Looking for dark and eerie read to cap off the end of the summer season? Look no further than April Genevieve Tucholke’s YA debut, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (out today). From the official description: “Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.” Here, Tucholke talks the inspiration for her debut, and teases what’s to come in the second and final book of the series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired you to write this novel? It’s your debut, so has the story been with you for a while?
APRIL GENEVIEVE TUCHOLKE: The inspiration for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea came from an article I read when I lived in Edinburgh. 1954. Scotland. Hundreds of kids, age 4 to 14, patrol Glasgow’s necropolis, armed with sharpened sticks and knives. The kids claim they are hunting a 7-foot tall vampire with iron teeth who has already kidnapped and eaten two boys. The kids hunt the vampire for three nights, despite police intervention.
What I find so inspiring about this story is thinking about the one kid who started it all. The one charming little liar of a kid who told all the other kids there was a vampire in the cemetery, and made them all believe him. The first scene I wrote for this book was a kids-with-stakes, devil-hunting cemetery scene. And the lying kid? That became River.
I really like the idiomatic title. Did you come up with the title or story first? It’s really got a great double meaning once you’ve read the book.
I originally titled the book Devil River. I thought it sounded very southern gothic. But then I heard Cab Calloway sing “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” as I was finishing the first draft. The song is far too cheerful, but the lyrics are dead perfect: “I don’t want you/But I hate to lose you/You’ve got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea/I should hate you/But I guess I love you/You’ve got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
You currently live on the west coast. Is the fictional, east coast town Echo based on a real place? Why did you choose that setting?
Echo is based on bits of all the places I’ve lived. I chose a coastal Maine setting because I’ve read a lot of Stephen King. And when I think of horrific things going down in small towns, I think of King. And Maine. But I’ve lived on both coasts, and spent a great deal of time in the Scottish countryside. I’ve seen my share of eerie things, of crashing waves, and abandoned manors, and paths that lead into deep, dark woods. All this went into Echo.
Speaking of, the book is a little dark. How did you manage to balance that tone without making it too dark?
I put in nice, comforting scenes of the characters hanging out in sunny kitchens, drinking coffee, or sitting by a bonfire at the foot of the ocean, or spending an afternoon digging through old trunks in the attic. All the lazy, dreamy things that make summers so magical. It takes the edge off the horror, I think. It gives readers the chance to catch their breath.
This series is two books. Did you always plan to do two from the beginning, or did it just evolve that way?
I didn’t plan. I wrote the first book, left the ending semi-open, and waited to see what would happen. I listen to my books as I write them, and heed what they tell me. I strive for twisting, unpredictable plotlines, and it’s hard to be unpredictable when I plan too much ahead. I need to let the book adapt and grow and change as I write it.
Without giving too much away, what else do we learn about River’s past and family in the second book?
Violet finds her grandmother’s diary, and it’s full of scandal and sex and secrets. River’s apple doesn’t fall far from the Redding tree.
What else can you tell fans about the sequel, Between the Spark and the Burn?
Between the Spark and the Burn has snow, madness, and pig’s blood. River is missing. There are bright young things. Someone goes mad. Someone goes sane. There are islands. Forests. Creepy small towns. More cemeteries. A girl named Pine. A boy named Finch. Wild horses. A frozen lake. Red hair.
How would you convince a doubter to give Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea a chance?
That depends on the form of their doubt? Do they hate violence? Or steam? If either of these applied, I wouldn’t even try. I’d find out what they do like and recommend something gentle and wholesome in that genre. But if they were on the fence about, say, reading gothic versus straight horror, I’d tell them that yes, there is some kissing, but suck it up because there is also devil-hunting kids, cliffs, blood, baseball bats, lying, creeping, neck-slitting, and dead things by train tracks.