Our interview with Roseanne A. Brown examines elements of Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting while also discussing how the author is an OG Percy Jackson fan, which of Serwa’s friends might be her favorite, what could possibly happen in Book 2.
Like I wrote in my Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting book review, the Mean-Girls-meets-Buffy aspect of this book really spoke to me, as did the idea of learning more about Ghanaian mythology and folklore.
Needless to say, Serwa Boateng (both the book and the character) lived up to the hype, and the end of the first novel has me so excited for what’s to come next! There’s a lot to love here—layered characters, awesome monsters, interesting myths, and so much magic!—and it seems like there’s a lot yet to come, as well.
Prophecy Radio had the extreme pleasure of chatting with Roseanne A. Brown about the book, as well as some of the author’s favorite fandoms, what books she’d recommend if you want more stories like Serwa’s, and what other projects she’s got on her plate at the moment.
If you’d like to hear the Roseanne A. Brown interview in full, as well as listen to our discussion of Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting, tune into Prophecy Radio episode #53:
If you need to save that for later, that’s okay too! You can find the answers to our most pressing questions about Serwa and her friends during the Roseanne A. brown interview below.
Roseanne A. Brown interview
In your acknowledgements, you talk about how the original part of this book had a treasure hunting aspect to it. Can you talk a little bit about what that might’ve looked like?
Okay, so to explain the treasure hunting bit, let me go back to how I started writing on Serwa real quick. So, it’s 2019, in that ancient, ancient time before the pandemic. I’d been living in Japan for several years, and I’d just come back literally a month before, so I was still kind of disoriented, trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. And I got an email from my agent. She’s like, “Hey, I’m talking to this editor. She’s looking for pitches.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And she’s like, “You wanna pitch her?” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure. Who is it?” She’s like, “Stephanie Lurie at Rick Riordan Presents.” I was like, “RICK RIORDAN PRESENTS?” Because I am an OG Percy Jackson fan. My copy is literally from 2005. It’s beat up and disgusting. It doesn’t even have New York Times bestseller on it because it wasn’t a New York Times bestseller yet. That’s how long I’ve been in this game. And I had never written middle grade before, so I was like…you get an opportunity like that, you gotta jump on it. So, I’m crafting together, and I knew I wanted to do something involving the adze, which are the vampires in the book that are from Ghanaian folklore, and instead of bats, they turn into fireflies. And they can take over people’s minds, right? So I was like, this is such a cool creature, and I really want to work with it. And it’s mythology. And another important part of this story—I really like National Treasure. If someone asked me, gun to my head, is National Treasure a good movie? I’d probably have to say no. But do I love it with all my heart? Yes. And so, the first sort of iteration of the pitch I sent to my agent before we sent it to Steph and Rick, I was like, “Okay, it’s gonna be like National Treasure with this girl, and there’s this treasure she’s looking for, but she has to fight the vampires to get to it.” And my agent’s like, “Okay, so I love the vampire part, but I’m not feeling the treasure hunting.” And I’m like, “That’s fair. Not everyone is ready for National Treasure: Ghanaian Version.” So we reworked it, and I was like, the vampires are the part of this idea that’s working, how do I center it more? And I’m like, well, if you have vampires, you gotta have the people who are fighting the vampires. The idea of this almost illuminati-like organization that fights vampires in secret came to me, and then I knew, oh, okay, the vampires aren’t just the obstacle to get to the treasure. The vampires are the big enemy. Once I kind of shifted my focus, then Serwa very naturally bloomed out there, and that version, my agent was like, “Yes, write that version. Let’s give them that.” And the rest is history.
I just gotta say, if you wanna write a National Treasure-esque book at any point, we will read it. We’ll be first in line for that.
Someone’s gonna let me write a National Treasure book, and if there’s only two sales, I know it’s you two. [laughs]
A lot of these stories begin with the main character finding out that magic exists, a la Percy Jackson, allowing us to learn about the new world right alongside them. But Serwa was born into the world of Slayers. Does tackling the story in this way present any particular challenges?
In a way, I don’t think it did. And that was very intentional of me, because when I was crafting the not-Nick-Cage version of the story, I knew I wanted to invert it a little bit. I didn’t want her to discover she’s something other. As much as I love stories like that, I wanted to kind of flip that on its head. And even though she knows that world so much, because her friends she brings in don’t know it, it was still very natural to bring information up and have her explain things in a way that didn’t feel like an info dump because she was explaining it to other people who did not know. And we still kind of got to have that newcomer, fish-out-of-water feeling with her because very early on, she’s taken from the Slayer world to the normal world. So it was very fun presenting our world as the Percy coming to Camp Half-Blood [moment where] he’s like, “What the frick is going on here?” Getting to do that, but having it be just your average middle school, and she’s like, “What do you use a locker for, I don’t understand it.”
Are there any gods or mythical figures or creatures that you wanted to include in this book but didn’t have time for?
Yeah, there’s a couple. And I’m lucky because I’m working on Book 2 right now, so I’ll be able to put some of them in Book 2. One of them, his name is—I’m probably pronouncing this wrong, so forgive me—but Animabri, who’s a flesh-eating hornbill from Ghanaian mythology. The stories say he ate so many people, all the gods and the animals had to put together a council, like, “What are we gonna do about this guy, because he needs to stop eating people.” So, he’s a fun one that shows up in Book 2. There’s a couple who are mentioned in Book 1 who don’t really show up, like Tegare, who’s the god of hunters. He’s like the patron god of the Slayers. He has a brief scene, but we don’t really get to figure out what his whole deal is. People have asked me, but he doesn’t show up—Anansi, who is arguably the most famous Ghanaian folklore figure and plays a big part in Tristan Strong. And that’s actually why he does not show up, and they reference him. Everyone’s like, “Where’s Anansi while this is all happening?” And some readers have caught the hint that there are some references to Tristan in there, and acknowledging, like, yeah, that’s the same exact Anansi, and the reason he’s not there is he’s with Tristan.
I got Kwame’s blessing before I did that. Because I wanted to be like, “Yo, are you—I’ll only do this if you think you’re cool with it.” And he was like, “No, that’s hilarious. Please do it.”
Is there one of Serwa’s friends that you have a particular soft spot for?
I know it’s like choosing between children.
It is! I love all of them! I think if I had to, I’d probably have to say Mateo.
Yep! He’s ours too!
Exactly! Because I sort of intentionally set up Serwa’s team as kind of like—y’all know the Power Rangers or Sailor Moon or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where everyone has a distinct personality and distinct role in the team, right? So, you have Serwa, she’s your Red Ranger, she’s the leader. Then you have Roxy, who’s the closest sidekick/backup, that’ll be like your Blue Ranger. You’ve got Eunju. She’s the strong one. She’s always ready to fight. Then you’ve got Gavin. He’s the smart guy. He always has an idea out. And then Mateo was kind of the heart of the group. He’s the one where—everyone else is like, “Yeah, let’s do this!” Mateo’s like, “Can we actually think before we jump off a building or something, y’all? Are y’all sure this is a good idea?”
Because that’s the friend I was in middle school. I was the friend like, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” And no one ever listened to me, but that was my role. And it was really nice to have a male character be that because so often it’s a female character who’s the emotional heart or voice of reason of the team. And so, getting to do that with a boy [was refreshing]. And also Mateo has a stutter, and so while I’ve never had a clinical level stutter like he does, the feeling of wanting to communicate and know you have so much to say and not be able to do it [is tough]. Because English is not my first language. And I’ve gotten to a part where I’m very, very fluent in it, but there’s still moments where I’m just like—my brain is just stumbling, and I can’t get the words out. It happened more when I was a kid than it happens nowadays, and that frustration, that feeling [is relatable]. And so with Mateo, getting to see him sort of—he never overcomes it, because I don’t see a stutter or any kind of learning disability or disability [in general] as something to get over, but the way he learns to move forward with it and find people who embrace him for it and don’t see him as less for it was really important for me to write.
This book has a lot of hard truths in it when it comes to racism and discrimination, both in school and the world at large. Did you ever struggle with how far to take that message knowing that some parents would push back against it?
A hundred percent. And at the end of the day—like I told you about Mrs. Dean and how she’s inspired by an actual teacher I went through—in the end, everything that happens to the kids is something that either happened to me or someone I knew. And a lot of it happened when we were the same age as them. Because at the end of the day, I knew even if there’s adults who are like, “Oh, my kid’s not old enough to read about this.” I’m like, okay, but then why was I old enough to experience it at the same age? And so I knew I had to be like—I’m not going to talk down to the kids. I’m not going to be like, “Oh no, some people don’t think this is happening, so I can’t address it.” I’m going to be like, “No. I was there.” And yeah, that was the 2000s, but I don’t think it’s changed as much as I wish it had. And in a lot of ways, it feels really affirming to be like, “No, that’s not happening in your head. These teachers are doing these things to you.” And how much it hurts when it’s a place you have to be at eight hours a day, and you’re being told these people are here to protect you and are not. And this sort of affirmation that it’s not in your head. This is actually happening. We see you, and there are people who are doing what they can to change it.
In a book all about monsters, I couldn’t just do the literal monsters and not address what kind of monsters does the everyday child go up against every day?
What’s one other Rick Riordan Presents book or world that you would love to live inside?
Oh my gosh! Okay, I would not survive long in Alke, but I would love to be in Alke in MidPass. Hang out with Gum Baby and Tristan Strong. Aru and the Potatoes are just so cool, and I feel like they are a group what Serwa’s kind of wishes they could be. They are way more—it took them a while to get there—they are way more of a coordinated group, and Serwa and her friends could take some tips from that. I also don’t think I’d last very long there. Also I think Boo would be like, “Okay, so you’re out of the quest,” and I’d be like, “That’s fair.” And Last Fallen Star. Okay, Riley and Hattie are way nicer, so I’d love to hang out with them and the—I’m probably pronouncing this wrong—the Haetae. You know the creature I’m talking about. Love to hang out with them.
What are some books you’d recommend if readers want more stories like Serwa’s?
Tristan Strong [by Kwame Mbalia] is kind of the obvious one because there’s a lot of overlap, like the adinkra show up in Tristan Strong as well. So if the African elements part or learning more about the folklore [is something] you’re drawn to, Tristan Strong is a big one. If you really like the camaraderie, the team element—this is YA, it’s not middle grade—but Six of Crows [by Leigh Bardugo] is another one of my favorite building-a-team books, and bringing people from different backgrounds for one common goal, so I think people who like that part and don’t mind reading up a little bit, Six of Crows. And then… Can I recommend a TV show?
Anime! If you just like the vibe—because anime was a huge influence on Serwa—My Hero Academia and Naruto, they definitely have that same high-octane energy that I was hoping to capture in Serwa.
Is there anything else you can tease us about the next book in the series?
Definitely, yes! I’m working on that right now. I can say Book 2 takes us from the suburbs of Maryland to D.C., which has been really fun. We learn a little bit more about the obayifo, the witches in the series. The title’s printed in the book, so it’s not a spoiler anymore. The title of Book 2 is Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Witchcraft and Mayhem. And the last thing I can tell y’all is—without spoiling the end for anyone—we definitely get to deal a lot with Serwa’s first crush. He’s mentioned in Book 1, Declan Amankwah, who’s another Slayer boy who she knows, who she’s kind of in this rivalry with. But the real question is—does he see her as a rival? And the answer—well, it surprises Serwa. I don’t think it’s going to surprise anyone else, but it’s fun.
Is this a duology, or is there going to be more?
Let me put it like this—we are officially at two books, but the possibility for more is very high.
Are there any other projects coming up that you’d like to let people know about?
My biggest thing is Serwa. It’s kind of my main thing. The problem with being an author is all the cool stuff you really can’t talk about when it’s happening to you, and by the time it’s announced, it’s old news to you. But I started in YA—A Song of Wraiths and Ruin—and I’ve been working behind the scenes on my next older readers thing. And I feel like Percy Jackson fans in particular will really appreciate this because there’s lots of elements of the Hades/Persephone story in this one. So lots of fun, especially getting to go back to something a little older, since that’s where I started.
‘Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting’ published on September 6, 2022
Buy Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting by Roseanne A. Brown from Disney Books, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.
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