I whipped up some interview questions for Mara. Rather than do the usual bit about inspiration and what’s in the books, I thought I’d ask her some real questions. Here’s what she had to say.
1) Why do you think war is so often a theme in books?
Oh, good question! Wars are such strong conflicts, so I think it is easy to turn to that as a plot point. But I also think wars are very representative of struggles we all face. It isn’t always about armies and violence–sometimes the battles we encounter are more internal or subtle than that, but wars are a good symbol for those battles and the ripple effect our choices have. In Heirs of War, there’s been a sort of cold war brewing between the rebel Cahirans and the Duillaine for a long time, but the thing is–neither side is right. You can think you are making the right choices, but it isn’t until you are face to face with the consequences that you find out whether or not you were correct. It’s easy to identify with that type of struggle, even if it is on a smaller scale in your actual life. But sometimes those choices can feel so big that they are life or death, even if they aren’t. And I think that’s what moves people with these books that have wars as a central conflict or plot point. You can identify with Katniss as a reluctant hero, because stepping up and making the call isn’t necessarily something you might want to do. But when you are backed into a corner, much like she was, and you can see how you can effect changes that might be necessary, will you be brave enough to do it? Will you be your own Mockingjay? I think that’s how we are able to relate, as readers, to these characters and their struggles.
Do you think authors should stick to writing what they know or write what they love?
I’m never an advocate of sticking to writing what you know. That’s what the imagination is for, in my opinion. I’ve never had magic or been to a magical world like Zelene in Heirs of War, and I’ve never had a seizure or woken up in another reality like Madeline in Altar of Reality, but I still write about them. There are parts of me–things that I do know–in those books, but I don’t think we should limit ourselves to what we know. That’s also the beauty of knowledge–there’s always room for more. So if I decide I want to write about astronauts, I can learn about them as best I can. And while I’m writing that astronaut character, I get to live that experience on some small level, which is one of the most fascinating things about writing fiction for me.
What does magic in a book tell us about the author? What does it tell us about the readers?
I think it tells us that we believe in the impossible. We dream big, and we view things through the type of lens that allows us to see so much more than is right before our eyes. As both readers and writers, I think it says that we want to experience more than life might offer us at the moment, but that we will never stop hoping that it gives us more.
If you knew your next book would FOR SURE be read by ten million readers, what message would you put in it?
Oof. That’s a hard one. I don’t think I would want to know that my book would be read by ten million readers. Too much pressure! 🙂 When I write, it isn’t because I have a particular theme or message in mind. I created racial tensions in Heirs of War without realizing it. I wanted to show these people who look the same hating each other because of unseen differences. It’s far too easy to look at someone or look at their culture and judge them, or think your way is better. I think it is something we are all guilty of in some way, but I didn’t put it in there to be preachy. Just as an observation. Do I hope it speaks to people? Sure, but that’s after the fact.
I will say that one of the most likely messages would be about how powerful love is. It can be a weapon, a tool, a motivator–it all depends on the person. It can be the element of a character’s destruction or their path to salvation. (Not to get all geeky on you, but that’s one of the things I find fascinating about Ward on Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. It’s already been an element of destruction for him, but can it redeem him now? Hmm….) There are light and dark sides to love, happiness and hurt. I love exploring it all and seeing just how strong it can be in each character and why.