Author Maer Wilson uses her experience in the theatre to build believable characters to inhabit her “cozy dark” stories. Her Modern Magics series, which follows a pair of supernatural detectives whose clients are usually dead, includes three novels and four prequel novelettes. In a departure from that series, she put her own twist on the zombie apocalypse with Apocalypta Z. And in 2016 she shined the light on a science fiction icon in her memoir The Other Side of Phillip K. Dick. You’ll find Maer on her website MaerWilson.com and her Amazon author page. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Between novels and novelettes, you have seven offerings in your series of Modern Magics stories. What are the challenges in writing a series?
One of the most important challenges I was aware of was consistency—in all things: overall voice, characters’ voices, traits and qualities, as well as story arcs. While you want a character to grow, you don’t want them to do things that don’t fit who they are. I tried to keep even tiny things that I established in one book throughout the series. I kept only a small list of notes, but I often referred to my previous work to see what I had done. Such as checking hair color for a minor character who had not been named in a previous book, but who had made a short appearance. I had to make sure nothing contradicted itself.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the Modern Magics books?
The world building was relatively easy. I took our world and used it as a basis for what would happen if magic was to become real. I added in two characters (Thulu and La Fi) who could exist in our world, but who had supernatural abilities. From there, I layered in the return of magic. How it would affect the average person, how it could happen in the first place, etc. Rather than be difficult, this was one of the most fun things to do. My biggest concern was making it a logical, believable world. It pretty much wrote itself once I had my main characters established. I had fun picking out names for the magical characters (fairies, pixies, daemons, etc.) and figuring out their personalities. For instance one of my favorites is Aela, a fairy who has a passion for red nail polish and gets drunk on tapioca beads. I wrote the first draft of book one (Relics) in five weeks. I ended up scrapping the second half due to a cliff-hanger ending. The story had to go a different direction, and I was in rewrites for the next year. But the world was there and established and didn’t change much from the first draft.
Apocalypta Z, with its endearing point-of-view characters (one of them a poodle), is a unique addition to the zombie apocalypse genre. What sparked the idea for this story?
I had posted a picture of my puppy Cienna on Facebook, and someone said I should use it as a cover for a book. A story took form, and I began writing “Cienna and the Zombie Dogs.” Except it wasn’t a short story as I’d intended. So I started again and moved most of the short story into a chapter in the novel. I’d been watching iZombie and had recently seen Warm Bodies and loved the lighter touch and departure from such graphic films as Night of the Living Dead. I hadn’t watched The Walking Dead at that time, but I did know the zombie genre had a huge following. As usual, I took the genre and put my own twist on it.
Will those who know you recognize you in any of your characters? What is it about your characters that make readers connect with them?
In the Modern Magics series, there is a little of me in La Fi as well as her grandmother, Nana Fae. And Maddie, Cienna and Chloe in Apocalypta Z are basically a different version of my real dogs and me if we were thrown into the zombie apocalypse. I believe that my extensive theatre background helps me create characters who feel real. They are flawed, but I try to make them as believable (and relatable) as I can.
What was the most challenging aspect of putting together your memoir The Other Side of Philip K. Dick? What one thing would you like readers to know about your friend?
That was a tough one. I had to go back 45+ years. Fortunately, many of the incidents were fresh as I had talked about them often throughout the years. But I wanted it to be accurate, not something I’d changed through the years. Phil and I had many mutual friends, and I asked several of them to read the book to make it as true an account as I could. As to the one thing about Phil? He was not the mystical cult icon he has been turned into. He was partially to blame for that because of some of the writing he left behind, but what he speculated about and what he really believed were not necessarily the same things. Some think he lived only to have deep discussions about philosophy and such, and it simply is not true. He was very interested, of course, but he did not gather people at his feet to dispense his wisdom. He loved to mess with people and say outlandish things to tease them. He would be delighted at all the controversy about him. But at the end of the day, he was just a guy who happened to be a great friend—and a great writer.
Tell us about your writing process/writing routine.
I write when I have time. Usually I’m working in my head, so when I sit down, I simply start writing. I don’t use outlines and only brief notes, so I’m definitely a pantser (except for the memoir) and only have a vague idea where I’m going. I let the characters dictate how the story plays out. I listen to soundtracks while I write (instrumental, not songs).
What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
From M. Joseph Murphy about The Other Side of Philip K. Dick: “The strongest piece of writing I’ve read in years.”
What writing projects are you working on now?
Since I’m one of the partners at Ellysian Press, I don’t always wear my writing hat. Lately I’ve been busy editing and working on our authors’ wonderful novels. However, I do have several of my own novels in various stages. Two are Sci Fi manuscripts. Truthsayer is set in a mining colony about 250 years in the future. Side Step is an alternate universe story. I also have a historical fantasy that spans seven centuries (The Journal) and a fantasy screenplay I wrote years ago that I’m doing the novelization on called The Hourglass.
I’ve added Maer’s books to my list of to reads. This was a fascinating interview
Thank you, Joyce!
Thanks so much for a fun interview with great questions!
Thank you, Maer. I really enjoyed learning more about you and your writing. Let me know when you publish your next book, and we’ll do another interview.
Maer is a busy lady with all that on her plate. I could relate to the need and challenge of making characters and worlds consistent across books, as well as having to make sure that magic is treated logically. Excellent interview. Thank you, Maer and Kathy. :-)
You’re welcome, Diana. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.