Greek Mythology Meets Death Cab: Seven Questions with YA Author Bree Despain

“Fate is no match for true love.”
That’s the concise teaser for The Immortal Throne, book 3 in the Into the Dark series by fan favorite Bree Despain, out now from Carolrhoda Lab. Oh, but how Fate will try–at every delicious plot twist.
From the jacket copy:

Daphne Raines knew it was risky to enter the underworld to save the love of her life, Haden, who had sacrificed his own honor as an Underlord for her sake. But she could never have predicted that she’d end up betrothed to Haden’s conniving half-brother, Garrick, new King of the Underrealm—and bound to his dark world.

Even worse, Haden is banished to the mortal realm, and has just days to live as poison takes over his body and mind. Only Daphne’s kiss can save him, but how can she escape Garrick and reach Haden in time? Surprises lurk around every corner in the final chapter of this epic romance story, as Haden and Daphne fight to fulfill their destinies.

After working with Bree through the editorial process on this action-packed romp, I recently caught up with her to give our readers some insights into the series. 
I also got this amazing photo of Bree and family dressed up as characters from The Princess Bride for Halloween. Perfect!

The Into the Dark series is a modern adventure and romance based on the Greek myth of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, and Hades, the god of the Underworld. What inspired you to write an epic story based on that myth in particular? And how did music become such a big part of your modern adaptation?
Music is a big part of my adaptation because music was my inspiration. I used to be obsessed with the song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie. I used to listen to it on a loop in my car while running my errands. To me the song is about being willing to follow someone into the unknown for the sake of love. This got me thinking about what it would be like to follow someone into the dark, or what it would be like to have to ask the person you love to follow you into the unknown. These questions made me think about about two of my favorite Greek myths: Hades and Persephone, and Orpheus and Eurydice (the story about the great musician who traveled into the Underworld to try to save his recently deceased bride). Haden was inspired by Hades, tasked with trying to convince Daphne to travel with him to the Underrealm, while Daphne is a mix of Persephone and Orpheus–which is where her musical powers come from. I loved the idea of using music as a super power.
Persephone doesn’t get much agency in the original myth, as she’s kidnapped and tricked by Hades. In contrast, the Into the Dark heroine, Daphne, is a strong, modern young woman who isn’t about to let anyone but herself determine her fate. How did you shape her character? How did that affect the shape of Haden’s character? 
What’s interesting is that in the earliest (lesser known) versions of the Persephone myth, she actually was a strong, powerful, character who willingly chose to go into Underworld of her own free will because she had compassion for the dead and saw the realm’s need for a queen. According to many scholars, her story was changed over time because the idea of a young woman willingly choosing to leave her home and family in exchange for power was considered to be “dangerous” by patriarchal societies. In writing Into the Dark, I wanted a chance to give Persephone her power back. I wanted Daphne to be the embodiment of free will, while Haden comes from a society where they believe fate dictates all of their actions. It was fun to let them butt heads over their different ideologies–as well as many other things. 🙂
Each book in this trilogy is its own epic adventure. What was your process like in laying out and writing the series? Did you have the final paragraph of The Immortal Throne, the last book, written from the start (a la J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter)? A rough outline for each book? What types of snags did you hit along the way in terms of character building, world building, or plot execution?
I originally thought the story was going to be one book, but when my outline came in at over 40 pages long, my agent and first editor helped me realize that it was actually a trilogy. I then had to take that massive outline and break it into three parts. However, I didn’t want it to read like one book cut into three sections, so the biggest challenge was to make sure each book in the trilogy had its own satisfying character and story arcs. I always want my characters to learn and grow in some way in each book in the series.
You have many enthusiastic fans, and you often have opportunities to meet them face to face at conventions such as Salt Lake Comic Con and bookstore events. What kinds of feedback from readers stick with you most? 
I am so flattered and excited every time I hear from a reluctant reader that one of my books got them interested in reading for the first time. I have a reading disability and I often struggled when reading difficult books as a child, so I work hard to make sure my books are fun and accessible while still tackling complex topics. Nothing makes me happier than hearing, “I didn’t like to read until I found your book. Now I read all the time.”  
Who was your favorite character in this series to write? Why?
Hands down, my answer has to be Haden. He is my most favorite character to write out of all of my books so far. I love the idea that he is this stoic Underrealm prince, taught to hide his emotions, who is suddenly thrust into the chaos and hotbed of teen angst that is a modern day high school. He is told that in order to convince Daphne to return with him to the underworld, he has to get her to fall in love with him–and yet he has never really even met a girl before and has no idea what love is. He is the ultimate fish out of water. I had so much fun writing about all of the mistakes he makes trying to navigate this new life. 
What advice might you pass along to aspiring writers of epic fiction, or aspiring writers in general?
This is my writing mantra: “Great books aren’t written–they’re revised!” First drafts are inherently crappy. Revision is where the magic happens. I meet so many writers who get hung up on the idea that their first draft needs to be perfect (or they think it’s perfect and don’t want to change anything). Give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft, and be willing to make the changes later that will make it great. 
What’s up next for you?

I’m trying my hand at a middle grade time travel adventure story. About a year ago, my boys asked me if I would write a story for them, so I told them about an idea that I have been mulling over for the last seventeen years. (Yes, seventeen!) They were excited by the idea and ended up sitting with me for the next six hours, helping me plot out the story. The whole thing has become a family affair with my husband joining me as my co-author and my sons regularly contributing ideas for cool gadgets and gags. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book!  
Thanks so much, Bree! 

Check out The Immortal Throne now, as well as The Shadow Prince and The Eternity Key, the first two Into the Dark books, from Carolrhoda Lab.