Out on September 24th, The Tenth Girl is the perfect read for the fall season and beyond. The story follows Mavi, an Argentine teen who flees 1970s Buenos Aires and the military regime that took her mother for a remote girls boarding school located on a remote cliff in Patagonia, at the very southern tip of South America where she has been hired to teach English to the school’s elite pupils.
Spooky context? Vaccaro School is haunted, supposedly cursed by the indigenous people whose land the European colonizers stole and built the school on. When Mavi realizes one of her students, the tenth girl, is missing, and students and staff begin to behave like they are possessed, Mavi must solve the mystery of what’s happening at Vaccaro before it is too late.
The Tenth Girl is one part Jane Eyre, one part The Haunting of Hill House, and all parts original, with a twist that you will not see coming. It is deeply inspired by Gothic horror fiction that has come before and by debut author Sara Faring’s own family history, but is something entirely new. We are so pleased to be able to debut exclusively the trailer for The Tenth Girl, which hopefully gives you an idea of just how perfect this book is for the upcoming Halloween season…
Den of Geek also had the chance to talk to Faring about creating this vivid, immersive, and utterly original world for The Tenth Girl. Here’s what she told us…
There are so many vividly-realized elements to this book. I’m curious if there was a very clear place where it started, for example a character, setting, or idea?
You know, actually I, this book sort of came to me when I was on a trip with all of the female relatives in my family on the Argentine side. We went to Paris of all places to celebrate my grandmother’s 85th birthday. One of my cousins is a psychotherapist, which is, in Argentina it’s the country with the most psychotherapists per capita. Anyway, fun fact!
And so, one night, she led us in this hypnotherapy group session, which sounds so strange and it was, kind of. It felt like a seance. And we started to share stories from our families’ spoken history, I guess you’d say. And I started to hear about the stories I’d never heard from Argentina in the 70s and the era of the military regime there. And, after that, I became obsessed with learning everything I could about this time period, about my family’s experience in Argentina for the past century or so. And this book blossomed out of that.
How long ago was that?
It was five years ago because this October we’re celebrating my grandmother’s 90th birthday.
Oh, that’s so cool.
She’s one of those people who, even though she’s turning 90, will dance until 6:00 am and get angry at anyone who doesn’t.
Wow. She sounds amazing.
Yeah, she’s pretty incredible.
So besides that, I did have an idea of the twists in my head when I started writing. So I wanted to explore what it meant to be human, which sounds really over the top, but the reason I love speculative books is because I love books that help me view life with a fresh astonishment, you know? That will make me re-examine the human experience with mind-bending thoughts. I think writing is a great way for me to honor my family history in Argentina and also explore these themes that I love reading about and watching [in TV shows].
This is a YA book, but I feel like it is on the cusp of it being an adult book. I’m curious why you wanted to make it a YA book or where that decision came from.
Yeah, no, good question. I do think that when I was writing this book, I gave some thought to why I wanted to write in general and, when I was younger, books just, they, it sounds cheesy and it is, but they completely changed my life. They were my best friends. They were a way for me to explore my place in the world, to learn, to discover new corners inside myself.
So I knew that I wanted to have a younger protagonist, a teenage protagonist who was coming to terms with who she was and what it meant to be an independent person now that she’s no longer with her mother and is kind of going off into the world on her own. That’s always just been a really compelling stage for me and I’m sure as I get older that’ll change.
But I love exploring that, the mindset of someone who is 17, 18 and I loved reading about that when I was even younger than 17, 18. I think, even when I was like 14, I loved reading about protagonists who were kind of on that cusp, you know, that stage of their life. For me, books made me feel like I wasn’t alone when I was teenager. And I just knew I wanted to write for people that age.
And I do think you’re right, this book hopefully will appeal to younger people and older people, but I couldn’t be happier that it’s coming out as a young adult book for many reasons. I’m sure you also know just how passionate and engaged YA readers are which is just unbelievable. I mean it’s extraordinary. Yesterday, a blogger posted a photo of how she’d painted my cover on her leg. It was beautiful. It was more beautiful than my cover.
You have two main perspective characters in this book and I’m curious if one of them came first and why you felt it was important to have both Mavi and Angel’s points of view and telling this story?
Yeah, so I would say I knew I always needed to have both because, frankly, when I read books, I love for there to be reveals happening throughout. I love to feel like I’m being led into some secret, and I wanted there to be this tension between the two points of view and the information we’re getting from each side. And I also just always thought it would be a lot of fun to see Vaccaro School from both perspectives: the perspective of a teacher who’s brand new and views it as one thing and the perspective of a… I don’t even know how to speak about Angel in an interview. It gets juicy really fast. From the perspective of someone who is working through pain with humor and is using the house in a very different way, I would say.
And it, to be honest, it was also really fun to write a book in two very different voices. And I know I always wanted Mavi’s to feel like a nod to the traditional Gothic works of fiction and then we could have Angel’s voice—which would be completely disorienting—have these bits of dark humor and pop culture references and feel sometimes goofy and bizarre.
For me, when you’re exploring dark themes, it is just such a breath of fresh air to have injections of humor throughout. So, yeah, they both came about at the same time. I did rewrite Angel’s part many times because I wanted to get the tone right because it was easy to fall into a sort of melancholy spiral, if you will, [with that character].
Well you did such a good job distinguishing their voices. I definitely got the Gothic themes from Mavi. From the very beginning, I was like, ‘This reminds me of Jane Eyre and other classics,’ and then to also have Angel just like dropping like Harry Potter references… They felt very distinct and that is so important I think especially when you see the same events more than once from different perspectives. It can be very hard to do in a way that doesn’t feel redundant, but you do a really good job of making that interesting.
Oh my gosh, I am so delighted to hear that, I’m so thrilled. Yeah. I … because that’s something I kind of privately nerd out over, you know, the multi-perspective. But you’re right, it can, it can drag, so, you never know.
Obviously, this book was so inspired by your mother’s side of the family and you’ve mentioned also that your grandmother is still alive and very engaged with things. I’m curious if they’ve had a chance to read the book and also if they gave you specific like feedback or details on, you know, the 1970s Argentinian setting because they were there so that’s obviously a great resource.
No, it’s funny you say that because, so almost all of them read an early draft and I was getting feedback from my grandmother and from my mother saying, ‘Oh, you know, actually like this one sensory detail of this one story you inserted, that to anyone else would have been like…’ OK, we don’t need to get in the weeds on that. They were like, no, this is wrong. Like the pavement smelled like this…
Anyway, so I received a lot of that or like the detail of… there’s a story in the book, an anecdote about a young man who has a molar filled with poison that he bites down on and that’s a real story of a family friend. So I wanted to make sure that, even though the context is fictional, it honored their memory of the situation.
And, beyond that, I’m very proud to report that… Even though, especially with the twist, it was not necessarily all of my family members ideal genre if that makes sense—not that I like to ascribe genre labels to anything, but I think with the twist, you know, you, it definitely appeals to a certain kind of reader and may be slightly jarring, hopefully in an interesting way to another type of reader—they loved it.
But they also saw how much I layered in from all of our lives. It’s actually kind of funny when family members read books. I did get a few reactions where they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re just this character, right?’ And I’m like, no, that’s not how it works.
So you do such a wonderful job constructing the setting of the school. And I’m curious if there were either real world buildings and or fictional buildings that served as inspiration for the school?
There is a building in Buenos Aires, in Recoleta, which is like this posh neighborhood, and it is an abandoned mansion. It’s just… it’s ridiculous. This building is amazing and there’s just nothing being done with it and it’s falling into disrepair and it’s totally derelict. And it’s on a really busy, posh street. So that did inspire some of the aesthetic.
But I just love building Gothic atmosphere. It’s one of my favorite things in anything I write: the gloomy, the spooky, the grand, the forgotten, the abandoned. I love that. So that was always sort of simmering in my brain and my imagination for years. But, in Patagonia, I’ll be honest, I haven’t found a building like Vaccaro School.
Yet. Yeah, I went last October again, looked for one, couldn’t find one, but I’m going to try again. I’m going to try again this year, so…
And you’ll have lots of readers to help out soon.
Yeah, I hope so. Right? I’ve already gotten some cool photos that people have sent me. Like, ‘Oh, is this like Vaccaro School in this country?’ Including a cliff mansion in Slovenia, which was pretty amazing.
Do you think about how readers in Argentina will respond to this book perhaps differently from readers in other places who don’t know as much about the setting and the time period?
Well, I didn’t grow up in Argentina. I went very often, my family, you know, half my family lives there. But, while I was writing this, I was very aware of the fact that not only did I not grow up there, but I didn’t live through this time period. So I’m relying on my family members’ very specific perspective on it. And I tried to deepen that and also to explore other perspectives on it by interviewing other people down there, doing a lot of research.
But, ultimately, I wasn’t looking to obviously create any kind of, I’m not going to say exhaustive, but any detailed reflection of what that time period was like. I really just wanted to draw, especially for young adults, younger American audiences’ attention to this period of time there, especially because with so much going on now, we can forget history, especially outside of the States. And there are many interesting parallels, at least to me, in what’s happened in Argentina and other parts of the world and what’s happening right now.
Without going further down that path, I just really wanted to draw attention to this time period, which even as someone growing up in California with Argentine parents and family, I knew not enough about. And it’s been really exciting for me to see this book go out into the world and also to see other books of friends, especially other Latinx authors, who are putting out books about periods of history in their countries and their family’s country that younger readers don’t necessarily know that much about.
So I think it’s a good way to, through an ideally compulsively-readable plot and characters you’re invested in, pique interest in a time period that’s not touched on very much in curriculums.
Yeah, well I definitely learned a lot and had a lot of fun, like stopping and Googling things to learn more about them.
Yay! Oh my gosh.
Yeah. So it’s definitely not just a young person thing, obviously.
We’ve alluded to the big twist in this book, but there’s a certain degree of mystery throughout. How did you decide on the pacing for when you would reveal certain things, especially the big plot twist?
Yes. Well, for me, it came down to rhythm and while, at first, I tried to use a more traditional structure, like a three-act structure. I tried at first to kind of loosely follow those kinds of structures, but I realized I had so much information and so many twists to handle because that’s just how I like to read. So I wanted to write something that followed the same constant reveal structure. I went by rhythm, just intuitively.
Obviously, with a book of this length [editor’s note: the book is 464 pages], you want to have enough [to keep people reading]. I think, even within the book, there are different kinds of twists and different kinds of reveals. So I had to be aware of the fact that what a kind of twist that was compelling for one reader, it might not for another and kind of lay them out so that there would be enough for each kind of reader. Because when you have something that, in my mind, does genre bend, you want to make sure that there’s enough to appeal to different kinds of readers.
Yeah, definitely. And I think you’re right with the length. I think you have to get a little bit more creative in terms of structure or like at least not following that traditional three act structure, which people like, you know, use and don’t use in different ways.
Yeah. And it’s almost fun to know how the structure works and then tried to subvert it. But it’s funny because people, readers grow to expect those beats sometimes. And, yeah, it’s an interesting thing to think about because, for the most part, I’m writing just what I enjoy to write, which was a privilege to do and have it still sell, but I feel like, on some level, it’s also interesting to be conscious of reader expectations when it comes to hitting beats when readers expect them. It’s something I’m still thinking about. I do it in my second book.
And I think you’re right about, you know, reader expectation. I think story consumers today are more literate than ever in storytelling. So that is something to think about, definitely.
Also, I’ve been interested recently in how, as TV becomes, I mean I guess it’s cheesy, but like golden age of TV and as people are watching such incredible television, which has a very different structure in my mind over the course of a season to films or to books, how you can kind of use that as an author. And, sometimes, I feel like I’m writing books more as someone who loves TV than someone who loves movies, if that makes sense?
Yeah. I think I read books like that so I totally understand. Because I also think that this golden age of television is marked by a break in structure and a creativity in structure. So that is a cool inspiration to take from that medium and bring into another.
Yeah, I think that some of the books I’m most excited about now do that as well. So yeah, I think we’re on the cusp of something special or maybe we’re well in it and I’m just not, you know, well read.
Yeah. It’s hard to tell from the inside.
This book is such a good fall release. And was that like a discussion with your publisher and figuring out when the best release date would be for The Tenth Girl?
Yeah, it’s funny because my editor knew immediately. Let me figure out when we like had our handshake deal… it was two years ago, basically. So she knew this was going to be the season, this is going to be the year. She immediately thought like the atmosphere is just the perfect thing for someone to curl up with on a stormy fall night. And I’m inclined to agree.
It’s funny because the advance copies of this book had been going out over the summer and occasionally people will ask, ‘Oh, you know, I received it. Should I read it on my beach vacation?’ I’m like, ‘Absolutely! Read it whenever you can.’ But is it more fun to read on a stormy night? Yes. But, hopefully—I don’t know where you’re based—but, when it’s a day like today, and it is so hot that you wish you could peel off your skin, it might be nice to retreat into a book where there’s fog and storms and chills in the air.
I always like to ask people what stories they’re really into right now, whether it’s a book, a TV show, a movie, a comic book, whatever. What stories are you excited about as a fan?
I just blew through Euphoria on HBO. Which was really interesting to me and I’m still kind of working out my feelings about it, but I thought it was really kind of spectacular.
I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s definitely on my list.
It’s, I’d be so curious. I’m curious to hear everyone’s reaction to it, because. Let’s see what else. Yeah, the structure is interesting how at the beginning of each episode it kind of gives you a little short and sweet or not sweet, I should say, but backstory on each of the characters you’ve been following and then it goes back into the kind of main narrative, which is interesting.
Besides that, I’m reading this book called The Need by Helen Philips. It’s very difficult to describe. Basically it opens on this, on this mother who, I don’t know if that’s a spoiler or not, on this mother who like sees an intruder in her house and the intruder ends up being her. But from a different universe, kind of. And then at the same time, she’s a paleobotanist. And she finds a Bible with she as the God pronoun, yeah. Anyway. Clearly it’s almost impossible to describe, but it’s very bizarre and unsettling and different and we’ll see where it goes.
And then beside that a book I love, which you might’ve had on your list, but I don’t know, is The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante. It’s A YA book, basically about if human beings can physically take on another’s grief, it’s so much more than that. That’s just like the speculative hook, I guess. And it packs a punch.
Yeah. That’s pretty much what I have going. Besides that, I watch a disgusting amount of reality TV right now because I’m trying to get my brain off of everything.
Yeah, I do that too. I’m just like, I can’t write about this for work, so I’m just going to watch this thing.
Well thank you so much for chatting with me today. This was so much fun.
Thank you. This was such a treat.
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