Bestselling dark-fantasy novelist Melissa Marr chats with WT contributing editor Elizabeth Genco about muses, the allure of the otherworldly, and the vine of lilies creeping up her body.
* * *To brazenly steal from a certain TV infomercial which shall remain nameless: I’m not just a writer of mythic fiction, I’m also a devotee. So when I stumbled on Melissa Marr’s LiveJournal late one night, I quickly added her to my friends list so that I might watch her story unfold. In addition to exciting publishing-biz tales — review copies! foreign editions! — Melissa talked openly about her relationship with her muse: “Ms. Muse,” to be specific.
Melissa’s devotion to Ms. Muse has paid off in spades. Her first novel, Wicked Lovely, has received far too many accolades to mention here. The next book in the series, Ink Exchange, hits the shelves in late April 2008; we’ve got a third book and a manga series from Tokyopop to look forward to in 2009.
Almost as impressive as Melissa’s prose is the speed with which it reached mass audiences. After some “starts of a novel” in 2004, her journey from first page to New York Times bestseller list (Wicked Lovely debuted at number eight) was about two years. Melissa recently sat down with weird tales to discuss the cauldron of ideas and influences that helps to fuel her work.
WEIRD TALES: Your next book, Ink Exchange, is about faeries and tattoos. When did you get your first tattoo?
MELISSA MARR: In my mid-20s, I picked my artist. I wanted an ivy vine and 6 white lilies. The vine was to be encircling my torso. My artist refused to do a large project on virgin skin, so my first session was just a pair of white lilies on my sternum. Afterwards, I affirmed that I still wanted the rest, so he gave me my vine and lilies over the next few months. That was about ten years ago. There have been a few tattoos between then and now, and I’m currently getting the ivy re-touched (to brighten it) and adding more branches.
WT: Tell us a bit about your relationship with folklore. How and when did it reel you in?
MM: I grew up believing in faeries, ghosts, vampires, and shapeshifters. These weren’t creatures in another realm though. They walked here. The Wild Hunt was as likely as not to be thundering by as one walked home from the pub… or so my family told me.
WT: Was belief in the Otherworld a big part of your family’s culture?
MM: For a number of family members, yes, belief was just the way of it. Supposedly, there were psychics in the family tree (possibly something with a carnival, the details were always vague). There were dishes left for the Good Neighbors. What some might call superstition was normal. I remember a relative going out gathering herbs in the woods. Those were from both sides of the family.
The story goes that all the relatives on both sides came from Ireland or Scotland — except one from Germany. My Great-Grandmother Rose was an Irish citizen who spoke Irish/Gaelic. The rest? Did I mention the storytelling tradition? Answers are fluid sometimes. “He was Irish, by way of Scotland. No, no! He was Scottish.” This one changed his name because he had some “troubles” attached to that name. That one claimed to be from there because of a “misunderstanding with the lawman.” It’s not the truth but the tale that matters. But as best as I can understand, there’s relatives from Ireland, Scotland, and Germany. Luckily for me, all three are rich in storytelling, folklore, and fairytales.
Between this belief system and a pile of books in my Gramma’s house, I guess I always believed. As I got older, I read more and more books. I still do.
WT: You are very open in interviews about being a “muse writer.” What are your favorite ways to court Ms. Muse?
MM: I don’t do favorites, per se. I’ve never been good at picking just one of anything. The frequent ones have been going to museums, oceans, desert, listening to music, getting tattooed, roaming aimlessly with my camera and meditating. It’s about sating my senses or trying to fill my spirit. Sometimes it’s also about letting the body be distracted so the text can simmer in the subconscious level. Often, I believe, we know the next bit of a tale, but we are trying so hard to reach it that we are blocking ourselves. My solution is to argue that the not-at-the-desk part is a critical part of the process rather than trying to force ourselves into some regimented structure.
WT: Very, very wise. Also easier said than done, I find — it’s like I’ve internalized the pressure of the world-at-large to Always Be Productive.
MM: It comes down to how you define “productive,” though. Without caution, I’m a hardcore workaholic, so I must force myself to remember that what we feed in determines what we can do. How is one to write without pausing to live? It’s not easy to find the time, but a few hours of “muse feeding” does wonders for the text. For example, I was just out on tour again (the second one HarperCollins sent me on for this first book), and there weren’t many free hours in the schedule. Still, I took 90 minutes to walk around a botanical garden in Phoenix, an hour to roam the streets of Chicago, and a bit of time to go to the Dali Museum in Florida. It wasn’t much, and I suspect that sleep would’ve been useful in those same windows, but those hours in those places all fuel the words I will write.
Creativity is tied to chaos and randomness for me, so I indulge my whims. It’s more fun, and it seems to be working just fine.
WT: I found this great interview where you talk about the revision process for Wicked Lovely. And that got me thinking about a favorite question. Are you a swooper or a banger? (Swoopers swoop in and just get it all out onto the paper, overwriting and making massive edits later. Bangers carefully craft each word, banging out each sentence before moving on to the next.)
MM: Can I pick hybrid? I think it depends on the text. Sometimes I think I have a process, but each text has been a little different. I don’t know that I’d ever want to say “A-ha! I do it this way” because then it would be predictable, which would lead to boredom, which is bad for me. Writing is still a new adventure without a clear process. As long as it stays this way, I think I’ll be able to do it for a while.
WT: You’ve bartended, taken road trips, been a teacher, and have done all sorts of cool things. Name something you have yet to do but would like to do.
MM: Everyone’s done interesting things; that’s part of why I like talking to people — to learn about their experiences. I don’t have any set thing I’m craving above all others. I just hope that I’ll continue giving in to stray urges. I recently offered to be a receptionist at a tattoo convention. I don’t think they’ll agree, but I’m still hopeful.
WT: How could they not agree? What’s to say no to?
MM: The challenge is trying to convince the people at the booth I volunteered for that they need a receptionist. Granted, I could go and just roam, but I love trying new jobs or new functions. I’ve never worked at a booth or been a receptionist, so I really want to. I’ve offered to deal with paperwork, fetch coffee, whatever. I have a “maybe” answer so far, but I’m going to keep trying!
Most of my jobs I took on a whim — including the first bartending job. There are so many experiences I haven’t had yet. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I feel like I’ve missed the chance to live.