Interview originally published at Blogcritics
Geoffrey Girard’s an interesting guy who has written a fascinating, disturbing, engaging pair of books dealing with the unusual topic of military scientists making clones of serial killers.
Girard has also done something intriguing which I predict will be done by other authors. Instead of choosing whether to go after the young adult audience or the adult audience he has picked both: Project Cain is the book for young adults and Cain’s Blood is the book for adults. Both are being released on the same day.
Both books deal with the same subject, but Project Cain is written from the perspective of a teenage boy injected with the clone of Jeffrey Dahmer whereas Cain’s Blood is written from the perspective of a military veteran, Castillo, tasked with finding and returning all of these clones with the help of the Jeffrey clone.
The book deals with the age old topic of nature vs nurture by posing this question: What would happen if a boy (since most serial killers are male) is injected with a clone of a serial killer and he is adopted by a family that in some cases doesn’t know that he is a clone? Will he become as violent as the serial killer?
This book takes that concept to an even more thrilling and scary level with a bunch of these clones released and racing across America doing all kinds of evil deeds. But it also wonders aloud if the boys could do any different but be evil?
Geoffrey Girard is the English Department chair at a private boys’ school in Ohio; his students were the inspiration behind him writing both novels.
Girard agreed to do an interview with me via email.
How did you come up with this story? The publicity materials suggested it had to do with interest in serial killers by students at your private boys school?
I teach at a private boys’ school, and during class one day, a discussion of serial killers started somehow. (This will happen at an all boys’ school.) One of the students had found a website and started asking the class serial-killer trivia questions… and I was answering like a Jeopardy champion. The lads were rather impressed and also very interested in all these details I’d acquired over the years. Got me thinking about a serial killer story I’d written back in 2007, and how I might reshape it for teen readers.
Any concerns about how dark the book gets at points?
Most all of the violence is off screen, and I think that makes both books even darker than a straight-up slasher. The reader’s imagination is doing most of the work, coming onto these situations/scenes where something awful is about to happen. I wanted the heroes (Castillo and Jeff) to confront some really dark places/people, and also wanted to show the result of the damage to these kids. My intention was to pull back a lot on Project Cain (the teen version). It’s from Jeff’s point of view, and most of the violence he sees from afar or, as the narrator, refuses to talk about. Again, I trust the reader to fill in the blanks. Alas, those can be quite dark.
What did the students think of the books or have they been able to read either one yet?
The students have been super supportive; they think it’s a cool idea for a book, and I’ve read a couple short scenes when asked. The Project Cain title totally came from class vote. I left the ARCs lying around a couple weeks and often caught guys reading it. The school paper has an ARC for a September review. On Twitter, the student warned, “It better be good, Or I’m gonna rip Girard bad.”
Did you let your school read it? Did they have any concerns?
The principal got a copy of the teen version, with a warning that the folk who don’t like Chocolate War probably won’t be too fond of this tale either. No concerns expressed yet. The whole school community, parents/faculty/students, has been very supportive of my writing career.
How did you come up with the idea of writing two books, one for YA and one for adults, with related but not identical plotlines?
The original story was for adults, and I turned that into an experimental novel specifically for teens. (I’d just finished an MA in Creative Writing, and was in the mindset to push things some.) When I sent it to my future agents, they said: “This is a cool idea and good writing, but would you be interested in writing a more traditional thriller for adults?” I said sure and got to work on Cain’s Blood. When I turned that in, they took me on as a client and said (in the same phone call), “So… This Jeff Jacobson character. Love him. Any interest in writing a teen version of this story from his POV?” We agreed it was a great chance to try something really different with this second book, and that was exciting as a writer. Fortunately, Simon & Schuster was feeling equally creative!
Do you think other authors might follow suit? It seems a bit genius for marketing purposes.
I would think so. The teen market is so big and many authors (from Neil Gaiman to Philippa Gregory and a hundred others) are writing for both markets now. There are so many different ways this could have been done and there are enough creative people out there that it’ll come again in a similar form soon. Again, my agents deserve credit for shepherding the two-book sale, and Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone Books and Books for Young Readers for working so well together on this
Which of the two books was more fun to write? Which was more interesting? Which more difficult?
They really are two different books, which presented unique challenges and enjoyment. Cain’s Blood is a traditional thriller, and takes on those specific literary forms and devices. It was, for me, a fun and dark “page-turner.” Project Cain was written after, starting completely from scratch and trying to stay true to Jeff’s voice. Jeff Jacobson is NOT me or any form of me, so it took some time to get into his head for the telling. I spent a lot of time re-researching Jeffrey Dahmer to imagine/feel what Dahmer might have been like in a different environment/time. And I wanted to try some new devices to tell the story: devices I hoped that teen readers (specifically those infamous “reluctant boy readers”) might find appealing; a lot of non-fiction, facts, terse. I’ve taught high school English for ten years, and my goal was to write in a form true to my students and this unique character.
How should people decide which of the two books to read? How would you summarize the plots for each?
Cain’s Blood is a traditional thriller. “King meets Crichton,” one blurb claims. I’ll take it, humbly, with appreciation to two of my favorite authors. It mostly follows Shawn Castillo (the retired — not by choice — Special Ops guy brought in to clean up the mess) and many other characters (your assortment of teenaged clones, victims and military baddies) as the full story plays out.
Project Cain is a more personal story, and is totally from Jeff’s POV. As he gets dragged into the bigger picture, he has different adventures and challenges and realizations along the way. Most of what happens in Cain’s Blood Jeff does not see or know about, but it would explain a lot to him. When writing the teen book, I always kept novels like Perks of Being a Wallflower or Catcher In The Rye in mind. Jeff is a tougher nut to crack, however. Biologically, he has tendencies that can make his delivery challenging. Ultimately, he talks/thinks like a lot of boys I know…
What kind of research did you do for these books? Did you research the serial killers and/or the science of the book? What was the most interesting thing you learned? What was the most disturbing thing you learned?
The main topics I researched were serial killers, cloning, military science, post-traumatic stress syndrome (which Castillo suffers from), and the genetics of violence. I love research; it’s my favorite part of writing. So fifty-plus books, articles, taped interviews with serial killers, biographies (focusing on the killers’ childhoods), the latest psychiatric and genetic research I could find, and a whole lot of studying teenaged boys (students and my two teenaged sons): how they talk, move, think.
Of all of it, what disturbed me out most was the military science. I’d started down that rabbit hole and soon came to just god-awful things America has done in the name of our country’s defense. The trillions spent, most in black budgets none of us know about. The apologies for secret testing done for fifty years on everyone from mental patients and prisoners to children and entire cities. Murders that have been committed, and admitted to… in the name of military science. One night, late, and deep into some really conspiratorial documents, I fully expected my front door to be kicked open; the men in black saying “he knows.” We’ve done (are doing) some awful stuff.
Were you able to ascertain how close we are to doing the type of human cloning described in the book?
Close. If not, already. The speed with which we went from toads to sheep to monkeys was astonishing. Dolly to the monkey was just three years. The confirmed monkey was fourteen years ago, and the science has only improved in leaps and bounds since then. One of the men who crafted Dolly said human cloning was impossible to prevent. What surprised me most were the cloning laws in this country: almost none. We assume too much.
What question do you hope to be asked about this book? Here’s your chance to ask and answer that question.
Are we shaped more by our Nature or our Nurture? I’ve landed on a 50/50 split, with each providing both weaknesses and strengths. Ultimately, Jeff and Castillo realize, the choices we make can and should supersede both foundations.