Thursday, November 1, 2012

An Interview with Merrie Destefano

Although we all know Merrie Destefano as a fellow Supernatural Underground author, I am still thrilled to be able to interview her today and ask a few indepth questions about her writing, particularly her new YA novel, Fathom.

And regardless of Merrie being a  fellow Supernatural Undergrounder, I am going to do a formal introduction, because the whole point of an interview, after all, is to get to know the author, as well as her work, a little better. So without further ado...

Introducing Merrie Destefano

 Merrie Destefano left a 9-to-5 desk job as a magazine editor to become a full-time novelist and freelance editor. Her first novel, Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles, is an urban fantasy published by HarperCollins/Eos, and her second novel, Feast: Harvest of Dreams released on June 28, 2011. With twenty years’ experience in publishing, her background includes editor of Victorian Homes magazine and founding editor of Cottages & Bungalows magazine. Born in the Midwest, she currently lives in Southern California with her husband, two German shepherds and a Siamese cat.

In addition to this interview, you may find out more on Merrie’s website:

Interview:  Merrie Destefano and Fathom

Helen: Merrie, you have had two adult paranormal novels published previously. What drew you to YA with Fathom?

Merrie:  It’s hard to say exactly how it happened. When I was working on Feast, one of the characters really surprised me and she ended up having her own strong subplot. That character was Elspeth, Ash’s half-breed teenage daughter. I quickly realized how much depth there was to work with when writing a young adult character. I’d also been reading young adult novels for several years and had fallen in love with them.

Somewhere in the process of writing Feast, I took a short break to write the first chapter of Fathom.  The idea for that book came to me unexpectedly, which is actually common. My story ideas come when I least expect them, usually when I’m in the midst of another project. I guess I’d have to say that I was deeply influenced by the books that I have been reading and continue to read, which often fall into the young adult genre.

Helen: What do you see as the primary differences between writing YA and adult fiction, particularly in the paranormal genre?

Merrie:  For me, the main difference between writing YA and adult fiction is the fact that YA has so many built-in universal themes. All of us remember what it’s like to be a teenager, to feel like you’re not quite pretty enough or talented enough, to feel insecure. When you factor in the paranormal genre, you get the opportunity to introduce magic into the story—which when you think about it has a lot of parallels to being a teenager. There’s so much discovery going on during that part of your life. Plus, writing for the young adult market allows you to write almost anything you want; there are no barriers, there are no stories that are too strange or too weird or too unbelievable.

Helen: Kira, the heroine in Fathom, has a traumatic family past that spills over into other aspects of her life. How important do you feel it is that paranormal fiction is realistic in terms of the characters' everyday lives?

Merrie: I think it’s extremely important. It’s one of the key elements in making the world believable. Yes, there are paranormal or magical elements going on, so the rest of the world has to resonate with the reader. You have to give the reader a jumping off point, a place where he or she can say, “Wow, I know what that feels like.” Once you’ve got your reader in a point of agreement with what’s happening in the story, then you can take the story a step further, then you can add in the magical elements.

For example, in Fathom, an important part of Kira's story is that she is a loner, partly because of her family’s past, and as a result she has to deal with issues such as bullying at school. I wanted the book to have a contemporary feel to it, one that more readers would be able to relate to. But it wasn’t just about setting a realistic background, it was also about Kira's character and giving her the strength to deal with the paranormal occurrences as they develop. We all need the strength to make it from one day to the next and I wanted Kira to demonstrate what that looked like.

Helen: What makes a great paranormal read for you, whether YA or adult—what are the "must have" elements?

Merrie:  First of all, the writing has to be really good. I have a hard time connecting with a book that’s poorly written. Beyond that, I need to be able to connect with the main character in some way. A good example of a writer who was able to do that is found in Jeff Lindsay's book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter—it takes really good character development and writing ability to get me to the place where I can identify with a serial killer.

I also have to want to take “this particular journey.”  For me, it’s mainly about reading a story that will take me someplace I’ve never been before. I love reading about things/creatures that would never exist in our world—like fairies and zombies and Selkies—mainly because I believe there is so much more to our world than we can actually see. I’m not saying these things are real, but the imagination behind them brings them to life—and it gives us an idea of things that could exist. I love seeing how far the imagination can take us. I grew up reading fairy tales and books about people who lived on other planets, so I suppose it’s only natural that I would want to write similar stories.

Helen: Since the paranormal beings in Fathom are selkies, did you find it easy translating their associated Celtic mythology into a contemporary North American context?

Merrie:  LOL. I admit it wasn’t easy at first. But I really like adding a bit of mythology to my stories, because it gives the reader a point of reference, an almost subconscious agreement that this is true. I believe that both folk tales and legends have been told and retold so many times, that it’s almost like they’re written on our skin. We might not believe them at first, but when we hear them we still have a point of reference that can then lead us to a second point of believability.

Regarding Fathom, I originally wanted to set the story near the Mississippi River, but I couldn’t get the Selkie legends to work. Then I tried to get the legends to work with the Great Lakes region. But that didn’t work either. I had just finished writing Feast, which is set in the southern California mountains. Part of that book was so easy for me to write, because I live in Southern California and I didn’t have to do as much research as I would if the story had been set in another part of the country. So, I decided to try the story on the coast of California, in an area near Carmel and Big Sur. I had already decided that I was going to change the Selkie legends somewhat, and those changes fit in perfectly with my new setting.

Helen: Merrie, you've been having some fun with independent publishing lately—besides Fathom, can you tell me about some of the other projects you have on the go?

Merrie: I love the collaborative aspect to traditional publishing, but occasionally I also love to write my own stories my way and of course the whole digital book revolution and the POD process make it so much easier to try a range of approaches. As well as Fathom, I have a young adult post-apocalyptic story called The Plague Carrier and a collection of short stories called Waiting for Midnight for sale now on Amazon. I’m also hoping to self-publish a novella called Cursed soon—it’s a short prequel to my novel, Feast: Harvest of Dreams. But whether it's one of my independent or traditional projects, I've always wanted my work to be the best it could possibly be, and strive for that in my writing.

Thank you so much, Helen, for doing this interview! I really appreciate it and it was fun!

Helen: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Merrie. I've had a lot of fun, too, and enjoyed finding out more of the background to Fathom and about your other projects.

To Find Out More About Fathom:

Merrie has a great website and you can check out an excerpt from Fathom, here.

To purchase, you can go to Barnes & Noble, here, or Amazon, here.


About the Interviewer:

Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and a 2012 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in her The Wall of Night series, was published in April, and she has recently won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012 for the first-in-series, The Heir of Night. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the first of every month here on the Supernatural Underground, and occasionally on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we


Merrie Destefano said...

Helen, Thank you so much for doing this interview! It was great fun. =)

Helen Lowe said...

A pleasure, Merrie :)

Unknown said...

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Sharon Stogner said...

I think one of the draws of YA and paranormal is because as teens you feel out of control and self conscience (like you mention) and every YA has thought at one point...what if? I had magic and could fix all my problems, or would it? YA's tend to be more emotionally charged than adult books, at least for me :) thanks to you both for taking the time for the interview :)

Merrie Destefano said...

That's an interesting point! I've never thought about that before. Thanks for commenting!

Merrie Destefano said...

I totally agree about YA being more emotionally charged. That's one if the things I love about it—the interior landscape of the character is just as important as exterior. And I love your point about why paranormal/magic might be so appealing to YA readers! Thanks for commenting.