FLR: Was it difficult to write Linger, after the great success of Shiver?
MS: This is a difficult question to answer, just because Linger was a hard book to write, period—because it was no longer the first flush of love. It was about consequences, and consequences are harder than beginnings. I wrote a bunch of fake beginnings that were really just Shiver fanfiction before I found my story. And only then, after I was about a third of the way into it, did the pressure suddenly and abruptly appear. The ‘holy Moses, I just realized that Shiver is huge and this book has to be not just as good but better.’
It feels like with every book now I have to go back and rekindle that naive Maggie that wrote books all through her teenage years. And remember that the writing process never changes, no matter how big the buzz for your book is.
I have to say, though, it is incredibly rewarding to know for certain that your book-in-progress already has an audience of readers waiting.
FLR: The depictions of the wolves’ behavior seem very realistic. What kind of research did you do?
MS: I did a lot of reading and watching of documentaries. I watched so many wolf documentaries (God bless Netflix) that my Jack Russell Terrier switched from barking in her sleep to howling. That was when she was no longer allowed in the room during TV hours. My parents also bred show dogs when I was growing up, so I had already seen a lot of pack behavior in action. Albeit, with Giant Schnauzers.
The real research, however, was for the medical explanation of the wolves. I spent far too long studying brain chemistry and things that can kill you while you sleep. And it only got worse for Linger. So annoying when characters are smarter than you.
FLR: Readers are drawn into Sam and Grace’s idealistic yet believable relationship. How do you approach writing about emotions as opposed to writing plot?
MS: I think it’s mostly about how I think about the priorities of a book. The most important question for me about a book is “how did this character change from the beginning to the end?” Not, “how did they solve this quandary about boys turning into wolves?” I mean, that is important, too, but that is secondary. And then every scene is like a mini-book in that sense. The character that enters a scene should not be the same by the time he leaves. If the scene also helps to answer the overarching plot question, bully for it. But most important is that it changes the person. It means that I play with tiny, tiny moments a lot in this series. Folding a paper crane versus blowing up a building.
FLR: Forever is the final book in the trilogy. Will you miss Sam and Grace?
MS: It’s weird, because I never imagined that I would be a series writer. Before, I wrote books like one night stands. Seduce them with drinks, take them back to my place, get in, get out. Even the faerie books are companion books—not proper sequels. And now look at me. I’ve been living in a mostly monogamous literary relationship with these characters since 2007.
So yes, I think I will miss them terribly. I will miss seeing something and filing it away as something Sam would say. I know that after Forevercomes out, I will have a eureka moment for a scene that will no longer have a book to go into. But—at the same time, it’s relieving. I have other projects clamoring for attention and I want to stretch my arms in a way that the Shiver-sized box is not permitting.
FLR: Can you tell us more about the blog The Merry Sisters of Fate? How do you find time to write stories for that site and also work on your novels?
MS: Oh, the Merry Sisters of Fate! It’s a short story blog I co-write with my two critique partners (Tessa Gratton, Blood Magic and Brenna Yovanoff, The Replacement). Originally, it began because of my art background. When I was a full time artist, I was part of a movement called “A Painting a Day”—the idea was to create a full painting from beginning to end every single day. I did that for about two years and created over five hundred pieces of art. The improvement in my art from the beginning of the process to the end was absolutely incredible—you learn so much more by starting and finishing a creative endeavor, rather than just working endlessly on improving the same one. I thought—I want to do this for my writing.
So I asked Tessa and Brenna if they were up for writing a short story every week. The equivalent of a tiny piece of art. So we did just that for a year. Now we’ve scaled it back to one a month each, but sure enough—you can see the massive improvement from the beginning of the blog up til now. As far as time—they’re sketches. We spend about an hour on them, sometimes two. It’s a way to experiment and play with something that we wouldn’t be able to do in our novels.
FLR: You use a lot of poetry in your novels. When did your love of poetry begin, and who are your favorite poets?
MS: I’m a very picky eater.
I know that’s not what you asked, but it’s how I feel about poetry. I was always a very picky eater as a child. I liked very few things, but what I liked, I loved passionately. I’m the same way about poetry. I first fell in love with Yeats (“slouching toward Bethlehem”) and Eliot (“fear in a handful of dust”) and de la Mare (“never the least stir made the listeners”) and then, much later, I discovered Rilke and fell desperately in further love. Now I am like a crow who collects shiny things. Rather than being faithful to poets, I find random poems that I love and collect, like Neruda’s “Nothing but death”. I’m also reading a lot of German poetry both in translation and the original these days, which makes me sound a lot more clever than I am.
FLR: When you have two series ongoing at the same time, such as The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy and the Books of Faerie series, do the books start to influence one another?
MS: Well, they are not really going at the same time. Not in a practical sense. I can’t write two rough drafts at the same time, or terrible things happen. I immerse myself completely in a world when I’m writing it. By the time I was writing Ballad, the rough draft of Shiver was sitting on a shelf, simmering. I find it really helpful to distance myself that way before jumping back in to revise.
The biggest thing about the two series is that they scratch different itches. I really miss the folklore-steeped world of the faerie books.
FLR: Did your musical background prepare you for the discipline needed to write novels?
MS: Well, I actually was writing before I started playing music seriously—I was writing (very bad) novels before I was in my teens, and back then, I was only playing piano. I got serious about my music when I was 14-15-16 and decided I needed to become famous for something (why yes, I was a difficult child, why do you ask?)
But yes, you have to be very disciplined with both of them. You have to be willing to spend a long time being awful at both writing and music. And when you do finally do something fairly nice and everyone else is clapping, you have to have the discipline to say, “but I know myself, and I can do even better.”
FLR: Do you have a ritual that you follow when writing?
MS: No rituals except for tea and music. I lose concentration easily, but music grounds me. My iPod comes with me everywhere. I’ll go to conferences and in the morning, you’ll see me walking around my hotel with my earbuds in, brainstorming.
FLR: Which of your characters would you most like to invite to dinner and why?
MS: Normally, I would say James from Ballad, because he’s humorous. But I’m going to go with the Thorn King from Ballad instead. Just because I want to see his antlers.