Sweet Sixteener Brittany Cavallaro recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Mary McCoy about her YA detective mystery DEAD TO ME (March 3, 2015 from Disney-Hyperion).
Mary McCoy is a writer and a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library. She has also been a contributor to On Bunker Hill and the1947project, where she wrote stories about Los Angeles’s notorious past. She grew up in western Pennsylvania and studied at Rhodes College and the University of Wisconsin. Mary now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
“Don’t believe anything they say.” Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her–and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away. When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets–and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars–if Alice can find her first. And she isn’t the only one looking.
Brittany: When and how did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Mary: When I was in the third grade, I decided to write a story every day of the school year. I made it up to about seventy stories when my teacher sat me down and said, “This is great, but don’t you think maybe you should go play with your friends at recess instead?” And I said, “They understand. I’m a writer.” I think we struck some kind of compromise where I agreed to go outside and play, and she let me write stories during class sometimes.
Brittany: DEAD TO ME reads in many ways like a classic noir novel where the protagonist just happens to be 16. When did you know that you were working on a YA project? Was that your goal all along?
Mary: Yes, I always wanted DEAD TO ME to be YA. Veronica Mars was one of my favorite television shows, and Brick is one of my favorite movies, so the whole hard-boiled detective/noir story with a high school setting thing is something that really appeals to me.
I wondered, what if Philip Marlowe was a girl? Alice is as damaged and cynical and jaded as a traditional hard-boiled sleuth, but because she’s a teenager, it’s a very different set of circumstances that made her that way. I thought that would be interesting to write about—and it was!
Brittany: Along those same lines, which detective and mystery novels were most influential to you when you were coming up with your characters and plot?
Mary: I love female characters in noir, but there are never enough of them and they often turn out to be these stock characters. While I was definitely interested in the classics of the genre like Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald, I was paying closer attention to fiction with a noir sensibility by writers like Megan Abbott, Denise Hamilton, and Nina Revoyr.
Brittany: What’s your next project?
Mary: I only write about things I’m obsessed with. With DEAD TO ME, it was detective novels and film noir and Los Angeles history. The new project I’m working on is a YA contemporary, but the main character is obsessed with politics and history. Basically, I was looking for an excuse to read a lot of books about Nixon and Ancient Rome.
Lightning Round Questions:
Oddest job you ever had?
I was an assistant to an interior decorator who put faux finishes on people’s walls and ceilings and fixtures. I mention it as my oddest job because one day we went to a client’s house and she’d left her to-do list laying around, and we were on it. Only she misspelled it and called us “foe finishers,” so I like to think of that as my job title for that particular gig.
Music to write by?
I’m one of those I-write-locked-away-in-a-silent-windowless-room types
Any previous titles for your book?
DEAD TO ME was just a placeholder until I thought of something better, but then I realized it actually fit the book really well.
What were you reading when you were 16?
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett and Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler.
A band you loved when you were 16 that you still listen to?
Favorite sleuth in literature?
About the interviewer:
Brittany Cavallaro is a poet, YA writer, and avid Sherlockian. She’s received fellowships and scholarships from the National Endowment from the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. GIRL-KING, her first book of poems, is forthcoming from the University of Akron Press in early 2015. Her YA debut, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), is a Sherlock Holmes redux in which the descendants of the master detective and Dr. Watson must unravel the mystery of why they’re being framed for a murder at their American boarding school — while Jamie Watson fights to understand the brilliant and damaged girl beneath Charlotte Holmes’s barbed-wire façade.