Interview with Melissa Marr

Posted by Goodreads on June 25, 2013
Fantasy writer Melissa Marr admits she doesn't like writing about the real world. No matter, readers embrace her dark supernatural tales full of magical characters, from fairy kings and queens in her best-selling young adult series, Wicked Lovely, to women who commune with the dead in the adult fantasy Graveminder. Now The Arrivals, Marr's latest adventure, is a gun-slinging wild ride into the Wasteland—a bleak landscape populated by fire-breathing monsters, magical monks, and a scrappy band of human misfits led by a brother-sister duo, Jack and Kitty. The gang takes new "arrivals"—humans plucked from their previous lives on Earth and dropped in the Wasteland with no explanation—under their wing as they do battle with a power-hungry villain. Marr chatted with Goodreads about living on the wrong side of the law, creating folklore from scratch, and the upcoming Wicked Lovely movie.

Goodreads: The Arrivals, a fantasy western, is infused with archetypes of the American West. You've spoken about being a student of folklore especially when it comes to fairies. Would you say there is a comparable folklore about the West?

Melissa Marr: There is. It's actually one of the areas that I'm rather fascinated by. I lived in the Southern California area for about four years, and I was homeschooling. When topics would come up in the children's classwork, we would take trips. Between my own wanderlust and that, we went through ghost towns, up to Sequoia, out to Joshua Tree. When you go through all those landscapes, all the little gift stores have pamphlets with all sorts of information. It became a little bit of an obsession for me. I was reading the stories of settlers. My husband's family is from South Dakota, which has the Deadwood area. Spending time out there was a different kind of collection of stories. Plenty of pieces of data ended up swirling around in my brain.

GR: Gunplay is a big component of the Wild West and The Arrivals. Are you a good shot?

MM: Yes! I grew up blue collar and rural. I'm a very good shot, I am pleased to say. When I was writing this, I went home to see my dad, and we went in the backyard and shot for a while. I don't necessarily think that everyone needs to be armed, but I enjoyed and still enjoy target practice with my father. I am married to a retired Marine, so it's something we've enjoyed doing together, too.

GR: Relative to centuries of fairy folklore, American folklore is a young subject that is still taking shape.

MM: I would argue that the old folklore is still taking shape, too. For instance, there are fairies I use in my books that don't exist in the folklore. I was at an event and I had a young woman say, "Since I know you know folklore, I know that this particular fairy is the real thing—where do I find more information?" It was a moment of realization that these creatures that I created from the myths that I knew are now being used in other things, and that's how it works with folklore. It's constantly stretching, evolving, and modifying. I don't think there are folklores that are stagnant as long as people are still telling them.

GR: What a cool moment!

MM: It was! [laughs] I've seen it a couple times—where things I've written have ended up elsewhere. It's kind of interesting. And gosh, I hope my logic that I made up does not have giant flaws, because you don't want to introduce something sloppy!

GR: The Wasteland seems like a special place for misfits; everyone in Jack and Kitty's troop has a criminal past. What do you like about characters from the other side of the law?

MM: I grew up blue collar, and my father was a trucker. There were a lot of truckers and bikers in my childhood. To put myself through graduate school I managed a biker bar. I've always had a soft spot for people who see laws as more of a suggestion than written in stone. Just because you've broken the rules, it doesn't make you a bad person. I find the idea of antagonist and protagonist very troubling. I don't know that I believe that villains are walking around saying, "I'm a bad dude." Instead everyone feels like they are the hero of their story. When I took the story, I wanted characters who felt like that but who had done some less honorable things in the past.

GR: Kitty and Jack arrive in the Wasteland from the mid-19th century. Edgar, from Prohibition-era Chicago. Chloe is the first of their gang to arrive from the 21st century. Goodreads member Rebecca Veight wants to know how you picked eras for each character.

MM: Entirely my own selfishness, to be quite honest about it. They are eras that I'm fascinated by. My graduate work was in American early 1900s and British Victorian. So the Victorian aspects with Ajani and the time period of Jack and Kitty was an area that I was fascinated enough with to pursue a degree. The second half of my degree was with Faulkner, the 1920-through-1940 era in America. So when I was looking at my primary characters: Jack, Kitty, Ajani, and Edgar are all from those eras. It just made sense to me.

The '80s is when I was a kid, so there's Hector the carny. When I worked in the bar, we had a lot of carnies who came in. The rules actually changed when the carnies were in town. I found that fascinating, too. Hector was a logical outgrowth of that. And you know, I didn't think about it at the time, but Melody, the crazy '50s housewife, is very similar to Beira, the winter queen in my first book, Wicked Lovely. I'm fascinated with the idea of 1950s women who look very put together but are really twisted on the inside. Honestly, I believe this is a result of one of my early relationships, my almost mother-in-law. She was one of those women, so she becomes the face of many villains. [laughs]

GR: Feisty Kitty feels like the heart of the story. We know right away that she's the only Arrival who can use Wasteland magic, and behind her tough exterior she's also an artist. How did you create this character?

MM: I'm never really sure how I create them at the time. I can look back and see the pieces that I am interested in. I love artists. If you ask me the one trait that characters in most of my books share—there's an art or artist fixation in everything I've written so far. So inevitably one of them was going to be an artist, and it made sense that it was going to be [Kitty]. Art is a way for her to deal with her emotions, and then she literally puts it in a box. She copes with her love and her grief, and she puts those drawings into a box and closes them. It's a literalization of the way she copes with emotions in this world. The idea of strong women and feminism—I taught gender studies—so that's something you'll see in a lot of things that I write. I think all authors have "These are things that I care about and think about that are part of my soup that makes me me." It's never a case of consciously basing a character on real people; it's interests that you have that end up on the page with different faces. I love Kitty. She's my favorite character in the book.

GR: Do you paint or draw?

MM: Yes, but not that I would let anyone see. I take photographs. When I was a young teenager and had been raped and was not coping well, my therapist had suggested journaling, which I already did, I have always written. Instead the suggestion was something with the arts—something that makes you focus outside yourself because when you focus outside yourself, you have a space where you can deal with what is happening. So I turned to photography. To this day I never go anywhere without my camera, my pen, and music. Those are my devices that I have to have at all times.

GR: Many, many Goodreads fans wrote in to ask about the next book in your Untamed City series, which started with Carnival of Souls. Goodreads Author R. Rose says, "I have read it three times now and face palm every time I get to the end because I remember how much I want to read the next book."

MM: There will be a next book. I have started the sequel to [Carnival of Souls]. The book that I had been working on before Carnival of Souls was in partial condition. I adopted my son in December, and he was born addicted to a couple different drugs, and I had a really rough time with it. My publisher suggested finishing the book that I had been working on before, instead of just not having a book coming. So I have another book that is coming first and then the Carnival of Souls, in theory. I assume I will have it finished by the end of this year. It's not something that is going to come as soon as originally anticipated because life gets in the way.

GR: Goodreads member Stephanie Nicole asks, "Should we expect a Wicked Lovely movie in the near future?"

MM: Well, the news is that IM Global and Stuart Ford, who are behind Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy movie—they went to her and to us at the same time, so they are doing both of those movies. We now have partners on board who are very excited. We are very near to announcing the director, and we are just going to keep moving forward. We're actually going to have a movie! It's a little overwhelming. It's been three years. We had gotten close, and then right as we were getting ready with the location things went flat, and I thought we were done. Then all of a sudden they called me and told me "No, no we are moving forward."

GR: Goodreads member Memis Palacios asks, "I would like to ask her if she remembers the first story she ever wrote, maybe in school, before becoming a famous writer."

MM: The first story I ever wrote was in sixth grade. I had a recurring nightmare when I was a child about a wolf that used to come in and had long witch-like fingernails. He would drive the fingernails into my chest and rip me open and take out my heart, which was a little bit scary as a kid. So that was my first story. It caused them so much alarm that they wanted to sit me down. They were concerned that Satan was after me. I remember that very well.

GR: If only you could have assured them, "It's OK. I'm going to be a writer."

MM: Yes! "I'm going to harness this later. It's OK."

GR: Goodreads member Isamar says, "Out of all of the worlds you've written about, which has been the most challenging?"

MM: Actually Graveminder. Not the world of the dead. That was fun and easy. The human world. When I have to write about what happens here on planet Earth, I find a lot of the normal day-to-day interactions kind of perplexing as a person. Sometimes I'm very nervous about writing those kinds of worlds. They confuse me. Reality confuses me, I guess. [laughs]

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

MM: I wake up in the afternoon. I wake up and spend time with my children; when they all go to bed, I write. I write at night. Generally that involves headphones and loud music and caffeine and darkness. During the day it's either family time or sleep time.

I'm very much a "fits" person. I'd write till five o'clock in the morning and go to sleep till about 10 or 11. Get up and spend time with the kids, and start back up again at eight o'clock at night. After a couple days of that you crash and end up sleeping till two in the afternoon. I have days where I don't really sleep. I write and do my regular family stuff. Generally after about three or four days of that, I crash. It's not a healthy routine. I do not recommend it.

GR: What are you reading now?

MM: What am I reading now... That's a very good question...

GR: It's not a nice question to ask a parent with young children!

MM: Yeah! Right now I'm reading a couple parenting books and an organic baby food book. I read Harry Potter fan fiction for fun sometimes. I can't think of any actual novels right now because I have been writing, and when I'm writing, I don't read a lot. My treat to myself, if I get an hour to myself here or there when the baby is napping, is I read fan fiction!

GR: Thanks for chatting!

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Love the review! Of course I am a Melissa Marr fan. Can't wait to get my hands on this new book. Keep writing and I will keep reading.

message 2: by Mardel (new)

Mardel This sounds interesting. I haven't read the YA series, but I did like Graveminders - that was very different, and good.

I'll be waiting for this new one to come out, for sure.

message 3: by Roxanna (new)

Roxanna Rose Thank you for the heads up on the Carnival of Souls sequel. I guess I will just read it 3 or 4 more times while waiting and buy a face protector for the face palms that follow. Great interview and congratulations on your new baby. I saw a picture of him with his older brother and they are both adorable.

message 4: by Marianne (new)

Marianne Great interview! So looking forward to the Carnival of Souls sequel!

message 5: by Ron (new)

Ron Mahon What does one have to do to qualify for a GR review?


message 6: by Okonkwo (new)

Okonkwo Reading is something that never stops in so far there are books to be read. I think that for the sake of entertainment i would rather go for books that tells strange stories. Such ones stirs the spirit for adventure. And besides for someone really new in the writing business, starting with strange stories would be more easier to deal with than trying to simulate an organised, real complex human society in a book. Enjoy every click of the day.

message 7: by Anna (new)

Anna Can't wait for the movie! I was so disappointed when it was dropped before, and i remember watching, i think, book trailers or movie trailers of each book on a fan site and it was amazing :D

message 8: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Very excited to hear about the movie - That made my day!! I have read everything MM has written, some several times, and keep recommending the WL series to others. I hope it is bigger than Twilight - IMO it has much more depth and character (and I'm a TL fan, actually)! I have a 13-yr old locked up in this 50-yr old body :-) congrats on the baby!!

message 9: by Andrea (last edited Feb 20, 2015 06:51AM) (new)

Andrea Also thanks for letting us know Carnival of Souls sequel is delayed. . . I will know to stop looking for it for a while :-)

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