Kiersten White

Y.A. fantasy/horror author
Headshot of a woman.

Photo © blue lily photo

Music composed by Phillip Brunelle.

Kiersten White: It’s funny, because a lot of people think that they know the Frankenstein story and they have this idea of it in their head, whether from the movies or from reading it when they were younger and then when they re-read it, a, yeah, they realize that Victor’s a weasel. And, b, a lot of people are surprised at how eloquent and tragic the monster is, because they get sort of the lumbering almost mute, groaning, green Frankenstein monster in their heads. But in the book, he speaks like a poet. He speaks like he’s straight out of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. And he’s very heartbreaking, because he so eloquently expresses how he has become a monster and it’s not because he was made that way. It’s because he never found anyone to love him and he was rejected from the moment he gained awareness and that turned him into a monster. That is the reason why we still talk about Frankenstein, why we still re-make Frankenstein, why it’s still part of the public consciousness.

Jo Reed: That is author Kiersten White—she’s just written a YA novel based on Mary Shelley classic called The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and this is Art Works, the weekly podcast produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed.

You may be forgiven for not recognizing the name Elizabeth Lavenza—she’s the character who is brought up with and marries Victor Frankenstein—the scientist who created the monster in Mary Shelley’s novel. Elizabeth is a passive observer in Shelley’s book—but she takes on a life of her own in Kiersten White’s retelling. In The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, Elizabeth is the narrator—and it’s through her eyes that we see the story unfold and grow to understand Victor, the monster, and Elizabeth herself. Kiersten follows the outline of the original story closely-- fully inhabiting the world that Mary Shelley created. But in The Dark Descent, Elizabeth’s voice and perspective dominate and the gothic tale begins to tell another story entirely. A best-selling author who writes young adult fiction, Kiersten White is known for taking well-known stories and retelling them. She wrote a trilogy about Vlad the Impaler the model for Dracula—in which Vlad was Lada—a teenage girl and like a kaleidoscope—with that one twist—everything changed.

This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and I re-read it after reading Kiersten White’s The Dark Descent and I got to wondering: is Frankenstein horror, a gothic novel, science fiction or this strange amalgam of all three…

Kiersten White: It really is all three. It’s been hailed as the first modern science fiction novel, but I always view it more as a horror or Gothic novel. The science fiction is very hand-wavy, which is not to diminish what Mary Shelley did in essentially creating a genre. But, for me, the horror and the Gothic elements were what drew me to it.

Jo Reed: What made you decide to tackle this novel from a new perspective?

Kiersten White: So, it came about in kind of a roundabout way. My publisher, Beverly Horowitz, who’s the publisher at Delacorte, and my editor, Wendy Loggia, were talking about how this year was the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein and they wanted to do a re-telling and they wondered who they knew who would, A: want to do a Frankenstein and, B: could write one in four months. And, so, they immediately landed on me. And as soon as they suggested the idea, my brain was just on fire. It was kind of one of those ideas where it was like, “Why didn’t I think of this before?” Because I’ve loved Frankenstein for so long and I really, really love Mary Shelley and I find her so fascinating. So, I knew immediately that I wanted to do it and I wanted to do very direct re-telling. I didn’t want to do a modern re-imagining or anything like that. I wanted to do an actual direct re-telling that was very much a conversation with the original. And, whenever I engage with media, with films, or with books, particularly with the older texts, I generally go in looking like, “Where are the women?” because women aren’t usually there and if they are there, they’re not interesting. And Mary Shelly herself was so dynamic and so fascinating that it’s always almost hurt me a little bit that the women in her book are so uninteresting. They’re very, very one note. And they really exist just to be these beautiful, angelic victims of the hubris and arrogance of the men around them. And, so, I very quickly settled on re-telling the book from Elizabeth Lavenza’s point of view.

Jo Reed: Until I re-read your book, and I’m embarrassed to say, I had a hard time remembering who Elizabeth was.

Kiersten White: Yes!

Jo Reed: Other than Mrs. Frankenstein.

Kiersten White: Yes! No, that is such a common reaction, which when you realize that she’s the bride in Frankenstein. She’s murdered dramatically on their wedding night, which is a spoiler but is a 200-year-old spoiler, so, I don’t feel that bad. It’s fascinating to me how people don’t remember her and I think that’s testimony to the fact that she’s a very unmemorable character, which is really odd, because in the book she has this really bizarre backstory. And, so, the fact that she is so one note and such sort of the stock character that people don’t remember her is really fascinating and really sad to me.

Jo Reed: Let’s go through it a little bit. Elizabeth Lavenza is Victor Frankenstein’s bride.

Kiersten White: Yes.

Jo Reed: Tell us a little bit about the backstory that Mary Shelley presents about Elizabeth.

Kiersten White: Yeah, so, it’s really fascinating. Yeah, so, it’s a little bit different, but depending on whether you read the 1818 edition or the 1831 edition-- there’s debate in Frankenstein circles, which is the better edition. I prefer the 1831. And in this want Elizabeth’s backstory is that the Frankenstein’s are on vacation at Lake Como and they’re touring the forest and they find a hovel with all these starving dirty children, but one of the kids is really beautiful. So, they take her! And Madam Frankenstein presents Elizabeth Lavenza to Victor as a gift! Elizabeth is four or five years old and she’s presented as a gift to another child to be his companion and his friend and his future bride. And, first of all, that’s messed up. But it’s really fascinating, because they never adopt her. She has no legal claim on the family. So, she’s really just sort of there, because they want her to be; and that to me as a women was terrifying. As I was reading that I thought, “Oh, man!” First of all, being given as a gift to another child would mess you up, but then also having known poverty and having known extreme want and then being put into a position where you have enough to eat and you have beautiful clothes and you have an education, but none of it belongs to you and it could all be gone in a heartbeat, if they decided they didn’t like you. Like, what kind of person would that turn you into? And I think for me was the key to unlocking who I felt Elizabeth Lavenza was, because, yes, she presents to the world this beautiful, angelic, kind persona, but she does that as a matter of survival, which I think a lot of women can really relate to.

Jo Reed: Oh, yeah. And I like how complicated you made her. She was not an angel.

Kiersten White: No.

Jo Reed: Nor was she bad! She was somebody who understood the way she had to be seen in order to survive.

Kiersten White: Yea, yes. Elizabeth is a survivor, first and foremost.

Jo Reed: And what you gave her was an interiority, so we know what she’s thinking.

Kiersten White: Mm-hm.

Jo Reed: In Mary Shelley’s telling, we only know her through Victor’s eyes.

Kiersten White: Yes.

Jo Reed: She has no agency. We see her the way Victor sees her. And in your book, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, she herself is the narrator.

Kiersten White: Yes. Yeah, and it was kind of fun getting to mirror that, because the original Frankenstein is first person. It’s an epistolary novel told in letter form, but it’s narrated by Victor and, so, I took the viewpoint that Victor’s an unreliable narrator, because he’s telling his own story.

Jo Reed: Oh, yeah.

Kiersten White: And he’s got a lot of self-interest in making himself looking good and playing himself as the victim when he is not a victim. Everything that happened he brought on himself. And, so, it was fun to kind of mirror that by doing first-person point of view with Elizabeth, so you’re telling the same story; you’re just getting a very different slant on it.

Jo Reed: Well, you really kept so true to the world that Mary Shelley created. And how were you able to, in fact, use Victor’s very limited perspective to build your own Elizabeth?

Kiersten White: That was a fun challenge of this book. I felt like Elizabeth was very much a blank slate, because, as you said, she makes no impression on the reader whatsoever. So, I was free to really sort of create her interior life however I wanted to. And then I was able to look at-- I really deep-dived into Frankenstein and pulled it apart and looked at where is there room for another story within this story. Like, where is there down time, where is there Victor not on the page, but there could be an active story going on there. So, it was a really fun challenge in this book to find space within the original to tell an entirely new story following the same time line and the same events.

Jo Reed: And you really succeeded in that. Remind us who Victor Frankenstein is in Mary Shelley’s novel other than the scientist who created the monster.

Kiersten White: So, Victor Frankenstein in the novel is this young, brilliant scientist and he from a very young age is very motivated and very anxious to sort of defy the bounds of nature and humanity. He feels very sort of bound in by the people around him and by society and he wants to defy everything and everyone, including God. And, so, he goes to university and he begins his own course of study and over the course of several years through very hand-wavy science that he says he’s not going to tell us about, because he doesn’t want anybody to re-create it, he creates a monster. He creates life, brings it to life, and then is like, “Oh, dang, shouldn’t have done that.” And, so, Victor--

Jo Reed: He “Oh, dang, shouldn’t have done that,” very early on.

Kiersten White: Yes!

Kiersten White: Very early on.

Jo Reed: I’m just saying. Like, the creature opened his eyes and Victor was “Uh-oh.”

Kiersten White: Yeah, yeah. That’s very typical of Victor. Like, he gets very obsessive about things, and then as soon as they go wrong he’s like, “Well, I’m going to fall into a fever for a few weeks and forget everything that happened and when I wake up hopefully everything’s just okay.” He’s arrogant, he wants to do something just to see whether or not he can do it, but as soon as things get hard or scary or not what he thought they were going to be, he cuts loose and he runs. And the book basically is exploring the consequences of what happens when creators fail to care for the things that they have created.

Jo Reed: And that’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, though it’s not like you don’t think about that as well. Your Victor is very similar, but a bit different at the same time.

Kiersten White: Yes. Yeah. So, my Victor is the version that other people would see. He would definitely tell you that version of himself, that he’s a misunderstood genius and was really just doing it all for the good of mankind. But we know people like that and the way that they present themselves and the way they mythologize themselves is not necessarily the way that people in their lives are going to know about them or have seen them. I feel like Mary Shelley’s theme of Frankenstein is what makes a monster? And my question that I was exploring was “who makes a monster?” And, so, I focused much more on Victor than on the creature itself.

Jo Reed: In your book, I just want to backtrack for one second, how do you think Elizabeth sees herself?

Kiersten White: That’s a really good question and that’s actually a lot of what motivated me to write Elizabeth. I was very motivated by Mary Shelley’s own life, because Mary Shelley always saw herself as secondary to the men in her life. Her father was a really brilliant political writer and then her husband was the poet Percy Shelley, who I hate, but that’s another story. And even in her own introduction to her own novel in the 1831 reprint, she very much put herself in sort of the backseat role and focused on Percy, which really kind of upset me. And, so, I really used that to inform Elizabeth. Elizabeth views herself as Victor’s companion. That’s her role, that’s her identity, and that’s how she survives. And, so, she’s completely formed and molded herself to be what he needs. And, so, a big portion of the book and her character journey is her realizing, like, “I need to be a person outside of who Victor needs and who is that person going to be?”

Jo Reed: You know it’s baffling. Given who Mary Shelley was, given who her mother was. One of the first feminists in Western Europe, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shelley’s own intellect–given all of that, it’s baffling to me that her female characters are so thinly drawn.

Kiersten White: I feel like it’s a reflection of her life though. I mean, her mother died 10 days after giving birth to her. Her father was sort of very disengaged, re-married a woman who very strongly disliked Mary, and Mary was very much on her own for her education and her life. She ran off with Percy, but part of why she ran off with him is because her father kicked her out. He disowned her when she got pregnant. And, so, she really had nowhere else to turn. She had no money. She was disgraced socially. So, she had no way of making money and she was incredibly dependent on Percy, who was quite fickle. And, if you look at her life, there’s a pattern of women being controlled by men who do not actually care about their well-being. And you see a lot of death around her. Her older sister, her niece, who was Lord Byron’s daughter, several of Mary’s own children, and all of these deaths kind of revolve around the negligence of men. And, so, for her to create these women characters who exist to be victimized by the self-centeredness of the men around her really makes sense to me. I don’t think that she did it deliberately, but I think it’s very much a reflection of her own life experiences

Jo Reed: Well, you do follow the original very closely. Where you writing The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein for people who knew the story, the original story, or people who are coming to it fresh or both? And that’s a little bit of a tough balancing act, no?

Kiersten White: Yeah, it is a very tough balancing act. And I very much wanted it to be both. I wanted it to be a love letter and an homage to Mary Shelley and, so, people who are very familiar with Frankenstein would see so much of it in this book and I also wanted it to function as an introduction. So, maybe someone who hadn’t found Frankenstein accessible or hadn’t been exposed to it in school or for fun would have this sort of as an entry point. And, it was a difficult balance, because I had to have the story stand on its own without any familiarity with Frankenstein, but also work in conversation with it. And it was a really fun challenge, actually. I really enjoyed it. Initially, I did try to make it much closer to the original Frankenstein. I tried to write it as an epistolary novel.

Jo Reed: I was going to ask you. Yeah.

Kiersten White: Yeah, so, in letters. There’s a reason we don’t write epistolary novels anymore and that’s that they’re boring.


Kiersten White: So, that one did not work. I wrote about 100-150 pages that way and realized it just was not going to work. And, so, I had to throw that away. But at that point, I knew Elizabeth, I knew the story that I wanted to tell with her and, so, writing this version I actually wrote it in about six days.

Jo Reed: Oh, my God, seriously?

Kiersten White: Yeah. Yeah. And it was kind of this wonderful sort of magical fever dream writing experience where I felt almost very connected to Mary Shelley and the original way that she wrote Frankenstein: on a dare at like this dark and stormy villa. And just got the idea and just started writing that day. Mine was a little bit different: I was writing in sunny San Diego, sitting outside in the sunshine watching my three kids play, typing about re-animating dead bodies, but, yeah, so, I just needed to find the right way to tell the story and once I did, it came together very, very quickly.

Jo Reed: Remind us of how the original Frankenstein came together. I am sure many people know it, but it’s such a wonderful story, it always bears re-telling.

Kiersten White: Yes, oh, it is such a great story. Okay, so, at this point Mary and Percy were able to get married. She had lost their first baby and they had another baby. And they were in Europe and they were at Lake Geneva and they were staying in a hotel and into the hotel walks another poet, Lord Byron, complete with his menagerie that he travelled with, with like animals and a monkey and a doctor. We do not travel in style like Lord Byron did. And they kind of hit it off. And they all got together in a villa and were going to do boating and hiking, but it was raining. And, so, the two poets, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, were like, “Hey, let’s have a writing contest: Who can write the best scary story?” And Mary took if very seriously. She felt a tremendous amount of pressure, given her own literary heritage and her husband, and she really wanted to be a writer. And she wanted to prove herself worthy of her mother’s legacy and her husband’s expectations. And another thing you should know about Mary Shelley is she read very widely. She read novels, she read poetry, she read politics, and she also read science. And there was a popular theory at the time called galvanism. And it was the idea that electric currents could bring dead tissue back to life. And they had some false success with it. And she had read those articles with great interest.

So, keeping in mind that and then the fact that she’d very recently lost a baby and was tormented by nightmares of holding this baby and realizing that it was still alive, only to wake up and remember that her infant was dead and would always be dead. So she thought and she thought and she could not come up with an idea. So she went to bed. And while she was sleeping she had this sort of nightmare of this monstrous life this monstrous cadaver that was very obviously a dead thing, opening its eyes and coming to life and sitting up. And she woke up in a panic, certain that she could feel it watching her. And immediately she knew what she was going to write about. And she stared writing that day. And she continued writing this whole time they were at Geneva and then for several months after until she had finished the book. And, together with Percy, she edited it. And it was actually published anonymously within a very short time period. So, it was kind of one of those lightning strikes moments, if you’ll pardon. I can’t avoid the lightning puns with this book. It’s great.


Kiersten White: And just this idea that just grasped her and would not let her go till she finished it.

Jo Reed: The other thing you did with the book, another way you followed the original very closely, is in the style of writing. I mean, you’re clearly not writing early 19th prose, but it has traces of it.

Kiersten White: Yeah.

Jo Reed: How did you grapple with that?

Kiersten White: That’s always a challenge writing historical, because you need it to feel historical, because you need it to feel historical, but still be accessible. I had just come off of writing a separate trilogy, the And I Darken trilogy, which is set in the 15th century Ottoman Empire and features a gender-swapped Vlad the Impaler. I don't know why. So, having come off of that and really sort of refined my style to be able to convey accessible but also “This is a different time period, and a different place, and different people.” That really made this book much more possible for me. And I think that the biggest help that I got was really immersing myself in Mary Shelley’s text, in sort of the rhythm and the cadence and the way that she told stories, and then bringing that forward as much as I could while still maintaining that sort of Gothic sensibility. And the pacing of the story, but making the language more accessible.

Jo Reed: Well, why don’t we hear a little bit of it? I know you have your book with you. What are you going to read?

Kiersten White: Yes, okay, so I’m going to read a portion from Chapter 8. What has happened is Elizabeth has gone to Ingolstadt to find Victor. He’s been gone and not communicating with them for a couple of years now and she’s very concerned that his father is going to decide that she no longer has a use in their family. So, Elizabeth has found Victor, who conveniently is in the midst of a fever, and bundled him off to the doctor, but she stayed behind because she’s really worried that Victor has lost his mind and that if people know that he’s insane he’ll be committed and she won’t have her protector. So, this is Elizabeth searching his lab.

Excerpt from The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein:

The sound of rain hitting an ever-deepening puddle competed with the wild pounding of my heart to make music of discord and chaos. In place of a symphony to accompany me there was a stench.

A stench of things rotten.

A stench of things dead.

And above and around it all, burning fumes that made me couch and gag.

I pulled out a handkerchief and covered my nose and mouth, wishing I could cover my stinging eyes, as well. But I needed them.

The dripping noises were different up here, though. Now that I was in the room, they had a faint metallic quality, hitting something other than the warped and blackened wood floors. In the center of the room, illuminated by the cloud-choked day, a pool of water rippled and shifted, gathering in the center of a table before dripping off the sides to meet with the water on the floor. The table was situated directly beneath the open roof panels.

I stepped closer. Broken glass crunched beneath my boots. The table had held my attention, but now that I looked down, I saw that the entire room was littered with shattered glass containers. Someone had gone to a tremendous amount of trouble to break everything in here.

Most of the larger glass pieces were sticky and wet with whatever had been held inside. It smelled to me like some death-tainted form of vinegar. Chemicals that preserve yet corrupt in equal measure.

Some of the glass remains bore... other substances. Gelatinous mounds on the floor. Poor, sad pieces of--

I pulled my gaze away. Something about the nearest spill made my eyes refuse to focus on it. It had no recognizable form, and yet I knew-- I knew-- I did not want to look at it.

My boots crunched and scraped as shards of glass embedded in their soles. I crept toward the table. Whether because it was the center of the room or because it was the best-illuminated feature, I was drawn toward it, pulled on a current.

The table itself was metal, as large as a family dining table. Around it were various apparatuses I did not know the meaning or use of. They looked complicated, all gears and wires and delicate tubing. And every one, like the glass containers, had been smashed beyond repair.

A pole, also metal, wrapped around in some sort of copper wiring, extended from the head of the table to the windows in the roof. But it, too, had been warped. It was bent, the wires dislodged and hanging from it like hair ripped from a doll’s head.

The water pooling on the table was thicker and darker along the edges, as if rust had been pushed outward. It smelled sharp and metallic, but with something organic beneath it all. Something like--

I pulled my finger back from where I was about to touch the near-black stains.

It smelled almost like blood. But whether the water dilution or the chemicals in the room had affected it, I did not know. Because I knew the scent of blood. And this was so close, yet different in a way that repulsed me more than anything else here.

‘What were you doing, Victor?’ I whispered.”

Jo Reed: That is Kiersten White reading from her book, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, a re-telling of Frankenstein, told from the point of view of Mrs. Frankenstein, Mrs. Elizabeth Frankenstein. Where were you brought up?

Kiersten White: I was brought up Highland, Utah. It’s kind of like a suburb of Salt Lake.

Jo Reed: And did you come from a family of readers?

Kiersten White: I did. Yes. We were always very, very encouraged to read and to write. I meet a lot of young writers who ask if anybody ever supported me and my parents did from day one. They always supported me in writing. My dad jokes that he hated having to take me to the bookstore, because I would buy, like, a 500- 600-page hardcover and be done the next day. And he couldn’t afford my reading habit. But I was very fortunate to grow up in a home that was filled with books.

Jo Reed: And did you always want to write were there other things?

Kiersten White: No, I really always wanted to be a writer. I remember a career day in second grade where all the boys had to cut out firemen and all the girls had to cut out nurses, which we’ll unpack that later. But I left the hat off of my nurse, because she wanted to be a writer, not a nurse. And that was always my goal. And I don’t know that I had any real concept of what it was to write a book, but I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t actually write a novel until I had graduated from college. I graduated with a husband, a degree, and a baby. I was very ambitious. And, so, I was at home with our first child and my husband was in grad school and that’s when I started writing seriously.

Jo Reed: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a YA title, although it’s appealing to adult adults as well. How did you begin to write for young adults?

Kiersten White: I actually started out writing middle-grade fiction, which is for eight-to-12-year-olds and I was really bad at it. I think it’s more difficult than writing for young adults or adults, because it’s really hard to find the balance of humor and sophistication, but also accessibility. And I will say that my first effort at it was tremendously boring, just really, really bad. But it taught me that I could sit down and write a novel from start to finish. And after that I started writing for teens and that’s really when my writing took off. And I was just so excited and engaged with it, because I realized that was the voice and the audience that I was ready to write for.

Jo Reed: Now what is the draw for you for horror or paranormal? Did you read that as a kid?

Kiersten White: Yeah, I did. I read a tremendous amount of it and I read a lot of fantasy actually. And not fantasy for teens or children. Fantasy for adults. I really like genre, because I feel like with genre you’re able to tell very real, very true stories, but everything is heightened so that you can tell it-- I really like genre used as metaphor. So, in this book, yeah, there’s re-animated dead creatures and monsters and mad scientists, but it’s really a story about how women survive in a world that is controlled by the men around them, which I think that we can all relate to.

Jo Reed: Do you remember what your favorite books were when you were a young adult?

Kiersten White: Yeah, the first book that I remember just absolutely loving was Anne of Green Gables. I saw myself very much in Anne. She was dreamy and imaginative and deeply ambitious and very competitive. And I loved that about her. I loved that she wanted to be the smartest girl in the class. And she wanted to do well, but she also loved her family and wanted to care for them and that was something that I really related to.

Jo Reed: When you read Anne of Green Gables or books that you loved, was there a way you would kind of put yourself into that world and extend the story?

Kiersten White: Oh, absolutely. One of my favorite series was The Redwall series by Brian Jacques. And it features mice and rabbits and other little furry creatures who have their own society and fight evil and so on and so forth. And my friend and I would read the books and we would talk in their accents and we would pick which means we would eat if we were there and which characters we would be. And I always read to escape and to become somebody more exciting than I felt that I was, which is part of what drew me to fantasy. I did not find a lot of magic in junior high or high school. And, so, I escaped into these books where I could imagine that I was magical or powerful or all of those things that I was not feeling. And, so, books always sort of provided that escape for me.

Jo Reed: And what’s your history with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? When did you first read it?

Kiersten White: I actually can’t remember. I don’t remember whether I first read it in high school or in college. I know that I did study it in a class and it quickly shot to the top of my list of favorite classics, because I found it so compelling and so fascinating. I always really loved Frankenstein and Frankenstein adaptations. I dressed my toddlers up as Frankenstein every year for Halloween, because all toddlers walk like Frankenstein’s monster. And I have four different editions of Frankenstein on my bookshelves and picture books and you name it. It’s always just been one of those classics that I’ve been drawn to and that I love.

Jo Reed: Well, this as we mentioned isn’t your first experience re-telling a well-known tale and changing perspective. You did take on Vlad the Impaler and re-think him as a her for your trilogy And I Darken-- What do you think draws you to re-telling classics?

Kiersten White: That’s a great question. I think it’s a really interesting challenge as a writer to take an existing thing and a known thing and to make a new story out of it, whether that’s history or whether it’s an existing story. And I really enjoy doing it. I’m going to keep doing it. And I think there’s a benefit as a storyteller in using a known property, because like I said, people are more likely to pick it up if they have that familiarity aspect. I call it “the Marvel effect”. People might not know the story, but they know that they like Marvel, so they’re going to go to the next Marvel movie no matter what. So, with The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein people might not have any idea what’s in it, but they know they like Frankenstein stories. So, they’re going to pick it up. But then for me personally as a story teller, like I said, it’s a really fun challenge to take something that’s already been built and that already has sort of the framework and has been fleshed out and to ask a different question with it and look at it from a different angle and find a story within or beside that story that hasn’t been told before.

Jo Reed: And, so, what is next?

Kiersten White: So, I have a new series starting January. It’s called Slayer and it is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff series. So, continuing in that vein of telling stories in somebody else’s world, which was really fun. And then next fall I have a new series that hasn’t been announced yet, but it is also a retelling.

Jo Reed: Well, I’m looking forward to it. Kiersten, thank you so much.

Kiersten White: Well, thank you.

Jo Reed: It was a lot of fun.

Kiersten White: Thank you so much.

Jo Reed: That is author Kiersten White—her recent book is The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. It’s a great Halloween read for young and old adults alike. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. You can subscribe to Art Works where ever you get your podcasts. So please do and leave us a rating on Apple—it helps people to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.


In her novel, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, young adult author Kiersten White retells Mary Shelley’s classic. In White’s book, we get the story from Elizabeth Lavenza—the childhood companion and then wife of scientist Victor Frankenstein. Kiersten White closely follows the outline of Shelley’s Frankenstein, but by changing the point of view to Elizabeth, we get another story entirely about Victor Frankenstein, the monster, and Elizabeth herself. For this Halloween podcast, Kiersten and I talk about the original Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s singular life, and the challenges and fun of taking this well-known classic tale, telling it from a different perspective, and finding a story that hadn’t been told before.