Author Interview & Giveaway: Fence: Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan
I am a BIG fan of Fence; you may have seen our many reviews of the series. It’s the SLOWEST burn ever and I’m all in with this team. I also happen to be a fan of Sarah Rees Brennan. Now imagine how excited I am that she’s writing the official tie in novels for Fence! We checked in before Striking Distance comes out. Check out what it’s like to write in other people’s worlds, what fans of the comic series can expect (plus new fans!), and how Holly Black contributed to reader pain. Striking Distance is out 9/29 – preorder now!
Fence: Striking Distanceby Sarah Rees Brennan, Johanna the Mad, C.S. Pacat
on September 29, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Young Adult
The boys of Kings Row bout with drama, rivalry, and romance in this original YA novel by The New York Times bestselling author Sarah Rees Brennan--inspired by the award-nominated comic series by C.S. Pacat and Johanna The Mad.
Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Cox is the illegitimate son of a retired fencing champion who dreams of getting the proper training he could never afford. After earning a place on the elite Kings Row fencing team, Nicholas must prove himself to his rival, Seiji Katayma, and navigate the clashes, friendships, and relationships between his teammates on the road to state championships--where Nicholas might finally have the chance to spar with his golden-boy half-brother.
Coach Williams decides to take advantage of the boys' morale after a recent victory and assigns them a course of team building exercises to further deepen their bonds. It takes a shoplifting scandal, a couple of moonlit forest strolls, several hilariously bad dates, and a whole lot of introspection for the team to realize they are stronger together than they could ever be apart.
The first installment of this enticing original YA novel series by Sarah Rees Brennan, rich with casual diversity and queer self-discovery, explores never-before-seen drama inspired by C.S. Pacat's critically acclaimed Fence comic series and boasts original cover and interior art by Johanna The Mad.
Text and Illustration copyright: © 2020 BOOM! StudiosFence(TM) and © 2020 C.S. Pacat
Interview with Sarah Rees Brennan
The beauty of Fence is it’s really a story of individual characters learning what it means to be a team (while also learning who they are). It’s hard to not fall in love with every single character! Were there characters who were easier to write than others?
You are so right on the beauty of Fence! I think that’s exactly the appeal, and how the best sports teams stories work. (The Mighty Ducks springs to mind as a cherished example from my childhood. But this story has SWORDS!) There are four points of view in the book and Seiji Katayama, the aloof fencing prodigy, was the easiest to write! There were a lot of touchstones for Seiji, as Nicholas the protagonist of the graphic novels pays a lot of attention to him, but at the same time we haven’t had his point of view a ton before so there was plenty of scope for me. A really significant moment for me in understanding Seiji in the graphic novels was when Nicholas, his roommate from the wrong side of the tracks, is like ‘since we are friends now you will be watching my match!’ which is a big leap from exuberant Nicholas. Seiji wasn’t all ‘get lost, I’m too good to be your friend,’ he just went a little stiff and unsure, and he did watch the match. Seiji’s always trying hard, but he’s used to his effort being concentrated in an area where he excels. He had one important interpersonal relationship, with his former fencing partner, which he lost, and he’s so used to being lonely it’s a way of life, but he’s now being forced out of his shell. I think we can all empathize with feeling we’re the least socially adept in the room, while at the same time I love that Seiji projects an unruffled surface and has a lot going on under that surface. Team captain Harvard and his best friend playboy Aiden were the POVs who were a little trickier, as they’re supporting characters in the graphic novel–which is part of the fun of tie-ins, I think, having some of the supports get some more of the spotlight–and so C.S. Pacat and I had to have several talks nailing down their background. We get a lot more about Harvard’s past and his family, which is a happy one… but every family’s different, and our pasts influence us, so I think we can see where the team captain gets his oversized sense of responsibility. In the end they were all four great fun to write!
Your last few projects have been in existing universes. What has been your favorite part about collaborating with other creators or working within their worlds?
They have been, haven’t they! I promise I’m writing books in whole new universes (newniverses? don’t mind me) as well, which I hope you guys will see soon. I love writing being a collaborative process: stories change the world and change us, and I rely often on my critique partners to inspire me with their work and affect mine, and I also often think of how audiences will respond, and adjust the stories accordingly (I’m only right about fifty per cent of the time…). Working in existing universes does mean some choices are pre-made for you, sometimes with hilarious results. In my tie-in books with Netflix’s ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ there are two characters called Harvey and Nick, and in Fence there are two characters called Harvard and Nicholas… and in my first ever published book, the Demon’s Lexicon, my hero was called Nick. The Abundance of Nicks I have going on in my writing life is absurd. Don’t ask me about the typos I’ve made!
C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad already collaborate to stunning effect in the Fence graphic novel series, and a whole team collaborated on Sabrina. They were different collaborative experiences but both were really interesting and inspiring. On one hand, C.S. Pacat has a singular vision for the Fence series, so I must be careful not to err from the path, whereas with Sabrina I could be one of many voices: I consulted with the writing team and the actors too, and the challenge there was to streamline many voices into one story. With Fence, it was marvellous to have direct creator access anytime, and go as deep as we needed to as many times as we needed to. I can call up C.S. Pacat in the middle of the night and have her plot the perfect prank with me. (A real thing that happened in the writing of Striking Distance.) So in both cases, the collaborative process has been full of fun, and also challenges, and also fun challenges. I don’t like the idea of writing ever as being someone speaking from on high in an ivory tower. I like thinking, humans, we’re telling each other stories. What a beautiful unique thing we do together. Storytelling should be teamwork, too.
Striking Distance is the first in a series. How detailed is your plan for the entire series before writing the first book?
C.S. Pacat has a detailed scheme (which I know but obviously, contractually, I am eaten by wild Australian birds if I disclose) for the graphic novels, so that works as a structure for us to fit the books into. The structure of the graphic novels is the leadup to the state championship, so there are specific fencing matches that work as milestones within the structure, and the novels exist in the liminal spaces between those milestones. Say in some of the ninja contests in Naruto, people would have been justly incensed if someone was like ‘and if you want to know what happened in THAT battle, you have to go read a book.’ But we think it’s enticing to go ‘If you wondered about the aftereffects of this victory, or how this relationship progressed, here’s your opportunity to learn more’. The intent is that the graphic novels and novels enrich each other, but can also be read independently of each other. And so the plans for both graphic novels and novels intertwine. Striking Distance is about the boys being set a challenge to team build, which devolves into chaos that includes fake dating and perhaps crime, and the second book has a lot of fencing training against a fun new backdrop. Hence I now have two fencing coaches, Olga Velma of the Pembroke Fencing Club, and Colm Flynn of Trinity, on speed dial!
What can fans of the comic expect? What do new readers need to know coming into the series?
I think light being shed in liminal spaces is what fans of the comic can expect: more detailed backstories for the characters and deep dives into their thoughts and feelings, as well as some significant relationship progression! (One relationship progression I was like, ‘am I really allowed do this?’. C.S. Pacat said she wanted me to and I was thrilled. You’ll have to let me know your guess for what that was.) So if you already love the characters, here’s the chance to know them better.
New readers, we hope, just need to know what’s on the back cover copy and the start of this very interview–very different boys with very different relationships, in a fencing team at an elite boarding school, misfits learning how to fit together. I do always try to make sure that the tie-in books have ease of entry, because why not have many beautiful entryways into a world? Thus I always acquire a designated new reader. My friend Holly Black had never seen The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and was forbidden to do so in order to advise me on whether the books made sense to a nonviewer. She’d read the Fence graphic novels though, and I had to go elsewhere! (Holly did have an idea for how to make the end of Striking Distance more painful, though: please address all hatemail to her and not me.) I had my friend screenwriter Susan Connolly read the Fence tie-in books, and then pestered her going, ‘do you understand… what should I make more clear?’ Susan replied, ‘I understand everything but when are these boys going to GET TOGETHER!’ I won’t say which boys she meant but I hope both existing fans and new readers will understand, enjoy, and have hopes of their own.
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