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Little Willow

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Interview: Rosemary Clement-Moore

Rosemary Clement-Moore and I appreciate a lot of the same things: Cary Grant. Word play. The high school years of Buffy Summers. A well-told story, no matter what the form: a novel, a play, a musical, a ballet.

To date, Rosemary has written three novels about Maggie Quinn, a modern-day Nancy Drew who defeats demons while tossing off witty retorts - in other words, a young woman who is quite possibly the offspring of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars. We spoke at length about this series as well as Rosemary's forthcoming stand-alone novel The Splendor Falls.

I had a great deal of fun conducting this interview. How often do chupacabras, Annie Sullivan, and Doctor Who all come up within the same conversation? Not often enough, my friends. Not often enough.

What prompted your first YA novel, Prom Dates From Hell? (Oh, I just said "prompted" out loud - PROM-ted - and realized it was an unintentional pun.) Did you have one of your own in high school? I didn't go to prom. I watched Buffy's instead.

You know what Samuel Johnson said: He who would pun would pick a pocket.

This is why the prom features in so many books and movies: It a single event that focuses all the social aspects -- good, bad and hellish -- of the rest of the school year: the social hierarchy, the fashion police, the kids that drink, the boy/girl drama, the money angst, the putting up a front pressure... all those things that are going on all year sort of get distilled to this one night.

PDFH -- all my books in some ways -- are about power. Do you get yours from inside yourself, from the person you are and the things you believe in? Or do you steal your power by putting down or bullying others. The story started with the question: what if this power struggle had supernatural weapons. (In that way, I guess it is very much a Buffy/Joss Whedon sort of story question.)

I love that your books are infused with humor and supernatural elements. Maggie is both an intrepid girl reporter and a demon slayer - in other words, part Nancy Drew, part Buffy Summers. Which parts of Maggie resemble you?

Maggie gets to say the things I thought -- still think! -- but was too polite to say. I was a quiet girl (which surprises people, I'm sure), but in my head I was very droll, with a strong sense of the ridiculous. Not a surprise, she likes the same books and movies I do. Other than that, I'm afraid that Maggie is most like me in her flaws: she's stubborn and awkward and quick tempered. We're both very loyal to our friends and family, though.

How did Maggie get her name?

Maggie was named long before I had a story for her. She sort of developed over time in my head, and when I came up with the premise for PDFH, I knew she'd be the perfect protagonist. Only I had to take the character back in her own timeline a bit. (Which, yes, means that I know Maggie's future, though events of the books may alter it, like Marty McFly going back in time.)

Her FULL name came as a surprise to me. I didn't realize what it was until I typed it in the scene. Or, I didn't realize it consciously until that point. As writers, sometimes our subconscious is smarter than we are.

Whenever I run into people named Maggie it makes me blink. But it's not like it's an unusual name. There's a professor named Maggie Quinn who I'm sure wonders why her google-hits have gone up in recent years. I think it's funny.

The other thing that Google turns up is a lot of "Sliders" fan fiction. Apparently Maggie/Quinn is a popular pairing.

I loved Sliders. I detested Maggie. She ruined the show. Did you ever watch it? The early seasons were much better than later seasons.

Justin, FYI, is named after a rat in "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH." Which seems weird unless you've read the book.

So far, you've written three books about Maggie. How many more books do you have up your sleeve? Was this always planned to be a series?

I always saw Maggie's adventures as a series, a sort of 'monster of the week' but with some deeper mystical elements. The demon in PDFH doesn't have a folklore corollary, but Hell Week and Highway to Hell do.

How did you decide upon the series title Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil?

I can't take credit for Girl vs. Evil, but I LOVE it. My editor and I were tossing ideas back and forth, and it was her suggestion. And it was perfect, because that's the whole concept in a nutshell.

Who is the artist behind the eye-catching book covers?

The covers are by an artist in New Zealand named Craig Phillips. I love his concept of Maggie. She looks so much like the image in my head. (But with better behaved hair.) As someone pointed out, she's attractive, but not supermodel gorgeous. And I love that look in her eye on the Highway to Hell cover. (Though the fuzzy dice are my favorite part.)

Check out the website of Craig Phillips. My favorite pieces other than the the covers of the Maggie Quinn books include a modern-day Emily Dickinson, the authorative cat and the clothed mice, and the reading girl - as well as the mermaid that made me think of Kiba. Back to the interview . . .

In the second Maggie book, Hell Week, sorority row was rocked and wrecked by magic. Did you ever rush or pledge? (I rush a lot, but just around, not to be Greek. I could tell you a story about an audition I had, but that's for another time.)

I was in a sorority in college. I loved my sisters, most of them, anyway, and by no means did I mean to paint an "all sororities are evil" picture. If you find a group where you fit, while being yourself, it can be great fun. That said, it was also my experience that the Greek system tends to reinforce a lot of negative gender issues. In a way, Hell Week tweaks the way sexuality is tied up with status in that system. Though usually it's the girls who get the short end of the stick, so to speak, in that deal. (End of my soapbox!)

Maggie and Lisa go on an unforgettable road trip in the third book, Highway to Hell. It was far more amusing than the time I got stranded overnight and only one person knew my location - the person who made me stranded. Have you had any memorable road trips?

My family did road trip vacations all the time. We had one of those pop-up travel trailers that we pulled behind the car. Those were great trips, and i have fantastic memories of camping with my father. He was big on storytelling, and I get that from him.

College days were full of interesting road trips, but I'm afraid I can't describe much without incriminating myself. But yes, one was a trip to South Padre Island that involved a broken down car, a stolen radio, a horrific sunburn, a broken heart, a trip to Juarez, a worm in the bottom of a bottle, and a Mexican hat dance.

In one of the shows in which I'm currently performing, I have a line that Maggie would appreciate: "You always used to draw pictures of hearses and bleeding babies and mausoleums and rotting corpses and autopsies and voodoo chickens..." at which point another character is supposed to cut me off. If she doesn't, I tack on, "...and chupacabras and..."

Hee! Awesome. The chupacabras don't get enough love.

No, no, they don't. I can thank The X-Files for exposing me to the wacky world of the chupacabra.

I hope Highway to Hell starts a new trend. Instead of vampires, books will be filled with sparkly chupacabras.

I'm involved in three productions right now. The bio at your website reveals that you "worked in theatre for years." Therefore, you must now tell me all about your theatrical experiences and career - or, at least, some favorite roles, and if you are still pursuing such endeavors.

This is funny. My favorite roles all seem to be very physical, and in some cases rather violent! Annie Sullivan from The Miracle Worker, Lili/Katherine from Kiss Me Kate, Vera Claythorne from Ten Little Indians. I think I like to get my aggression out on stage.

These starring roles sound very impressive, but this was South Texas, so... you know. A small pond. My biggest role was as the youth director in a community theatre. I taught classes for kids from kindergarden to high school. Great fodder for books. (Some day I may have to write "Stage Mothers From Hell.") We never had much money for royalties, so I wrote most of the plays we did for class and festivals. That was how I developed my ear for youthful dialogue, I think, and stories that the kids could perform, but would still be entertaining for their parents. (Which is my philosophy with my books now: appeal across ages.)

I'm not pursuing acting now. I find that being onstage fills that storytelling need; I lose some of the drive to tell a story on paper. And I like writing books, and not haven't to stay on such a rigorous diet.

Your next book, The Splendor Falls, comes out in September. The first line of the book summary reads: "Sylvie Davis is a ballerina who can't dance." I am immediately intrigued. And on pins and needles. More accurately, on releve. (No, really. I'm a dancer, so I walk on my toes often, and I'm playing a ballerina in two of my current shows.) Tell me more about it.

The Splendor Falls is, at its heart, a Gothic novel in the vein of Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Barbara Michaels. It's updated for modern sensibilities, but I think still timeless. Sylvie, the heroine, goes to stay with relatives in an old Southern plantation, which is full of mysteries and ghosts, figurative and... Well, the literal part is something she has to figure out. She's grieving for both her career as a dancer and for her father. So when she starts seeing things that aren't there, and feeling this weird connection to a guy she can't possibly have met before, she's worried that depression has sent her over the deep end. There's still humor, and lots of mystery and magic and romance. (And an adorable little dog, too. I think Gigi already has a fan following.)

It sounds as though Splendor is more serious in tone than GvsE. Do you find yourself writing in a certain manner for different characters or stories, or do you feel your writing is stylistically similar from one project to another?

Yes, the tone is different, but the voice is still the same. Sylvie is in a darker place, and her sense of humor reflects that. But she still HAS a sense of humor, and she's still able to pull herself up by her bootstraps and solve her own problems. So you know it's a Rosemary Clement-Moore book. Also the dialogue is there, the quirky characters, the mysteries of the past affecting the present, all those things that are emerging as RCM elements. It's darker, but also more romantic. If it were a movie, it would have a different soundtrack. But you'd still see my hand on it.

Lightning round!

Doctor Who: Favorite Doctor?

Nine. That tortured regret, that rage still bottled up, that beatific smile in "The Doctor Dances," those ears... All of it.

Doctor Who: Favorite Companion?

Rose... not just because of her name. She was fantastic and loyal and brave and foolish. The best and worst of what the Doctor has always loved about humans.

I love the concept of time travel, but I've only seen the recent seasons of Doctor Who, as opposed to the original series and such. I've enjoyed the Ninth and Tenth, favoring the latter. Should be interesting to see what happens with the Eleventh. And yes, go Rose, for all of her fear and bravery and foolishness and daring.

BtVS: Favorite season? Characters?

I don't remember the number, but Buffy's senior year.

Season Three - that's my favorite as well.

The Mayor, Faith, Angel coming back... Though I love pieces of all the seasons. I may be alone in my love of the Glory/Dawn/Key season. Favorite characters. Buffy. Giles. Angel. Faith. Spike, up to the point he and Buffy got together, which neutered him much worse than the chip in his head. Just saying.

Go Faith! I agree that Spike was much better as the bad guy than as the love interest-slash-neutured puppy.

Cary Grant: Amazing or AMAZING? (Clearly, this is rhetorical. I grinned widely when I saw Bringing Up Baby and Arsenic and Old Lace listed as two of your favorite movies. Cary Grant is one of my top three actors of all-time, with Gene Kelly and Barbara Stanwyck.)

LOL! AMAZING! OMG, I'll watch anything with Cary Grant in it.

This made me laugh out loud, happily so, and proclaim: Ditto.

He could do comedy and drama and thrillers... all while looking so dashing.

Yes, yes, and yes. That's why I respect and enjoy his acting so much: because he could perform different styles and types of characters equally well. Some of the earliest examples of breaking the fourth wall I can recall: the book The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood, and that moment in the movie Arsenic and Old Lace when he just looks directly at the camera. Yes.

Name ten of your all-time favorite books.

Oh, wow. I have many favorites depending on my mood, but these are ones I read over and over. My "feel good" reads when I need a pick me up.

The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
Beat to Quarters (My favorite Horatio Hornblower novel, though I think I could put the whole series here), by C.S. Forester
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Touch Not The Cat, by Mary Stewart
Jack, the Giant Killer, by Charles deLint

Again pulling from your website bio: Your favorite classical authors include Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. What advice do you think Elizabeth Bennet and Jo March would offer to Maggie Quinn?

Oh, wow. Until I started thinking about this question, I never realized how much of Jo there is in Maggie. I don't think Mags is nearly as hot headed, but they're both stubborn past the point where reasonable people would change their minds. They both have ambitions that may not be where their best destiny lies. Maybe that's what Jo would tell Maggie -- Don't be so focused on your vision of your future that you don't stay open to what you're actually best at.

And Elizabeth? Obviously she'd tell her not to let her preconceived ideas keep her from seeing the truth about a person or a situation. Hmmm... That's very much akin to Jo's advice. I see a theme emerging.

Visit Rosemary's website and blog.

Make sure that you read the Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil books in order:
- Prom Dates From Hell
- Hell Week
- Highway to Hell

For similar stories, check out my Funny Fantasy Novels for Kids and Teens Booklist.

Today's SBBT Schedule
Barbara O'Connor at MotherReader
James Kennedy at Fuse #8
Maggie Stiefvater at Writing & Ruminating
Rosemary Clement-Moore at Bildungsroman
Jo Knowles at lectitans
Melissa Wyatt at Chasing Ray

Help get books into the hands of teen boys who really need them. Learn more about the GuysLitWire Book Fair for Boys.
Tags: blog tour, books, covers, emily dickinson, interviews, sbbt

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