The dark quirky tales of Madeleine Roux

Madeleine Roux

That kind of night when things come alive in the dark; the dead wandering a bit, children chewing sweets past bedtime, and an apparently deranged man in a mask slaying promiscuous teens. That is pretty much how Halloween or Hallow’s Eve is being pictured in the movies or books.

But somewhere in Minnesota, USA, a little girl named Madeleine Roux chose to don the Disney princess costume of the year—with her dolls. Who would have thought she’d grow up to the writer behind a macabre-themed book series?

The bestselling photo-novel, Asylum, and its sequel, Sanctum, have been called “a strong YA debut” by Publisher’s Weekly. As though the setting isn’t eerie enough, the archived photos taken from real abandoned asylums are enough to send shivers down one’s spine at night.

As if on cue, National Book Store brought Madeleine (alongside fellow YA author Claudia Gray) to the country just a few weeks short of Halloween.

The Play! pool had a lengthy chat with Madeleine on her quirks, fears, and her fair share of the bizarre. Of course, we couldn’t let the chance pass without pointing out her unique hairstyle! That swirly ice cream-like blonde on top just overstepped the definition of cool. Madeleine reveals she’s working on the third and final installment of the series even she’s on a book tour.

A Disney-princess-wannabe with a dark side who likes to read fluffy romantic novels when working on a horror novel is a writer who knows where to step between brilliance and madness. Simply spook-tacular!

Why did you choose to write in the horror genre?
I actually stumbled into writing horror books when I was in college. I was writing a lot of historical books like historical romance or historical fiction and I was really tired of it. I had to research everything like, could they eat this kind of food at this type of day, or did they not have access to that, or would this fabric be something they could, you know. You wouldn’t even realize that you already know about this time period and then you start writing a book about it. I was just tired of it and I needed a break so I started writing online a zombie survival level, just for fun.

It was what my agent found and what got me published. I finished that, and then we sold it and the sequel. I sort of stumbled into writing for thriller books and I had never meant to do it but I’m actually good at this! So I just keep going. It felt a natural transition to be like, here’s this thing that I know I can do and there’s only a handful of people doing it. There are only a few authors I can think of who try and bring back this kind of book to young adults.

What does your family think of your writing?
It’s funny because my mom is a scaredy-cat. I mean, I’m a scaredy-cat but she’s even more so. I was like, “Mom! I’m writing scary books!” and she was like, “Oh boy!” (Laughs). She was a little nervous. She had a hard time with “Asylum.” She was like, “If read it during the day but I got through it!” (Laughs). I think she’s ready for the second one. She also loved the novella, the one that comes between the two. It was less scary and more of a traditional thriller. My dad thinks it’s great and he talks to his friends at work about it. They’re always excited to see what’s going to happen next. They don’t get to read things early! (Laughs).
madeleine roux
How come the novella is not being sold in bookstores?
It’s only digital. You only get it online. It’s very short, like 70 pages. It’s about a character that’s in “Sanctum.” You see his story before it ever happens. It’s a new character which is really fun. Then there’s another mid-novella coming online between the second and third novel. That will be another different character.

You mean there’ll be a third one?
Yes, there’s a third.

Will you stop at three?
Yes, the third is the finale. It will, hopefully, wrap up everything. I’m working on it like right now, in the hotel! It should wrap up not only any lingering questions from the first two but also answer Dan’s back story since he’s adopted.

So, I’m finishing it right now. I should be finishing it right now. (Laughs).

When should we expect it to come out?
It should be out late August next year.

Tells us a little about the second book, “Sanctum.”
The threats in Sanctum are more real life. You can tell there are real people coming after them. There are still supernatural elements but the things coming for them are quite obviously real people. It’s more violent. There’s more death in the second one.

Are the photos in the pages real?
They’re real. They’re all from archives. Most of them are real and if they’re not, they find a photo and manipulate it like a person whose eyes are scratched out. It’s probably a real person but we did the manipulation to make it look more like the cast of the story. In the back, it has all the sources, the archives.

Did you handpick the photos that are in the books?
It’s kind of collaboration between me and the publisher. I write the manuscript but I have in mind places where photos could go or set it in areas where it would be natural for the characters to come across photos. We don’t want to keep with the Asylum theme for all of them. That would be a little tiresome. So the second one is like creepy carnival which actually is scarier to me in a lot of ways! (Laughs).

So which among the photos gets you the most?
My favorite picture of all is a little boy swallowing a sword in a clown costume. It’s my favorite picture that we found. It’s on the back of the hardcover version.

How do you feel that your work is being compared to Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”?
I don’t mind! I haven’t read his books but I heard he’s amazing. But I don’t tend to read in my same genre when I’m working on a book. I don’t ever want to have someone say: “You copied so and so …” and “You’re just like this.” So I tend to read fluffy romance novels when I’m working on horror books. It’s also a good escape. It’s so different. I could shut off this sort of dark feeling and go to something fun and happy. Honestly, as soon as that comparison happened, I was like, “I can’t read these until I’m done with the series”. I don’t want to ever have accidental inspiration or crossover to happen. I have friends who have read both but they were like, yes, they both have pictures but otherwise they’re nothing the same. I think they’re different enough that readers get two different experiences. It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s always flattering to be compared to someone who’s achieved a level of success.

What’s the most challenging part when writing horror books?
Pacing. Pacing is really important. You don’t want to scare people right off their back because that doesn’t work. You have to introduce them to the world and have a slow creeping atmosphere of unease. They know it’s going to be scary because of the cover so you kind of have that working in your favor right away, then you can slowly draw them in, and draw them in, but once you have a certain point, you have to have scares consistently or they’ll get bored and they’ll stop reading. It’s a very different pacing from other genres. Other ones, you just have a natural plot unfold and as long as the plot is good, that’s great. But with horror, people expect to be sort of spooked every once in a while so you have to make sure you rise into that, and then fall and let them have a quiet time and then go! You have to build these peaks and valleys into the story.

What’s your favorite horror movie?
“Cabin in the Woods.” It’s actually sort of comedy. You think it’s a scary movie but then it’s going to turn on its head and I love that. I love an unexpected thing like that. That and “The Ring.” I saw it when I was pretty young and it really messed me up! (Laughs). I was so scared for so many days. I was like, I’m never watching TV again! I’m never answering the phone again!

It completely takes so many things …  watching a movie, watching TV, answering the phone. Don’t do any of those! It definitely stuck with me.

Why do you think people read horror stories?
I think people don’t often find themselves in situations where they’re in an actual haunted building or place, that there’s a serial killer ready to kill them. That’s a very rare situation. It’s like a roller coaster ride. You get on it knowing it’s going to be a little scary, a little intense, and you like the feeling of controlled adrenalin. It’s a scary or intense experience but in a very controlled environment. So when you open a scary book, you know it’s not real but you’re agreeing to this experience of knowing it’s going to freak you out but you can put it away. You can stop it. You can put it down. It’s a pleasant idea to be like: I want this adrenalin burst, I can have it but I can also stop whenever I want. And so that’s a very attractive idea.

What scares you?
I really hate spiders!

Do you ever reflect on your own fears and put them into your work?
It’s in the fantasy book I’ve been finishing. It’s done. I’m just polishing it. The main character rides a gigantic spider so I’ve been confronting my fear. It really helped. I had to do a lot of research on the physiology of spiders and tarantulas especially. And it starts to get cute in a way. They have these fuzzy feet and these like two little claws that stick out. Up close it’s like a fuzzy kitten paw! (Laughs).

How did the first book “Asylum” come to you?
Honestly, a huge part of it is that there’s not just a lot of teenage horror.

I was writing adult books but I was so excited by the genre of YA and the idea of having younger fans who get so excited and into it. Also, there are not a lot of male protagonists and Dan is the main character. He’s a young man. There are two parallel voids. I feel like people want something fresh and different so why not combine the two and have these two things you don’t see a lot. It’s supernatural and mystery sort of blended together and it’s kind of perfect for Halloween which is my favorite holiday.

Can you share to us a memorable Halloween experience?
It’s not scary so much, but I’ve seen a real ghost but that wasn’t Halloween. Where I grow up, it would snow sometimes on Halloween like a freak snow sometimes. The year that happened I was Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.” I had this fin underneath the parka. It’s like a penguin. It looked so stupid and I couldn’t walk! The fin is very constricting at the bottom. We went trick or treat and they have to literally pick me up by my armpit and carry  me all the way up the stairs. My mom is a seamstress and I love making costumes.

Every year she would make me the Disney princess of the moment like Jasmine or Ariel or whoever it was and she’d make mini versions for my dolls so we could match.

We can’t help but be curious—how did you come to that hairstyle?
I had this for almost about two or three years. It started obviously as short like this but then I just let it grow. The photo there (in the photo releases) is old. That was before I shaved the sides for fun. I actually had another head shot taken with hair like this but it was too late. They already printed it all and stuff. I feel like everyone should see what they look like with shaved heads for once in their lives. I discovered that my head is perfectly round like an orange so it did not look good. (Laughs). So I let the tops grow out so there’s an elongation of my head and I was like, “Oh, actually that actually looks okay.” It’s been in different colors. It was pink last year. I’ve always loved funky hair. I’ve always had short hair ever since I was a kid and I’ve always played with it. I feel it’s just so much fun to have variety. And it’s so funny. At the book signing, all these girls are like, “I wanna do my hair like that but my mother would kill me!” I’d tell them: “Don’t worry, my mom hates it still and I’m almost 30!” (Laughs)
Madeleine Roux

Horror writers come off as weirder than most. Do you find yourself to be more idiosyncratic than the average person?
I’ve always been into art. I have an alternative look. I can say I’m weirder than most but not darker than most! (Laughs). I think I just enjoy peeking into that side of myself and then letting it go and living my life. It’s not a general reflection of me. I’m a generally very bright, happy-go-lucky person. It’s just a way I get to indulge in a different darker side of myself—in a very healthy therapeutic way. Like I said, I love Disney! It’s just that if I like something, I do it.

I like taking risks which is not good in a horror book, by the way! You would want to be the least risk-taking person ever! (Laughs). I think some horror writers cultivate that personality to make the book seem more interesting, scarier, and sort of have this persona going. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they are all friendly and warm in person.

TAGS: book launching, book signing, Cebu City, horror, Madeleine Roux, Play!, Young Adult
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