Sonja recently had the privilege of sitting down with Mia Marshall. Mia is the author of the Element series and the second of book of the series, Shifting Selves, has just been released. Let’s dive into the interview and get an inside scoop into the series and Mia!
What three words would you do to describe yourself?
Start out with an easy one, why don’t you? Let’s go with introverted, goofy, and determined. Determined is a nice way to say ‘overly intense on occasion.’
Are you anything like what you thought you would be when you were a kid?
Well, I still spend most of my discretionary income on books, and I still prefer fantasy worlds to reality, so that’s the same. In a lot of ways, I’m exactly what ten-year-old me would have wanted: I’m a writer, I have cats, I frequently eat cereal for dinner. I did take a lot of unexpected paths to get here, which would have thrilled the younger version of me.
Do you have ritual habits that you do when you write? If so, what are they?
I sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. If I’m struggling to find words, I put on music. If I’m still struggling, I move to the couch for a change of scenery. If things are really bad, I take a dance break. But really, sit down and write is the ritual.
What do you do on a bad writing day? How do you get out of the funk?
No matter what, I have a minimum word count I assign myself each writing day, at least 1000 words. But I don’t beat myself up if those words aren’t particularly good, or if I stop the moment I hit 1001. So long as I keep writing, regardless of how hard it feels or how much I dislike what I’m churning out, I know I’m making progress.
What did you edit OUT of your books? What was the hardest thing to cut out?
In every book, there seems to be one character that doesn’t make it past the first draft. They’re either superfluous or require a lot more attention than I can give them in order to have a proper arc. In Shifting Selves, for instance, the first draft had Mac’s Dad show up for the final third, but he didn’t really add anything to the story. So, I sent him back to the woods until he’s needed for a future book. These cuts aren’t hard for me, really. Once I see the final, much tighter version, I usually just wonder what the hell I was thinking for the first draft.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I’m pretty sure it was my third grade teacher who first wrote “wordy” in the margins of one of my stories. I have a tendency to use twenty words when ten will do, and I constantly need to be aware of that. Part of it is just my style–I’ll never write sparse prose, nor do I want to–but I keep “wordy” in mind when I’m editing, and it helps me pare down my wealth of adverbs.
The best compliment is any time someone tells me my books transported them to another world and they can’t wait for the next one. There’s really no higher praise than that.
When you read a negative review, how do you react? Does your face scrunch up in disagreement? Do you cuss and rant out loud? Do you fall inside your thoughts and contemplate if they may be right?
It depends on the review. If it’s a variation on “It just wasn’t for me,” I shrug and move on, because no book is for everyone. A lot of reviews completely contradict each other, so I’d drive myself mad if I took them too seriously. If there are good points in a review, I’ll absolutely take them into consideration for future books, but I let my instincts tell me which ones I should pay attention to and which I should ignore.
The reviews that seem to completely miss a plot point or theme or that fixate on small details sometimes lead to muttering and cursing, but I usually rant to a friend and then just try to let it go. You can’t internalize this stuff–that way lies self-doubt, writer’s block, and the bottom of a bag of Cheetos. If it gets too bad, I remind myself that the 50 Shades bundle has a higher score on Goodreads than Macbeth, and suddenly the reviews seem far less important.
There has been a lot of talk recently in reading communities about Series vs. Serials. While there is definitely a series arc as to Aidan’s discovery of herself, I really appreciate that each book tells a complete story. How many books do you have planned in the series? Do you have the arc mentally (or visually) planned? Or do you wing it?
I definitely have a plan, though it’s drawn in broad strokes, and the details change as I move through the series. At the moment, I have a five book series planned, though there’s a possibility of bumping that up to six or seven. Honestly, a lot of that will depend on how people respond to books two and three. I write this series because I love it, but I also write for an audience. If people are buying the books, I’ll write more of them.
Regardless of how many books there will be in total, I definitely have an end game in mind. I’m not a fan of the never-ending series, and I think if a series isn’t heading toward a specific end point, there’s a risk of it becoming repetitive. Also, I want to give Aidan Brook a happy ending. I can only torture the poor woman for so long.
Was there a character or event that gave you growly fits? Made you grit your teeth and Grrrr as you wrestled it down and put it to paper? Anyone ever do something so stupid that you didn’t want to put fingertips to keys?
Oh, Vivian. That woman refused to tell me who she was for so, SO many drafts. I basically put her in as a placeholder, because I knew the series needed an earth, and I also wanted to show that elementals weren’t all equally powerful, but damn, I struggled with her. She was, in her time, a preppy college kid, a Los Angeles club kid, and a New Age earth goddess. Vivian, as we now know her, came to me about a week before the final version of Broken Elements was due. My lesson: despite being an introvert, I sometimes have a really hard time writing them.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? Would you go back and change anything in the first now that the second is out?
I’m good with book two right now and will likely remain that way until I realize I somehow backed myself into a corner for book three. I’d always love to go back and do just one more edit to clean the books up a bit more, but no one has time for that, least of all my editor.
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
My primary theme throughout the series, the one I consciously refer back to while I write, is that of choice–choosing your family, choosing your life, choosing the right path rather than easy one. This is obviously true for Aidan, but I want it to be the case for all the characters. They should be active, rather than reactive, and I want them each to have their own series arc in which they make choices that lead them where they need to go, rather than blindly following the heroine just because she’s the one on the covers.
The covers of your first 2 novels are very indicative of the character of the books. Who did the cover art? And how did you settle on these adaptations? Will you stay true to this them throughout the series?
Cynthia Fliege designed both covers, and obviously she did a fabulous job. She makes a point to read each book before designing the cover, so they really capture the spirit of the books. Though we work together on some revisions, the concepts are entirely hers. Initially, they came about because we couldn’t afford to hire models for a photo shoot and didn’t want to rely on stock photos. The end result looks quite different from most urban fantasy covers, but hopefully that just makes it stand out. So long as she’s willing to design the covers, I plan to keep asking her.
Do you have a picture in your mind of actresses to play Aidan and Sera? Or actors for Mac and Simon?
We’re in dreamland, right? Emma Stone is too short for Aidan, but they can fix that through Hollywood magic and/or stilts, and I’d love to see what she could do with Aidan’s particular sense of humor. Sera is a lot harder, because Hollywood isn’t exactly awash in Pacific Islander actresses. Can we go with an unknown for this part? Mac would be a brunette/brown-eyed Chris Hemsworth, possibly mixed with a less hairy Opie from Sons of Anarchy. Simon would have to be that guy. You know. The skinny guy with dark hair and pale skin and really green eyes? Okay, I’m terrible at this game. Tell me who you’d cast.
Who is your favorite character? Why? Any based on people you know?
I can’t play favorites! I will say that Simon is the most fun to write, with Sera a close second. And Mac makes even me swoon a little. Yes, I swoon for an imaginary man I created. Yes, I do probably need therapy.
I try not to base anyone on real world people or relationships–I prefer my writing to be baggage-free as much as possible.
If you could have any of the abilities of your characters, which would you want and why?
If I was a water elemental, every morning, I could create my own private pool. No cleaning or gym membership required! I could work with that. I suppose the healing abilities could be useful, too, if I wanted to be selfless.
Josiah is not a lovable guy. The girls’ relationships with him reflect this. I want to ask so many questions – but they all result in spoilers. So, I will settle on . . . Tell me more, tell me more! Will these relationships ever resolve into cuddly feelings? Or will they finally just have had enough and smack him? Or something else all together?
I protest the spoiler-bait nature of this question! Here’s what I will say: Josiah isn’t evil in elemental terms. He’s an old one, and he very much has the moral code of one who’s lived for millennia and seen the world change time and time again. In his world, humans and shifters really are insignificant. Aidan and Sera, however, are very young elementals and are still connected to the human world–and they plan to stay that way. That’s not a conflict that will be resolved easily, if at all.
The old ones certainly seem like old fuddy duddies! Do you see them evolving in the remainder of the series? Or will they eventually evolve? Do you have any real world experience that you relate this to?
The old ones are very fixed in their ways, though of course each element reacts somewhat differently to change. Some might evolve; some might not. You’re trying to trick me into revealing a spoiler, aren’t you? It won’t work!
I don’t draw on real world experience, exactly, though I try to imagine a very stubborn grandparent trying to reason with their young whippersnapper of a grandchild, then multiply that by a hundred.
One of my favorite things about this series is the relationship between Aidan and Sera. Did you base this on a relationship with which you are familiar?
Though not based on any one person, I was definitely inspired by several relationships I’ve had with both friends and boyfriends. I tried to capture that ease you get when you’ve known and loved someone a long time, to the point where you practically have your own language and no amount of distance can really break the connection you share.
A penguin wearing a sombrero walks through your door right now. What does he say and why is he there?
If a penguin is wearing a sombrero, one must assume he’s on holiday and is looking for a party, particularly given how close we are to Cinco de Mayo.
If he ended up walking through my door instead of a bar, one can only imagine he’d sigh heavily in disappointment and ask where the liquor cabinet was–assuming he wasn’t fleeing for his life (frantically waddling for his life?) from my two bengal cats.
If you were stranded on an alien planet, which character would you choose to be stranded with and what three things must you have at hand?
You’re not giving me nearly enough information here. Is it someplace cold like Mars? Then I’d need Sera, obviously. A dry planet? Better have Aidan with me. It is a high tech dystopia in which lives are run by computers? Vivian’s the one. Is it a planet populated only by women and/or prepubescent boys? Then you better give me Mac, if only for some eye candy. Regardless of which world I ended up in, I’d want a fully stocked e-reader, a lifetime supply of coffee, and a really warm blanket. Hypothermia’s no joke, yo.
If you could only thank one person that has been along for the ride as you write, who would that be? Why? And, what would you say?
Well, I thanked her in the dedication to Shifting Selves, but it’s always worth thanking my mom again. When I was recovering from a major surgery and couldn’t work or pay rent, she let me live with her, which totally beat being homeless. Plus, she encouraged me when I had the crazy idea that I would use that time to write a fantasy novel, and she hasn’t stopped encouraging me since. I got lucky in the mom sweepstakes, that’s for sure.
Thanks so much, Mia, for sitting down and talking with us. I really enjoyed the first two books and cannot wait for the rest of the series!
Read the reviews that Sonja wrote for the books in the Elements series: Broken Elements and Shifting Selves. You can visit Mia Marshall’s website to get more information about her and her work.