Please welcome Mary Sutton, author of the Hero’s Sword middle-grade fantasy series (as well as crime fiction under the name Liz Milliron).
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
First of all, I get to sleep in, preferably past 7. With a day job and kids, that’s a rare treat! The weather would be not too hot, but not cold either. And I’d have the whole day to write–no places to rush off to, or people interrupting me. Someone to make dinner would be nice too.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Probably the first would be a college friend of mine, Amy. When I caught up with her almost 10 years after we graduated, she’d gotten into endurance sports and I love her attitude. She taught me that “amazing things happen when you show up,” and it really is true–and you need to play big and do what you love, even if you make mistakes along the way.
The second would be my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Eggleston. He was the first science or math teacher who told me I actually could be successful in those areas. He was such a positive, encouraging teacher, one of the ones who, looking back, taught a lot more than just the subject matter; he taught you how to be successful and work hard for what you want.
And the third, hmm, I’d have to say Mary Higgins Clark. I met her oh so briefly at Bouchercon 2012, but she was the first author I read whose books made me say, “Yeah, I want to do that someday.”
Do you listen to music when you write?
Yes. I suppose it’s a result of growing up in a house with four kids, but I can’t work in total silence. I’m so used to working despite any and all noise distractions. So when I’m writing, I find that my creative juices flow better against the background of music–preferably the high energy kind.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A dark chocolate–no wait, you’re asking about the book, not what chocolate I like. Sorry, I was distracted by the thoughts of chocolate. I’d have to say plain milk chocolate because it’s sweet, enjoyable, and not all snooty and sophisticated–something that lots of young people can enjoy.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Good question. My main focus for several years has been on crime fiction–dead bodies and such. When a colleague of mine told me about this opportunity, my initial reaction was “I don’t do kids’ stuff.” But then I thought of Jonathan Mayberry, and his attitude of “write anything,” so I decided why not give it a try? The publisher had the idea of a book based on a video game; he invited me to come up with my own story line, but the idea of a fantasy involving a girl and a video game–because it’s still considered a little weird for girls to like video games–really took hold of my imagination. Then I hooked it into the drama of middle school and the story really took off.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
No matter what I write, there’s always an undercurrent of personal growth. Something has happened in the main character’s life and the question is how will she react to it and how will she learn from it? That’s something that’s really important to me as a reader, regardless of genre. I want to see the characters struggle, fail, learn and grow so I think that influences almost everything I write to varying degrees.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Jaycee is a smart, spunky girl. But she’s also decidedly “uncool” in the middle-school social scene. So she has all of the typical middle-school drama, crushes and wanting friends, but she’s been pushed to the side so often that she’s become a little timid. You know, she doesn’t want to be just like the “in crowd” because she’s fine with who she is, but she also does everything she can to avoid drawing attention to herself. She has a crush on a popular kid, but she’s too self-conscious to actually do anything about it.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Oh wow. Well, I’ve compared her to Katniss in The Hunger Games before because I really like Katniss’s fighting spirit. That’s something Jaycee has, although she doesn’t know it yet. Add that to Taylor Swift, a young woman who really knows who she is and doesn’t really try to change herself to suit other people, especially guys. And then mix in a little Trixie Belden, a tomboy who has an adventurous side and a knack for solving problems. Yeah, I think that’s a good combo.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Only six? Well, definitely Agatha Christie because she was my first love as a reader of mysteries. Mary Higgins Clark, because she scared me silly as a teenager, and I loved every minute of it. Plus she was such a hoot during her interview at Bouchercon; I bet she’s got awesome stories. Hank Phillippi Ryan because she’s another wonderful writer who can really grab me with a story as well as just a charming, funny person. I’ve talked to the Mysteristas’ own Susan Boyer in person and through Twitter, and I bet she is a great person to have at a party. I think Jane Austen would be an interesting dinner guest. She was such a maverick, writing at a time when that was something that ladies just did not do and her humor in books such as Pride and Prejudice, and her observations of people, is fantastic and spot on. What’s that, five? My sixth would be the only man, C.S. Lewis. I adored the Chronicles of Narnia, and his observations of people and writing have always struck me as very poignant and true–and I bet he was a great conversationalist.
What’s next for you?
Well, my publisher has requested the manuscript for the next book in the Hero’s Sword series, so I’ll be returning to Mallory. The vision is for possibly twelve books total, so it’s a good thing I like it there! Then I have a short story being published in a crime fiction anthology being put out by my local chapter of Sisters in Crime; that comes out at the end of 2013. I’ve got a couple other short police procedural stories I’m shopping around. If I can’t find a traditional publisher, I might self-publish those, not sure. And i’m working on a Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout-inspired novella that I plan to enter in the Black Orchid Novella contest in May 2013.
Thanks so much for having me, Mysteristas! This was fun!
A software technical writer during the day, Mary Sutton has been making her living with words for over a decade. She writes the Hero’s Sword middle-grade fantasy series as M.E. Sutton. She also writes crime fiction under the name Liz Milliron.