What: Maria Alexander is a multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning and Anthony Award-nominated author of both YA and adult fiction. She’s also a student of Japanese swordsmanship. She lives in Los Angeles with two ungrateful cats, a Jewish Christmas caroler, and a purse called Trog.
Where: Los Angeles
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on your recent Bram Stoker Award! Can you tell us a little about SNOWED?
SNOWED is a YA paranormal mystery about the teen skeptic Charity Jones who discovers she should not only believe in certain Christmas myths, but she should be afraid of them.
What went into creating Charity Jones?
Charity is today’s teen. Because of her racial background, her family’s dysfunction, and her intellectual gifts, she’s got a lot to deal with. But throw in the complicated business of online life and the resulting information overload, and teens today have way more to process today than I did when I was in high school.
Bullying is a powerful theme in SNOWED. Why was it important to include it in the book?
I was bullied big time in high school, mostly by jocks, one of which later became a minor league baseball player. I’ve heard from teachers in that area that this continues to be a major problem at that school. And now in the era of Trump, we have new areas of aggressive bullying over race and religion. I wanted kids who are different to know that they have allies. That pulling together is key to survival. It helped me. And it helps Charity.
SNOWED won a prestigious horror award and is also nominated for the crime/mystery Anthony Award. Do you think the book fits neatly into those two genres? Do you think about genre when you write?
The book stands strong with one foot in each genre. However, unless you actually read the book, it’s harder to see the horror angle from just the flap copy. That was intentional because I wanted people to think of it first as a mystery. But—and this is a minor spoiler—since Krampus is involved, it’s definitely a horror novel. (I say “minor” because it’s not remotely the way you might expect.) I prefer to call the book paranormal because, when people think “horror,” they think slasher flick, and this is definitely not that.
That said, I don’t typically think in terms of genre when I write, which is kind of a problem marketing-wise. Not only do people want to know what they’re getting, marketing departments want to know how to position a book. They’re not likely to take it on if they can’t neatly categorize it. But if you look at Amazon reviews of my books, one thing you’ll see repeatedly is the word “original.” Those kinds of stories don’t lend to a pre-baked marketing approach. You know what, though? I’ll take that.
Your debut novel, MR. WICKER, also won a Bram Stoker Award in 2014. In your opinion, how does it differ from SNOWED? How has your writing evolved?
MR. WICKER differs entirely from SNOWED in so many ways—audience age (adults vs. teens+adults), writing style (poetic vs. teen lingo), POV (third-person vs. first-person). Plus, the plotting of SNOWED is, in my opinion, an evolutionary leap forward from MR. WICKER. SNOWED has so many more red herrings, twists, and shout-out moments. Many people have told me they couldn’t put it down, that they yelled at the book. Meanwhile, the midsection of MR. WICKER is a sizable historical fantasy flashback to that character’s origin story. Some people love it, but others had a hard time with the transition back in time two thousand years and then forward again.
I’ve learned a lot about creating transitions since then, as well as plotting in general. And I’m more interested than ever in the Miyazaki approach to character writing where the good guys and bad guys are highly nuanced. Fans have already asked me to write a story about Aidan’s father, sensing that there’s much more to him than appears in the book.
It’s ridiculously challenging writing an entire book in first-person, present tense. I had to change it up in the sequel to SNOWED; the first half is in Aidan’s POV, and the second is in Charity’s. In MR. WICKER, which I adapted from a movie script, I had the luxury of moving from one character to another. Overall with YA, the narrator is less reliable because their reality as a teen is entirely different than ours. Charity for example lives in extremes. An instant infatuation is “love.” When something bad happens it’s “the end of everything.”
The most frustrating reviews I read of the book were from people who applied their adult brains and reality to Charity’s. Or worse, when they expected Charity to give them a complete and accurate picture of reality. Seriously? Since when do teens ever do that? Maybe when they have kids of their own they’ll find out.
You’ve also published numerous short stories. Do you find it more difficult to write short fiction or longer fiction?
Short fiction is so much easier to write. I try not to spend too much time on it these days because it takes away time from books. I write short stories for emotional catharsis. They’ve so far all been horror and dark fantasy stories, but I have a number of crime stories I want to write, some based on real situations I’ve been in, as well as family history.
What other publishing plans do you have for 2017 and beyond?
The sequel to SNOWED is about finished. When it’s done, my agent will send that to the publisher for a first look. I have a short story collection on submission called TWELVE TALES LIE. It’s thirteen stories, one of which is a true story so incredible that one could say it was fiction. In fact, I’m sure many will. But the big WIP is a YA fantasy thriller called ASHES OF ANGELS about Julie d’Aubigny, a deadly, gender-bending swordswoman in 17th-century France who in real life killed the men she fought in duels. She loved women as much as men, and became an opera star. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life preparing to write this book. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.
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S.W. Lauden is up for two Silver Falchion Reader’s Choice Awards! Voting is open to everybody and no registration is required. Please cast a vote for GRIZZLY SEASON (Best Action/Adventure) and CROSSWISE (Best Mystery). Thank you!