters’ perspectives, but I’m not aware of any other authors who have aimed the companion books at different market segments.
GG: I sent a book written for teens about cloned serial killers to my future agents who liked the writing/story but thought it would work better as a traditional adult thriller. I rewrote as that and they then took me on as a client. In the same call, my agents asked if I was still interested in writing something for young-adult readers (which I was) and specifically would I (could I) do a first-person telling from the POV of Jeff Jacobson, the teenage clone of Jeffrey Dahmer. I agreed and they started approaching publishers big enough to handle both markets. Ultimately, two houses in Simon & Schuster signed on. There are many authors writing for both markets, but to have both books come out on the exact same day based on the exact same story was quite new. If a big name author had done it, it would have been a bigger deal. But no complaints. It, for sure, got some extra attention for a first-time novelist. At the end of the day, “adult” and “young-adult” just help booksellers know where to place the merchandise. There are teens who loved CAIN’S BLOOD and adults who loved PROJECT CAIN. It all depends on the kind of book you’re in the mood for that week.
KC: Project Cain is written in the first person from teen narrator Jeff Jacobson’s perspective, while Cain’s Blood is written in a shifting third person voice so that the reader can get a much broader sense of the world around the characters. What were the challenges of writing in the first person versus the shifting third person?
GG: Third person was easy. I’ve written and sold sixty-plus short stories in the last ten years and almost all have been third person. So, I was pretty comfortable with the various options there. Plus, I was just finishing up an MA in Creative Writing, and so had even more confidence to tackle different POVs. For each scene, I just had to decide which character (third-person limited) would provide the most interesting take of that scene. I saw a recent review where the happy reviewer commented on (and listed!) all the viewpoints I’d used. I actually hadn’t even thought of it until seeing that review. CAIN’S BLOOD (the “adult” one) really does cover everyone.
PROJECT CAIN, told entirely from the POV of Jeff Jacobson (the teen clone of Jeffrey Dahmer) was new for me. I’ve done some first-person POV but nothing longer than a few thousand words. This book is 90k. My agents and I agreed we’d only try this additional teen novel IF I could bring a new voice to the table; do something different. It was a great chance to try something really distinctive with this second book, and that was exciting as a writer. Fortunately, Simon & Schuster was feeling equally creative.
Jeff Jacobson is NOT me or any form of me, so it took some time to get into his head for the telling. I spent a lot of time re-researching Jeffrey Dahmer to imagine/feel what Dahmer might have been like in a different environment/time. I spent months listening to actual Dahmer interviews, and reading what others said about how he acted and spoke. (I’ve since met several people who knew Dahmer personally and confirmed my take on his “voice.”) I wanted the Jeff in PROJECT CAIN to sound like that, as he has the physiological mind of a sociopath. He reacts to and sees the world differently than most of us. The result: there are readers who love the voice and Jeff, and readers who hate it and me. But it’s Jeff’s true voice, so that’s a chance I was willing to take.
An easy example: the no-quotation-marks thing. That’s not how most fiction is presented and about 50 pages into the manuscript, I was like: “Oh, God… Am I gonna have to do this the whole damn book? This is so annoying!” But, PROJECT CAIN is meant as a journal written by Jeff a couple months after the incidents of the story. I simply don’t believe he’d use quotation marks in such a journal and this was “his” book, not mine. My book is CAIN’S BLOOD. I’d often send my teen editor emails saying, “Sorry. I know this is a weird book.”
KC: The books center on horrific government experiments involving the cloning of subjects from the DNA of infamous serial killers. What gave you the idea to focus your books on this topic? What were the challenges in writing what is largely a horror story from the YA perspective when you tackled Project Cain? Was it difficult to make such a gruesome story accessible to younger readers?
GG: I teach high school English and one day my students somehow got on the topic of serial killers. Next thing I knew, we were looking up various facts online and having an interesting discussion about Who, and How and Why. They were super interested but still had a lot to learn. Perfect! It made me want to write a sort of “Intro to Serial Killers” novel, one that would pull together all the essential facts, lore and real-life infamous characters; something my own students could read. I went home that same day and dusted off an old novella about cloned serial killers I’d written for a magazine years before. I took that story and rewrote it for teens, adding more facts, focus on the teen characters, etc. That eventually became CAIN’S BLOOD. Then I started PROJECT CAIN from scratch based on the conversations with my agents.
PROJECT CAIN isn’t really that gruesome as the violence is almost entirely “off screen.” The subject matter is terrible and there are certainly enough bread crumbs dropped for those young readers who feel ready to follow. But it was written as an “Intro” to serial killers. If some kid wants to learn more, there are libraries and Google. Have at it. The narrator of PROJECT CAIN, Jeff Jacobson, has no interest in the “gory details.” On the very first page, he warns the reader, I ain’t getting into any of that here; You’ll have to look up that stuff yourself. As soon as I wrote that line, I knew I was okay with the whole book. My narrator wouldn’t allow me to get gratuitously violent or morbid.
KC: The books also cover a number of other conspiracy theories and paint the government-sponsored scientists in a rather unflattering light. Many of the conspiracy theories (if that’s the right term) appear to be based on detailed research. How did you go about researching the science? How much of it is “real” and how much did you make up for the purposes of the plot?
GG: “Cloned serial killers” is made up. Everything else are legit experiments, history and allegations. These books were supposed to be about cloning and serial killers. Period. All the government conspiracy stuff and criticism of military science only came after I started the research. I had no idea The United States government had done so many terrible things in the name of national defense and weapons research. I knew we spent a lot on weapons, but I didn’t know it was this much. I knew we’d done some questionable experiments in the past, I didn’t know how much damage we’d done and how far the government had gone to cover them up. I’d started down that rabbit hole and soon came to just appalling things America has done to explore various types of weapons. The trillions spent, most in black budgets none of us can ever know about. The apologies for secret testing done for fifty years on everyone from mental patients and prisoners to children and entire U.S. cities. Murders that have been committed, and admitted to, in our name. The U.S. government itself has publicly apologized and made huge payments to express regret for crimes against humanity committed decades ago. There is no reason to suspect that similar discoveries and apologies won’t be made decades from now. The fun for an author is imagining what those discoveries may be. The fear of a citizen is that some of these imaginings prove true.
The narrator of PROJECT CAIN constantly invites the reader to do more research, to look into it for yourself. The teacher in me, and the original goal of the teen book, was to encourage more self-driven research and discovery.
KC: Several of your early reviewers compared your work to Michael Crichton and Stephen King. Who are some of your favorite writers in the science fiction/horror/suspense genres?
GG: Crichton had a gift for making technology and history approachable, and I certainly aim for that. I’m definitely more a typical example of the generation nurtured on King. When The Shining came out, I was too young to see the Kubrick film, and so convinced my mom to let me buy the book at the supermarket. That day certainly was a defining moment for me as King became the cornerstone of my formative reading. The excellent horror notwithstanding, King clearly loved the craft of writing, he loved “being a writer” and that meant a whole lot to a budding English major and writer. I’d read his intros and afterwards as closely as his tales, looking for insight into Who else to read and How to write, etc. King led me directly to folk like Lovecraft, Bradbury, Matheson, Jackson, Beaumont, and Straub. Clive Barker then opened up horror, I think, the way the Beatles opened up pop music. I think Douglas Clegg is a terrific writer; most of those Leisure Books guys took their craft very seriously. Suspense? I’ll go from a PD James or Ross Thomas binge to my beloved Spenser for Hire books. William Goldman (Marathon Man, Magic, Stepford Wives) is a virtuoso novelist; unfortunately also a brilliant screenwriter pulled away too often by Hollywood. SF? Dune was a biggie for me. Everything by Edgar Rice Burroughs as a kid. I don’t particularly like the way William Gibson writes (the cadence/poetry) BUT I have them all and often re-read for his ideas and creativity. Neal Stephenson just makes me wanna give up and quit writing. I was a comic book nut as a kid/teen so an absurd amount of influence from writers/artists like Mike Grell, John Byrne, and Frank Miller.
KC: What are you reading now? AND/OR What are you working on next?
GG: I’ve been taking a break from fiction. I recently finished a masters in English and had to read, like, 200 classic and modern books of fiction and creative nonfiction during those three years. Mostly all amazing reads but I’m kinda fictioned out right now, and still need a break. I’ve been picking at (re-reading) Koko (Straub) and Giovanni’s Room (Baldwin) to get my fiction fix, but that’s more meditative than anything. I’m mostly on a non-fiction binge, researching for my next projects. Something for teens related to 9/11 and something for adults connected to eugenics. Like the CAIN books, you can expect a lot of history mixed in with the dark stuff.
Thanks for sharing your insights, Geoffrey. Now, on with the contest ...
Who would you most (or least) like to see cloned, and why?
And if you have a preference as to which book you would like to receive should you be a contest winner, feel free to state it in your comment.
The winner will be chosen by the following highly scientific method.
I will print out all the comments and toss them into a hat. I will then ask one of my children to randomly pick the two winners. Geoffrey or I will contact each winner to arrange shipment of the relevant book. If the two winners both want the same book, I will leave it to Geoffrey's discretion (and available stocks) to see if he can accommodate both winners with the same book.
The contest will be open until midnight Eastern Time on May 4, 2014. So make sure you comment by then to be in the draw. Please make sure you include an email address when you post your comment so we can contact you to arrange shipping. Email addresses will NOT be made public. Contest is open to readers within and outside the United States, so anyone out there in the wider world, feel free to enter.
Thanks for the interview and for the contest, Geofrrey. Let the comments roll ...