Three questions with Alaya Johnson, author of Moonshine

I reviewed Alaya Johnson’s new novel Moonshine here. Alaya was also kind enough to answer some questions about the book.

When you and I first discussed Moonshine back in 2009, I got the sense that it would be a much darker book than it turned out to be. Did the tone change, or did I just project my own atmosphere onto it?

I’d already finished it at that time, so I suppose that it was as dark as it was going to get. I’d conceived of Moonshine as a fun vampire book that was still very much aware of social disparities and justice issues that are often completely missing from urban fantasy/paranormal novels. Those are also issues that interest me in general, so it’s entirely possible that I focused on talking about those aspects just because they were important in my formulation of the book, despite its other (possibly more prominent) elements. I never meant for the generally fun tone of the book to minimize the social realities of the era (and my re-imagining of it), but to complement them. My success at this endeavor, of course, is entirely up to the reader.

One difference between the racial and immigrant human minorities, and the “Others” as you depict them, is that the victims of vampires become, against their will, part of a despised underclass. Since many of them have experienced how the other half lives, so to speak, did you consider making Zephyr one of “them” instead of a sympathetic outsider? Why or why not?

Most of the vampires depicted in the book start out as immigrants or members of the lower social classes. That wasn’t a coincidence: generally, disease disproportionately affects the poor and disenfranchised, and vampirism is no exception. So they may know how the “other half” live, but only in the limited sense that as human immigrants they had more rights than vampire immigrants (as an example).

I think I used a human outsider as my viewpoint character mostly because it was important for Zephyr to be able to “pass” in the various strata of human society. As a vampire (or as a non-white person), she wouldn’t have been able to so easily navigate them. And while that viewpoint would certainly have resulted in an interesting story, it wasn’t ultimately where I decided I wanted to take the book.

And, related to the second question, why did you choose to make Zephyr a non-native New Yorker?

Partly because I liked the idea of the outsider perspective, and partly because so much of the power and mystery of New York City comes from its transplants, the non-natives who learn to make it in the city and call it their home. That experience was such a powerful one for me that I pretty much had to use it for my first New York City novel. NYC is also a place to shed your old identity and remake yourself. Zephyr is a few years post-transplant, and the fact of her self-reinvention plays a fairly important role in the story.

Thanks to Alaya Johnson for taking the time to answer my questions. Moonshine will be available May 11.

And go here before Friday, May 7 for a chance to win a signed paperback of Blood Groove.

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