When Zoey Redbird, the central character of the House of Night YA series, penned by mother-daughter duo P.C. and Kristin Cast, made Entertainment Weekly‘s list of the 20 greatest vampires in pop culture, it was because the Casts’ universe, which includes a vampire finishing school, is female-centric, involves higher-than-Hogwarts hormone levels, and teaches the power of free will, friendship, and the joy of having a gay man in your circle. It’s fitting then that the eighth book in the series, Awakened (on shelves today), is dedicated to LGBT teens. “It’s meant a lot to us to include teenagers of all different kinds of beliefs, and that includes different sexual orientations, from the very beginning of the series. But it just so happened as we were finishing up the book that all the tragedies with the gay kids committing suicide happened,” P.C. tells EW. “A bunch of our fans emailed us about the It Gets Better Project, so I posted on that, and from that, I just thought, ‘Let me go ahead and do this acknowledgment officially.’ Once you read Awakened, you know there’s also some tragedy that has to do with our gay characters, so I thought that was particularly important to add.”

Without spoiling the plot, nefarious High Priestess Neferet has sworn vengeance on Zoey, and will do whatever it takes to get her to come back to Tulsa from the Isle of Skye, where Zoey’s found sanctuary after returning from the Otherworld with the help of her warrior, Stark. “It’s happening a little bit different than it happened for J.K. Rowling and her fans, because [the Harry Potter characters] started so much younger, and [the books] covered longer periods of time. But the same phenomenon happens in the House of Night,” P.C. says. “Our kids are maturing, and because they’re maturing, they’re able to deal with more serious and darker events. They’re having a lot of hard things happen to them back-to-back.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The House of Night books are getting more twisted and increasingly bloody. Do you ever have to hold back writing for teens?

P.C. CAST: I don’t think about that. I just sit down and write the story, and Kristin serves as my teen editor, even though Kristin’s not a teen anymore.

KRISTIN CAST: There was a lot of stuff in this one that got cut.

PCC: Yes. [Laughs]

KC: It’s way toned down from what it was before. If she had her way, she’d just write it for adults.

PCC: I don’t see them as teens; I see them as characters. There’s a plot, and bad things happen. It’s kind of like when you watch Buffy — Buffy was a teenager, but when you look over the series, Buffy dealt with all this adult stuff. I think it’s the same way with my series. I don’t just look at them as 16, 17, 18, 19-year-olds. I look at them as real human beings who are dealing with very hard issues. I don’t use a gauge. I send it to Kristin, and then she writes stuff in the columns like, “No, Phyllis. Just, no.” [Laughs] There was lots of that in this book, especially when you get to the scenes with the White Bull [Darkness personified] and Neferet. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff that was cut out of there.

That was one of things I wanted to talk with you about. Again, without spoiling it for readers, I was like, Did what I think just happen between those two really just happen?

PCC: What I’m hoping is all the adults get it, but the 14 to 17-year-olds won’t. I think that they’re gonna get that she worshipped him or something. But had you read the first draft, honey, there is noooo question.

KC: You would have barfed all over yourself. [Both laugh] I’m easily embarrassed when reading, and I just closed my eyes and twisted my body. [P.C. and EW still laughing] I don’t think it’s funny.

PCC: It was well-written, though, okay. It was well-written.

KC: It was well-written. I’m blushing right now.

PCC: [Still laughing] Even my editor, she’s like, “It’s a shame that we have to cut this and tone this down, because it’s some beautiful writing.” I knew that when I wrote it. I gave Kristin and my editor both a heads-up. I said, “I am just gonna write this and tell the story, and I know I’m gonna have to go in and back off.” But I’d rather do that and push the envelope as hard as I can and then have them tell me, “Oh, Phyllis, no, no,” then have it be less than it could be.

How much fun do you have writing Neferet at this point? From the first page of Awakened, she’s delicious.

PCC: I love to write for Neferet. I squee myself out. If things scare you in these books, they scare me. If things make you laugh out loud in the book, they’re making me laugh out loud, too. I’m doing this journey with my readers. And Neferet, that’s a scary girl, okay. She’s frightening. And, I can even give you a little scoop here. It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but it is official that we are going to be doing three minibooks — we’re going to be calling them “House of Night stories” — to come out between publication of the big books, and they’ll tell backstories. The first one is going to tell Dragon and Anastasia Lankford’s love story. The second one is going to tell Lenobia’s story. And the third one is going to tell Neferet’s story. I’m really looking forward to writing them, but I’m especially looking forward to writing Neferet’s. I want my readers to understand why she’s so broken. We’re gonna get to find out what happened to her as she was marked. By the end of story, I want people to understand Neferet and to maybe hope that she can change her choices later on. Although I’m not telling you she’s going to, because I don’t know that until it happens. But people will know what happened to Neferet to make her make the choices she’s made today.

The power of free will and friendship have always been important messages in the books. In Awakened, there’s a line Stevie Rae says, “Evil wins when good folks do nothing.” Is that the theme of this book?

PCC: It really is. The word “awakened” — I used it several different times, in several different ways. But I mean it to awaken people’s conscience. If something’s wrong, stand up and at least say, “That joke’s not funny. It’s not funny when you make fun of someone. It’s not funny when you hurt someone’s feelings like that.” Stand up and say it. And I’m talking beyond the little teen-speak when they’re just playing. I’m talkin’ about when you see wrong happening, and it really is timely with what’s going on with the gay kids so recently. It also happened with Glee. While I was writing this book, they were probably filming those episodes [with Kurt getting bullied]. I think we need to start thinking: just because someone makes different choices does not give anyone the right to judge them for it or make them feel bad for it.

I remember how angry I felt when the bully pushed Kurt into the lockers, he fell to the floor in the hallway, and not one student walking by even stopped to see if he was okay.

PCC: I taught high school for 15 years, and maybe Kristin, you could speak to this, too. It seems to me like sometimes teenagers have to be pushed to a certain point before they realize, “Hey, I have to do something.” But once you get them there, I’ve seen kids stand up for other kids in very surprising ways. My last classroom was down the hall from the special-needs kids, and then right next to my classroom was the autistic classroom. There were a bunch of regular English classrooms there in my hall, and I observed my kids and the kids in just the regular population being very, very nice to the special-needs kids, the autistic kids, and kids with severe handicaps on a daily basis. I can’t imagine any of those kids in my hall allowing someone to come in and push over one of those kids and not say, “Hey, stop it!”

KC: I don’t think that it has to reach a certain point before they realize that something needs to be done. I know that when I was in high school, I was thinking that I knew something should be done. I don’t want it to seem like we think they’re naive to wrongdoing. It is very apparent whenever things that shouldn’t be going on are going on. However, I think you have to reach a level of confidence in yourself to say anything.

PCC: That’s a good point.

KC: No one in high school wants to be put under the spotlight. You don’t want to be that person who stands up for the other people because then the people who are going after those people are gonna come after you. They either have to become disgusted with what’s going on, or they just have to be secure enough with themselves. I think it feels like it’s risking your high school career — it feels like you’re risking your friends and your safe place within the high school community. It takes a lot to want to go out on that limb.

PCC: Remember in the very first [House of Night] book Marked, Zoey remembers she felt sorry for that kid who was marked the year before — but she was one of the kids who jumped out of the way when that kid was marked and ran out of the front of the high school crying.

KCC: No one wants to be the kid who allies with the weird kid.

Speaking of Glee, on a lighter note, I always love the pop culture references in the books. I find it comforting that even while their lives are in danger, these kids can still talk about not spoiling True Blood because someone hasn’t finished season 2 on DVD yet. They still have time to watch TV?

PCC: Girl, they’re teenagers. They are always going to be watching some TV. Nuclear war could happen, and you would have kids trying to tweet about it. It does not matter what’s happening, the kids aren’t gonna miss their stories: “Where’s True Blood?” They are planted in front of a TV, even if it’s on the Isle of Skye with ancient magic all around them, it’s like, “Okay, isn’t it time for Project Runway to come on?”

Why did you choose Glee and True Blood to reference?

KC: She’s obsessed with Glee. I don’t watch Glee, not that I have anything against it. Whenever I miss the first few episodes, I won’t watch the series. But we both love True Blood.

PCC: We’re True Bloodaholics. Sunday nights, we meet, have dinner, and watch True Blood. But I can tell you when Glee had Twilight references on the show, I was shouting, SHOUTING, at the TV, saying “Where’s House of Night? Did Twilight mention you in their books? Noooo! P.C. Cast did though. Where is my reference?” And Kristin Chenoweth is from Broken Arrow [Oklahoma]. She went to South Intermediate High School. My dad had her in class, okay. We have ties to Glee. Why aren’t we mentioned?! When she came through town on her book tour, my dad, who coached and taught at my high school for a thousand years, called me afterward. I was on tour myself, and he said, “Well, I just got kissed by a Tony Award-winning actress. Can you say that?” I’m like, “No, dad. I cannot say that.” Come on, Glee! What about House of Night? We mention you more than once. MORE THAN ONCE.

KC: Phyllis.

PCC: Oh, I’m sorry. I beat the horse?

KC: You’re ranting, Phyllis. You’re ranting. [Both laugh]

There’s a debate in the book about who’s the hottest guy on True Blood. What are your real thoughts on the matter?

PCC: I debate with my girlfriends who the hottest guy is, and I want me some more werewolf, okay. NAKED werewolf would be nice, too. And Kristin, haven’t you decided your boyfriend is Eric?

KC: My boyfriend is Eric. And Spike from Buffy.

PCC: No, Spike is my boyfriend. We’ve already made that official.

KC: We fight over Spike.

Is there an update on plans to adapt the House of Night novels for the screen?

PCC: There’s not any big update there, except it has been optioned, for a couple years, by Empire Pictures. I have read the screenplay by Kent Dalian, and I loved it and him so much that my production company, Goddess Films, has hired him to do the screenplay for the first of my movies, Goddess of the Rose, based on my retelling of Beauty and the Beast. So I can tell you the screenplay is awesome, and I wish Empire Pictures would get in gear and get the movie made, as do about 10 million fans.

Any other news to share?

KC: I am in the process of creating our House of Night fashion line. We’re in the beginning stages of that. I had a short-story titled “Above” [in a collection of vampire-filled love stories Kisses From Hell], and I’m in the process of turning that into a full-length novel.

PCC: I’ve read the first 100 pages of that, and it’s awesome. It’s way different than my voice. Kristin’s so gross, my god! She talks about me, but geez. [Laughs] But no, it’s really good.

Follow Mandi on Twitter: @EWMandiBierly

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