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Q&A: Graveminder’s Melissa Marr on zombies, love and minding the dead June 13, 2011

Posted by Diana McCabe in Authors.
Tags: , , ,

“Sleep well, and stay where I put you.”

Melissa Marr

Those are the words that for decades, Rebekkah Barrow’s grandmother, Maylene, said after every funeral when she visited the graves of the dead in Claysville.  Rebekkah never knew why. But now that her grandmother has been  murdered, the duty to mind the dead falls to Rebekkah and the man she has run away from in Melissa Marr’s GRAVEMINDER.   (Read my book pick on GRAVEMINDER HERE.)

Marr, who wrote the wildly popular WICKED LOVELY series, explains in a Q&A with us her inspiration for GRAVEMINDER — her first novel for adults — and how she weaves together a story about the living, the dead and the intriguing curse that binds them together. She includes a lot of interesting detail here for fans, including how Mick Jagger and one of his songs helped to shape an important character and her thoughts on the world of the dead she has created. (For more on Melissa, her novels and other cool stuff, check out her website HERE. And I’ve included her YouTube book trailer — where she talks about the book — at the bottom of this Q&A.)

Q: How did you come up with the story for GRAVEMINDER? (Was there an “ah ha!” moment when the idea hit you or did it build in bits and pieces over time?)
A:  GRAVEMINDER began as a spark in 2007 when I was in Ireland.  I read a snippet of folklore on the regard for the dead.  It grew from there, influenced by my own lifelong interest in cemeteries and death lore.

Q: Just about all of your characters in GRAVEMINDER have a role or destiny to fulfill, but some have a choice. (Or maybe they don’t?) What inspired you to create your characters like this?
A:  I’m fascinated by volition.  The WICKED LOVELY series is a 5 book series on protagonists finding a way to wrest away choice in a world where they have none or have limited options.  The GRAVEMINDER world goes further in creating a protag (or several) where the choices are limited even further.  We are, all of us, limited by so many things beyond our control.  I think how we deal with limitations is defining and so I want to explore it in my books.

Q: Is your GRAVEMINDER lore based on any particular mythology or folklore? Are there/were there GRAVEMINDERS at one point?
A:  The lore at the center of this story is in many ways, global.  So many cultures have traditions for dealing with the dead.  The one tradition —  providing nourishment for the dead — that is probably the key to the story was one I read in a book called BLOODY IRISH.  However, that small bit was echoed in many cultures and countries too.

Q. Why don’t humans in GRAVEMINDER turn into zombies when bitten by the walking dead?
A:  Because these aren’t film zombies or viral zombies. =)  These are folklore based “Hungry Dead,” and in many ways they are more akin to ghosts than anything else.  They share traits with viral and film zombies (and other traits with Haitian zombies — which are also not spread by bite).  I’m a folklore geek, plain and simple, so my books evolve out of the lore I read.  The idea of viral zombies (which are what popular media define as zombies) is not what’s in the folklore.  It is different from “true” zombies (Haitian lore) and from ”Hungry Dead” (What my dead folk are) … all of which, I suspect, boils down to me saying I look to the “folklore first!”

Dante lost in the Inferno/Wikipedia

Q. In GRAVEMINDER, the living can walk among the dead, and the dead among the living. But they each see different things. What’s your world of the dead based on because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read?
A:  The world of the dead probably springs from an amalgamation of Dante and some versions of subjective afterlife.  Dante (who, arguably, is one of the earliest examples of supernatural literary/urban fantasy) had levels of hell reflecting the sins of the deceased.  Some traditions posit “subjective afterlife” in which what I experience and you experience would be completely dissimilar. Our personal definitions of happiness, torment, and boredom (heaven, hell, and purgatory in mainstream phrasing) are defining the reality we experience post-death.  I added to that the notion that we’d also define based on what we KNEW in our pre-death experiences so my land of the dead has a multiplicity of definitions and times co-existing in one space.

Q. Why don’t the Graveminder or Undertaker roles have to be carried on by blood family?
A:  First, because I believe that family is more than the people whose DNA we share.  My daughter is no less mine because she doesn’t share my blood/genes.  Secondly, very practically, if Graveminders and Undertakers are destined to love one another, we’d have a very unhealthy family tree if not for this clause in the town contract … and that’s just sucky.

Q. Rebekkah and Byron. Interesting ebb and flow. Will we ever know if they love each other for just love’s sake or have their roles destined them to no choice?
A:  Do we EVER know why two people are in love?  Do we even know if we’re defining the same emotions as “love”?  That leads to a huge snarl of philosophical questions.  Byron is a bit less difficult so he’s willing to accept it.  As the chick writing it all down.  I think I’m simply of the belief that there are unanswerable questions and talking about love brings some of them to the fore front.

Mick Jagger/Wikipedia

Q. I know you can’t answer this but who or what is Charles — Mr. D?! What can you tell us about how you created him? (He needs the Graveminder out in the real world but seems to ‘love’ them and want them to stay? Can’t tell. Can’t tell if he’s loved them all. Very intriguing.)
A:  Mr. D, Charles, is one of the most fun characters to write.  He’s directly a result of my stories’ love:  The song “Dancing with Mr. D” sparked his creation … which meant he was born with a bit of Mick Jagger’s delicious arrogance and charisma.  From there, he ended up with some of Milton’s Satan, The Doors’ Jim Morrison … So I guess he’s an embodiment of the sort of being that covers the allure of something dark, mysterious, and a bit frightening — sort of death itself.  As a note, I think he became both the Gothic Villain and the (later Gothic evolution) Byronic hero.

Q. Is there anyway for Rebekkah or Byron to see their loved ones who have died? (In another “kingdom?”) Or by cutting some sort of deal?
A:  When they die, they can — just like the rest of us (I hope).  While they are alive they can’t interact with their own dead.  It’s another of the limitations I thought necessary to the sort of contract Charles would draft.  If they can interact with their predecessors, it’s too “easy” for them … and Charles isn’t likely to agree to that.

Q. Is the town of Claysville based on anything from your childhood etc? Graveyards?
A:  Claysville is definitely influenced by my childhood home.  My own grandmother lived in a traditional two-story farmhouse, and my father and brother currently tend to the upkeep of the Parrish graveyard.  Growing up I developed a fondness for graveyards — some of my best dates in high school and college have been walking among graves.  My college had a vast graveyard on campus (attached to the monastery) and I used to walk there to clear my mind.  As an adult, I’ve kept that love of the quiet space they provide, and I visit them often as I travel.  I’m in no hurry to die, but I’m not afraid of it either. For health reasons in my 20’s it was something I spent some time thinking about, and then I married a Marine, which lead to other reasons for pondering it.  Hopefully, it’ll be a grand adventure when the time comes.

Q. OK — what’s next?
A:  I’m currently writing a sequel to GM.  That should be out in early 2013.  The series has gone into development, with Ken Olin for (hopefully!) a TV series.  One never knows if such things will make it the whole way through the process, but if passion is any clue, we’re in good hands.  Ken is truly amazing. He got the book, the world, and the characters instantly.  In the meantime, there’s a Graveminder short story (about Alicia) in THE NAKED CITY  (July 2011) anthology, and in 2012, I have a collection of my Wicked Lovely short stories (FAERY TALES & NIGHTMARES, Feb 2012) and the first in my new YA series, CARNIVAL OF SOULS (Fall 2012).


1. Diana McCabe - June 14, 2011

Well — what do people think? She gave us an awesome Q&A. I love her books. OK — they aren’t perfect, but they are pretty close. This new world she’s created is intriguing. And how she thinks about these worlds and creates them — even more intriguing. Feel free to share this Q&A.

Let me know what you think.


2. Susan Worley - November 18, 2012

Loved “GRAVEMINDER”!!!! I worked in a bookstore for years till health issues arose. I was in charge of YA and childrens books and read most of the books that came into our store. Fell in love with “WICKED LOVEY” series and now I’m stuck on this! I can’t wait until the next installment! Thank you for taking me away! You’re better than Calgon!!!!

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