A few years ago, I met Merrie Destefano at the Orange County Christian Writers Conference. She was an absolute delight. Really, she was. After taking her workshop she took the time to talk about my WIP (work in progress) and gave me a few pointers. Priceless! Mind you, I was probably the tenth person she conversed with and would you believe, she didn’t rush me out, didn’t say she was hungry (it was lunchtime after all) and she just kept answering question after question. She might have forgotten that meeting but I never will.
Merrie Destefano writes YA urban fantasy. Her blog tag line? “The Intersection of Fantasy, Mystery and Romance.” Her books, Feast: The Resurrection Chronicles and Afterlife: Harvest of Dreams, were both published by HarperCollins. She was also a fine art major in college and has contributed to art books like How to Draw Zombies and How to Draw Vampires. Now doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Right?
The following is an interview with Merrie done through a series of emails.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
Merrie: I wish there was such a thing as a typical day for me. [Insert maniacal laughter here.] If I’m writing a book, I try to get my writing done as soon as possible. Otherwise, I get distracted by a million other things. My word count is always my first priority when I’m writing. But I don’t write all the time. Some authors do, but I’m not one of them. Believe it or not, there are long periods of waiting that take place in the process of creating a book. Sometimes I’m waiting for edits from my agent or my editor, sometimes I’m waiting for my beta readers to get back to me, sometimes I have to take time off to attend events or to promote another book.
Q: What did you do in your “other” life before writing full time?
Merrie: Oh my goodness, where do I begin. I’ve worked in publishing for a long time, longer than I like to admit. I started out as a graphic designer and illustrator, then moved into the editorial side of publishing. Right before I became a full-time novelist, I was the editor of Victorian Homes magazine.
Q: Where did you draw inspiration from for Afterlife?
Merrie: I enjoy random scientific information, so from time to time I read science magazines. Once I saw an article about how we might be able to discover the key to immortal life if we could figure out how to lengthen the telomeres in our DNA. I thought, that would make a great story premise! So I built a world around a technology where we had basically made death obsolete.
Q: Who or what inspired you to write urban fantasy or even just to write?
Merrie: Believe it or not, I never set out to write urban fantasy. In my mind, I was writing science fiction and fantasy. But it became a good marketing decision to package my work as urban fantasy, since it’s a more popular genre in adult fiction. That said, one of the things I love most about urban fantasy is the fact that it often contains strong female protagonists-women who can fight the bad guys and win, women who don’t need to be rescued.
Q: Do you have a favorite place where all you do is write?
Merrie: I’m probably a little boring in this aspect. I’m not like other writers who take their laptop to the local Starbucks, drink coffee, watch people, and write. I have an office in my bedroom with three computers. So, I sit at my desktop computer, stare out the window at the bougainvillea, pet the occasional visiting dog, eat snacks, mess around on Twitter and Facebook, answer e-mails, and somehow manage to write a book despite my tendency to be easily distracted.
Q: Do you base your characters on people you know?
Merrie: My first answer is, no, of course not! But that’s not really true. There are snips and slivers of people I know in all of my characters. I don’t always know who is inside my character until later. Then I look back and see the image of the person who helped to influence me. The last book I wrote contained a character loosely based on my mother. The book isn’t published at this point. Right now I’m writing a different book where one of the characters reminds me of my son. But I didn’t realize that until the book was almost done.
Q: Is there a market for speculative fiction? Who seems to be the target audience?
Merrie: Well, I guess that would depend on what market you’re looking at. If you’re hoping to sell a speculative fiction novel in the CBA market, then I think your choices are going to be pretty limited. Your target market would probably be women between the ages of 20 and 40. However, if you’re writing for the general market, there are definitely a lot of agents and publishers who are or looking for that. The target market is going to depend on what kind of speculative fiction you’re writing. For instance, the young adult market is really hot right now. That target market can be both male and female and the age range is anywhere from 12 to 50.
Q: What is your advice, or encouragement, for speculative fiction writers?
Merrie: Read great books. Read a variety of genres. Write as often as you can. Join a critique group where you will be reading your work aloud and hearing what others think of it. When you have time, begin a blog and join the online communities: Facebook and Twitter. Also, you might want to consider getting a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. That’s where you’ll find out what deals are being made, who’s buying what, how much they’re paying for it, what books people are writing, what genres are growing in popularity and which are waning. You’ll also find out what agents are making major deals and what agents are selling projects similar to yours.
Q: I know you must love Comic Con and World Fantasy Con. Tell us what that is all about and what do you personally do there?
Merrie: Oh, you have to be slightly crazy to go to Comic Con or World Fantasy Con! [Again, insert more maniacal laughter.] Seriously, they’re both a lot of fun. But you will be on your feet nonstop from sunrise to sundown, in a crowd of 150,000 people, many of them dressed up in Star Wars or comic book character costumes. This is where you find out all the buzz about what movies are coming out, what TV shows are coming out, what the TV shows you love will be doing next year, etc. Last year I attended a panel for the movie Snow White and The Hunter, so I got to hear Chris Hemsworth and Kristin Stewart discuss their roles. Plus you get free stuff! I got a Falling Skies hoodie and a stack of ARCs (new release books), like Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and Forbidden by Tosca Lee and Ted Dekker. Also, I usually speak on a panel with other authors, if I’m attending.
Q: May we ask what you are working on currently?
Merrie: First of all, I’d like to mention that I do have another book out besides Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles. My second novel, Feast: Harvest of Dreams, came out in June of 2011. What am I working on now? Right now, I’m finishing up a YA novel. I can’t really say too much about it, except that I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. (Although, I’m sure all writers feel that way about their current project!)
Catch up with Merrie on her website at http://www.merriedestefano.com. You can find info on her latest book, Waiting for Midnight, available as an ebook on Amazon. A schedule of speaking engagements and workshops is also accessible.