Five Questions: Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Welcome to my next author interview! This week I am talking with Maria Alexander, the author of the amazing YA horror novel Snowed.

Charity Jones is a 16-year-old engineering genius who’s much-bullied for being biracial and a skeptic at her conservative school in Oak County, California. Everything changes when Charity’s social worker mother brings home a sweet teen runaway named Aidan to foster for the holidays. Matched in every way, Charity and Aidan quickly fall in love. But it seems he’s not the only new arrival: Charity soon finds the brutally slain corpse of her worst bully and she gets hard, haunting evidence that the killer is stalking Oak County. As she and her Skeptics Club investigate this death and others, they find at every turn the mystery only grows darker and more deadly. One thing’s for certain: there’s a bloody battle coming this holiday season that will change their lives – and human history – forever. Will they be ready?

FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Many years ago, on a miserable November night, I was feeling especially Grinchy as I was driving home from an awful, long-distance job. I’d always had a tempestuous relationship with Christmas. So when an instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells” came on the radio, it struck me as the darkest piece I’d ever heard. I’d just read Neil Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was,” which already had me in a myth-twisting mood. By the time I got home, I had a new story in my head, and all I had to do was sit and write. “Coming Home” was the result: a wicked flash fiction piece that was part social commentary, part bah-humbug, and completely surprising. I shared it with Neil, and he said, “This is the story I should have written.” That floored me, of course, but I knew I’d done something different.

It was published a dozen times and stolen even more before it was produced as a one-act play by Women in Theater in Los Angeles, and even adapted to podcast by Pseudopod.org. But I knew it had potential to be a bigger work. I didn’t really figure out how to adapt it to novel, though, until late 2012.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I come from a screenwriting background. So, structure is very important to me, which means I outline. When I started Snowed, I thought I was writing this sweet magical romance. But something terrible fell out of nowhere at the end of Chapter 5 – something I hadn’t anticipated but it felt right. (If you’ve read the book, you know what that is.) That’s when I realized I was actually writing something very dark. I went back and totally revised the outline. I’m working on the sequel, Inversion. The first draft only took three months because I knew the broad strokes and all the characters. So, I don’t always need a thorough outline to write, but I do need to know the big moments.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

It’s changed a lot since I switched to YA. It used to be authors like Caitlin Kiernan, Clive Barker and Tim Powers. Now I’m not so sure, although a couple of readers have said the Snowed is reminiscent of Joe Hill, who I love. I’d say that Philip Pullman has been and will always be a big influence on anything I write for younger audiences, as His Dark Materials had a major impact on me. And I read a lot of what my friend Nancy Holder writes, so no doubt she’s in there, as well.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Usually, and especially when I’m thinking about story, but never anything with lyrics unless it’s in another language. Just movie soundtracks, ambient, and classical music.

5. What are you reading right now?

A lot of stuff people are offering for Bram Stoker Awards consideration, actually — everything from horror poetry to novellas. But I’m really excited to dig into Gretchen McNeil’s newest book, I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, even if it’s not particularly dark. We met this year in San Diego at an event we were both signing at. She’s going to be the YA Guest of Honor at StokerCon 2017, and I look forward to spending time with her again.

 

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander is the award-winning author of Mr. Wicker, numerous short stories, and two poetry collections. Her nonfiction is used in curriculum at Champlain University. Her debut YA novel, Snowed, from Raw Dog Screaming Press is being called “one heck of a page turner” by adults and “kick-ass” by teens. For more information, visit her website.

Thanks so much for your time, Maria! Seriously, you need to read this book. Charity Jones is whip-smart and sassy. I wish I had known her in high school. Go and get your copy here:

Barnes and Noble               Amazon

 

5 Seriously Creepy Books to Scare the Bejesuz Out of You

We don’t really have “autumn” in South Florida. Today, for instance, we had a high temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit (or 31 degrees Celsius) and I have to admit sometimes it’s a little tough getting in that Halloween frame of mind. (It’s also terrible to be Christmas shopping when it’s 91 degrees outside, but that’s a story better told in two months or so.)

So when it’s still sweltering outside, how does one get into that chilly, gloomy, spooky mood that is so delicious this time of year? I usually pull out a book that scares the crap out of me. Here (in no particular order) are my favorite scary books I’ve read in recent years.  And I am not taking the easy route and presenting you with five Stephen King novels, although I certainly could. There is a reason Joey Tribiani kept The Shining in the freezer.

haunting of hill houseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Most people are familiar with Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” And if you aren’t, go read it immediately. (You’re welcome.) The Haunting of Hill House is a novel she wrote in 1959 and it is without a doubt the quintessential haunted house story of all time. There was an excellent film adaptation in 1963 starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, and there was an equally appalling adaption in 1999 with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta Jones and Lilli Taylor. I highly reccomend the 1963 version. My husband and I watch it every year and are always delightlfully spooked.

However, the book itself is head and shoulders above the film (as is usually the case isn’t it?). I first read it maybe eight years ago and I can still summon the shivery feeling I experienced. Shirley Jackson was a freaking master at scaring the tar out of her reader. This novel is so clever there is no confirmed monster or ghost in the entire work–it’s all psychological. The creep factor lingers long after finishing the book.

Jackson died at just 48 years old. Think about that and consider what horrors she could have produced had she lived to a ripe old age.

 

woman in blackThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I was first introduced to this English writer by a library volunteer who recommended the Simon Serrailer detective novels, and I devoured those. Hill has a great gift for characterization and for sprinkling nuggets of useful information throughout her mysteries so you actually have a chance to work out the killer if you are clever enough. (I almost never am, but I do appreciate this in a writer–she doesn’t cheat her reader with tricks.)

In 2012 my husband and I spent two weeks in England. Our first few days we spent in Oxford, where I had done a study abroad semester when I was 20. Have you ever heard of the bookstore Blackwell? Good Lord, what a place. I believe there are four or five floors packed with books and they boast a full mile of shelving. The uppermost floor has used books and the two of us spent HOURS wading through the treasures. It was there that I found a paperback copy of The Woman in Black. I saw Susan Hill’s name and I grabbed it. I started reading it that night in our miniscule hotel room.

Sweet Jesus what a frightening book. It is reminiscent of a nineteenth century writer (think Emily Bronte) and tells the tale of a young lawyer sent to a creepy old house to settle an estate. The mood, setting, and tone all combine to keep you reading all night with every last light turned on. There is also one of those total, “Oh SHIT” moments when you realize the ghostly presence isn’t just scary but smart too.

This also had a successful movie adaptation from a few years ago starring Daniel Radcliffe. It was mostly faithful to the story, which is rather hard to find in Hollywood these days.

 

i hunt killersI Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga is a kickass YA novelist with several great books under his belt like Boy Toy, and The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. I Hunt Killers is the first in his trilogy about Jasper (Jazz) Dent, who just happens to have a serial killer for a father. Who escaped from prison. And wants his son to follow in his footsteps.

I think quoting other reviews is sort of lame, but Joe Hill sums it up so perfectly when he wrote: “I Hunt Killers is an out-of-control hearse with one busted headlight, blood on the grille, a madman at the wheel, and laughter pouring out of the open windows. Climb in, buckle up, and go for a ride.” I couldn’t give this book better praise than that. The other two parts of the trilogy, Game, and Blood of My Blood are also out. But you need to start at the beginning and treasure every sentence of this twisted, frightening tale.

 

nos482NOS482 by Joe Hill

In this novel Joe Hill does for Santa’s Village what Stephen King did for clowns in IT: Turn it into something beyond terrifying. The novel centers on Victoria McQueen, a kid who has some unusual talents. Her nemesis is the frightening child abductor Charlie Manx who is fond of taking children for rides in his car to Christmasland. That’s not a euphimism–Christmasland is a diabolical amusement park with no way out. Vic evades him as a child, but years later he manages to swipe her son.

A lot of people have called Joe Hill the best horror writer of my generation. Yeah, his dad is Stephen King, but this guy has proven chops of his own–no nepotism required. I didn’t actually put this book in the freezer.

But I thought about it.

 

birdboxBird Box by Joseph Malerman

Malorie lives in a boarded-up house with her two children. They never go outside if not blindfolded and they never look out the windows. There is something out there–a presence that when seen turns people into raving lunatics who violently murder anyone in their path. No one who has seen “it” has lived to name it.

The remaining survivors stay hidden indoors, not daring to look out the window in fear of catching a glimpse of the unexplained terror. Malorie has been hiding for five years and she and her children are starving. She makes the ultimate gamble: she blindfolds them all and they make for a rowboat in the river. As they float downstream with just their ears and other senses to guide them the realize something is following them. But what?

I almost couldn’t finish this one because I felt so claustrophobic reading it. That, my friends, is talented writing.

I hope this gives you a few good chills this Halloween season. If you have any recommendations for me I’d love to hear them. I’m always on the hunt for my next creepy read.