Hello, fans! I’m pleased to welcome the Bram Stoker award-winning author Maria Alexander back to my blog for an interview. The last time we chatted was a few years back, and since then, Maria’s been quite busy and has a brand new book to talk about.
Maria, why don’t you take a moment to tell us about your new book, SNOWED? What’s it about, and what inspired you to write it?
Thanks so much for having me back! Yes, I’ve been busy. The new book is my first YA novel. It’s about Charity Jones, a teen engineering prodigy and skeptic who learns she should not only believe in certain Christmas myths, but she should also be afraid of them.
The inspiration came many years ago, on a miserable November night. I was feeling especially Grinchy as I was driving home from an awful, long-distance job. I’d always had a tempestuous relationship with Christmas. So when an instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells” came on the radio, it struck me as the darkest piece I’d ever heard. I’d just read Neil Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was,” which already had me in a myth-twisting mood. By the time I got home, I had a new story in my head, and all I had to do was sit and write. “Coming Home” was the result: a wicked flash fiction piece that was part social commentary, part bah-humbug, and completely surprising. I shared it with Neil, and he said, “This is the story I should have written.” That floored me, of course, but it was wonderfully validating.
The little story was published a dozen times and stolen even more before it was produced as a one-act play by Women in Theater in Los Angeles, and even adapted to podcast by Pseudopod.org. But I knew it had potential to be a bigger work. I didn’t really figure out how to adapt it to novel, though, until late 2012. The title was originally The Snow Job, but that sounded a little too close to a certain vulgar phrase. So, I chose Snowed because it also means “deceived.”
SNOWED’s main character, Charity Jones, is such a cool role model for teen girls. She’s a person of color and also a young engineer with a love of robots. And she’s really approachable and compassionate, as well as having strong convictions. In writing Charity, what were you hoping to express to your readers?
I wanted to create a unique character who went against the grain in every way, both in the book and in the publishing meta. As one reviewer mentioned, she’s not the typical mopey white girl YA protagonist. Also, children look for themselves in media, whether it’s TV, movies or books. To that end, I wanted girls – especially girls of color – to see themselves in a positive light, as people who can excel at STEM, be brave, solve problems, and make good decisions in their relationships even when it hurts.
Your last novel, MR. WICKER, for which you won a Bram Stoker award, featured a strong female protagonist as well. Why do you like to write female protagonists, and was there any difficulty transitioning from writing an adult character to writing a YA character?
I honestly like writing characters of both genders. Most of my short stories have had male protagonists, and I have a thriller comedy novel I’m self-publishing under a pseudonym with a male protagonist. Lately, though, I’ve felt strongly about teen girls having great role models. As I was writing Snowed, I kept in mind both what I’d have wanted to read when I was a teen plus what I would have wanted my daughter to read if I’d had one. They weren’t that far off from one another. And whenever they were, I often gave in to teen Maria.
The difference between writing from the POV of an adult and a teen is that teens can be the ultimate unreliable narrators because they lack experience and insight. They’re also much more impulsive, and everything feels so much more intense and urgent. It takes two minutes to fall in “love.” Two! One of my teen beta readers even drew hearts around Aidan’s name throughout the manuscript I gave her to comment on. They live so close to magic they can taste it because childhood was just yesterday. And although they see adulthood on the horizon, they’re not burdened with those responsibilities yet, which can make responsibilities we’d consider onerous look adventurous.
So far, what has been your favorite fan reaction to SNOWED?
Reviewers often call the book’s plot “original” and “surprising,” which is really gratifying. But probably one of the greatest reactions was that of a teen beta reader, Miri, who wrote this in her questionnaire when I asked her to describe the story:
“A Kick-ass Christmas story… If you liked The Mortal Instruments, you read this fucking now.”
I showed it to her mom, laughing. She sighed and said, “Yeah, that sounds like Miri.” But the other four teen beta readers had similar reactions. I loved that they were so enthusiastic. It carried me through.
That’s fantastic. I love when people have strong reactions to an author’s work. As a writer of dark fantasy and horror, what advice would you give to young women interested in a similar writing career?
Read and write a lot, and don’t be in a hurry to publish anything. Kids (and adults, too, for that matter) feel pressured to become self-publishing whizzes, to get validation and recognition. To get a “book deal.” But for most people the absolute worst thing you can do is put something online in your teens. This is when you’re incubating, playing, developing as a writer. You don’t need people criticizing you yet. After a while, get a mentor. Get feedback. Study. Be diligent. Don’t let anyone discourage you, especially university professors. Universities are famous for hating horror, and genre fiction in general. My English professor discouraged me from writing horror even though my first story at 20 was really good. As a result, I didn’t write another horror short story for nine years. So much wasted time.
After SNOWED, what are you working on next? Anything exciting you can share with us? Will it be YA as well?
I’m very close to finishing the sequel to Snowed, which is called Inversion. And I’m also working on another YA novel (possibly a series) about the historical marvel known as La Maupin, the renowned 17th century swordswoman and opera star. Genderqueer and bisexual, her real name was Julie d’Aubigny. My story starts when she’s 16 years old and already a deadly force when she meets a horrific threat to both the people of France and herself. There’s more magic in France than a thousand Englands – and none if it’s good. France needs Julie’s blade and bravery to save them from the darkness rising before it’s too late.
That’s great! We can’t wait! Maria, thanks so much for spending time with me today!
Fans, please check out SNOWED, and be sure to connect with Maria online at the below links:
And to see how the characters of Snowed dress, check out the Snowed collection on Polyvore!
Maria Alexander is the 2014 Bram Stoker Award®-winning author of Mr. Wicker. Her wicked YA novel Snowed started shredding Christmas stockings in November 2016 while she continues to publish short fiction and nonfiction, a habit that started in 1999. Since 2010, she’s been studying samurai swordsmanship. Don’t ask her which is mightier. You’ll probably regret it. Want more? Visit her website.