Melissa Marr

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Things not to say in a pitch …

I’ve volunteered on a few conventions over the years, back when I was in academia & as a writer. I co-organized a grassroots author tour than had over 30 authors in groups of 5-6 at cities in Canada & the US for 3 years in a row. I ALSO bartended & taught uni for over a decade… that means I have pretty clear BS detectors & sense of what’s relevant. 

A recent batch of email included a line that has NO place in a pitch: “he’s not hard on the eyes - and I think you’ll find attendees swooning for his good looks and charm!).”

Um, is it wrong to reply that the attendees aren’t there for man candy but for info & books? 

His panel attendance isn’t going to be swayed yes OR no by this gem, but I was a lot less than impressed by its inclusion as one of the “hooks.”  If he were applying to serve drinks, that might sway me, but to talk books? Nope.

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Anonymous asked: I've been accepted for an MA in Lit but am currently waitlisted for a TAship (including full tuition remission and a stipend). I obv can't make assumptions of what your funding situation was in grad school, but am wondering if you have any thoughts on going into debt for an MA. Is it crazy? Not enough space to explain WHY I'm going for it, but I will make this clear: I'm not pursuing to delay reality. Would love some wisdom as I hang in waitlist limbo.

Short Answer:  I took somewhat sketchy jobs to offset the low amount of the TAship too… & I thought the degree was worth it both then & now. My opinion is that we should follow our passions. If you truly want the degree, go for it. 

Long Answer: You can totally make assumptions about my funding :)  To be blunt, up until I sold Wicked Lovely, I was poor.  My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and my father was a truck driver. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, but I wanted it desperately. I put myself through college with a combo of scholarships, loans, and jobs. 

In college, one of my equally driven friends worked at a nude bar, but I wasn’t quite ready for that leap. I was a research assistant, tutor, daycare teacher, etc. 

Grad school was only possible if I got a TA, and I couldn’t afford to apply to many schools.  (App fees were $45-50 a pop). I got into my fantasy school, but there was no way I could afford it. I cried a lot over that. I got into a couple others, but I went to the one with the best assistantship. It gave me in-state tuition, and something like $8500/year stipend. 

So I moved there the day after graduating college & found a job waiting tables for the summer. Then I was out with friends and wandered into a biker bar … where the bartender asked if I wanted a job “because the boys like you.”  I said no, but by the end of the night, I was working there. By the following day, I was standing with my arms raised over my head so they could cut my t-shirt “a half inch from decent” (the goal was that when I stretched up, the shirt would lift enough to almost flash them).  They treated me like a dress up doll sometimes, but the money was incredible.

I wanted both the college & grad degrees enough that I did consider a job at a nude bar, did accept a job at a biker bar, and even briefly took a job at a strip club (cocktail waitress with a uniform of lingerie and heels). I steadfastly refused stripping… not out of modesty but because I’m not athletic enough to earn well at that. 

I can’t give you a logical answer of why I thought it was so worth it. After I finished my degree, I was still poor… plus in debt & still bartending in order to offset the low salary of teaching.  I’d get frustrated bc I made more in one night in a skimpy outfit working in a bar than I did in a week teaching.  But people age, gravity changes things, and those very lucrative nights would’ve ended.  So I refused to stop teaching bc I didn’t want a gap in my professional work on my CV. The degree was about the long game. The bar was so I could afford to teach.

My plan had been either law school or a PhD after that, but then I got married.  Marriage added more debt.  I married an enlisted Marine (who was in univ in order to get a degree & get commissioned), & he sent his entire salary to his 4 year old daughter & ex-wife.  I took on his debt, and we went even further in debt to get custody of her.   

So, poor was definitely still the right word up until my spouse deployed & I wrote a book & then another & so now I’m a writer…  

So I guess my long answer is that if I want something—be it a degree, a job, a child—the debt is worth it.  I credit that MA degree (particularly two of my professors) for teaching me how to dissemble novels. That skill is why I believe I now have a career as a writer. I credit my daughter with being the reason I sold that first book.  I wrote it for her … and that book sale paid off the $40k legal bill & the various credit card debts we incurred while fighting for her.  The degree led to the job that led to meeting my spouse which led to being a mom which led to being a writer which paid off the debt of all of those things :) 

It doesn’t always work out the way it did for me. I got lucky… but I worked my ass off because I thought the degree and the family are worth it.  I still think that. 

My answer is almost always “follow your passions.” If this degree is your passion, go for it.

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Trio of news things…

I’ve had a series of good news snippets over the past 6 weeks. It’s a little odd how projects written over several years end up getting news (& releases) all close together.  

THING #1:
The big thing is that I saw the art for my debut picture book, BUNNY ROO (written for my baby when we were in the hospital for his first 40 days of life), & the artist (Teagan White) posted an excerpt of it.
You can see one of her illustrations for it here: http://melissamarr.tumblr.com/post/77731343877/teaganwhite-a-little-preview-of-my-second  and another image at the bottom of this post.

THING #2
The most recent is that USA Today did a cover reveal for my Sept 2014 YA, MADE FOR YOU (about an obsessed stalker/killer who leaves messages on the victims bodies & via flowers): http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2014/03/07/melissa-marr-made-for-you/6166517/

image

THING #3:
And the most timely is that the first review for my 2nd MG novel, ODIN’S RAVENS (out in May), came in—from KIRKUS—& they said only good things (?!) including this:
Intense action, well-crafted scenes and humor-laced dialogue add up to a sure winner.”
BOTTOM LINE:
So it’s been an unexpectedly pleasant trio of things on a trio of projects … that somehow all converged at once. The best part, however, is seeing the art for the book I wrote for my baby. I’ve wanted to write a PB for well over a decade, and having that dream come true AND getting to pick an artist I love AND knowing that I’ll be able to share the story of my son’s adoption & illness with him in a metaphorical way with the aid of Teagan’s art is a huge victory.  
One of my favourite parts of BUNNY ROO is that Teagan based the baby in the book off pictures of Kaden…  my precious one is now not only running madly in my home, scaling baby gates, pouncing puppies, and being the most exuberant child I’ve ever met, but he’s also illustrated in a rarely seen state—stationary and calm ;)
image

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Snippets and bits of unfinished fiction

After hours of revision, my eyes are fuzzy, so I was poking around my “incomplete_or_old” files.  I ended up in one of the usual distractions: a 50,000 word children’s novel that I start revising every so often for fun. I have a version of it re-started as a YA, one where it’s modern, one where it’s more urban, one where I change narrative structure significantly …  I realized that for 10 years now I’ve been playing with versions of this book.  One day, I may find the revision of it that hooks me completely. For now, I start & stop new approaches.

(NOTE: It’s actually a finished novel. I just don’t love it as is.)

It’s the only complete but unpublished book… but there are many “never finished” pieces. 

  • About 5 years ago I started a horror/faery story for adult too. 28k on it, & then I shelved it to decide if I wanted to finish it or not. 
  • 8k of a contemporary romance
  • 6k (& an outline) of an adult paranormal 
  • 3 or 4 different partial WL short stories, including 4k of one about Irial/Niall/Leslie 4 years after the end of the series (Leslie’s final months of college)… which I shelved bc it veers into adult territory and an almost finished one about the summer girls after the end of DM.
  • Then there is the 30k of the Graveminder sequel… That one I intend to finish this year. 

There’s something strange about the partial stories. I often open a file write a few hundred or a few thousand words, & then resume what I’m supposed to be doing.  It feels like sneaking a cookie to do this.

I’m not sure if this is an odd hobby or not. It’s resulted in various short stories (“Stopping Time,” “Old Habits,” et al in the WL world; the forthcoming “Carnival of Lies” in that world), and one manga-turned-novel (Desert Tales).  Sometimes I think my hobby shouldn’t look so similar to my job, but … I like writing.

And, in truth, these small fiction exercises clear my palate between novels.  WL was once a short story I wrote after that 50k kids novel to clear my brain before I started a new “big project” & Carnival was one an 800 word snippet that I wrote between novels … so I guess these small pieces might also be how my brain sorts ideas.

Off to walk in the rain with my doggie writing companion. (We ran away to the mountains to write. Rottweilers are surprisingly attentive listeners when one is plotting aloud.) 

170 notes

Sometimes artistic expressions clarify issues so much more than debates & serious essays … or maybe they just reach us more easily.  Best example I’ve seen in a while is this video via bitch media:

bitch-media:

This hilarious video remakes “Royals” into a song about race and typecasting in Hollywood. Nice work, y’all!

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"We're all a little mad here"

If you don’t want to read the whole article, here’s the heart of it:

A few months back, Andreas Fink at the University of Graz in Austria founda relationship between the ability to come up with an idea and the inability to suppress the precuneus while thinking. The precuneus is the area of the brain that shows the highest levels of activation during times of rest and has been linked to self-consciousness and memory retrieval. It is an indicator of how much one ruminates or ponders oneself and one’s experiences.

So be it.

I’d rather be a writer than most other jobs …

3,708 notes

jesseinred-deactivated20140320 asked: Hey, I'm sorry if this is super weird, but you're beautiful, and I wondered if you'd ever thought about doing any topless pics?

bethrevis:

maureenjohnsonbooks:

Thank you for your kind inquiry. If you do not mind, I will impart some gentle advice to guide you in further communications.

Weigh the probability. I am an author of books for young adults. Does it strike you as likely that I would go casting about in my public tumblr box for people to take photos of my chesticular bookends? Normally, I find questions about books. And while everyone likes a change now and again, there is such a thing as too much change. If you were to work the numbers,  what do you think the actual chances were that I was going to reply in the affirmative? Were they high? If they were, it seems within reason that you might have been in a similar condition. No. The chances were never good. So either you are an eternal optimist (and we certainly need optimists), or this was written with some other intent in mind.

I realize you didn’t come to me looking for advice on how to communicate, much in the same way that I did not come to you looking to have topless pictures taken—but here we are together. Let us make the most of it!

The key to any effective letter is this: know your audience! Everything stems from that critical piece of knowledge. You had a moment of self-awareness in the first part of your sentence. Pause there and reflect. Asking women you don’t know (or often those you do) if they want to take some topless pictures is almost a guarantee of weird. This is why Hallmark doesn’t make a “how about some topless pictures?” card. You hovered on the edge of wisdom, and you retreated. Do not retreat, my friend.

With that, I must offer my regrets. But I do not want to leave you without recourse. Have you heard of the author Nicolas Sparks? Perhaps you could make a similar inquiry to him? Or would that not be appropriate?

I will leave it up to your best judgement.

-mj

image

I don’t develop a lot of author-crushes as a rule, but I may have just developed a crush on Maureen after reading this … 

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Co-Authoring a book

On the “writer topics that get asked a LOT” the past few years is “how do you co-write a book?” So, I figured I’d offer up a brief overview on how Kelley & I co-write the Backwell Pages.  

US/Canada/Australia/UK pub schedule:

  • Book 1, LOKI’S WOLVES, out May 2013; paperback out mid-April 2014
  • Book 2, ODEN’S RAVENS, out mid-May 2014
  • Book 3, THOR’S SERPENT, out May 2015 (NOTE: What I’m revising this week.)

Process:

  • Kelley writes Matt.
  • I write any other povs—which ended up being Laurie, Fen, & Owen.
  • When we revise, we read “our” characters’ dialogue in the other person’s chapters so their diction & actions are consistent.   

It’s pretty straight-forward. 

There are other ways … the most obvious is probably “over-writing” wherein each author can change the other one’s words. If you met us, you’d know why that wouldn’t work.  We’re not quite two old dogs snarling & protecting territory, but we might be their slightly more verbal cousins. 

Co-Authoring Challenges & Suggestions:

  1. Contract— We have a legal doc that outlines everything from ownership of the characters to spin-offs to what we lovingly call “the cliff clause.”
  2. Working Style— Kelley has never, ever been late on a deadline. When we started she had most of the 13 Women of the Otherworld books & some of the 6 YA in the world (Darkest Powers) & assorted other things.  I like to be done 3-6 months before deadline.  Finding people that match styles so closely? Not so easy. ALSO very important!
  3. Test drives— We had already planned 3 years of tours (with 3 dozen authors), 2 anthos, & the YA Track at the RT Convention.  We know we work well together.
  4. Hot Buttons— Control Freak Tendencies. We both have ‘em.
  5. How It Works— We go away together to write. I write nights; she writes days. The book is actually being drafted 24hrs a day when we are locked away together. Revision, CE, & assorted business things are done at a distance.
  6.   Unified Front— When in doubt, we call. When we answer an editor or an agent there is a key phrase “as long as [my co-author] has no objections, this could work. Let us get back to you.”

These are all pretty straight-forward, but the chief detail is that they were BASED ON THE TWO PARTNERS. They are tailored to our personalities. 

The Cliff Clause:

We started the first book at a cabin in the woods, & there literally are cliffs.  It became a mostly-joke that “if you accidentally went tumbling off that cliff, I would …”  but in reality we had to address those things. It’s like a pre-nup or agent contract or even the very essential pre-serious-relationship conversation that goes “so, we’re dating exclusively now, & here’s where I stand on religion, shared accounts, kids, and sex. What about you?”  It’s critical to address the hard questions before you need to because if you wait until’s it’s NOW you’re too late to address it calmly.   

So if one of us wants to write more in the world or spin-offs, but the other is over the series? We have terms for that.

If one of us dies before the series is finished at various markers (like 20%, 50%, more than 60%), we have addressed it.

Does this mean we’ve never bared our teeth & growled? Um, see that first bit where I likened us to territorial dogs.  We are both strong personalities used to being in control. Of course, we growled, but after 3 books together, I can happily say that I consider Kelley as dear of a friend as I did when we were drafting cliff clauses :)  I suspect that’s partly because we had those clauses.  

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Plotting a book

In one of the writer forums I frequent, someone asked about writing a novel.  The dilemma was that her story was complete but felt about a third of the length of a novel. 

Since this is a question I hear often, I thought I’d share my suggestion (& expand on it) here too.

I’d suggest that the first question you need to ask yourself is whether this idea is meant to be a novel or a novella in terms of the story.  I have ideas that are meant for smaller scale, & then there are those that require several books to tell.  I cannot condense some into something short, whereas others won’t work in book-length or series length.  Not all ideas work in all formats …  I’d suggest that it’s the same for media adaptations.  I have one book that gets the “this should be a TV show” whereas others (WL & Blackwell) get the “movie, not TV” response when agents & producers looked at them.  

Wicked Lovely has, in fact, been in the pre-production for film stage for several years.  In all that time, we never said, “Oh, what about TV?” The story feels more film that TV.  That same type of distinction is often the case when looking at whether something is a short story, novella, novel, or series. 

CAN you adapt them to be something else? Sure. Revision, adaptation, shrinking or expanding can transform an idea in different directions.   The question, though, is when you have the idea & are trying to figure out what format it should go into … 

So, if your idea IS meant to be a novel, how do you get there? One strategy if a story IS book length is breaking it into “acts.”

  • Act 1: 1/4 of the book (15k).  This establishes the world, the characters, & introduces the seeds of the issues.
  • Act 2: the meat of the story. This is 1/2 the book (30-40k). It’s the action (sparked by the end of Act 1). The plot twists, worst case scenarios, & etc go here.
  • Act 3 & Act 4: about 1/4  of the book (10-15k).  The big battle/epic climax (8-10k) & the denouement (2-5k) go here.

There are lots of other approaches, but sometimes that one seems logical for a project when you’re trying to decide if it “works” as a novel. 

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Cover for Made for You & creation notes

In case you missed the reveal & excerpt in USA Today,  here is the cover of my upcoming book.

There is an excerpt over here and if you have questions (on this or other stuff), feel free to click the Tumblr link to send questions to my inbox.

MADE FOR YOU is a result of 

  • my interest in serial killers & sociopaths
  • my love of romance
  • my long-standing desire to write something contemporary

To write it, I also pulled on

  • my experiences of being stalked
  • my encounters with the police as a result of said stalker
  • a long ago experience of being left chained up at a house 
  • living in NC
  • my grad degree (Southern lit) 
  • face-blindness

So that thing people do where they ask about “where did you get the ideas for the book?” This is the preemptive answer where I admit that this book has a touch more of the delving into the rooms in my head that I generally keep closed.  As with any book, these are characters not real people, not me, but there are experiences (see list above) that I used to give these characters a touch more realism :)