Interview: Suzanne Young talks In Nightfall, grandmothers, and what’s next

In Nightfall. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
In Nightfall. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

Suzanne Young’s latest book is In Nightfall, a thrilling horror novel with a heart at its core. It follows Theo Maggione who is spending her summer in Nightfall. At first, she is having a pretty good time. But that changes when she finds what the town is hiding in the dark.

I love Suzanne Young’s Girls with Sharp Sticks series because of how much she focuses on empowering female characters. She does that in In Nightfall as well but in a completely different rare. It’s a riveting story.

I was lucky enough to be able to interview Suzanne Young about her new book, why she sticks to the young adult genre, who the character of Nonna is inspired by, and what’s coming up next for her.

Author Suzanne Young. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
Author Suzanne Young. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

Suzanne Young shares her inspiration for In Nightfall and what’s coming next

Culturess: What sparked the idea for this story? Why vampires? Why a secretive town?

Suzanne Young: The first spark for IN NIGHTFALL started with the iconic 80’s film The Lost Boys—a pair of siblings moving to a new beach town that happens to be infested with vampires. But in Nightfall, the bloodthirsty creatures are teenage girls with really bad attitudes. At the same time, I knew this was a story about family—about a sister and brother supporting their father and getting to know their grandmother (who also happens to be the coolest nonna around), and accepting and grieving their parents’ divorce.

There’s something alluring about vampires, a cool-kids club, that despite the danger… we all still flock to. In real life, they must just have the same effect. More than just the vampire queens, though, I wanted the town of Nightfall to feel real, to play its own part in the story. Who wouldn’t want to go to a Midnight Dive parade? The place is awesome and creepy at the same time.

Culturess: Your past books have focused on female friendships and how girls empower one another. How do you feel this book gets that message across?

Suzanne Young: My last series was wholly focused on the power of female friendship. This time, IN NIGHTFALL focuses more on acceptance and understanding of others than on the deep bonds of the friendships we’d all love to have.

The truth is, we can’t be friends with everyone we meet, and in Nightfall, these are certainly not the type of girls you’d invite inside for a sleepover. But as the book progresses, what you come to find is understanding about why the girls of Nightfall are this way. And there is a poignant moment toward the end where the main character’s grandmother really brings the message into perspective. We should respect the lives of others when we can, even if they’re not our best friends. And at the same time, sometimes those we are closest with can hurt us. Ultimately, you have to understand yourself and your boundaries to know how best to support other girls and women.

Culturess: The book cover is so striking and gorgeous. How did it come about? What kind of say did you have in it?

Suzanne Young: Thank you! I adore this cover art designed by the talented Colin Verdi. My editor and I kicked around quite a few ideas for the cover, but when she showed me Colin’s other work, I was all-in on his designs. For my part, I gave character descriptions and a basic vibe of their personalities. But I knew from the first mock-up that we’d stuck gold. I feel this cover really captures that cool, alluring quality of both the girls and Nightfall itself.

Culturess: Without giving any spoilers, Nonna, Theo, and Marco’s grandmother, is AMAZING. How did her character come about?

Suzanne Young: Nonna was completely inspired by my own grandmother, I must admit. She was feisty, funny, and I have no doubt she could have slayed a few monsters in her day. But of course, my Nightfall Nonna took on a life of her own. She has some quirks, for sure, and a lot of tough love to give. But I think my favorite part about Nonna is her sense of humor, that cutting way she speaks the truth while also holding back her smile. I loved how her relationship grew with Theo and the true love and respect they taught each other. Honestly, I put so much love into Nonna because I miss my own grandmother so much. I knew she had to be special.

Culturess: Divorce and how it affects everyone in the family from the kids to the parents is a thread throughout the book. What about that experience did you want to convey with In Nightfall?

Suzanne Young: Divorce can feel like a world destroyer, especially when it seems like no one is listening to how it has affected you. Theo and her brother know their parents love them, but they are caught in the aftershocks of the breakup. The siblings lean on each other instead of grieving their changing family, they act out, they blame themselves—even if they know it’s not their fault. I think the biggest struggle for them both, but especially Theo, is this sense of abandonment she feels by her mother. She knows she has to deal with it, but it hurts to talk about so she does all she can to avoid the pain, replacing it instead with anger.

Unfortunately, as the story goes on and Theo’s brother becomes distant, she loses her lifeline to avoidance. She feels misunderstood, abandoned, and ignored. I’ve been there. But I think through her relationship with Nonna, seeing the kindness and fierce love that her grandmother has, Theo forgives her family, accepts the loss, and even begins to look forward to what the future could hold. Of course, she has to survive Nightfall first.

Culturess: Like the Girls with Sharp Sticks series, In Nightfall is a young adult book. What about that audience draws you to writing for it? What do you think you can get across in YA that you maybe can’t in another age range?

Suzanne Young: It’s all subjective, but I think certain stories work better for certain audiences. We all get a little more cynical with age, we experience the good and bad that life has to offer. I think what’s great about young adult fiction is that some of the stories hit on issues that affect us at this really raw moment in life. Dealing with your parents’ divorce is different at 17 than it would be at 37. First love, first breakup—those are all life-changing experiences. And when it comes to saving the world, young adults have a bit more invincibility to them. You think teenagers wouldn’t be among the first to believe in monsters and fight back? I happen to think they would. I happen to think they can save the world.

Culturess: What’s next? I know you also have a middle-grade book out (What Stays Buried). Can you say if there is another book in the works and what it’s about?

Suzanne Young: I have a couple of new proposals with editors now, one adult thriller and another middle grade. However, the big focus for 2023 is the relaunch of my NYTimes bestselling The Program series. We’re coming up on the 10th anniversary, so Simon & Schuster is releasing the full 6-book series with new cover designs and a fresh edit. The series continues to be my most popular, and I’m excited to give readers a fresh look at the characters I’ve spent half of my career writing about. As I said at the end of the last book, “The Program is forever.”

In Nightfall is available now in ebook, audiobook, and paperback formats.

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