About the Author: Marlene Perez is the author of many paranormal and urban fantasy books, including the bestselling Dead Is series for teens (Clarion). The first book in the series, Dead Is the New Black, was named an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers as well as an ALA Popular Paperback. Dead Is Just a Rumor was on VOYA’s 2011 Best Science Fiction, Horror, & Fantasy List. Marlene’s latest release is the YA vampire trilogy, The Afterlife of the Party, I’m with the Banned, and A Sucker for You, were published by Entangled Teen. She grew up in Story City, Iowa and is the youngest of twelve children. She lives in Orange County, California with her husband and children” (Bio from the author).
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Emilee Ceuninck: Thank you for taking the time for an interview! The Afterlife of the Party is your latest young adult series. What draws you to write for teens?
Marlene Perez: I don’t know why I like writing for teens so much, exactly, but I do know that I like to write about interesting people, and there are so many amazing teens, including my own!
EC: Having published a significant number of novels, did you always know that you wanted to be an author? When did your passion for writing start?
MP: I knew I wanted to be a writer since we had a journal-writing unit in elementary school, but it took me a long time to find out HOW to be a writer. I knew that there were authors, of course, but I grew up in a rural farming community, and I don’t think writing as a profession was on anybody’s radar. My passion for writing probably started when I learned to read, which was before I started kindergarten.
EC: For new or aspiring writers, what advice do you have for generating story ideas and continuing to write through rejection?
MP: An old critique partner of mine told me something I’ll never forget: “Real writers get rejected.” There’s always a level of rejection in putting your work out there, even if your first submission is accepted for publication. Not every book is right for every editor, reviewer, or reader. Don’t get me wrong, getting rejected sucks, but if you can accept that it’s part of the publishing process, it helps. There are so many options now, including self-publishing, digital-only, small press publishers, major publishers, or a combination of any or all publishing paths. None of the paths are easy, but I think they all can be rewarding.
Joining a writing association like Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators or Sisters in Crime is a good way to meet other writers who are going through the same submission/rejection/acceptance process. I’ve found support from other writers helps, especially when most of the time it’s just me and my laptop.
I’m always a little leery about handing out advice about craft. What works for one writer might not work for another. I am willing to try a lot of different methods, but one thing that works for me is accountability, especially if I’m working on a manuscript that isn’t under contract. My issue is that I always have a lot of ideas. My best advice is to open a document and write that idea down but continue to work on the manuscript in front of you. And I’m not sure where I first learned about this YouTube video, but I really liked A Procrastinator’s Guide to Finishing Things.
EC: The Afterlife of the Party series is made up of three novels. When you originally wrote The Afterlife of the Party, did you know it would become a series? If so, how did that affect planning story elements?
MP: The more I write, the more I realize I’m an intuitive writer, so I often don’t know much when I start. When I first started working on The Afterlife of the Party, the lines “I didn’t want to go to the party” popped into my mind. I always save these little nuggets of information, and I’d read somewhere that, at one point, people believed that red-haired people were vampires. I’m a huge music fan, and there was a lot of stuff coming out about how bands and musicians treated their fans. I also wanted to write a story about strong female friendships and found families because not everyone has great biological parents. Once I had written about a hundred pages, I knew the ending, and I knew that one book wouldn’t be enough to tell the entire story.
EC: A big theme throughout The Afterlife of the Party series is self-growth, and I enjoyed watching Tansy’s confidence in herself grow. What was the most fun, challenging, or unexpected aspect of writing her journey?
MP: It was so much fun to see Tansy become a complete badass. I loved her loyalty and her stubbornness and her snarky attitude. Without giving anything away, it was challenging to put Tansy into so many dangerous situations, but she handled it. I think humans often struggle with self-growth. We don’t like change, so I was proud of the way Tansy grew throughout the trilogy. I admired the way she was able to confront people in her life who weren’t treating her well. This is hard to answer without giving away a few spoilers!
EC: A sacred object within the series is Tansy and Skylar’s charm necklaces. Do you have a special piece of jewelry? Does the necklace’s significance lie more in the protective elements or the friendship it represents?
MP: I don’t really like wearing rings, but I love necklaces and earrings. I do have a couple of special pieces of jewelry. I bought a silver four-leaf clover charm necklace right before my agent sold the first three books in my Dead Is series. It’s my good luck charm. And I also have a necklace engraved with my husband’s and children’s names, which is a sentimental favorite.
Tansy and Skyler’s necklaces are a combination of the protective elements AND the friendship because part of a good friendship is looking out for each other.
EC: The Afterlife of the Party series does not skimp on the fun high school drama! How did you approach writing realistic drama that readers could relate to?
MP: I like to combine the “normal” world with the supernatural, and so I tried to use some typical touchstone moments, like going to a party, going to see a live band, a road trip, etc., with some not-so-typical events.
EC: An interesting character throughout the series is Granny Mariotti. What was the inspiration for the character and her book club? Why do you think that librarians are magical?
MP: Granny Mariotti and her book club was an amalgamation of several librarians I’ve met. I think librarians are magical because they help match the perfect book for a reader, because of my own childhood experiences at the library, and because they fight to keep books for all readers on the shelves. Books can save lives. Books can change lives. Librarians are the ones who helped to change my life. When I was growing up, we were very poor. People are often cruel to poor people, and some of my childhood and teen years were miserable. I was an outsider. My mother was a single mom, and libraries were free entertainment. Knowledge was a way out of poverty. The librarians in my hometown were always kind and non-judgmental, which was a balm to a sensitive kid like me.
EC: Throughout the series, Tansy and Vaughn’s relationship transforms. How did you approach writing their switch from friends to romantic partners?
MP: I knew that Vaughn would have to prove himself to Tansy. She had trust issues because of her parents. I’d always pictured a slow-burn love interest, but it was fun to write the twists and turns of that relationship.
EC: Tansy becomes a striga vi, a half-witch-half vampire being. If you had the option, would you want to be a full vampire, full witch, a striga vi, or stay human? Why would you select this option?
MP: Well, the sight of blood makes me woozy, so as much as I love writing about vampires, I wouldn’t want to be one or a striga vi because of the whole blood thing. And I love garlic. So, either a full witch or human. I’d love to be a Mariotti witch because who wouldn’t want to be related to Tansy and hang out with Granny Mariotti and her book club/coven?
EC: The Afterlife of the Party series left me eager for more of your work. Are you currently working on any other projects? Are there any particular themes you would like to explore in the future?
MP: I’m working on a mystery/thriller right now. It’s fun and full of secrets revealed, red herrings, and plot twists galore. And, of course, I got the idea after reading a couple of weird facts/interesting articles.
Emilee Ceuninck, Pine Reads Review Lead Writer & Editor