Mara Fitzgerald Author Interview
I’m so excited to bring you quite the line-up of interviews this fall. Some have been with me more than once, like Sara Faring and some are new to this ride like Ms. Mara Fitzgerald. Her Debut, Beyond The Ruby Veil (my review will post on Friday), releases Tuesday, October 13th. And it is incredible. Let me not review it now, but what a wallop in under 300 pages. Like what the mess. I’ll leave it there for now. Absolutely run, don’t walk and grab it. I pre-ordered it because seriously. Oh and, here is the pre-order link for Beyond the Ruby Veil because it runs through October 31st (for the campaign, not the autograph copy) and you do not want to miss out on it.
With that, before I say too much, let me just dive straight into the interview. Mara Fitzgerald was incredibly open with her time and generous with her words. Better it all comes from her, I believe.
Updated: Review of Beyond the Ruby Veil
Thank you to Mara Fitzgerald for the autographed ARC of Beyond the Ruby Veil.
Copyrights for the photograph in my featured image (and all official photos of Mara Fitzgerald)- Emily Frazier.
Beyond The Ruby Veil cover work- Cover art by I LOVE DUST | Design by Sasha Illingworth
I love how nuanced you wrote her, or I believe you wrote her. She seemed so much juicier than I expected. Yes, she makes a lot of bad choices and is a bully and outright mean, stubborn, egotistical etc. But you also wrote glimpses into her insecurities, not wanting anyone to find out the truth about her, like she almost has imposter syndrome- but that is probably too extreme of a term. Would you say that is a correct reading on Emanuela? If so, can you talk about why/how you wrote her this way? It is very relatable (even without the penchant for violence). If not, what is the goal/overall aim with her character?
I think one thing that always makes for an interesting character is someone who has very, very strong views about who they are as a person—especially when it’s obvious to the reader these views may not necessarily be accurate. Emanuela is in denial about a lot of things, the most significant being the fact that she is ordinary and mortal like everyone else. I feel that if you’re going to write a character who is so generally awful, it’s important to explain their behavior and show how they justify it, even if most people would not find it justified at all. I try to show not just my main character’s outward actions, but also the reasons behind those actions—and I try to do this for every character, actually. Every character in the book wants the same thing: to make things better for the city they’re in. The problem is that they all disagree, quite strongly, about who should be the one to do that, and what it should look like.
Relatedly, another thing that was important to me about Emanuela’s character is that her ruthlessness matches the ruthlessness of the world. In the world of the story, literally, the only way to survive is to take something from someone else—or so everyone thinks. (Maybe that will be unpacked more in the second book. Who can say?) Emanuela is definitely a merciless jerk, but hopefully, we understand why she sees the things she does as her only option. As a writer, I like to create plots and worlds that force characters into making impossible choices. It can tell us a lot about who they are and allow us to reflect on our own selves as well.
Ale And Emanuela
I love the idea of the power couple. While BTRV kicks off a slow-burn sapphic romance, it also has this (originally) platonic power couple set-up between Ale and Emanuela. Obviously, they care about each other fiercely, as best friends. Even if she bullies him and is sometimes outright cruel to him. They will do anything for each other. The arc of their relationship throughout BTRV is incredibly complicated. Is there anything you can talk about with them, in general, that isn’t too spoilerly?
My initial motivation for giving the main character’s best friend such a big role in the story was simple—it’s nice to give your main character someone to talk to! It’s fun if they have another character constantly at their side, so you can let the two of them unpack the plot developments together. However, one thing that pretty quickly becomes clear is that Ale and Emanuela are best friends, but they don’t agree about a lot of things—or really, almost anything. They’ve grown up together, and as a result, they have a leader-follower dynamic that feels set in stone to them. It’s been that way since they were babies, and they assume it always will. But the events of the story, meaning those previous “impossible choices” I discussed above, quickly throw that relationship into a new light. It makes each of them question what sort of person their best friend is, and maybe, why they’re even friends at all.
It’s always important to me to include complicated platonic relationships in my books, and I think specifically when you’re writing for young adults, fraught and changing relationships with friends can feel very relevant. Almost everyone goes through it. Usually, it’s not because they watched their best friend do a murder and show no remorse. But that’s the fantasy genre for you!
Verene And Emanuela
That brings us to Verene- Ale is definitely NOT Emanuela’s mirror. Verene- is she any different or better than, Emanuela, really? She may believe she’s doing everything she’s doing out of a love for her people, but so is Emanuela and they both want more, it is never enough. Is it just a matter of whether the means justify the ends and does intent (or maybe deluding yourself into your intent being pure) justify your actions? Is this the hook on which their enemies-to-lovers arc will hinge?
Alessandro, as Emanuela’s best friend, is written as a direct opposite to her—almost everything she does and believes, he does and believes the reverse. Verene, her “nemesis,” is intended to be a complex sort of mirror instead. Verene is portrayed as much more traditionally heroic than Emanuela. Emanuela draws power from being feared; Verene draws it from being loved and even worshipped. Verene is genuinely sweet and caring when it comes to her people, and she really does want the best for them. However, she lives in a complicated world, and she’s more complicated than she first appears. Verene and Emanuela have different ideas of what “success” looks like, but they share a ruthless ambition when it comes to achieving their goals, which is what puts them into direct conflict.
One idea that really interested me when writing Verene was a common trope seen in fiction wherein the hero won’t kill or do really bad things to the villain because “then that would make me just as bad.” The natural follow-up question to this, in my mind, is, “but I thought we all agreed this villain needs to go, so if you won’t get rid of them, who will?” Verene is a character who does genuine good, but let’s just say she’s also the sort of character who would ask that follow-up question, too.
Another thing Verene and Emanuela have in common is what I discussed in my first answer—they have very strong senses of who they are and intense beliefs about what they are meant to be doing. A lot of the fun of Verene’s character comes from interrogating those beliefs and figuring out where they come from. Why is she almost obsessive about being seen not just as a heroic girl, but a saint with endlessly wonderful powers? We definitely get some hints about this in book one, but of course, there will be more in book two!
Beyond The Ruby Veil – Packed Into 288 Pages
The amount of content, plot progression, and just overall storytelling that you accomplish in 288 pages is astonishing. It is more than I’ve seen accomplished in books twice that size. Not to mention the character backgrounds, world-building, magic system. I mean christ on a crouton lady. It is like you called out an adult fantasy and dropped a gauntlet on the length of their books. Not to mention that it is the first book in a series. Each book in a series has something it has to accomplish. The first book has to set a foundation, it is expected to move a bit slower, checkmark the set-up the rest of the series. You did all that and actually, have story arcs take off that isn’t expected until book 2. HOW IN THE DEVIL IN THE BLUE DRESS DID YOU EVEN?!
First of all, this is very flattering! I try my best to put a lot of heavy lifting into each scene—that is, we learn something about the world, and the characters, and also the plot. The other thing that contributes to the fast pacing is the actions of these particular characters. As I was just discussing in regards to Verene, a lot of my inspiration for them came from the idea of a character who sees a fantasy plot point trying to steer them in a certain direction and thinks, “But what if I just didn’t do that and did my own, much more efficient thing?” (Like, possibly, a murder). I don’t do this because I hate classic fantasy tropes and plots—I love them! Years of reading the genre gave me a great desire to play around with it and drop in characters who don’t behave the way they “should.” A great example of another YA fantasy that does this is Legendborn by Tracy Deonn—it’s a contemporary fantasy about a girl who basically knows she’s in contemporary fantasy and is absolutely going to do her own thing. There’s a lot of exciting fantasy like this out there!
Blood Magic And Little Shop Of Horrors
Speaking of the above- this magic system, the blood to water- phew. That takes blood magic to a whole new level. Where exactly did that come from? At what point did your brain go- hey here’s a good idea Mara! And what was your initial reaction to when that idea came to you? Like your gut reaction?
I’m pretty sure it came from Little Shop of Horrors, which I had been listening to a few days before I initially had the idea. I was intrigued by the premise of “you can get what you want, but someone else has to pay”—an idea that’s definitely been villainously constructed and used against people in reality (and how did it get constructed into the world of Ruby Veil? Stay tuned for the sequel). Blood and water are just very literal interpretations of that idea, and they make the plot inevitable—Emanuela simply does not have the option to give up on finding water for her people, and neither does Verene because they’ll die.
If you’re asking if sometimes, I disturb myself with the bloody things I come up with, the answer is yes.
In Which Case I Stalk Mara Fitzgerald’s Bookcases
In your unboxing video, I noticed (because what book nerd doesn’t see pictures or video doesn’t scan the bookshelves in pictures- oh, wait, is that just me? I can send you pictures of my bookshelves if it sounds creepy that I did LOL) There Will Come a Darkness and As the Shadow Rises. This was my favorite new series of last year and As the Shadow Rises did not disappoint, this year. What are your favorite parts of Katy Rose Pool’s series (characters, themes, all the things)?
What great taste! One of my favorite parts of the Age of Darkness series is, unsurprisingly, Ephyra, the girl who will do anything to keep her sister alive—maybe even some bad things. She’s really tested in the sequel, and it’s fascinating to watch. I also love how expansive and epic everything feels. Particularly in the first book, we start out with several point-of-view characters in totally different places, who seem to have no relation to each other at all. Watching them slowly come together is a real treat—the sort that reminds me of why I love fantasy. Also, not to be a cliché, but I love Anton and want to protect him at all costs.
Mara Fitzgerald- Living On The Pain Of Readers- But Of Course
What has been the strongest/most surprising reaction to BTRV, so far?
The most unsurprising has been the reaction to Emanuela—people either love her (knowing full well she sucks) or they hate her (also knowing full well she sucks). Additionally, I think every book has the chapter where, if you know someone is reading it, you just sit and patiently wait for them to reach it so you can enjoy their reaction—those have definitely been some of the most fun reactions. I love when readers are reduced to keyboard smashing and screaming “WHAT” over and over.
Is there symbolism in the eyeballs? I feel like there is and then I feel like I’m reading too much into it. But there is Oedipus, Thor, and it makes sense here.
I’m not going to say I was purposely trying to be gross, but…maybe I was purposely trying to be gross. Is that symbolism?
2020 Bingo: Author Edition
I noticed you mentioned that someday you hope that all 2020 debut authors will get together and have camaraderie. I have asked a few authors about releasing a book this year. What is it like to release a debut book this year? And how have you been able to support each other through the interwebs to keep sane?
Publishing is always a difficult business—I just don’t think any of us were prepared for how difficult this year, specifically, would be. Anytime you put a book through traditional publication, it’s an exercise in managing your own expectations. We all have certain things we “always imagined” for our books, and there’s always going to be moments when that doesn’t come true—even if it’s not a bad thing! For instance, a lot of authors have a certain type of cover in mind and end up getting a different one due to a variety of factors, and actually love the new cover. It’s just the nature of the job—creating a story all from scratch in your head and then handing it over to other people—to have those unexpected moments. This year is basically a whole lot of defied expectations for everyone, at once, and unfortunately, it’s not even because of the workings of publishing—it’s because of objectively bad things happening in the world. In a context like that, it’s important to understand the privileges you do have—and use them—and to focus on the things you can control. To that end, since I have the privilege of doing this interview, I’d like to shout out some of my favorite debuts of the year so far:
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
These books are quite different in tone and aesthetic, but some things they all have in common: great female main characters, gripping narrative voices, and a real sense of being swept up along the main character’s journey—a bit of escapism we could all use nowadays!
Writer’s Block Party
Writer’s Block Party is a blog I do with my critique partners! We talk about the nitty-gritty of publishing, such as why queries might get rejected in the slush pile, how to handle finances as an author, and what it’s like to work in the business. We also talk about pretty much every craft topic under the sun. I guarantee there’s something there for any writer at any stage! Everyone else on the blog is very smart.
About Mara Fitzgerald
Mara Fitzgerald writes YA fantasy about unlikable female characters who ruin everything. She is a biologist by day and spends entirely too much time looking at insects under a microscope. She was born in the same state as Disney World and now lives in the same state as Dollywood, which is just as good. BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL is her first novel.
About Beyond The Ruby Veil By Mara Fitzgerald
BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL (BOOK #1 IN THE BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL DUOLOGY)
Summary of Beyond the Ruby Veil: Cunning and unapologetic, Emanuela Ragno is a socialite who plays by her own rules. In her most ambitious move yet, she’s about to marry Alessandro Morandi, her childhood best friend and the heir to the wealthiest house in Occhia. Emanuela doesn’t care that she and her groom are both gay, because she doesn’t want a love match. She wants power, and through Ale, she’ll have it all.
But Emanuela has a secret that could shatter her plans. In her city of Occhia, the only source of water is the watercrea, a mysterious being who uses magic to make water from blood. When their first bruise-like omen appears on their skin, all Occhians must surrender themselves to the watercrea to be drained of life. Everyone throughout history has obeyed this law for the greater good. Everyone except Emanuela. She’s kept the tiny omen on her hip out of sight for years.
When the watercrea exposes Emanuela during her wedding ceremony and takes her to be sacrificed, Emanuela fights back…and kills her. Before everyone in Occhia dies of thirst, Emanuela and Ale must travel through the mysterious, blood-red veil that surrounds their city to uncover the source of the watercrea’s power and save their people—no matter what it takes.
Wholly original and wickedly smart, this fantasy from debut author Mara Fitzgerald will immerse readers in a thrilling world of bloody, brilliant magic.
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication Date: October 13, 2020
- Formats: Hardcover, Ebook
- ISBN: 978-1368052139
- Purchase links