|‘Sins of the Father’ Intrigue Bestselling Author Melissa Marr|
An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Melissa Marr
Columnist Anna Roins
Seven Black Diamonds
by Melissa Marr
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Best-selling author, Melissa Marr, is one of our most reliable sources for stories of the ancient lore of fae. Her work has been called ‘stunning’ and ‘alluring’ by reviewers and readers alike and has appeared on bestseller lists around the world including the New York Times, LA Times, and the Spiegel List in Germany. She introduced readers to Faery Courts and the remarkable character of Aislinn in her 2007 debut, the five-part series, Wicked Lovely (HarperCollins, 12 June 2007), optioned to become a block-buster film.
Now Melissa is back with SEVEN BLACK DIAMONDS, a brand-new story set in a wholly different and irresistible faery world.
|“No book is truly easy. It was natural for me, though. I grew up believing in folklore . . .”|
AUTHORLINK: Ms Marr, thank you for your time today and happy birthday for the 25th!
MARR: No book is truly easy. It was natural for me, though. I grew up believing in folklore, so writing folklore rooted stories is like going home. It was an idea I’d toyed with on and off over the years—changelings, parenting, and what it means. The lore is that faeries steal healthy babies and leave sick ones behind, but as a mom . . . well, leaving my child when s/he is sick? No. Just no. On the other hand, the idea of being willing to break every law, rule, and moral coda for my child? Yes. So, the idea of children who were paying the price of that parent’s desperate desire for a child was something I’ve pondered a lot.
It is a big theme in Faulkner, and I am hooked on the “sins of the father” in part because of my devotion to Faulknerian fiction. Graveminder (William Morrow, 17 May 2011) and Wicked Lovely and the Blackwell Pages (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 7 May 2013) and even my Bunny Roo (Nancy Paulsen Books, 14 April 2015) all play with the idea of the parent/child contract and the consequences of prior generations’ choices. None of that was on purpose. It’s just obviously a theme for me.
I think all of my books are simply my brain sorting out questions. What if I were reliant on nature more obviously? Would I rage against pollution? What if my blood was cause for being targeted? That question is very much one we see in history and it’s also an inevitable topic currently. To those, I added the parental question: What would I do if my child were hurt? (The queen’s daughter is killed, and faeries are notoriously bad tempered.) So the books are just very long answers to questions I’m rolling around in my head—but with kissing and killing too. Love and hate. Affection and violence. Those are constants.
|“It’s not until I reach the end of the first draft though when I figure out what the book is “about”—which makes my agent’s job hard.”|
That is true of everything I write, I suspect. I have a question that plagues me. I start thinking, and then there are chapters and books. It’s not until I reach the end of the first draft though when I figure out what the book is “about”—which makes my agent’s job hard. I cannot do proposals well at all. I am not a synopsis or outline person. I am all about “figure it out by doing it” as a process.
AUTHORLINK: Thank you for that well-thought out response; fascinating. Do you don’t plan out the plots for your novels and how the story will end. You wing it, relying on instinct and natural storytelling?
MARR: You’re making it hard to think I evolve! No, I don’t have plans. I have vague things, much like traveling. I know a few landmarks; at most I start with two or three scenes in mind. Often, though, it’s a scene that highlights a character’s motivations. If I’m lucky, it’s two characters at odds. Either way, I ask “where do we go from here?” or “how did we get here?” Answering those results in more chapters. Eventually, it’s a book. I don’t write in order either as a rule. If I discover that X happens, that may mean I need to figure out what K was. So I may write chapter 22 and then chapter 12 and then chapter 15. It’s all very much about the question and discovery process for me. Instead of curiosity killing the cat, curiosity creates a story.
AUTHORLINK: Not at all. Every author has a different process. It all sounds very creative. You have penned fiction for a range of readers, including adults (the Graveminder series), teenagers (the Wicked Lovely novels) and middle graders (the Blackwell Pages trilogy, written with K.L. Armstrong). You’ve also written a three-book manga series, short story anthologies and children’s books.
Your readers accept how you work several different genres and for different age groups. Sometimes you even write under a pseudonym because it has ‘spicy content’ that your younger readers should not be reading. Is it difficult to switch your mind-set to a different genre? Which genre is your favourite so far and what would you like to try next?
|“Switching my mindset isn’t quite how I think of it, though. It’s letting go of walls and avoiding boxes . . .”|
MARR: Screenwriting. Adult thriller. Literary women’s fiction. I have lists of things to try. I’d like to do a dual time period story. I have a book that is sort of a passion project with a layered narrative, but it’s also terrible, nasty-dark plot concept. I like trying new things. My favourite is whatever is obsessing me today.
Switching my mindset isn’t quite how I think of it, though. It’s letting go of walls and avoiding boxes. . . which is why I’m leaning hard towards avoiding writing on proposal. Deciding to write a G or a N book is hard. Letting my mind wander to what interests it next is much, much better for me.
AUTHORLINK: The first novel you tried to write was a contemporary vampire romance; the second was time travel (Victorian era); the third was straight fantasy, and the fourth was Wicked Lovely. Have you tried to rewrite, edit and publish your earlier works? How do you feel you have evolved creatively since you first started out as a writer?
MARR: Goodness no! I have dozens of books I’ve started and deleted, as well as stories I’ve literally tossed into my fireplace. I don’t believe in going backwards in life or projects. Some stories feel like a “not yet,” so I archive the start and might revisit. Others simply aren’t workable. I have a few that are 30-55k words. Some will never be more than that. The one constant in this gig is that there is no shortage of ideas, so going backwards would only make sense if that core idea wasn’t one that I could shake. I have one of those. Every so often I start it. Eventually, I’ll write a start that clicks. I don’t usually rework the existing text though. I start clean here and there.
Changing . . . I think it’s a little easier to see that these days as I am out of contract (very intentionally) right now. I’m re-assessing what I want, and the sheer truth of it is that what I want is to write books before I sell them. I have discovered that I dislike contracts based on proposals unless it’s with a very short space between selling and delivering. I’ve had editors leave. In one case, three different editors for a book. In one case, I sold a book to an editor who loved it. Then she left, and I was with an editor who was . . . not a fit. I don’t object to any editorial feedback that is beneficial to a text. I’ll sacrifice any words, kill any character, if it strengthens the story. Not all editors are created equal, however. Further, they are often very strong in different ways. Sometimes the pairing is exactly right. Nancy Paulson who edits my picture books, for example, is precisely the right person to shepherd those books. Anne Hoppe (the WL editor) was the right editor for those books. That doesn’t mean that either editor would be the right person for the opposite books. They could be, but people are individuals—which is why I find the notion that one should stay with an editor terrible. If I were to write only one genre, only one type of story, then one editor could work, but my biggest realization is that I am utterly uninterested in staying in one “brand.” The complications with that are both in the editors and in reader expectations. However, the alternative for me is that I’d be bored, and then I start looking at different careers entirely. Life is about learning and growing.
AUTHORLINK: That is really insightful, thank you. As mentioned earlier, Wicked Lovely has been optioned for film. How’s that going? When you re-visited this book for the movie, you were writing the 5th book in the series. An image you used in this book, Darkest Mercy was one the screenwriter, Caroline Thompson, came up with to add to the first book. You called it an ‘’eerie similarity.’’ You said, ‘’…but I’m a believer in Universal Order so I took it as a good sign.’’ Can you expand on this as well as your fundamental belief in faeries and the supernatural elements of our world?
|“. . .I think that faith, that there is an order/plan, has been instrumental in everything I have managed to achieve in my life.”|
MARR: Films are such odd things. We’ve had three or four directors, actors attached, financing, and of course, the script. . . but the film is still not rolling. It gets very discouraging, but just this month, the option was renewed. I am told a film WILL happen, but it’s been eight years so it’s sometimes hard to believe. I have gorgeous art they’ve created, seen effects, heard music, and it all seems so real. Then things slow down when there is this or that obstacle. I will say that, without doubt, the producers are determined—and that is huge.
I do believe there is an order, or a plan perhaps. I’m a bit more religious than most people realize, and I think that faith, that there is an order/plan, has been instrumental in everything I have managed to achieve in my life. It’s what gives me the energy to push on when things seem dire. It’s also what drives me on daily ways. I was given certain gifts. We ALL are. It is our responsibility to use them . . . which is another of those bits of me that you can see pretty obviously in my books.
AUTHORLINK: That’s interesting – and wonderful the film was re-optioned. You have at least two agent changes over the years. How difficult is it to secure a new agent when you’re an established writer or isn’t it at all? What advice would you give our readers about how to approach the right agent? How does one recognise a good agent?
|“. . . we must learn to separate our creative selves (where we live when we write) and our business selves (where we must center ourselves for contracts and career planning).”|
MARR: I’ve only switched agents once, actually. I switched to Merrilee Heifetz in 2008, one year after my first book came out, and I’ve been with her for eight years. My first year of publication was filled with so many questions, and when I signed with my first agent she was at an agency with seasoned agents (Lowenstein-Yost) and experienced subagents to handle foreign sales. When she left that agency, she no longer had those seasoned agents for consultation. To me, that was critical. Writers House (where I am now) has those resources, as well as the other resources (legal and accounting) that I think are necessary.
I think one of the keys with agents, however, and with publishers is that we remember that this is a business. I have switched doctors, accountants, and hair stylists. I have switched repair contractors, too. There is this myth in publishing that we are seeking agents or editors as if we were dating. That attitude is handy for them, but it infuses a business relationship with sentiment that is false. It’s not heartless, of course! My agent likes me, and I like her. After all of this time, it would hurt me to sever our ties, but if I stopped writing books she could sell or she stopped having faith in my work or I switched to a genre she cannot sell or . . . any number of things, I would do so. I would expect her to as well. The same is true of publishers and editors. We are not dating. We are not looking for our match. We are business people. The best advice I can give on agents and editors is that we must learn to separate our creative selves (where we live when we write) and our business selves (where we must center ourselves for contracts and career planning).
As to a “good” agent, it truly depends. I am rather short tempered and assertive, so what I need in an agent is someone who can take my blunt statements and make them palatable to editors, publicists, et al. I am very data and results driven, so I also need someone who gives me permission to pursue my less marketable ideas sometimes. Additionally, I need someone who has a strong foreign rights division, prompt replies, and stays on top of the changes in publishers’ boiler plate contracts. In contrast, I have friends who are only interested in the writing and need someone business minded. I have friends who are not assertive. So I think the key is an agent who fills the gaps for the author. That is why, in my estimation, an agent may be great in one author’s view buy heinous for another.
AUTHORLINK: That’s really helpful. Who are your favourite authors and why? What is on your nightstand right now?
MARR: I’m mid-move, so my nightstand is oddly tidy. Mostly, my nightstand is covered with Jewish history books. I think there are still a few essays on dragons, Mayan myth (my daughter is a Mayan archaeologist), and probably a few of the baby’s picture books.
My favourites are pretty set. In the “best novelist” and “most influential,” Faulkner always wins. In my favourite living author category, Neil Gaiman is consistently the tops. Poetry tops are Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Wislawa Szymborska. Theory would be Jack Zipes. I could keep going, but I have so many in categories because picking one is impossible.
AUTHORLINK: You said once, ‘’Being a mom is the center of my identity; it’s my greatest achievement in life. The rest is just the stuff I do to support my kids’ and their interests.’’ This is very touching. It’s understandable that your children are your muses. What other things or people inspire you?
MARR: Oh, life in general is filled with constant inspiration. I am a devotee of nature, of museums, of music, of living. I love to travel. I can’t manage a full day without music. I think too often we focus on the wrongs in the world—which is easy as there are so very many horrible things that happen—but I’m still a believer in the core good and beauty of the world, its people, and its places. Humanity has such great capacity for beauty, and the world is positively overflowing with wonders. I don’t deny the ugliness, and there are times I feel crushed by the evil in the world. However, I believe that choosing to focus on the worm makes us forget that the apple is still sweet and nourishing. So I guess, art, music, and nature are my obvious inspirations, but as with my current YA books, politics certainly factors in for inspiration, as does my faith.
|“I am most self-critical of my temper. I work hard to control it, but I am rather short fused and long burning.”|
AUTHORLINK: And to finish off with a Proust Questionnaire style question, what is the trait you most deplore in others? What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
MARR: I am most self-critical of my temper. I work hard to control it, but I am rather short fused and long burning. The combination is not ideal. In others . . . honestly, I am not particularly judgmental unless they are people in my work or personal sphere. In that case, a lack of integrity is a huge issue for me. Mean what you say. Say what you mean. Do what you say. So much in life is made more efficient and less stressful if people function with integrity.
AUTHORLINK: Ms Marr, thank you so much for your fascinating discussion about your writing process. We wish you every success for Seven Black Diamonds and the film of Wicked Lovely.
MARR: Thank you for the warm wishes and the interview.
|About the Author:|
Melissa Marr is best known for her internationally bestselling Wicked Lovely series (HarperCollins). Additionally, she is the co-editor of several fantasy anthologies, co-author (with Kelley Armstrong) of the children’s Norse mythology series, The Blackwell Pages (Hachette), and author of the picture book Bunny Roo, I Love You (Penguin Books). Her books have been published in 28 languages and have been bestsellers in numerous countries. Prior to being a writer, Melissa taught university literature and gender studies. She is the mother to three children: an adult daughter (for whom Wicked Lovely was written), a teenager (for whom the Norse books were written), and a toddler (for whom Bunny Roo was written).
You can find out more about Melissa Marr at http://www.melissamarrbooks.com/, http://www.blackwellpages.com/, https://www.facebook.com/Melissa-Marr-122745987781031/, https://twitter.com/melissa_marr
|About Anna Roins:|
Anna Roins is a lawyer, previously of the Australian Government Solicitor, as well as a freelance journalist who writes about social and community issues and has edited dissertations, websites, and books.
She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London.
Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors.
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