Melissa Marr –
The BOLO Books Interview

From the Booking Desk:

I’m going to go a bit fanboy here for a moment and try not to hyperventilate. Today, I am very pleased to welcome Melissa Marr to BOLO Books.  I have loved Melissa’s work since she first released Wicked Lovely some time ago.  I have since followed her journey, as she explores different genres, finding ways to tell the stories that she needs to tell.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask her some questions and I hope that many of my followers will love her answers.

Also, be sure to check out my review of Melissa Marr’s new novel, Made For You, posted on the blog just last week.

Made for YouBOLO Books:  Tell us a bit about Made For You and how you came up with this concept? At what point did you decide to structure the novel to be from three points of view?

Melissa Marr:  Made For You is a story about an obsessed killer, the girl he’s stalking, and her best friend. It’s best characterized as a romantic suspense novel set in the American South. It’s primarily a contemporary novel, but there is a supernatural element to the story.

I always do multiple POV (at least I have so far!) in my novels. Usually, I write in third person and past tense though, so the big change was doing first person present tense. For me, narrative structure is key to a book. I need to know “who’s telling and to whom” before I can do anything else. The plot, from motivations to the rising action to dénouement, is all a result of the answers to “who’s telling and to whom?”  For Made For You, I knew that I needed both stalker (Judge) & stalkee (Eva), but I think strong friendship is important in life, so I knew that Grace’s voice was equally important. She also enables us to get an outsider’s view. She’s not from a small town, or from the South, so her voice was a way for me to let readers who aren’t Southern get a better insight into the rest of the characters.

I knew that I wanted to write a story set in the South because it’s what I studied in graduate school (my grad thesis was on Faulkner specifically). I’ve lived in the South for 17 of my adult years (with a 5 year break while I lived in Southern California), and I spent the first 18 years in my life in a rural town in Pennsylvania. So the setting is one that feels very much like home to me. The story—girl has stalker—is also a “feels like home” because I had a stalker in my early 20s, a young man who was never arrested, whom I’d never met or dated. It was an unsettling experience, and so the mix of stalker, serial killer, and South was really a culmination of several experiences and an interest of mine (killers).

BOLO Books:  The problem of stalking continues to grow in this country, especially among teens. A large part of this seems to be the ever-prevalent nature of social media.  Do you agree? What are parents to do about it?

Melissa Marr:  As I said, I had a stalker, but that was pre-social media, back in the days pre-smart-phones, pre-Twitter & FB. I’m not sure that I am qualified to comment on the stalking and social media connection. My oldest two kids (21 & almost-16 as I type this) are both anti-social media. They have FB accounts to send DMs now & again, but they are “real time” people, so my own experience with social media and teens is absent.

GraveminderThat said, statistically, the information clearly supports your assertion. What to do? I think that parenting teens is really something you start when your kids are babies. My kids have always had a voice in decisions (they picked our house, my last car, where we travel, etc). Each family member gets an equal vote. Any decision can be appealed with presentation of facts. This means that my kids talk to me about everything.  People sometimes roll their eyes when I say that, but when my daughter’s ex-boyfriend suggested they should have sex, she brought him to me and we discussed the pros and cons. (He was used to how open my family is before this.) I think that the level of trust and honest discussions we have is something that begins at infancy. It builds so if there are stalking problems (or bullying, or assaults, or fears of college choice, or really any of the difficulties that teens will face), there is an established protocol for handling it.

BOLO Books:  Made For You also addresses several other issues that exist for teens today. Things like: The focus on looks and beauty, sex vs. love, and cliques.  All of your YA works address difficult topics like this, yet you never preach to your audience. You simply show them examples of how different people choose to live and let the reader take from that what they want. Was there every any pressure for you to promote “good” behavior more forcefully?

Melissa Marr:  I just posted a long blog related to this! (http://melissamarr.tumblr.com/post/96274452376/slut-shaming). The short version is that I don’t believe in “right answers,” as much as subjective opinions. Further, my own opinions are always up for revision if facts make it clear that I am in need of some shifting or evolving. I believe life is about learning, which requires regular fact-acquisition and analysis. Given the chance, I’d love to get a couple more degrees. (That’s my fantasy should I ever reach an age of retiring: more school.)

That said, I don’t think it’s my place to preach to anyone. We learn because we are on individual journeys. I have a few beliefs that are fairly iron-clad, and I have them because of the life I’ve led thus far. My truths are a result of my experiences and learning, but that doesn’t mean they’d fit you or him or her. They fit me in this place and in this time. Preaching them would be against those same beliefs! Luckily, my publishers have never asked me to preach (nor would I if asked) so we’re cool there.

BWicked LovelyOLO Books:  You had a great deal of success with your first novel, Wicked Lovely  – which I should also say is a favorite of mine. I am wondering how it is different now to release a book from what it was like when you were an unknown author. More pressure, different pressure?

Melissa Marr:  It’s always terrifying. Always. The first one felt like a fluke. The rest . . . well, they still feel like flukes. That said, the awkward part now is because readers have expectations associated with my prior books. Some readers like all of them. Some want “more faeries” or “more adult fantasy” or . . . lately, more middle-grade. I, however, cannot seem to write in one genre only. I’ve written adult dark fantasy/horror (Graveminder; WmMorrow/HarperCollins), adult “Weird West” (The Arrivals; WmMorrow/HarperCollins; 2014), children’s fantasy (co-authored with Kelley Armstrong (The Blackwell Pages trilogy; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 2013-15), a picturebook (I Love You, Bunny Roo; Paulsen/Penguin; 2015)  . . . and now I have a YA thriller. Readers cannot assume that they’ll get the same genre each time, which sometimes frustrates people. With Wicked Lovely, there were no expectations.  It was a clean slate. Honestly, I keep asking to use a pseudonym because of the worry about readers expecting one thing and getting another, and I will have a NA (New Adult) romance next year under a pseudonym for that very reason.

BOLO Books:  Your early books were firmly in the fantasy realm (mostly faeries, for those that don’t know), but I believe all of your books have had some element of the paranormal. Why is this something you are drawn to? And why do you think the paranormal/mystery combination is so popular?

Darkest MercyMelissa Marr:  I blame both my family and my years studying literature. I grew up believing in folklore, so I default there. I also majored in English (undergrad & grad), and then I taught lit (and gender studies). Many great pieces of literature, from Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath,” to Shakespearean plays, the British Romantics (etc.) utilized the supernatural. I think there’s simply something in the otherliness of it that resonates for a lot of readers. Humans are drawn towards the unknown. On a large scale, that interest in new frontiers has driven global and space exploration, science and medicine, and innovations in myriad fields. On a more individual scale, I think some people address that drive to know and explore through fiction. Supernatural is simply one way readers fill their need for the unknown.

BOLO Books:  I see that you are on the attendee list of this year’s Bouchercon in Long Beach. What are your thoughts on conventions in general and are you looking forward to your first mystery convention? Is there anyone you are particularly excited to meet?

Melissa Marr:  I’m both nervous and excited to meet Eoin Colfer. My very first BEA, I stared at him in awe for about 5 minutes trying to get up the nerve to tell him that he was brilliant. I’m hoping I’ll do it this time! I walked around in a haze when he gave a recommendation quote for my debut middle-grade (which I co-authored with Kelley Armstrong).

As to conventions in general, I’m a knowledge-needing-mammal, so I always go into conventions hoping for wisdom. I don’t necessarily go to panels that are related to what I’m doing though. It’s more of a “this sounds like fun” thing. I went to Thrillerfest in July, and I attended panels on weapons, historical thrillers, and assorted other topics that aren’t in my current areas. I love that.

BOLO Books:  The cover of Made For You is lovely and ties in nicely with the book. Was this a difficult process and are you happy with the end result?

Made For You NZMelissa Marr:  My YA covers (& one of my adult covers) for my US editions were all done under the direction of Alison Donalty. I have utmost faith in her. . . to the point that I actually was in the process of sending her a partial of my next YA book & went “oops, I should send it to my editor & agent too.” I adore her, and I trust her more than I can express in mere words. In this case, we talked about the need for an iconic image, and we were both very pleased with the idea of using the cicada-in-a-box as it’s an important moment in the story.

However, my UK/AUS/NZ cover is also gorgeous, and it’s fitting too. I’ve been very pleased with it as it is tied to another actual event in the book.  The only cover process that has been hard was one foreign edition wherein they wanted my character to look completely different and have her with a boy who she did not end up with in the book. In general, though, they were my one bad exception. My books are in 28 languages overall, and I’ve had one cover I disliked. That’s pretty awesome statistically!

BOLO Books:  What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice that you have received?

Melissa Marr:  Best? My father (who is a truck driver, nonreader, and wise man) said, “Try it. If you fail, try it again. Don’t let fear make the decision.”

Worst? Honestly, I suspect it came from folks who don’t think about the business side of this. There have been various remarks that all boil down to a complete faith in editors and agents and marketing. The short hand for it usually sounds like “it’s like dating” or “it’s like a marriage.” It’s not. It’s a business. Sometimes our interests intersect, but sometimes they don’t. Moreover, while I do have faith in those people, they work on many books, for many authors, and for a corporation. I work for myself. It’s my name on the cover, not my agent or editor or publicist or any of the rest. That means that I need to read every contract, weigh every question, and separate my emotions from my practical business mind.

Loki's WolvesBOLO Books:  What is next for Melissa Marr? Perhaps another mystery novel?

Melissa Marr:  One day I will! I have a historical mystery I hope to write in the future, but right now I’m working on something else. I’m at that stage of the process where I’m not ready to talk about it, though. I’m still writing, and at this point in the process, I get nervous that I’ll mess up the book if I talk too much.

BOLO Books:  If forced to choose only one format for all your future reading, which would you choose: Hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, or e-book?  And why?

Melissa Marr:  Trade paper. I love the feel of paper in my hands, the soft sound of pages as they turn, and the often pleasing tactile sensation of a trade paper cover (matte, or rougher matte, or strangely slick).  Since I often read books in one sitting, I like the larger format more than mmpb, and I like the lighter weight more than hardcover. Obviously, I buy all formats (except large print so far!), but if I have a choice I like trade paper.

From The Booking Desk:

As you can see, Melissa Marr is not afraid to speak her mind and it is that same quality – that willingness to trust the reader and to always remain true to the character – which makes her books such a joy to read. I hope that if you haven’t yet read Melissa Marr, maybe you have been inspired to pick up one of these great novels, in whichever genre you prefer.