Thanks, Mary, for agreeing to be a guest blogger. I have a few questions that readers might be interested in.
What draws you to the genre of suspense (if that’s how you would characterize your work)? It’s not what one might expect from a graduate of the Iowa workshop.
Thanks for the opportunity to appear on your blog, Daiva.
In fact, my writing at the Workshop was less concerned with plot than character and landscape and prose style. I didn’t think of that as a weakness, but one of my teachers, Gail Godwin, advised me to learn how to plot. She recommended that I study Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories to learn how. I read and enjoyed Doyle’s stories, but didn’t take Godwin’s advice to heart for a long time. Eventually I came to realize that most readers want a compelling story. Although discerning readers also want complex and believable characters and elegant prose, the essential element is story. I began writing suspense novels when my novella “Water Dolls” evolved into a story of two teenagers stalked by a serial killer. Suspense is a genre I’ve always enjoyed reading. While at the Workshop I loved the novels of Patricia Highsmith.
By the way, one of my classmates at the Iowa Writers Workshop writes mysteries. Jon A. Jackson’s Detroit mysteries, beginning with The Blind Pig, are great reads. One of his characters, a hit man, is somewhat based on my husband – not that Joe is a cold-blooded killer.
1) The hero of Talion is an interesting and somewhat geeky adolescent girl. Has having such a character in a novel about a serial killer presented any problems?
The hero, Lu, became an issue when the novel was represented by an agent. He took on the novel because it received a good review from a reader at William-Morris. At that time he was in the process of leaving William-Morris to start his own agency. I went with him. When he began shopping the manuscript around, he found that editors balked because the story did not conform to the genre. They wanted an adult, middle-class protagonist, a detective or journalist. They were unwilling to take a chance on Lu, especially with the large advance my agent wanted.
So I rewrote the novel, a terrible mistake. The new hero was a small-town journalist, but I could not bring myself to make Lu a minor character. As a result, the rewrite was too long and lacked a clear storyline. After a series of rejections from editors, the agent dropped me.
A couple of years later, I rewrote again, weaving a few elements of the rewrite into the original story and adding a new character, Talion, the ambiguous figure whom only Lu can see and hear.
2) I couldn’t sleep one night while reading Talion. Perhaps you should attach prescriptions for Ambien with the novel.
Maybe I could get a kickback from the drug company.
I’m pleased the novel has the power to affect readers that deeply, but hopefully readers won’t find it too profoundly disturbing to finish the story.
3) Tell us about your writing process.
I revise a lot. Revision does not mean tinkering with the prose here and there; that’s line editing. Revision means conceiving the story in a new way.
While rewriting for the agent, I wrote every day as well as teaching full time. I worked sixty or more hours a week. I had no friends, no interests. In addition to being emotionally exhausting, this overwork doesn’t result in good writing – not in my cas,e at least. Now I get less work done than I would like, but I have a life.
4) Who are some writers you admire?
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook had a great influence on me at the Workshop. Much of the fiction I was reading then created a rarified and private world. Lessing’s novel encompassed politics, history, psychology, art, feminism – everything. It made me understand that I needed to write about more than myself and my experiences.
I admire Vladimir Nabokov, Gustav Flaubert, Thomas Harris, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Different as they are, all these writers have created characters of archetypal dimensions. How many people who haven’t read Lolita nonetheless know who Lolita is? The same is true of Madame Bovary, Hannibal Lector, and Frodo.
5) Your next novel is also a thriller. Any idea when we might expect that?
I hope to finish Darkroom by the end of the year. Then I have to decide whether to seek another agent or publish it myself. If I go the traditional route, it would take at least a couple of years for the novel to be published – if I’m immediately successful.
6) Word has it that some of your most fulfilling relationships have been with animals. Tell us about this.
I love animals, love being around them. Growing up, my brother and I had dogs, cats, horses, and birds at one time or another. Now I have a horse named Tucker and a budgie named Westie. Tucker boards at a nearby farm since my husband prefers to live in town. Westie lives with us and has the run of the house when someone is home. His wings are unclipped, so he flies from room to room and returns to his cage for the occasional pit stop. Right now he’s perched on the back my chair, saying, “Won’t you kiss me?”
Shortly after we married, Joe and I discovered he was allergic to cats. We had to give up our cat, Harry. That was hard for me. For several years afterward we had no pets, and then a friend who was getting married offered me her budgie because her fiancée disliked the bird. My friend later divorced the guy. He wasn’t nearly as loyal and sweet as Benji.
Another of my budgies, Iggy, took a romantic interest in me and persistently tried to mate with my hand. He was the inspiration for my story “Yubi” about a woman who falls in love with her bird. The story was published in Yellow Silk and is posted on my Web site www.marymaddox.com.
Mary’s novel Talion is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Talion-Mary-Maddox/dp/0984428100/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279919214&sr=8-3