THE BLOODLINE OF YULE trilogy consists of three YA novels by Maria Alexander: SNOWED, SNOWBOUND, and SNOWBLIND.
The three books take the connections between jolly Christmas elf Santa Claus and demonic Yuletide entity Krampus and posit that he’s really the same being, the Klaas. Depending on what mood he’s in, the Klaas can manifest as either Santa or Krampus. He spends most of the year in his icy snowbound fortress at the North Pole, but can find anyone with The List.
In SNOWED, the Klaas’s son and heir apparent Aidan runs away and meets mortal tech-whiz teenager Charity Jones. The two fall in love, which puts Charity and her friends in mortal danger from the Klaas and assorted other creatures from folklore that includes Gaelic tales and Arthurian mythology. The action eventually moves to the Klaas fortress, where more perils and big changes await all the characters.
Alexander previously won a Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association for her adult novel MR. WICKER. Speaking by phone, Alexander talks about THE BLOODLINE OF YULE trilogy.
ASSIGNMENT X: You had written a long time ago a story about Santa Claus from the point of view of a severely abused elf, which feels a little like a prologue to THE BLOODLINE OF YULE. What is the name of that story, and when did you write it?
MARIA ALEXANDER: The name of the story is “Coming Home,” and I wrote it around Christmas in 1997, but it wasn’t published for a couple of years.
AX: Were you already interested in Krampus at that point, or did that in any way play into your interest in the Krampus mythology?
ALEXANDER: I would say it more played into it. At the time, I was just deeply unhappy with Christmas, and that was all I knew, that I didn’t like Christmas [laughs]. The idea of this evil Santa, or this Santa that people didn’t really understand, they didn’t understand his motivations, they didn’t understand what was really going on, that was something I was more interested in. I didn’t encounter Krampus for many, many years.
I think I really started to get interested in Krampus whenever it was I first saw RARE EXPORTS [the 2010 Finnish horror film]. And I think even before then, I think I might have gotten some wind of Krampus on YouTube, because of the Perchten walks, but in America, they call them Krampus walks, because that’s what we know [laughs].
AX: What were you searching for on YouTube that led you to the Perchten Walks?
ALEXANDER: I’m not sure exactly what I was searching for, but I think I came across one of those videos of the Perchten Walk, or the Krampus Parade, the Perchten Parade in Austria. That’s when I really started to get interested [in Krampus].
AX: You had written the adult novel MR. WICKER and a lot of short fiction and poetry before you got into writing THE BLOODLINE OF YULE trilogy. So, was the trilogy something you’d had bouncing around your head for a while, or was that something that solidified more once you were done with MR. WICKER?
ALEXANDER: I had been looking at ways for a very long time to expand “Coming Home” into a novel-length piece, but I really wasn’t sure – and it wasn’t until – it really honestly wasn’t solid until after I left Disney [where Alexander worked as a copywriter for the Parks and Resorts Online division]. It was in the fall of 2012 where it all really came together, and I said, “Ah, this is what I’m going to do.” And that’s when I started writing.
AX: What did you know about it when you started? Did you already know it would be a trilogy?
ALEXANDER: I knew it would be YA. I wasn’t sure it was going to be a trilogy, because at the time, when I first started writing, this was a very sweet story. What I started writing was nothing like what I wound up writing. I had outlined this huge fantasy novel, very nice, nothing too heavy. But when it was when I got to Chapter 5, and somebody was murdered horribly, I just wrote that, and I stopped and said, “Hmm. This is right, and I need to rethink this entire book.” And I did, and it actually came together very quickly, once I understood what it was I was writing.
AX: What was your understanding at that time?
ALEXANDER: Then I knew I was writing a horror novel.
AX: When did you come up with the idea of the Klaas, and Santa and Krampus being the same entity?
ALEXANDER: I actually realized that in the nice version. But there wasn’t going to be much encounter with Krampus, and there certainly weren’t going to be any encounters with the elves looking for anybody. So, that was not going to be part of it. So, it wasn’t until I realized this was a horror novel, and this was something really dark, and that there was a thriller element and all that, that I said, “Oh, now he’s going to be much more part of this book, and he’s going to be the main antagonist.”
AX: Was the romance between Charity and Aidan your starting point, or was your starting point, “What if there was a Klaas and the Klaas had a son?”
ALEXANDER: Well, I think that started at the very beginning of “Coming Home.” That was the original idea, and then, when I realized it was going to be the basic idea, I realized that I had to bring in all these other relationships. And at the time, because I still like writing a certain amount of romance, I realized that that was one of the relationships that would be in it. But there were also the family relationships, parental relationships, there would be parallels – relationships which I could compare and contrast between them all, like Charity’s relationship with her dad, which is really awesome, but also Aidan’s relationship with his dad, which is not awesome at all. That was when I realized I needed to build up all these other relationships in the book, that that was what was going to help me flesh it out as a story.
AX: Because the mythology thickens and branches out as you go on, were these things you found in your research of Krampus, were you going, “Wait, we need some more mythology in here,” or how did that all come in?
ALEXANDER: As soon as I started researching Krampus, I realized, “Oh, of course. Santa Claus is a fertility figure. This is all coming from pagan Yule mythology, Norse mythology. One of Odin’s names is “the Father of Yule.” And so, as I kept doing more and more research, and looking more and more into the mythology and the folklore, everything was tied together. And that’s when it became THE BLOODLINE OF YULE. It became a trilogy when my agent said it needed to be a trilogy [laughs]. But at that point, when he said that, I already had ideas. My brain had already sort of sketched out the next two books, and part of it was because of the mythology, how I started seeing that everything was interconnected.
AX: Are there elements in the trilogy that are purely yours? For example, is the Withering part of the mythology, or is that yours?
ALEXANDER: That’s mine.
AX: Can you point out some other things that you added to the mythos?
ALEXANDER: The entire fortress in the second book. The presentation of the Wind-Climbers instead of reindeer, those are mine, although those are based on the Finnish Goats of Christmas. So, there were some things that I just took and made into new things. Other things, I just made up wholesale, like the Withering. But even the fortress – we know that there’s the North Pole, there’s Santa’s workshop. I just made that, what would it be if this was who Santa really was? Well, it’s not going to be a workshop [laughs], it’s going to be this horror shop of all of these hideous things. The Mothers, which are very Lovecraftian, are mine, although there’s certainly a Lovecraftian influence that readers have pointed out, rightly so.
AX: Any Superman Fortress of Solitude there?
ALEXANDER: Maybe a little bit. I’m not a big Superman fan, but I’ve always seen Santa as a solitary figure. And the whole back story of Aidan’s parents, it’s in my head, I just haven’t written it, that all informs that, why he has to be in solitude. He tried not to be for quite a while, and it just didn’t work out.
AX: Before your agent said, “This should be a trilogy,” was the first book showing signs of being a large door-stop, or did you just continue the story you had to make it fill out a trilogy?
ALEXANDER: I couldn’t make it a large door-stop, because YA, especially if it’s your debut novel, can’t be more than 75,000 words. That’s what my agent told me, and that was actually something I’d heard in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as well. So, I was trying to keep – if it was going to go on longer, I had to keep that first cliffhanger at the end of SNOWED, and I couldn’t go beyond that, because that was really pretty much about 72,000 words.
AX: From the YA standpoint, is THE BLOODLINE OF YULE trilogy considered YA primarily because the characters are in their teens?
ALEXANDER: It’s YA because it’s told through the point of view of a teenager. In general, in the publishing industry, YA is defined as a story told by a teenager to another teenager. So, while you can have stories about teenagers that are clearly adult novels, not just because of the subject matter, but because the perspective is a much more mature mind, YA is much more aimed at a teenage perspective and sensibility.
AX: You have several very tech-savvy characters. Was the tech something you had to research heavily, or was that something you had some ideas about to begin with?
ALEXANDER: I had a few ideas, but I talked to friends. I am really blessed to have a lot of friends who are scientists, and engineers, and all kinds of folk who could help me with those parts. So, I just had to ask questions. I got a lot of help with the second book in terms of research [into multiple subjects]. One of them was from a professor of Medieval German, who helped me with the magical phrases for all the gates, et cetera.
AX: Are there questions about THE BLOODLINE OF YULE trilogy that you would like to be asked?
ALEXANDER: I would like you to ask about, were there any frustrations, or particular obstacles I had to overcome once it came out?
AX: Were there?
AX: What were they?
ALEXANDER: [laughs] What a lot of people don’t realize is that, in the YA publishing industry, atheism is practically taboo. There are fewer books written from the perspective of an atheist character than any other perspective in YA, even than from a Muslim perspective. So, I didn’t understand why my publicist had trouble getting the book reviewed. That was very difficult. The School Library Journal review was done by a Mormon librarian, and so of course those results were disappointing.
I didn’t understand why people were so reluctant to touch it, and why some of the reviews were a little odd that were coming up on Goodreads. People were talking about stereotypes. And I was like, “What are you talking about, stereotypes?” And then finally, I realized much later, after a conversation with a bookseller, that it was because the Christian kids in the first book are depicted as not behaving well. And I said, “Oh, my gosh, of course.” Those kids are not based on real people, but it’s based on real behavior that we see in news headlines all the time. And that’s what the claims of stereotypes were about – “Oh, it’s just a stereotype that Christian kids bully gay kids.” I’m like, “Well, that really happens.” That’s been all over the news.
So, I don’t know how to approach any of that, but it was certainly a huge obstacle in getting people to read it. So, to overcome that, I just started approaching humanist and atheist organizations that I knew, and people that I knew, and asked them to read the book, to review the book, and they’ve been very supportive. And of course, I also have Christian friends who read it, and they just loved it. It wasn’t a problem for them, but definitely for some people, pointing out that certain religious groups, at least the dominant white Christian population, has behavior problems at times, is problematic, apparently [laughs].
So, ultimately, if nothing else, SNOWED is what they call a window book. It gives you a view of what it’s like for a minority character, not just because Charity is biracial, but because she’s a nonbeliever. She has no religion. And that’s something that I feel very strongly about, and that I love about her.
AX: Might you continue THE BLOODLINE OF YULE series beyond the trilogy? Because the third book sets up a new paradigm.
ALEXANDER: Right. I’ve thought a lot about it – I’m not ready to write anything else, except perhaps to go backwards, and write that story about Aidan’s parents, because I’ve gotten a lot of requests for it. But I think I will. I mean, I have been entertaining a lot of ideas, including about [Charity’s friend] Michael and what happens to Michael in the Withering, and Charity as well, because she needs to go back. And when she’s over there, who is she going go with, and what’s going to happen, and can she get back to her life? There are a lot of questions about that. And does she want to go back to her life?
AX: Can you say what you’re working on now?
ALEXANDER: Right now, I am working on a memoir. It’s about some extraordinary things that happened to me in 1994, 1995, and the beginning of 1996. During the pandemic, while we’ve all been isolated, it’s given me a lot of time to think about what’s important to me as a writer, what needs to be written, because people are dying all around me. There’s always this risk of dying anyway, but now, it feels so much more substantial, and I just needed to decide for myself, what is the most important thing for me to be writing? And I decided it was that, that was the story I needed to tell.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE BLOODLINE OF YULE trilogy?
ALEXANDER: It’s unlike anything that they’ve ever read before, and that even if they don’t like horror, or they think they don’t like horror, I hope that they would give it a shot. Because a lot of people who’ve always said that they don’t like horror have tried it, and they’ve said, “Oh, my God, this is amazing, and it’s not what I always consider horror.”
Related: Book Review: SNOWBLIND
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Article: Exclusive Interview: Author Maria Alexander talks about her trilogy of horror Christmas novels SNOWED, SNOWBOUND and SNOWBLIND