author interview: caragh o’brien

I’m so thrilled to have a very special person on visiting my blog today: author Caragh O’Brien!! For those who don’t know her: Caragh wrote the Birthmarkedtrilogy which is also one of my all-time favorite series! German readers might know the book under the name Die Stadt der verschwundenen Kinder which was published by Heyne fliegt, with the last book Der Weg der gefallenen Sterne being released last year in April. Caragh was kind enough to chat with me about her books as well as about her current project, The Vault of Dreamers. So without further ado, here’s the interview:

Promised has been out for more than a year now. But how did you feel when you wrote the end of the trilogy?

German Edition of Birthmarked
German Edition of Birthmarked

First, let me say thanks, Lillie, for inviting me by for an interview. I’m glad you were able to find time to come up with such thoughtful questions between your school projects.  When I wrote the end of the trilogy, I felt rather torn.  I knew I would miss the characters and the world of Birthmarked, especially Gaia and Leon, but I also felt like I brought them to the right place to let them go.  Fortunately, by the time the paperback version of Promised was in production, my editor invited me to write some new content for the back matter, so I was able to revisit the world once last time to come up with a few post-novel sketches, hinting at where the characters might be afterward.  That was fun for me.

Gaia, the heroine of Birthmarked, is one of the strongest female lead characters in a book I’ve ever read although she’s not a flawless one – in a literal sense. What was the biggest challenge in creating such a multifaceted character? What key characteristics did you want to incorporate within her?

German edition of book 2

Thanks, Lillie.  I loved writing about Gaia and I’m glad she seems strong to you.  One of the biggest challenges in creating Gaia’s character happened in Prized (Book 2), when I had her in a period of uncertainty and captivity.  I took a risk, playing with the strengths of endurance and contemplation rather than action and argument, and I had doubts about whether that made good sense, dramatically.  I’m pleased with how it turned out, though. We aren’t all strong in a feisty way all the time, you know?

Was there a particular scene that you enjoyed writing the most?

Of the whole trilogy?  Gosh, I had lots of favorite scenes.  I threw out anything that wasn’t a favorite, actually.  I suppose I especially like when Gaia argues with Leon in Prized.  There’s a chapter called “Cinnamon” that I’m prone to reread.

What dynamics went into the making of Gaia’s and Leon’s relationship?

I thought quite a lot about the different kinds of power they both had.  For instance, at the beginning, Leon had authority as a guard, while Gaia had strong convictions about the worth of people living outside the wall.  She was inherently distrustful of him, but when Leon did some small favor for Gaia, she was then in his debt.  They often saw high stakes situations differently and argued, but underneath that, they grew to respect and understand each other.  Their evolving relationship felt very real to me.

Sibling bonds play a crucial role in your books. I particularly liked the unconditional solidarity of Leon’s siblings at the end of Promised. Was that something you could relate to out of personal experience?

Leon and his siblings had endured the formative, challenging experience of growing up in the Protctorat’s household, with its complicated tragedies, and since Leon was a decent older brother, it made sense to me that his siblings felt degrees of loyalty to him.  As one of seven siblings, I’m well aware if how close brothers and sisters can be, and how much they influence each other.

Let’s talk about your upcoming novel – how long ago was it when you began to write The Vault of Dreamers? Can you tell us a little bit more about the book?

I had the first ideas for The Vault of Dreamers three years ago, and I’ve been working on it steadily for two years.  It took sixteen drafts before it was ready to go to copyedits, which is a new record of revising for me, but the book has layers and I had to figure them out, starting from the main character’s perspective.  It’s about a prestigious arts school where students are on camera every waking minute.  Their feeds are broadcast for a popular reality show, and at night, they’re required to sleep for twelve hours, ostensibly for their creativity.  When Rosie, a film student, skips her sleeping pill, she discovers something sinister is happening at night.  She has to figure out what to do about that.

Also with regard to your new book, The Vault of Dreamers – how do you get to know your characters? Do you write out a bio, do they just come to you or do you have certain facts you always decide on first?

PromisedThe most important character element to me in The Vault of Dreamers was Rosie’s voice. The novel is told in first person, from Rosie’s perspective, and she was so incredibly perceptive and smart from the very beginning that it was very tricky for me to balance what she knew with what she could not understand.  She’s both fragile and tough, caring and uncertain about how to make friends at her intense, new arts school.  I learned more about her as I wrote the book through her eyes, and then I developed the other characters around her.

Did you have to do a lot of research to write the story, especially as dreams are one of the “main themes” in your new book? 

I did research about dreams and sleep, certainly, and basic neuroscience.  I’m far from an expert–let’s be clear about that.  One curious fact I learned was that dolphins have essentially two brains, one that is awake while the other sleeps, so the dolphin can always be alert.  I thought that was intriguing.  I also felt free to make things up and imagine what medicine will be available in the future.

Were there any differences in the process of writing a YA dystopia vs a  YA thriller-like novel?

For both Birthmarked and The Vault of Dreamers, I wrote about what fascinated me, so at heart, the process was the same.  In a dystopia, the obvious enemy is the state, and the enemy in The Vault of Dreamers is a more subtle, elusive entity.  I was able to play with psychological elements more in this novel, and that was interesting new territory to me. There’s one line, honestly, when I read it, I jump and freak out.  I know it’s coming, but I jump every single time.

Thank you so much again for taking your time for this interview! I can hardly wait to get a copy of The Vault of Dreamers in my hands!

Thanks again, Lillie, for having me by! I hope spring is beautiful in Germany!


About the author (taken from Goodreads):

CaraghOBrienCaragh M. O’Brien is the author of the BIRTHMARKED trilogy and THE VAULT OF DREAMERS, both from Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ms. O’Brien was educated at Williams College and earned her MA from Johns Hopkins University. She recently resigned from teaching high school English in order to write young adult novels. For more information, visit her website or follow her on Facebook.


TheVaultOfDreamersThe Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.
The Vault of Dreamers


BirthmarkedIn the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying.
Birthmarked (Birthmarked, #1)


7 thoughts on “author interview: caragh o’brien

  1. Great interview! The cinnamon chapter gave me one of the best reading moments as well 🙂 I didn’t know Caragh was writing on a new series….I guess I can’t wait to read it either! The blurb sounds so promising!

  2. Oh, was ein tolles Interview. ❤ Ich liebe den 1. Band und muss unbedingt mal weiterlesen. Ich hoffe, es ist ok, dass ich hier auf deutsch schreibe. Mein Englisch ist so mies und ich verstehe es besser, als mich auszudrücken. 😉
    Liebe Grüße

    1. Haha, kein Problem! Ich freue mich über jedes Kommentar 🙂 Ja, die Serie musst du unbedingt zu Ende lesen!! Sie sind einer meiner Lieblingsdystopien.

      1. Dann ist ja gut. 😉 Irgendwann werde ich die Reihe auf jeden Fall beenden. *-*

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