TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Melissa: This is true - I often wear hats when I write. It’s not a writerly affectation, I promise, but I’m prone to migraines, and the lighting in my house, combined with the screen glow from my laptop, can start giving me headaches when I work for a few hours straight. So I’ll put on a hat to cut the glare from the room lights. Of course, it’s always my most ridiculous or hideous hats, because then I won’t accidentally wear them out of the house and lose them.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Melissa: Rob Thurman was the first Urban Fantasy author I ever read, so in a way you can blame everything on her. Then there’s Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris for worldbuilding, Carrie Vaughn and Patricia Briggs for how to craft a long series, early Laurel K. Hamilton for attitude and girl power. And, of course, Joss Whedon, who despite being a man is sort of the patron saint of strong female characters.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Melissa: In order to truly enjoy the writing, I’ve found I have to be about 30%-70%. I start with a premise, the main characters, a first chapter, a very vague idea of the main arc, and maybe an idea of what the ending looks like. Then I think of it as writing into a fog.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Melissa: Honest answer? Being a mom at the same time. I have a 3 ½ year old at home who’s just the perfect age to prevent me from getting anything done while she’s awake. And I really can’t recommend being 35 weeks into a tough pregnancy when your book comes out. It’ll all settle down in a few years, but for now, balancing being a full-time parent and a professional writer is the hardest thing I do.
TQ: Describe Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard 1) in 140 characters or less.
Melissa: “A rare human who can nullify supernatural powers, Scarlett Bernard must help a young cop solve a series of supernatural murders in LA.” With five to spare!
TQ: What inspired you to write Dead Spots?
Melissa: It was actually a scene from the movie Hellboy 2. The characters put on these goggles that help them see through magic spells. I started with the premise of someone who can see through spells, but I couldn’t make it work the way I wanted. Then I came up with someone who can neutralize spells, and as soon as I had that, Scarlett was born.
TQ: Why did you set the novel in Los Angeles?
Melissa: At first, LA sort of won by default – it’s the biggest place I’ve ever lived in, and the only major city I know well. Later I realized that it’s also a great fit for Scarlett: LA is a city without a center. Some would even say it lacks a heart and soul. I love LA, and I know it’s full of good things – but it’s also full of lost people. At the beginning of Dead Spots, Scarlett has no drive, no center – and she is definitely lost.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Dead Spots?
Melissa: I did a lot of research in magical folklore – the various myths about werewolves, vampires, witches – so I could decide how I wanted my mythology to work. I found myself researching evolution, because in my world magic is a natural offshoot of science. I also have a big LA city map hanging in my office with pushpins in it to represent the various locations in the novel. When people write about LA they often stick to the well-known areas – Hollywood, downtown, the beach. I try to visit a lot more of the city.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Melissa: Once I understood her backstory and her attitude, Scarlett came naturally to me, which I suppose is what you want from your main character. Dashiell the vampire was probably the hardest, because there are so many vampire stories out there that it’s important to me to try not to just fall into existing stereotypes. It would be easy to say “Okay, Dashiell is Lestat from Interview With the Vampire, dropped into this other story.” That’s the last thing in the world I want to do. On the other hand, it isn’t easy to imagine what it’s like to be nearly 200 years old, rich out of your mind, and immortal.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Dead Spots?
Melissa: Nobody’s ever asked me that! I loved writing the scene where Jesse and Scarlett first meet – these two people are just shoved into this completely messed up situation, and immediately everything they’ve been working for is turned on its head.
TQ: What's next?
Melissa: The sequel to Dead Spots, Trail of Dead, will be published sometime this spring or early summer – I don’t have an exact date yet. I just finished editing it, and I’m really excited about where Scarlett’s story takes her. I’m also looking into doing some stories for Scarlett’s world for Christmas.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Melissa: Thank you!
About Dead Spots
Scarlett Bernard 1
47North, October 30, 2012
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 293 pages
Scarlett Bernard knows about personal space: step within ten feet of her, and any supernatural spells or demonic forces are instantly defused—vampires and werewolves become human again, and witches can’t get out so much as a “hocus pocus.” This special skill makes her a null and very valuable to Los Angeles’s three most powerful magical communities, who utilize her ability to scrub crime scenes clean of all traces of the paranormal to keep humanity, and the LAPD, in the dark.
But one night Scarlett’s late arrival to a grisly murder scene reveals her agenda and ends with LAPD’s Jesse Cruz tracking her down to strike a deal: he’ll keep quiet about the undead underworld if she helps solve the case. Their pact doesn’t sit well with Dash, the city’s chief bloodsucker, who fears his whole vampire empire is at stake. And when clues start to point to Scarlett, it’ll take more than her unique powers to catch the real killer and clear her name.
Her work has been published in the Daily Trojan, the Chippewa Falls Herald Telegram, The International Journal of Comic Art, The La Crosse Tribune, U-Wire, Women on Writing.com, and the upcoming compilation The Universal Vampire. She has also presented or been on panels at the Midwest Popular Culture/American Culture Conference, the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts Conference, and OdysseyCon 2012.
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