Interview: Iva-Marie Palmer
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Cold Case score music
The title of Iva-Marie Palmer's novel, The End of the World as We Know It, might make you hum a classic R.E.M. tune. The author would certainly approve.
Iva-Marie (pronounced Eye-vuh-Mah-ree) is a fan of awesome things. If you looked on her bookshelf, you'd find titles by Jane Austen, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman, among others. If you checked out her DVD collection, you'd find Buffy the Vampire Slayer leaning up against The Breakfast Club. She seeks out good stories in various mediums. She's been a journalist, she's been a ghostwriter, and now she has an original novel to call her very own. Let's talk about it.
The flap copy of The End of the World as We Know It describes it as The Breakfast Club meets War of the Worlds. Was it natural for you to combine realistic humor with sci-fi elements? Is it easier for you to write break-up scenes or alien attacks?
I tend toward the real, though a version of the real where people talk like they do in the movies. (Or I hope they do!) Most of my work up until now had been grounded in reality somewhat, though I have tinkered with other fantastical elements, or situations just a little left of normal. I don't think I'm so much a world-builder, so in The End of the World as We Know It, what worked for me was imagining a normalcy disrupted. I set the book in a fictionalized version of my hometown, a suburb south of Chicago, so I had that to play with (and I got to make a nod to John Hughes that way, too, since his screenplays often took place in Chicago's northern 'burbs.) The alien parts were the hardest for me to write, not so much the-thick-of-the-battle moments but keeping track of their features, size, abilities, and so on. One Barnes and Noble reviewer called my book genre-bending, which made me pretty happy. I love so many genres that to bend them sounds good to me!
I cannot read or say The End of the World as We Know It without singing the song by R.E.M. - and I feel fiiiine! How did you obtain licensing rights to quote the lyrics in your book?
I know! Once that was a lock for the title, I knew I had to work the lyrics into the book. However, the first go-round, I had too many of the lyrics included, and my editors told me I had to cut back for rights reasons. So I did, but we still managed to use some lyrics from the chorus. Luckily, I didn't have to slog through whatever legal murk stood in the way of including them. What I'd say to would-be writers who want to use lyrics is to put them in, and see what your editors say. Self-published writers probably should look for clearance, and not be discouraged, because I do think the rights you pay to use the most are full song rights, like in a film. Lyrics-only might not be as big an approval. But again, I'm speaking without any direct experience there.
Did you go through various working titles while you were working on the story, or was that the title from the get-go?
I'd proposed several others. A few I liked were Are You There Ray Bradbury? It's Me, We're Screwed, Party Crashers, and Aliens and Other Party Fouls.
It's also fun to shorten your title to TEotWaWKI. It sounds like an island. Would you fare better on a desert island or in the circumstances you created in your book?
Does the island have wi-fi? No, really, I think it sounds like a luxury to say, "Desert Island me now, please!" and imagine I'd suddenly be a billion times more productive. But in truth, I wrote this and have done all my writing while holding a day job, and balancing all the hecticness of life. (For me, that now includes a toddler. A really fast-moving toddler with a penchant for dangerous objects.) So, I think it would be great to check out to an island here or there, and write a bunch while drinking out of a coconut and living in a thatched roof hut high up in a tree. But, for me personally, I probably need at least some inputs to achieve any output. And inputs can mean anything from random people I overhear at the grocery store, odd conversations with co-workers, and the I-couldn't-make-this-up people you sometimes see bopping around Los Angeles.
The other thing a little bit of craziness lends me is that I always seem to have a flash of an idea that I'm so excited about I can't wait to have a chance to write it down. (I get some good ones in boring work meetings and start to squirm in my chair, though I'm pretty sure my coworkers think I just have to go to the bathroom.)
Ha! Which of the characters in TEotWaWKI most closely resembles a teenage Iva-Marie?
There are bits and pieces of all of them in me, but I think if Leo and Sarabeth had a baby (and they are way too young for that), I would be their offspring.
Your influences range from John Hughes to Judy Blume, and everything in-between. Be it on screen or in print, what do you think the best coming-of-age stories have in common?
Confusion and inner turmoil. I think as we grow up, all of us try to present one face to the world (or just ARE one face to the world) but maybe have something else bubbling underneath. Not every character in a coming-of-age tale knows that there's more to them at the start, but in a good one, I think even the most confident characters need to have their world rocked a little. Also, I'm a firm believer you need at least one swoony romance in a good teen/coming-of-age story. John Hughes did that really well.
What are your favorite alien stories? I personally enjoy Doctor Who, The X-Files, and classic episodes of The Twilight Zone.
I've been meaning to get around to Dr. Who and the X-Files. They are all queued up on Netflix, but I need time to dig in. I've always liked the Mars Attacks! aliens, for their sense of humor and their mythology, however limited it is. But I honestly haven't seen a lot of alien stuff, which helped me on this because I wasn't comparing my aliens to everything that had gone before them. Whereas if I had done vampires, I'd have been stuck in Sunnydale. And now we get to your next question...
Rumor has it you enjoyed the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
(Readers, this is the part where Iva-Marie and I virtually high-five.)
Can we double high-five? Is that a thing?
(A double high-five occurs.)
I could go on and on about Buffy.
What are your favorite episodes? Favorite characters?
I have many favorite episodes, and all for different reasons, but, to limit myself, I went season-by-season and plucked out the ones I'd say are my favorites, though this list is by no means complete.
Season 1 - Nightmares, partly because the creepy young villain, Billy Palmer, has the same name as my brother
Season 2 - Becoming 1 and Becoming 2 (for the obvious reasons, as well as for Spike's awesome speech about why he doesn't want Angel to end the world)
Season 3 - Doppelgangland, for the awesome glimpse of bad Willow, and because alternate universes are fun
Season 4 - Hush gets points for sheer creativity but I really loved The Yoko Factor - I think Spike proves his humanity despite his soullessness by being so excellent at deciphering all of the Scooby Gang's secrets before they even do
Season 5 - Fool For Love, Spike's origin tale - can you guess who one of my favorite characters is?
Season 6 - Tabula Rasa is pure fun, but the Buffy-Willow face-off in Grave, the finale, and Zander's eventual heroics, are such huge moments that I have to rank it highly
Season 7 - I loved Buffy's spotlight moment (and the telepathy triangle between Willow-Xander-Buffy) in Showtime, but Chosen kind of nails it for me, tears-falling-wise.
My favorite characters are, sort of, all of them because I can't imagine the show working without any one of them. But absolute favorites are Spike -- I love his backstory and, as I mentioned, his flawed humanity even when soulless, plus, HOT; Willow, for her bookishness, for her growth, for her sheer willed-into-being power; Buffy, because she's the chosen one and quippy, and Giles, because he's just a wonderful man, and at least once a season there are moments when I wish I could hug him.
Back to the write stuff. How did you get your publishing deal with Alloy Entertainment? Was the deal for a single title, or do you have other books in the works with them?
Well, I ghostwrote several titles with them before The End of the World came about. EoW actually started as a different project for the publisher who was releasing my ghostwritten titles. Then, that didn't work out and it morphed, kind of delightfully, into this action-adventure/sci-fi/comedy/coming of age/teen romance book we have today. Now that it's out, I've been talking to my Alloy editor, Emilia Rhodes, about what's next and I think we're cooking up something good. I also have been working on a few projects of my own, and having EoW come out has made me think about putting up some of my older fiction on Figment or Wattpad, just to see what kind of feedback I might get.
You've been a writer and a journalist since you were a child, first creating (and selling) newspapers to your parents, then working on school and community papers and beyond. What moved you to create those first papers?
Gosh, the newspapers sprung from just liking to make things up. I loved to read, and I loved MAD magazine, which had an M.O. of delivering humor based on real world stuff. So, I came up with the papers, like a kids' version of The Onion, or the Daily Show. (Though with stories about why Santa Claus wanted to move Christmas to July, so maybe not cutting-edge humor.) I also think the papers, and journalism in general, came to me out of a disbelief that a person could just write fiction. It's not like my parents were ever the types to say, "you can't write books" or "you need to be more realistic about your goals." They always encouraged our creativity. But I held my books and their authors in such esteem, I guess I thought it would take magic to become one. So, I actually never pursued fiction until after college. I'm working on an essay about my late-blooming fiction-writing aspirations right now, so maybe I'll figure out why I hesitated for so long.
Any journalists, living or sadly no longer with us, whose investigations and style have influenced yours?
My dad always read Mike Royko, a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, who blended humor with that true reporter grit. I actually did a paper on his book Boss, about Chicago's first mayor Daley, for my English class and I remember the teacher thinking maybe I was an odd bird for liking this columnist who was such a guy's guy reporter. I also love Roger Ebert, because he possesses so much sheer writing ability, and is so curious and passionate about so many things, even beyond film. His blog is great.
How did you become a ghostwriter? What was the experience like for you? Did you find it freeing or limiting in any way?
Well, I was lucky enough that, at my day job, I worked with someone who used to work with Alloy, and when she found out I wrote fiction, she offered to put me in touch with one of her former co-workers, who, lucky for me, was Josh Bank. Alloy offered me a try-out on a series they were casting (I don't think I can name it) and I ended up getting the part, as it were. So I did three of those before TEotWaWKI. I think ghostwriting was good for me in that I learned more about the mechanics of plotting, at which Alloy's team is masterful, and the rapidity of the books' releases really gets you in the habit of sitting down and knowing you have to clear a certain word count to make deadline.
As for whether it's freeing, I think it might be for some people, but what ended up on the page for me was a lot of me, and I was just as neurotic about the reaction to the books as if they'd had my name on them. To a point, there were a few stylistic things in the series that maybe weren't things I'd do, but Alloy was great about letting me chip in on plotting sessions, and making the characters my own, so I never felt like I was purely someone else.
And finally: What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Oh my. Neil Gaiman has a quote, "Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose." This is likewise a hard one for me. I love books. As a kid, I couldn't go anywhere without taking at least one book in the car because I'd imagine getting stranded and my greatest fear would be having nothing to read. To this day, I still bring a bag filled with reading material almost everywhere with me.
Also, it's hard for me to think of books I don't like, because usually I'm pretty good at picking what I want to read, and then I love whatever world I'm in at a given time.
Like, right now, I'm reading Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding, and it is SOOOOOO good, and I'm so amazed by it, I want to include it. But then I'd be down to nine. Still, for the sake of my own discipline, I really want to try, but people should please know this list is subject to change or, really, be added to at any point in time. What I'm going to try to do here is cover a number of genres, so as to feel like I've achieved some balance with my list.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Salem's Lot by Stephen King
Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Honorable Mention to Kids' Reads I've Just Discovered Recently:
I finally read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg to my son and loved it. Also, the picture books of William Joyce are beautiful and transport you in less than 40 pages.
Thank you so much for interviewing me, and for the amazing questions!
Thanks for chatting with me!
TEoTWAWKI is available as an e-book on Nook, iPad, Kindle, and other such devices.
Read an excerpt from the book on Scribd.
Visit Iva-Marie Palmer's website.