Mary Maddox grew up in Utah and California. A graduate of Knox College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she now teaches composition and literature at Eastern Illinois University.
She lives in Charleston, Illinois with her husband, film scholar Joe Heumann. Her interests include riding her horse, Tucker, and playing club and tournament Scrabble. Mary’s short stories have appeared in a number of magazines including Farmer’s Market, Yellow Silk, and The Scream Online. Her writing has been honored with awards from the Illinois Arts Council.
Talion, her debut novel, is available at Barnesandnoble.com as a trade paperback and at Amazon.com as both a paperback and a Kindle book. You can visit her at her Web site www.marymaddox.com and follow her blog at http://blog.marymaddox.com.
Thank you for this interview, Mary. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I started writing fiction soon after I learned to read. My brother Steve and I shared an imaginative life where we dwelt on an island and fought constant battles against the monsters across the river. Our characters had secret identities so they could sneak among the monsters and spy. We acted out scenes, taking the parts of various characters, making up dialogue as we went. We fought duels with imaginary swords. When Mom gave me a scrapbook, it seemed perfect for drawing a map of our island. Steve and I argued, as usual, over details – where the river went, how much of the island the forest should cover. We filled the book with a story of our adventures written in pencil and illustrated in crayon.
As a child I was awed by books. I wanted to grow up and be one of those amazing people who could create an entire book from out of their head.
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
Talion is a suspense novel with paranormal elements. Rad Sanders, a sexual sadist and serial killer, stalks two fourteen-year-old girls at a mountain resort in Utah. The girls have formed an unlikely friendship. Lisa is middle-class and outgoing while Lu belongs to the underclass and has an abusive, alcoholic stepmother. Rad fantasizes keeping Lu awhile as a captive – after forcing her to participate in torturing and killing Lisa.
Lu sees luminous beings invisible to others. Their leader is Talion. Beautiful and otherworldly, Talion offers her comfort and inspires her to stand up to bullies at school. But his nature is ambiguous, and he also leads Lu to the brink of committing murder.
As Rad closes in, it become less and less clear whether Talion is Lu’s friend or the killer’s ally.
Who is your intended audience? Have you been able to crossover into other audiences as well?
I wrote Talion for adults who enjoy thrillers and have some tolerance for violent and disturbing material. Its protagonist is a teenager, but every adult was a teenager once and remembers what it was like. Some readers have remarked that Talion could be a novel for young adults, but others see the story as too dark, the violence too graphic. I gave a draft of the novel to a sixteen-year-old acquaintance. She loved it. But her mother might not have approved of her reading it.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
In a way, the genre chose me. I began with a novel about a strange friendship between two teenage girls then Rad entered the story and took over. I discovered that I enjoy writing thrillers. Now I’m working on another one, the first in a series I have planned.
Do you ever experience self-doubts with your work?
Frequently. But I’m committed to writing and unhappy when I stop.
Where do you write? Do you have a favorite place?
I’m lucky enough to have an office of my own with a spacious desk – a mixed blessing since it provides lots of room for papers and books to pile up. Every so often I straighten my desk, but paradoxically I have a harder time finding things that are neatly stashed away.
I have a Herman Miller scooter – a small, adjustable table – to hold my keyboard and mouse, a Herman Miller desk chair, and ample bookshelves that are still not large enough to hold all my books. In most ways I’m not a hoarder, but I have a hard time getting rid of books.
What kind of research did you have to do during the writing process?
I did research on serial killers for the character of Rad. The most useful books were those by FBI profilers such as Robert Ressler, John Douglas, and Roy Hazelwood. Their books have popularized concepts such as signature, the details of the killer’s crimes that express his inner needs and fantasies – his ritual. If he needs to arrange his victims’ bodies in lewd poses, that’s part of his signature. His MO might evolve as his skill increases or circumstances dictate, but his signature never changes.
Part of Rad’s signature is using polypropylene tape to disfigure his victims. He loves the stuff. I happened upon this detail while helping my mother move. This kind of tape is used in shipping, and as one of the movers sealed a box, he remarked off-handedly that polypropylene tape can rip the skin right off you.
Who is your publisher and how did you get accepted by them? Did you pitch your book yourself or go through an agent?
At one point I had an agent for the novel, which was then called Secret Father. After shopping the manuscript around, he told me editors balked because the novel did not conform to the genre. Readers expected the hero to be a detective or journalist – adult and middle-class like them. Lu was neither. So I rewrote, making the protagonist a small-town journalist who comes to suspect Rad. This new version, Rad’s Kiss, was unfocused and too long because in the end I couldn’t abandon Lu. Two thirds through the novel, she took over. After a series of rejections from editors, the agent dropped me. I don’t blame him. He did his best for me. I think it troubled him that his advice sent me in a direction that was no good for my writing. In the end, he was right to end an association that wasn’t helping either of us.
A few years later I rewrote the novel, returning to the original conception of Lu as the protagonist. When the time came to seek an agent, I had qualms about going through the process again. Talion has the same drawback as Secret Father: it doesn’t fit neatly within its genre. I was unwilling to undertake another radical re-conception of the novel. When an idea comes to me, I experience it as a flash of meaning and emotion. The particulars develop afterward. In Talion I’ve come as close as possible to the essence of Lu’s story.
After considering my options, I established Cantraip Press and published Talion myself.
How are you promoting your book thus far?
Most of my efforts have been online: Facebook, Twitter, my Web site and blog, my Amazon author page. During the summer I queried online reviewers and got a couple of reviews for Talion – both positive – and an interview. When fall arrived and I began teaching, my efforts slowed. I realized they would come to a standstill unless I had help. So I turned to Pump Up Your Book to arrange my virtual book tour.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
Don’t make assumptions about what you’re capable of doing. Although I teach, I’m a somewhat shy person who assumed I would do a bad job of traditional promotion. Then I had the opportunity to give a talk on publishing and promotion to a local group. I brought along ten copies of Talion, figuring I might sell two or three. I sold every copy and could have sold more.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a series of suspense novels with a museum curator as the protagonist. In the first book, Darkroom, she takes in a free-spirited photographer who disappears under sinister circumstances. I haven’t decided whether to go the traditional route and seek an agent to represent Darkroom.
Even if I do, I want to keep going with Cantraip Press and publish fiction by other writers. Since budding publishers of fiction don’t make a profit, though, I haven’t quit my day job teaching at a university. My plans will have to wait until next summer when I have more time.
Thank you for this interview, Mary. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
Thank you for having me at the Examiner.
Talion is available at Barnes and Noble online and at Amazon.com as a trade paperback and as a Kindle book. I hope readers will stop by my Web site www.marymaddox.com and read my blog at http://blog.marymaddox.com. They can also follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Dreambeast7.
You can pick up your copy of Mary Maddox’s new book, Talion, at Amazon or order directly through any of your local Virginia Beach bookstores.