During the 10th annual Texas Teen Book Festival, Teen Press Corps (TPC) members Haley Justiz and Karen Cramer interviewed author Mary E. Pearson, author of fantasy series The Remnant Chronicles and new book Dance of Thieves.
TPC: What is the very first story you remember writing?
Mary E Pearson: Oh, the very first story… I remember it was an Easter play. I had parts for everybody. I was like seven or eight years old. And I don’t even remember where it went. But I remember everybody wanted a part to play.
TPC: Did you act in it?
Mary E Pearson: No, it was never performed. The play was really all about the writing. It’s always about the writing. It doesn’t matter if it was ever executed.
TPC: So what do you think makes a good story?
Mary E Pearson: I would say, for me, first and foremost is a character. I don’t necessarily have to like them. I can just hate their guts. Likability is not a necessity but I have to somehow see some part of their humanity that I can relate to and want to know what their outcome will be. Which is why sometimes we like villains. I mean, we may not like them, but there’s something about them that we can relate to. And so we just want to follow their story. So, you know, it’s character. I think character is what creates plot.
TPC: If you could choose one song to sum up Dance of Thieves, what would it be?
Mary E Pearson: Oh, oh no. I’m so bad at this because I have this huge playlist. Let me think of my playlist. Maybe right now this is just off the top of my head, but “Perfect Duet” with Ed Sheeran and Beyonce.
TPC: So you listen to music when you write?
Mary E Pearson: Oh yeah. All the time. Most of the time I listen to just instrumental music, no words, but there’s a few songs I listen to over and over again. At that point, I can kind of block out the words because if it’s new stuff, you can’t have all these words going into your head. You’re trying to write new ones. Yeah, another one I listen to a lot is piano. Beautiful music.
TPC: Where is your favorite place to write?
Mary E Pearson: I have a little patio in the corner of my yard. It’s very small, and there’s an umbrella over it. And that’s kind of where I write all my books. It’s away from the house, no phones and computers. I just work on my laptop so it’s like my little oasis away from everything I like to pretend I’m far, far away.
TPC: Do you ever write on paper?
Mary E Pearson: I write notes if I get a quick piece of dialogue and it’s like I’m gonna forget this. I will write on anything, and sometimes before I begin my actual writing session I will write in a notebook that I keep. Then I’ll do pencil, and it kind of gets the juices going. But my actual writing I do just on my laptop.
TPC: Do you outline your books, or are you more of a “pantser”?
Mary E Pearson: I am both. I want to outline so badly, and I do a bit. It’s very interesting because I’ve talked to a lot of writers and I think it’s all semantics. I think a lot of us create really in the same way. I will write down things, all the scenes in order that I think how they’re going to happen. And yet they may never make. As I’m writing, I just write. So I don’t know if it’s tucked in the back of my head. And for me, I just have to write in the moment but obviously I am doing some sort of subconscious outlining, and then I hear other people just strictly outline and chapter by chapter and then they say, oh, but, you know, sometimes things will change. I kind of feel like we’re doing the same thing, but we talk about it in different ways.
TPC: When you were younger, did you know that you wanted to be an author?
Mary E Pearson: I knew sort of, except the word author I never would have used. I wanted to be a writer, which sounds, you know, not quite as big because authors, as far as I was concerned as a kid, we’re always dead people. In high school, all we read were all the classics and there was no such thing as YA. It was just starting to come around this idea of young adult fiction, so basically all the things that people like me read were written by and for adults, and so it didn’t seem like a possibility to be an author because I thought I could never be one of those famous dead people. But then I read the Outsiders that was like one of the very first YA books. I cried. I read it multiple times. And I cried every single time I read it, not just because of the story, but because I thought this was a book written for me. And this is a book I want to write about my world. Nick Stone was talking about how important representation is, and you know, it’s so true, because until you can see yourself in the pages and pages of a book, you can imagine that you could be that person. Yeah, it, it just brings it all home. So seeing yourself in the pages of the book written by somebody who is not dead is, you know, pretty, pretty big.
TPC: So if you weren’t an author, what would your dream job be?
Mary E Pearson: My dream job would be raising golden retrievers on an island. Yeah, I don’t know if anybody gets paid for doing that. But that’s kind of the ongoing joke in our family. Someday we’re going to move to an island and raise golden retrievers.
TPC: That’s a good answer. I’m gonna steal that next time! Do you have any writing rituals?
Mary E Pearson: Procrastination is one. That’s kind of every author’s ritual. For me it’s really going back and every day I will reread the last page or two that I’ve written to kind of get back into the story. I have music, my playlist, because even if you’re not in the mood put those earphones in, it shuts the world out, gets you back in that world. For me, that’s one of the really important things about having a playlist is just to get you back in that world. And that’s kind of it. I just write kind of off and on all day long.
TPC: What was your most embarrassing moment in high school?
Mary E Pearson: Many, many. I would say one of the most embarrassing things I’m not sure if I was in high school or just out of high school but I was swimming with a whole bunch of friends and none of us had a swimming pool. So we went to a local apartment complex that had a pool and we just sort of waltzed in. I think everyone’s kind of done that. Like we happen to live there. So way back when I had made this cute little bikini and I thought, Okay, I’m going to be brave because usually I have to ease into the water. I’m just going to jump in! When I dove in, I didn’t stop to think about what that bikini material was. And the minute that bikini hit the water it soaked up the water and flew off my body, and I was there in the middle of the pool. There were my bottoms way behind me and everyone standing around. And I’m just like, Yeah, it was a horrible moment. I learned my lesson.
TPC: So what is the most important message you want people to take away from your series?
Mary E Pearson: I would say the most important thing, and I hear from a lot of fans and honestly, fans are the ones who helped me understand sometimes what my book is all about. I want them to take away the fact that they have voices. They can speak up and doesn’t take a princess or thief to make a difference in the world and that they are strong, they’re stronger than they think. And that’s kind of what fans when they write to me they say things that they’ll share things that they are, we’re afraid of very difficult things in their life and they would say well if Leah can be strong, I think I can. Yeah, I think I I hope they get whatever they want out of it that I hope they find some strength inside themselves. That’s maybe the most important thing.
TPC: How do you choose the names of your characters?
Mary E Pearson: In a million different ways. Sometimes I try to, I try to have names that are somewhat recognizable, like, Pauline is very recognizable name in our world. And then sometimes I try to switch it up just the way we switch up names and are very modern worlds. You know, when I sign books for fans, I have signed Caitlin that’s spelled at least 500 different ways. And so you know, I tried to take maybe traditional names and switch them up a little bit sometimes I look for names on baby name books, looking for ones that have maybe a certain meeting but really a lot of it has to do with the sound of the word because when I read I don’t know if you ever do this but you get confused because there’s so many like the names all start sounding like and so I really try to make a conscious effort to have names that look different, sound different I don’t have a billion “m” names or names you know I actually keep a list of you have three names that start with C, that words done or that letters data so it’s actually a much more complicated process.
TPC: What Hogwarts house are you?
Mary E Pearson: I would say, I usually kind of cross the houses. Gryffin-puff. I believe in bravery, but I’m also gentle and nurturing.
TPC: How do you begin a book? Do you have a scene in your mind or a character?
Mary E Pearson: Every book starts a different way. Sometimes it’s just words that come into my head, a character, a something, you know, I’ll catch something on the news that bothers me. I think you know with the Remnant Chronicles there was a whole bunch of different things that all kind of came together. Once there was just a power outage at my house. I wondered what if it never came back–the power. I mean I know people go through much longer outages and I had really went through 12 hours and I thought what would happen if it never came back on there would be a grocery rushes and I started thinking like the way an author’s mind works and it kind of led to the idea of a civilization that’s just we don’t know quite what happened to it, but had to rebuild out of some ashes. So that’s part of where that came from dance of these was came from writing the other books in the Remnant Chronicles. As I was writing Heart of Betrayal, I did some research on orphans, and they’re orphans, a lot of orphans on the streets in the heart of betrayal. And I began thinking about maybe a different kind of hero and what it takes children to survive and from there the character was born and not all at once. You know, all these things come in little bits and pieces but you know, I read about children who were her age in slums, ghettos, places all over the world, and how these children survived and is kind of astonishing and frightening and sad but they do and so yeah so here we had Leah who is a princess on one hand this one kind of hero but I wanted to show the other kind of heroes.
TPC: If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be?
Mary E Pearson: Okay, so there’s an ice cream store in Hawaii with this flavor that has chocolate macadamia nuts and coconut. I would be that unique variety.
TPC: What can readers look forward to next from you?
Mary E Pearson: I’m working on the second book in Dance of Thieves, which will be out next summer. It’s a duology.
TPC: Will you be sad when it’s over?
I’ll definitely be sad finishing it. When I finished the Beauty of Darkness it was hard. Because when you’ve lived with characters on a day by day basis for five years and you’re suddenly saying goodbye, it’s hard to let go. And there were times where I would write scenes in my head and I go, “Oh wait, there’s no place to put that scene in this story because it’s done.” So it’s, it’s kind of a very weird thing. And this was three books actually with the novella, four, so it really was hard. I’ll be sad about the end of this duology, until the next idea comes!