There are times when I finish reading a book and can’t stop the questions from bubbling. That’s what happened when I finished reading Melissa Marr’s adult paranormal novel Graveminder. It was creepy, a bit romantic and had a world it was easy to fall into. You can read my spoiler-free review to hear me gush and to enter to win a copy (today’s the last day to enter), but today is a treat because Melissa was kind enough to indulge my questions about wanderlust, the land of the dead and her Graveminder characters.
Vampire Book Club: Claysville gives life to the fear of townies everywhere: the inability to leave small towns. Why do you think we fear growing old within our hometowns?
Melissa Marr: I don’t think everyone fears it. Lots of people seem perfectly content to sink their roots in and live where they are. Others have wanderlust or the desire to explore. I think that’s the same urge that leads us to new inventions, discoveries, or works of art: the human need to expand our experience. In some people, that expansion can happen without physical movement, but for others, it manifests in the need to depart the familiar physical space.
Vampire Book Club: And was it one of your fears growing up?
Melissa Marr: Yes, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to go. I still love to move and to travel. The idea of settling back where I grew up—or most anywhere I’ve lived—is a type of terror. I have great memories of everywhere I’ve lived, but I want to move forward so going back or staying still terrifies me. I very intentionally tapped that fear for Bek.
Vampire Book Club: We get to visit the land of the dead in Graveminder. How did you go about developing the visual landscape there?
Melissa Marr: I’m fascinated by death lore. One version of the afterlife is that it’s defined by the individual (an idea that I discovered recently that the TV program Supernatural played with in an episode). I took that to the next logical step: what if all of those individual definitions co-existed in a singular space? The landscape becomes informed by the eras of those who populate it, so it is neither x nor y, yet it is simultaneously both of them.
Vampire Book Club: One of the things I loved about Graveminder was the slow reveal. We knew slightly more than Rebekkah, but still learned along with her. Was it hard to hold back on the details of the Graveminder/Undertaker relationship?
Melissa Marr: Not at all. It’s the same strategy I employ in everything I write. A character can only know what s/he knows. Ideally, a story—and life—is a journey of learning, so when I write I’m trying to stay true to that reality. My YA series, for example, uses different protagonists in different books. Some repeat, of course, but to me, the idea of only hearing one side of any story is akin to only getting to talk to one person. No matter how much I enjoy that voice, I’d get bored—in life or in my writing.
Vampire Book Club: I appreciated the dynamic flip of the hero being open with his feelings, while the heroine fled from hers. Why do you think we, as readers, needed to see Byron put all his cards on the table?
Melissa Marr: Is it awful to admit that I wasn’t thinking about the reader? I’m terribly grateful for my readers, but when I write, I’m writing the characters. Byron would be fine with how he felt. He has been for years, so the aspect of the story was really as simple as that. Some people embrace that. As I was saying on fleeing our town, we don’t all think or feel the same way. Would Charles have acted like this? Christopher? William? Probably not. It is, however, what Byron would do.
Vampire Book Club: Do you think Byron and Rebekkah would be destined for one another if they were not designated in otherworldly roles?
Melissa Marr: That’s unanswerable. They are in those roles, so who and what they would be is immaterial. If I hadn’t had Faulkner as my first grad class, would I have chosen him as my thesis? If I hadn’t needed coffee one morning, would I have married the man I did? If . . . we can spend a lot of life asking “if things had happened THIS way instead,” but the truth is that we can’t ever know that answer. We are who and where we are because of where we were.
Vampire Book Club: For me, names like Byron and William conjure images of literary greats. Did you have any particular motivation for character names?
Melissa Marr: I taught university literature, so the fault is mostly a result of that. Byron is named for a combination of the literary tradition of the Byronic Hero (which he isn’t; in the Gothic literary divisions, he’s actually a standard Gothic hero) . . . but in my head, he looked a bit like a friend of mine from college—a total sweetheart of a guy who believed girl after girl was much nicer than she really was. He was a gorgeous poet with horrible taste in women, so I decided to name my Byron after him. William is one of those solid names. It was a good name for an undertaker—like John, Michael, Patrick, Christopher. I wanted a solid name, but yes, there’s a touch of literary homage there too.
Vampire Book Club: Rebekkah doesn’t want others to refer to the Hungry Dead as zombies. Why do you think this distinction was important – both to her and to the reader?
Melissa Marr: *laughs* I’m a folklore geek. The true zombie is Haitian. A filmmaker redefined “zombie” for effects purposes, so there are American Film Zombies which are different than the original Haitian zombie. These are neither of those traditions. My books are all rooted in folklore, and with Graveminder that lore was of the hungry dead, not Haitian zombies or revenants or draugr. For me, having grown up with folklore it’s important to call things by what they are, and these aren’t zombies. Like my faeries in Wicked Lovely books, my hungry dead are rooted in Irish and Scottish lore—not Haitian.
Vampire Book Club: You’ve laid beautiful groundwork for a robust series within the Graveminder universe. Do you plan to write more tales set in Claysville? (I hope so, because I have some serious questions about just what some of the folk in the land of the dead are up to!)
Melissa Marr: I suspect I’ll go back. I wrote a short story (in Naked City anthology, July 2011) about Alicia, and I’m doing another short story. I have a plan for another novel in this world, but this was a book about a town with a secret. That story is told. There are other stories I could tell—and as you say, they tend to veer toward Charles’ area—but right now, I’m finishing the first book in a children’s trilogy I’m writing with Kelley Armstrong (The Blackwell Pages) where I get to tap my husband’s folkloric heritage (which I had to learn when we had kids so they weren’t only given my half of their heritage!).
Vampire Book Club: Because my readers would be disappointed if I didn’t ask, can you give us an update on the possible translation of Graveminder into a television show?
Melissa Marr: Ken has a vision that I love, and he’s a great energetic artist. I hope it goes forward, and he’s certainly moving forward, but whether it’s a movie or TV program, there are so many moving parts (studios, actors, effects, budgets) that getting this far already is very exciting. I have my YA books in development with Universal & Vince Vaughn Wild West Picture Show. We’re at a final script with director and producers and studio, but that’s been over 18 months getting here. Ken just optioned Graveminder a couple months ago, and for such a short time, I’m already impressed with what he’s accomplished in a couple months. So, we’ll see where we go on both projects.