Interview with Melissa Marr

Posted by Goodreads on March 7, 2016
Lovers of the fae know that author Melissa Marr is one of their most reliable sources for tales full of intrigue and allure. In Wicked Lovely, her 2007 debut, Marr introduced readers to the Faery Courts and the unforgettable Aislinn, who thrilled readers throughout the five-book series. Now Melissa is back with Seven Black Diamonds, a brand-new story set in a wholly different faery world. Find out more about "faery sleeper cells" and read Melissa's answers to your questions about overcoming writer's block, her playlist for this latest book, and which of her characters she would want to be.

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Kamarra: What is Seven Black Diamonds about, and what was the inspiration for this story?

Melissa Marr: It's about "faery sleeper cells," eco-terrorism, and a world in which being born with any faery heritage is illegal. I think the biggest inspirations are that our world is currently a place where people are destroying the earth and where we see so very many laws and crimes that are sparked by fear of people who are of a different race, religion, heritage, etc.

I started to think about what it would be like if the people who were being feared relied on the earth being pollution-free, and what would happen if that were the case. That led to faeries, which led to changelings (who are the original "sleeper agents"), and that led to wondering where you could hide if you were gorgeous and influential—so I ended up with a crime lord's daughter, a rock star, a politician's son, an actress, and so on.

Lisa: Who did you write Seven Black Diamonds for? I know you wrote Wicked Lovely for your daughter.

MM: What a great question! Almost all of my books were written for someone else. Bunny Roo, I Love You was for my youngest (who was only weeks old at the time). Wicked Lovely was for my then-12-year-old daughter (who turns 23 this year!). My co-authored Blackwell Pages trilogy was for my then-12-year-old son (18 this year). This book, however, I wrote for… partly for myself. There are a few like that, but this one was mostly that I was missing writing about faeries. It's a little bit of my thinking about environmental issues, a little bit my tendency to like to write about falling in love, and even a little bit my obsession with sword fighting. Of course, it's also partly for my daughter, who is now an archaeologist living in the jungle for months on end (no exaggeration!) and how important the environment is to her, and how nature can simply reclaim archaeological sites, and what thoughts that prompted.

Yi-lin: What are the books that made you want to be a writer? And are there reference books that you use when researching the fae?

MM: I started reading before I started school. I read everything from cereal boxes at breakfast to the ingredients in shampoo during my shower to stacks of books from the library or on my grandmother's shelves. Then I discovered fairy tales and folklore and authors whose books meant I needed a dictionary beside me while I was reading. (My uncle used to get me new dictionaries every couple years, and it was the coolest gift.) I read Shakespeare and Milton in elementary school, along with whatever I could get at the library. So I think that it was the sheer wide-scale immensity of books that made me love reading.

Writing? That was more of a result of my family. They were (are?) about stories. Nothing is small. Nothing is simple fact. If I was late, my mother was sure a serial killer with one blue eye and one green had set a trap, and my car broke down, and I was dying horribly under a missing street sign. Everything was…detailed. Often it was supernatural, so I guess the resulting urge to write came from my book addiction and the family storytelling habit.

I have an entire shelf of reference books, as tall as me and stacked two deep. I read folklore and critical theory and those fabulous pamphlets at every historical or museum site. What I don't read for reference is fiction. Fiction is not where one should research, and the weird moments where you see something you made up accepted as folklore standard in another book…it's disappointing. Folklore (and there are stacks of books) is a living, breathing tradition, but in order for that to work, one should start at the old texts and add his/her spin. Check out any folklore syllabus at your local college for where they start. Look at the bibliography for where to go after that. Check out academic journals (and their bibliography). Look at anything that Jack Zipes does or books published by a university press for critical theory. And for faeries, start with The Secret Commonwealth. It's our oldest existing faery lore text.

Danielle: Are you going to be introducing new types of fae into this novel? If so, what kinds? I love your take on the faerie world!

MM: I'm going a little more traditional with Seven Black Diamonds, sticking with Seelie and Unseelie and changelings and halflings mostly. However, I can't ever play entirely by the rules, so there are variations on the lore, especially in the idea that faeries have nature affinities with different elements. The idea that beings bound to nature would be able to harness it (a bit like summer and winter do in my Wicked Lovely books) just makes good sense to me.

Stacey: You have had so much success in different genres this year and previously. (Bunny Roo, a children's book, YA, team writing, and adult fiction.) What haven't you tackled that you may like to in the future, if anything?

MM: Screenplays are one of my "I want to try…" items, as is packaged fiction (where a writer writes for a franchise). I'm terribly interested in trying new things. That's the point of living—doing new things, learning, experimenting. So I have an ongoing list, but my biggies lately are thinking about writing a script or writing for an idea/world that isn't solely my own. In both cases, it's collaborative, and that team process intrigues me a lot. Of course, I also want to do a historical, a chapter book (like Coraline or Spiderwick), and a book club-friendly book, and…oh, I have long-term goals that include "keep trying new things."

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Tiffany: I am a huge fan and would love to ask what type of advice you have for aspiring YA fantasy novelists on creating plots, characters, and worlds that leave readers raving and rabid for more. What is your writing process, including insight on what gets you in the right frame of mind to create?

MM: I have no idea how to answer that in a brief reply! I teach a two-hour workshop on the writing process for aspiring writers. The one thing I can say, though, is that the process that works for me is only one way to do it. I think that's one of the great beauties of this field: There is no one true answer. The process that results in words on the page that evolve into a novel is the right one. For me, that almost always includes music, some time meandering outside, and writing jags that can last more hours than a body should stay awake…followed by weeks of no typing. For others, there is a steady, set-number-of-hours, silent process. There is no one way. There is your way for this book on that day. It is not set in stone for All Writers, though…and I think that's part of why I love it.

Sanjana: Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If so, how did you overcome it?

MM: I have had a terrible case of it over trying to write the sequel to Carnival of Secrets (initially published under the title Carnival of Souls in 2012). That book came out three months before my son was born. I'd been working on a sequel already, but it went on pause, and now every time I try to start working on it, all I can think about is that difficult time in my life. His birth mother was an addict, and so when I first met my son (one day old), he was already in withdrawal. (I wrote my first picture book, Bunny Roo, I Love You, to tell him I was his and that we would be OK.) It was hell. As to how to get past it, I still haven't.

Em: Do you find it hard to move away from one series when starting another series, or moving away from a certain character if you continue to write in the same world that has been set from another series?

MM: No. I think that it's akin to the real world, where I truly enjoy the people I'm out with, but there are other fascinating people I could then meet for the theater or a hike or who-knows-what adventure. It doesn't mean that the first ones are uninteresting but that there are many interesting people I could also meet. So I switch it up. I still think about the characters I've met previously, and if I miss them too much, sometimes I write a short story or a partial (I have so very many scenes and partials from earlier books).

Lucy: I adore your Wicked Lovely books, and I was wondering how you feel about the lack of fae stories in popular culture. We are so saturated with books, movies, TV shows about vampires and werewolves and witches recently, too. I wonder, since yours was one of the first modern fae books I ever read, how you feel and if you wish that we had more stories with the fae.

MM: I've always hoped for more faery representation in film and TV—and more books. That hope was a motivation for writing my first faery series and the new one, too. If the book you want (or the film) isn't there, make it yourself.

Admittedly, part of why I was excited every time the Wicked Lovely movie started moving forward was that very same feeling, but it's been eight years. There are times I wonder why the fae aren't getting onto the screen. Luckily we did get Holly Black's lovely Spiderwick a few years back, but obviously I'd like to see more. That said, I love all things supernatural. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer was why I got a television and cable way back in the '90s.) So I'm glad to see that vampires, werewolves, witches, and assorted beasts are getting onto the screen.

Amber: What was your playlist for the new book? I thought that was something really neat that you added to your books. My best friend and I made mixes of your playlists for Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange!

MM: It evolves over the book's process. This was the end result:

1. "Goddess" Banks
2. "Try" Colbie Caillat
3. "Generation Blue" Niia
4. "If I Were a Boy" Beyoncé
5. "Dark Horse" (feat Juicy J) Katy Perry
6. "Drowning" Banks
7. "Want My Love" Cathedrals
8. "Arms I Know So Well" Emma Ruth Rundle
9. "Betrayal" (Jakwob Mix) Laura Welsh
10. "Oxen Hope" Mirah
11. "Scarred for Life" Sabina Ddumba
12. "Hard Time" Seinabo Sey *******
13. "Paradise" Tove Lo

Janine: If you could be one character in your book, who would you choose to be and why?

MM: I wouldn't ever want to be anyone but who I am, actually. I'd be happy to step into another skin for a few hours—which is more or less what books allow us—but never more than for a visit. So for a few hours I'd like to be the queen. She's in possession of sword-fighting skills that I'll never master. I take longsword lessons, and I have a gorgeous handcrafted sword and a fight dummy in my bedroom so I can practice inside during the cold months. If I could be the queen for a few hours, though, maybe I could remember some of those skills to improve my own when I get back to my own skin.

Do you want to ask Melissa Marr a question? You're in luck! She's answering questions as part of the Goodreads Ask the Author feature. Ask her anything! Or read her answers to questions like: What were you like when you were younger? and Why did you decide to be an author?
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