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Thursday, June 2, 2011

M.J. Hearle Q&A and signed-copy giveaway!

Hello Darling Readers,

Back in March I was lucky enough to get my grubby little paws on an advanced copy of a new Australian paranormal YA . . . 'Winter's Shadow' was full of lusty Gothicism and doomed romance. I was utterly blown away, and thrilled to learn that it was just the first instalment in a new paranormal series.

To celebrate this month's book-store release of 'Winter's Shadow', M.J. Hearle has been kind enough to let me pick his brain. I ask all the pertinent questions, like the obstacles of writing paranormal romance with a Y-chromosome, and where he falls on the 'Team Edward' VS 'Team Jacob' conundrum.

But wait! There's more! I also have a signed-copy of 'Winter's Shadow' up for grabs in an INTERNATIONAL giveaway!

So it is with grotesque amounts of giddiness that I present to you M.J. Hearle! Woot-woot!

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Winter’s Shadow’ – from concept to final manuscript?

It took about five months from the time I had the idea, to the manuscript I sent out to agents. That includes two months of false starts where I tried to find the story, exploring numerous narrative dead ends. Once I had the plot more or less hammered out, the actual writing took about three months. And then there were at least a dozen more drafts, first with my agent and then with the publisher. The entire process, from typing the first words to seeing the book in stores, took about a year.

Q: How were you first published – agent or slush pile?

Agent. I’m not sure it’s possible to get noticed in a slush pile? I suspect, for most publishers, ‘slush pile’ is just another word for the ‘recycle bin’. Any writer who is serious about being published needs to get themselves a literary agent. They’re not difficult to track down. I found mine on Google and just called her up to see if she’d be interested in reading my manuscript. She told me to send her the first fifty pages and we were off and running. From what I understand, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in this process, but if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.

Q: Were you already a fan of all things paranormal, or did you start reading and writing in the genre after you had the idea for ‘Winter’s Shadow’?

I’ve always loved horror novels. The whole ‘paranormal’ category sits uneasily with me. It seems like a marketing term cooked up by booksellers and publishers wary of some stigma carried by the ‘horror’ label. I didn’t even know it existed until I started meeting with publishers and found out Winter’s Shadow was a ‘paranormal romance’. I suppose some novels that slip into this genre, might not be overtly horrific, but if a novel has a werewolf or a vampire or some other supernatural creature, and there's a good amount of fear and bloodshed then it's a horror novel. Even if the central plot line is supposed to be a a romance. You can dress it up and call it something different, but the reason people pick it up is because they’re looking for that illicit thrill. They’re looking to be scared. Otherwise, they’d just buy a bodice ripper. As far as I’m concerned Winter’s Shadow is a horror novel with a strong love story at the centre. Sorry, for the rant – I just really dislike that word. Paranormal. It sounds like a psychological condition.

Q: On your website you stress that ‘Winter’s Shadow’ does not contain “sparkly vampires or shirtless werewolves”. But c’mon, tell us the truth – have you read ‘Twilight’? And if so, are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?

Ha Ha! I must admit, I have poked some gentle fun at the Twilight franchise, but you know what? I actually enjoyed the first three books (haven’t read the fourth). I thought Stephenie Meyer did a fine job of evoking a suitably emotionally charged, and spooky atmosphere to play out her love triangle melodrama. I’m probably more of a traditionalist when it comes to my vampires and werewolves, but there’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation. That said, I think Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles did the whole brooding, romantic vampire much more effectively and would urge anyone who liked Twilight to seek her stuff out.
As for which team I’m on, hmmm...tricky. I think I like Edwards ‘brother’, Jasper, more than either Edward or Jacob. So can I be Team Jasper? Actually can I be Team Alice (mainly because I have a massive crush on Ashley Greene who plays her in the films).

Q: ‘Winter’s Shadow’ hinges on a whole new supernatural mythology of your own making. This new world-building is refreshing for the YA paranormal genre (there’s no aforementioned vampire or werewolf in sight!). How did you get this universe straight in your head? And what are the benefits of imagining a whole new paranormal tradition (as opposed to relying on the old lore’s of vampires and werewolves?)

It was incredibly difficult. Believe me, there were many times I wished I’d just written about vampires. To begin with, I started off with very vague concepts – a being that could travel through shadows, that could kill with a kiss, the soul manifested as an aura, visible to a chosen few – and then I expanded upon those concepts, deeply confusing myself in the process. My dad was a big help in clarifying this strange, new mythology of mine. We sat down one night and just spitballed ideas back and forth, eventually coming up with an internal logic for all the supernatural elements. Now, as for the benefits, well the main one is you're not beholden to what came before. I can blaze a trail, and while that's a little scary, it's also more than a little cool. What would be great is if other writers started writing about this frightening new world I've created, the Dead Lands. That would be very gratifying.

Q: Blake Duchamp, the mysterious love interest in the novel, is a little bit dreamy. How hard was it to write a viable romantic hero to pique the interest of teenage girls?

It actually wasn’t that difficult. I basically just wrote myself into the story. Kidding! I’m far more light hearted than my poor, troubled Blake. When you’re creating a romantic hero I think it’s important to take as much time focusing on their flaws as you do on their strengths. It’s all well and good to describe him as being the epitome of physical perfection, but it’s the imperfections we tend to fall in love with: the shadowed glance, the secret sadness, the fear hiding behind their eyes.

Q: If ‘Winter’s Shadow’ was turned into a movie or TV show, who would be your ideal cast?

I think Sophie Turner who stars as Sansa Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones could do a decent job as Winter, though she might be a little bit too beautiful. Winter isn’t supposed to be stunning but most Hollywood actresses are nothing less than draw dropping. Ultimately, I’d probably go for an unknown actress, with an emphasis on talent over looks. As for Blake, I wish I could go back in time and cast a young Jeremy Sisto because he would be perfect. He played ‘Billy’ in Six Feet Under, which is incidentally one of the greatest shows of all time.

Q: Since we’re on the topic . . . have you sold the movie rights for ‘Winter’s Shadow’?

No, not yet. Though there have been some exciting rumblings in that direction. I actually have a background in screenwriting and directing so I’m considering trying to make the movie myself. It might be the best way to safeguard the material from being compromised. I figure if someone is going to mess up the book it might as well be me.

Q: It’s fair to say that right now paranormal YA is dominated by female writers and readers. As a male author, what do you bring to the genre (apart from your Y-chromosome)?

This is quite a difficult question to answer because at the end of the day a good story is a good story regardless of the author’s gender. It would be easy to say that I bring a much more masculine, harder edge to the supernatural passages but I’m not sure that’s true? There’s a lot of scary stuff written by female writers. Likewise, one might expect, as a man, I struggled with the romantic elements of the story, but again this isn’t true. I’ve known love, lost love, had my heart broken and pined for the unattainable, all of which informed the writing of the novel. I’d tentatively suggest the relationship between Blake and Winter is sketched in a slightly less idealised way than is typical for the genre. Both are a little more broken, a little more real than the characters which generally populate this sort of fiction, which makes their love all the richer. I don’t know if this has anything to do with me being a man though.

Q: Did you find it difficult to get published in this female-dominated genre?

Not really. I’ve had a surprising amount of luck on the path to publication. It was suggested by my publisher that I use M. J. instead of Michael, just in case a female reader might be biased about picking up a novel in this genre written by a man. This didn’t bother me at all. I actually think it’s kind of cool. It creates a bit of mystery – Who is M. J. Hearle?

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the second novel, ‘Winter’s Light’, to be released in 2012? And how many novels are planned in this series?

Well, I’ve just finished the first draft of Winter’s Light and I’m very excited about it. With Winter’s Shadow I was focused on creating a very specific gothic atmosphere and establishing the mythology of the Dead Lands. The narrative was structured more like a mystery novel, following Winter as she uncovered Blake’s secret. Winter’s Light, however is more of thriller. It hits the ground running and the pace doesn’t let up until the final pages. There is still plenty of mystery, but it’s a considerably more propulsive story. The world of the Demori and The Bane is expanded upon and the characters have changed in subtle, and not so subtle ways as well. Winter’s carrying a lot of pain around with her but instead of just wallowing in her grief she decides to take action. This should be refreshing to readers tired of passive female protagonists (readers like me).
At the moment there’s one more novel after Winter’s Light, tentatively titled Winter’s Fall, but you never know? If the story dictates it there might be more.

Q: Favourite book(s) of all time?

Usually my favourite book is the last one I can remember reading. In no particular order here are a couple of my favourite titles – Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Ghost Story by Peter Straub, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?

Stephen King is the man that got me interested in reading and writing. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am today. However, I’d probably nominate Neil Gaiman as the author I’m most passionate about at the moment. The first works I read by him were the sublime Sandman comics, which stunned me with their complex and rich storytelling, and then I discovered his novels, which were equally brilliant. The man is quite simply a treasure trove of story.

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?

It’s obvious advice, but try and write as much as you can. The more you write the better you get. Also read widely. Not just your favourite genre – everything you can get your hands on. Not only will this help you develop your own writing but one day you’ll come across a novel and have that eureka moment, where you think to yourself, ‘I can do better than this!’
And you will.

How to enter:

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♥ Include a way to contact you (e-mail addy is fine)

♥ One post per entrant

♥ This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway!

♥ Contest closes June 30th .
I will announce the lucky winner on July 1st
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