PW:Sunshine is a big departure for you. What attracted you to a vampire novel?
Robin McKinley: I wasn't consciously drawn to writing a vampire novel. The story started unfolding in my mind and I thought, Hey! Great! Then the usual toil began of trying to get the terrific story in my head down on paper without ruining it. I've always loved vampires, the old-fashioned creepy frisson kind, not the modern graphic mayhem kind. I've been in a snit for 30 years because most modern horror is too gruesome for me. I reread writers like Stoker, Kipling, Machen, M.R. James, E.F. Benson, A. Merritt. Then Buffy the Vampire Slayer happened, with its wry sideways take on vampires and being a girl, and that wonderful business that vampires vaporize when you stake them. Okay, they couldn't have guts on prime time American TV—but it worked.
PW: Do you see Sunshine as beginning a series?
RM: I think I'm constitutionally incapable of writing a real series. I'd like to write another book about Sunshine, and if the Powers of Story are kind I may be allowed to. I think I have a good chance of writing a novel about another part of Sunshine's world, but with a different cast of characters.
PW: What inspired this unusual pairing—an ultra-realistic heroine and a brooding Byronic vampire?
RM: I have no idea. But it's a splendidly usable device to keep the necessary story tension alive. This is a grim practical aspect of being amanuensis to a story; since the writing-down process is largely a matter of trying to choose and shape what will work on paper, the sweating writer is grateful for helpful hooks.
PW: You have deliciously comic effects in Sunshine as well as a blend of fantasy and romance. How did you arrive at that combination?
RM: The set-up produces its effects, rather like if you get your yeast, flour, water, sugar, kneading and oven temperature right, you produce good bread. Or possibly Cinnamon Rolls As Big As Your Head, like Sunshine does. But as breadmakers know, even if you have all the best ingredients, you still have to do it right. I hope I got lucky with Sunshine and did it right.
PW: Why do you use fairy tale motifs—especially Beauty and the Beast—in your fiction?
RM: Again, I have no idea. But I tend to believe that every writer has one, single, archetypal source story. You inform it and it informs you. If you're a writer, depending on how clever you are, and how big a net your particular story casts, the stories you write are more or less recognizable reworkings of your one story. My story happens to be Beauty and the Beast.
PW: What are the sources of your exquisitely shivery atmospherics?
RM: Those old authors fleetingly mentioned earlier. Thank you! "Shivery" is exactly what I'm hoping Sunshine provokes!
PW: You addressed some hot-button social and political issues in Sunshine. Which is your favorite target, and why?
RM: Here there was conscious input from me. You-the-writer can't push a story in a direction it doesn't want to go, but if you and it are, so to speak, on the same page, the story will go along with you. I'm very cynical about the state of our world. Sunshine's world is much the same, recast in terms of demons and vampires. If there's a single theme I'm aware of—and Sunshine is not a polemic—the theme would be "tolerance." We have to get along with each other, or die—not only by literal wars, but in the ramifications of warlike and exclusionary mindsets which have gone a long way in producing the misery and pollution on this planet. But I also believe that individuals can make a difference—indeed that possibly our best hope is in individuals making a difference. Sunshine is about that, too.