Tantalize Readers Guide

Warning: Plot Spoilers

discussion questions


  • TANTALIZE opens with a prologue in which Kieren accidentally hurts Quincie. She carries the scars on her hand. What do these scars symbolize in the story?
  • After meeting Vaggio’s girlfriends at his funeral, Quinice observes, “It was funny, though, the things you didn’t learn about people until after they died.” How does this observation relate to the story that follows?
  • Werepeople often are unfairly targeted by misconceptions and suspicion. What analogies can you draw from this to the real world?
  • Because he can’t control his inner Wolf, Kieren feels like he needs to leave those he loves to protect them. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • There are several possible suspects in Vaggio’s death, including Kieren and Mitch. Who did you first think was the killer? Did your opinion change over the course of the story? How and why?
  • How would you describe Quincie at the beginning of the book? Does she change over time? Is she a reliable narrator at all times? Why or why not?
  • Quincie tries to help Brad remake himself as a passable “vampire chef.” Can you think of other stories in which one character tries to help another change? Do you think anyone can really change another person? Why or why not?
  • Quincie reads Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” in English class. Read this story. How does it relate to her relationship with Kieren?
  • Sanguini’s is the fictional, vampire-themed restaurant in the story. How is it like other restaurants? What gives it its special flare?
  • How does the Austin setting impact the story? How would you describe it? How about its location in the southwestern United States?
  • Brad references the importance of free will. How does Quincie’s will matter to her story?
  • What is the relationship between wine and blood? What do Quincie’s addictions cost her?

author interview questions

Q: What inspired the relationship between your young adult novel, TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007), and the gothic classic DRACULA?

DraculaA: In Abraham “Bram” Stoker’s novel DRACULA (1897), readers meet a hero named Quincey P. Morris, a Texan, described as “a gallant gentleman.” Ultimately, Morris helps destroy Dracula by plunging a bowie knife into his heart as Morris’ companion Jonathan Harker cuts Dracula’s head off. Though Morris dies, too, Harker and his wife Mina later call their infant son “Quincey” in their late friend’s honor.

Perhaps because I live in Austin, Irishman Stoker’s choice of a Texan for one of the novel’s heroes has long intrigued me. Though my mythology and sensibility deviate, the naming of my “Quincie P. Morris” is a tribute to one of Stoker’s original vampire hunters, updated and gender flipped.

Quincie became my twenty-first century hero—a young woman wrestling with an after-school job, first love, and one hell of a drinking problem.

Q: What nods to DRACULA may be found within TANTALIZE?

A: My overt nods to Stoker’s classic vary in degree and importance. Quincie confides that she was named for “some great, great (I didn’t know how many greats) uncle. A Texas war hero.” My vampire chef’s name is Brad, “‘[a]s in ‘Vlad,’ like the Prince of Transylvania,’” acknowledging Vlad (Tepes), “The Impaler.” A bowie knife—possibly the same one the historical Quincey used—hangs above Brad’s fireplace, and more than once, Brad paraphrases Dracula’s invitation to “enter freely and of your own free will.” Ultimately, it is Quincie’s will, her willpower that determines her fate.

But it’s still a long time from the 19th to the 21rst century, and a long way from Transylvania or London to Austin, Texas. Though I pay tribute to Stoker, the master’s tastes and mine differ on character, plot, fantasy construction, and cultural perspective.

Q: Is TANTALIZE a retelling of DRACULA? If not, how would you describe it?

A: One key question was when to embrace Stoker’s influence and when to shrink from it. I discounted the idea of retelling the story and chose to extend it instead. I hope to revisit the universe in future books and further develop this.

Q: How do the novels compare?

A: The original Quincey P. Morris doesn’t enter DRACULA until well into the book, and he’s a secondary character. My Quincie is the protagonist. She was the one in greatest jeopardy, and so I followed the stakes to her.

DRACULA asks hard questions about invasion, corruption, sexuality, and gender, but the characters start and end as essentially the same people. TANTALIZE touches on prejudices, corruption, sensuality, and gender—so there are parallels. However, my main characters do change and grow. Quincie herself changes in more ways than one—not entirely for the better, but in the end, for the greater good.

Q: What about other literary inspirations?

“My Fair Lady” is my favorite musical, but when I saw a production while writing TANTALIZE, the Embassy Ball scene struck me in a way that it never had before. Eliza’s first triumph was in dancing with the prince of Transylvania, which made me think of the relationship between vampires and transformations in a more romantic light.

TANTALIZE and DRACULA (at least so far as its leading ladies are concerned) are transformation stories. So I nodded to Ovid’s “Pygmalion” as well as its more contemporary descendants “My Fair Lady,” “Pretty Woman,” and “She’s All That.”

That said, TANTALIZE isn’t a classic “Pygmalion” story. The changes Brad and Quincie prompt in one another are largely external. Her internal growth is inspired by her struggle with love and addiction—as symbolized in her friend Kieren and the blood “alcoholism” Brad induces—to achieve independence.

Q: Are those the only literary references found in TANTALIZE?

A: The Ovid and Stoker, which again are both from the long line of transformation stories, were the overt influences in terms of story structure. However, classics fans may note the following minor references:

  1. When Quincie mentions that she calls her planner book “Frank,” vampire Brad asks if she named it after Frankenstein, harkening to the novel by Mary Shelley;
  2. Brad also has a waitress drop off a glass of wine to Quincie with the message “In a Glass Darkly,” referring to a short story collection by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which included a tale of a female vampire, Carmilla, often said to have influenced Stoker;
  3. Quincie—unsure whether to trust her friend Kieren—finds herself taking a quiz in English class on “Young Goodman Brown,” a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne wherein the protagonist questions the innocence of his wife;
  4. Quincie notes that Sanguini’s bouncers Ian and Jerome have “noses that rivaled Cyrano’s,” referring to Rostand’s hero from “Cyrano de Bergerac;”
  5. Quincie’s uncle’s girlfriend Ruby compares Quincie’s love of Sanguini’s to Scarlett’s for Tara in Gone With the Wind;
  6. One of the chapter titles is Bat Man, a tribute to the “Batman” comics, originated by Bob Kane

Q: Let’s return to the undead. How did choose from the various vampire mythologies to form your own? Did you return to the Stoker or draw from modern influences?

A: I decided my vampires, like Stoker’s, would be strong, potentially immortal, drink blood, transform humans into their kind, and walk in daylight, though it dampens their powers. (Vulnerability to the sun comes more from the film than literary tradition).

As far as weaknesses went, destruction via a stake, knife, or decapitation seemed too quintessential to discard, though I left the silver-bullet question open (because my world included shape-shifters). Plus, if only for its hellish connotation, I figured fire should be able to destroy anything.

Speaking of religion, I expanded the array of religious symbols available to vampire hunters to include those of non-Christian faiths. Garlic also stayed in play, if only because Quincie’s family restaurant was Italian.

Along the way, I added some limits to keep the conflict more fairly matched. Whether my vampires can turn into wolves, bats, dust, or mist depends on their age and experience. Their ability to enthrall is left open to future interpretation.

It’s unlikely that vampires as young as those in TANTALIZE can reduce their size, though, for the same reason they can’t turn into bats—the need for power to divert the excess mass. I discounted the concept of no reflection (and didn’t address that of shadows) because, given the way the eye actually works, it doesn’t make sense and seemed like a too-easy way to identify the undead. What’s more, I wanted to give my vampires a potential for moral vision, the ability to see themselves, that Stoker’s lacked.

There is some ambiguity as to whether an invitation is per se needed to enter a residence, but as mentioned, Brad seems fond of them, which is not to suggest my vampires have trouble getting around.

Though Dracula “can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide,” at least of his own volition (he can travel by boat), I decided Austin’s bridges were sufficient for my vampires to cross the (dammed) Colorado River. Once turned, though, Quincie does express vague discomfort when in close proximity of Town Lake, one of the river’s dammed sections.

Q: You mentioned shape shifters. I don’t remember any of those from DRACULA. What inspired that expansion to your fantasy world?

A: Unlike DRACULA, the TANTALIZE universe includes vampires and shape shifters. That said, Stoker’s Count may take the form of a wolf or a bat, making him in a sense a shape shifter, too—an unnatural and unholy one.

Throughout the centuries, wolves and bats have suffered enough bad PR without my piling on more, but I still wanted to use those vampyric powers. So, I juxtaposed against them the concept of naturally-born werewolves and, beyond that, added a whole array of shifters that traced their lineage back to (at least) the Ice Age, a time of great beasts like this giant armadillo who inspired the character Travis.

Fossil Armadillo

Giant Armadillo

Q: Earlier you said something about your “cultural perspective” varying from Stoker’s. Could you give us a couple of examples?

A: Though Dracula and Brad both share a bent for conquest, Stoker’s implications about his lead vampire as the “dark” foreigner, the threatening East, and all matters gypsy didn’t fly for me. I kept the setting to sunny Austin and discarded the need for vampires to sleep on their native soil. What’s more, my world is as diverse as our real one in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation, and that diversity is reflected among good, the bad, and the majority struggling in between.

Beyond that, in DRACULA, upper class women are cast as virginal saints, at least until they’re turned into vampires. Then it’s their sexuality that seems to constitute evidence of their unholy natures. Not surprising, given fantasy’s role as analogy. In the Victorian age, sexually assertive/healthy women—human or otherwise—were considered monstrous. In contrast, my modern Quincie as a human girl has typical teen romantic interests, directed mostly toward a boy she’s loved all her life. Her vulnerability stems not from desire but from her lack of faith in its object. From there, Quincie isn’t a protected character, but she isn’t per se tainted or made unholy by Brad’s blood. Instead, it is left up to her to lose or redefine herself—freely and of her own will.

Q: Let’s close the coffin. Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: I’m only the latest in what may be an eternal line of storytellers revisiting the vampire mythology, including Bram Stoker’s DRACULA. That classic lives on, so to speak, because of the questions it raises not about mythical monsters, but those within.