The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Friday, November 05, 2010

An Interview with Lish McBride

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, was kind enough to stop by and give us this epic interview. I hope you all enjoy it, and be sure to check out her website, and her book!


What inspired you to write Hold Me Closer, Necromancer?

Boredom, originally. The book started as a really terrible short story when I was stuck in alternative school with nothing to do (I’d already finished my work). Then I rewrote it when I was in college. It was still terrible, but I needed a story to turn in for class, and I wanted to work on something fun. Then I just kept thinking about the story, changing things, adding things. I don’t know if there was ever a light bulb kind of moment.

And about how long did it take you to write it?

To actually get the first draft out, maybe three to six months? I’m not sure. I was in grad school at the time, and the book was my thesis to graduate. So, while I was working on draft one, I was also turning in short stories and screenplays and working on the school journal. Then we spent a couple of months doing revisions before shopping it out to publishers. After Holt bought it, we spent another year and a half or so working on it because we had time…so, maybe two to three years total? But like I said, I was doing a lot of other stuff at the time and then taking my time with my editor.

Your protagonist, Sam is a teenage guy, a voice in which many women find it difficult to write. Was it difficult for you to write in a guy's voice?

You know, people ask me this a lot and I don’t really get it. What I mean is, authors tend to write outside of themselves. No one asks if it was hard to write from the point of view of someone who can raise the dead or turn into a wolf, and I’m not any of those things either. I think if you’re writing a fleshed out character, it doesn’t really matter what gender you or your character is, especially now. We’ve moved into this great time when there are all different points on the gender scale. Sam is a guy, but he’s kind of a gentle beta male. He’s not going to talk about hot rod cars or work on his pecs. He’s just not that kind of dude, and I know a lot of guys like Sam. Plus, I’m not the girliest cat in the universe. I was raised with three brothers and it shows.

In college, I had three male roommates. It’s always been easier for me to live with boys. We took a vote one day and decided I was the most masculine in the house. We’ll put it this way, three people in our house had seen the Princess Diaries, and I wasn’t one of them. Most of my friends just aren’t uber masculine.

I think a lot of people get caught up in trying too hard to make their characters sound like teens (or like their gender) and they forget that, well, teens are still people, and no two people talk alike. So, Sam just sounds like Sam. I didn’t try too hard to make him sound young or like a guy. I just wrote it, thinking that no one would see it, since it was just my thesis to graduate.

Speaking of Sam, I know he works at a fast food restaurant and has some… amusing experiences there. Have you ever worked in a similar situation and/or gone through some of those same experiences?

Sadly, yes. I know first hand what a grease traps smells like. I’ve played potato hockey—though I played this later at a bakery since the fast food place I worked at didn’t have potatoes, just pre-cut frozen fries. We spent many an hour playing “guess what I put in the fryer.” A coworker dared me to drink straight soda mix once (before the carbonated water or whatever it is added) and I ran around like a humming bird until I slipped on some grease. And yes, I did catch the grill on fire. Grease is flammable, people.

Unlike many contemporary books, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer presents a tangible "bad guy" in Douglas. How did you like writing a definite villain?

What’s kind of sad is I think I have to edit his parts the least. Douglas is definitely one of my “louder” characters. Writing him is more like channeling, which can be a little scary to read back and think, “Huh. So that’s in my brain. Good to know.” The thing about Douglas is he makes me kind of sad. He was warped pretty young by his psychotic aunt, and he didn’t really have a choice. So with all of his later decisions, there’s a kind of inevitability about them—I know he’s going to make bad choices and I can’t stop him. It’s kind of like watching your kid learn how to ride their bike. They fall down a lot, and it hurts to watch, but you have to stand back and let them fall or they’ll never learn.

The flipside is that villains are fun to write. When I write Sam, who is a much nicer person than I am, I have to always check my decisions and see if that’s the right thing for him to do. Not so with Douglas. He’s very much a do what I want when I want kind of person and not many of us can get away with that kind of thing.

I think one of the defining factors of your book is that it's set in the present-day "ordinary" world. Why did you choose to do this?

I love urban fantasy. That being said, when I was younger, I was set on writing traditional fantasy only…well, I’m not very good at it yet. But I love the contrast of urban fantasy. Magic cheek to jowl with technology creates a lot of interesting friction. In this case, I’m not sure it was a conscious choice. The book always started at the fast food place, and that pretty much locks you into here and now.

Paranormal fiction is a huge market right now, especially in the Young Adult genre. Most of these stories deal primarily with paranormal romance, however Hold Me Closer, Necromancer uses paranormal romance only as a backdrop. Was this a conscious decision on your part, or did it just happen like that?

I prefer to let the story come out, and whatever happens, happens. Shaping is what you do during editing. It’s good to know what’s popular I guess, but if you try to aim your books, well, that can back fire. I do like paranormal romance, but remember when I said I was raised by brothers and that I’m kind of like a dude? Make that a twelve year old dude who’s still pretty sure they need cootie shots, and you’re getting close to the mark. My man friend is more likely to buy me comics than flowers, for sure, so I’m not I’m the best target audience for romance. (I do like flowers; it’s just that they don’t last long and comic books are forever.)

However, Sam had a crush on Brid from the get go. I was planning on introducing them in book one and saving any romance-y stuff for later, but both of them told me no. They said now and I had to listen. My characters are very bossy.

Your book is written with a healthy dose of "black humor". Do you naturally write like this, or was it something you had to strive for?

I can’t stop it. Seriously. I used to get into trouble all the time because of “my smart mouth” and all of my research papers had notes on them about my lack of academic tone. I don’t mean to do it sometimes, but I’ll write something down in all seriousness and someone will read it and say, “that’s very funny” and then I get confused because, well, I was trying to be serious. I’m just not very good at it, I guess. My family is pretty funny and I was introduced to English humor (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda, etc.) and Canadian humor (Kids in the Hall, SCTV) at a young age, not to mention the fact that I learned to read by flipping through Garfield comics.

On top of that, my family is pretty medical, and I think humor is a natural coping mechanism. My mom has been an ICU nurse forever. She’s seen some pretty terrible things, and at some point, it’s either laugh or cry, you know? I used to have to pick her up from work and I’d have to walk past the “quiet room” (which was never quiet because it was a padded room for drunks or people that had come off their meds and they liked to shout things at passersby), past people coming down from heroin screaming their lungs out, people with massive injuries, and that was just to get to her office. All very sad things, all of which can really take it out of you. So, we crack jokes.

Looking back, I don’t think I had much of a choice with the dark humor thing.

Who was your favorite character to write?

Man, that’s tough. Ashley is fun because she’s snarky and I don’t get to write her all the time…and I like doing the back and forth between Ramon and Sam. I don’t know if I have favorites, to be honest.

All of your chapter titles are song lyrics (and there are some excellent songs in there, I might add!). Did you have a writing playlist? If so, do you care to share any of it?

I don’t have a writing playlist. I used to put music on when I wrote, but then I realized that I block it out anyway. Albums would be long over and I wouldn’t even notice. I tend to write in a cafĂ© now (so clichĂ©, I know) and they play some good music, so every once in awhile I’ll surface and hear a random song, but that’s it.

I do love music, though. I think that’s pretty apparent.

Now, as I mentioned in my review, I love the cover art on this book. What did you think when you first saw the cover?

Relief. We’d been having some cover issues. I really liked the original cover, but Barnes and Noble didn’t like it so we had to change it. They wanted something with a more realistic photo on the cover, and I had this fear of getting a bunch of mopey teens on my book. A gaggle of emo kids is good for a dramatic book, but my book isn’t like that. So the illustrator (who’d done an awesome job) had to go back to the drawing board. The next few covers I saw were quick mock ups but they were covered in sad faced teens and they had the same Alexie quote about the book being funny and I kept thinking, “Well, it sure doesn’t look funny.” So when they finally put together the current cover and the designer had made it interesting and different, I was really happy. He’s amazing, and if I ever get to meet him, I’m going to hug him in a very awkward manner.

How long have you been writing?

Forever. I’m one of those jerks who always knew what they wanted to be. For a short span of time I wanted to be a veterinarian and a writer, but then I realized vets had to poke animals with needles, so I crossed that one off. I think I was six. Then in high school I told a friend I might want to try and be a comedian and a writer, but he told me I wasn’t funny. And now I get paid to be funny. Win!

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is your debut novel. Was getting this book published everything you thought it would be? Why or why not?

Yes, and no. I went to a creative writing program and they were pretty good at preparing me for some of the stuff (like having no control over your cover) but there’s a bunch they never tell you, and some stuff you just don’t think will happen. Part of the problem is we tend to shroud the process in mystery so people aren’t prepared. Luckily, most of my surprises have been pleasant. I thought agents and editors would be scary, but all of mine are super nice. My publisher flew me to New York for a lunch meet-and-greet this summer. They flew me cross-country for LUNCH. The whole time I kept thinking that it was silly and people didn’t actually fly somewhere for lunch. And then I was worried about the meet-and-greet, but everyone was so nice and friendly.

I guess a lot of it hasn’t sunk in yet. Every time I see my book on the shelf, I feel like there must be another Lish McBride out there and someone made a big mistake. It’s all very surreal.

Would you like to continue writing in the world of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, or are you going to move on to another project?

When Holt bought HMCN, they also bought book two. I’m editing it now. We’ll see what happens after that.

In fact, if you're working on a novel right now, do you care to share any details?

Hopefully book two will be done soon, and when that’s off into copy editing land, I’ll get back to a new project that I’m working on that’s totally different. It’s still YA, but that’s all I’m saying…for now.

Do you have a certain room you like to write in the best?

I’ve learned that I can’t write in my house. The layout is terrible and there’s nowhere off to the side to go and hole up. I kept getting distracted by chores and books and shiny things. So I’ve been meeting a friend at a coffee shop. That’s been working nicely.

You have ten words in which to convince people to read your novel. Go!:

Talking severed head, skateboards, and a zombie panda. That enough?

Have you ever had any sort of paranormal experience like those in your novel?

Nope. I keep trying, though. One of these days, I’m going to raise me a zombie.

If you were one of the magically inclined sorts that are present in your novel, which one would you be and why?

Tough question. There’s a Fury in there, and though we haven’t really seen her much yet, she’s pretty badass. It would be cool to talk to the dead, but it might be kind of spooky, too. I like the Harbingers, but I wouldn’t like being dead. Probably a were. I’d love to be able to change into something else. James would also be a good answer, but you haven’t read book two yet, so you don’t know why. Mu ah ha ha ha! (Sorry I’m such a jerk.)

Halloween just passed. Have you ever considered dressing up as one of your characters? Did you dress up this year?

Not really, no. My editor went as Ashley last year, which I thought was pretty sweet and my friend dressed her baby up as Sam for Halloween, which was cool, though it’s probably doomed him to geekdom forever.

I usually dress up because I love Halloween. (I miss living in New Orleans. They do Halloween right, for sure.) This year I just put on some horns and helped my friend hand out candy. I grew up in the woods, so I never really got to do that. She took pity on me and let me help, which was awfully nice of her. Last year I made a black, glittery mask, wore some stars on my head, and made a black cape with stars and bats on it and went as The Night. It was fun.

Thanks again to the wonderful Lish Mcbride!


Ben said...

As one of those male roommates I must correct you and say that I haven't seen all of "The Princess Diaries"... just a select scenes containing Anne Hathaway.

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