These days, it seems as though you can’t turn the channel, or pick up a book, without seeing zombies. If you ask Mari Mancusi how she feels about that, she’ll answer you with just four simple words.
“Dragons rule. Zombies drool.”
Mancusi is working on the Scorched trilogy which features – you guessed it – dragons. Book two, Shattered, which will be out in September 2014. Mancusi, sick of stories where there was a clear-cut line between good and evil, started the series out of a need to explore the grey area.
“Taking something that was completely bad on the surface and then turning it on its head and having you think, well, maybe those dragons that destroyed the world weren’t so bad after all. In fact, maybe it’s mankind who’s the real monster and dragons are only animals, responding to the situation they’ve been put in. Abuse them, use them as weapons, they’re going to turn against you. Treat them with the respect and love they deserve? Maybe they can help save mankind instead of destroy it,” said Mancusi.
Mancusi is a little bit of a pantser and a little bit of a planner.
“I plan out my books in advance, but they always end up changing as I write. There’s no better way to get to know your characters than to throw them into the situation and see how they react. Often they surprise me,” said Mancusi.
But this combination of plotting and pantsing is no surprise to Mancusi. She’s been thinking of books all her life. A huge reader, she would write and illustrate her own (unicorn) stories in her head.
“In high school I remember my English teacher sitting me down and telling me I should go to college to become an author. At the time I had my heart set on filmmaking and chose to major in Broadcasting instead. I graduated and became a TV news producer, another job I enjoyed very much,” said Mancusi.
Even through that, she never stopped writing.
“The biggest problem I had? Staying focused. I could do short stories, but every time I tried something novel-length I’d lose interest part way through and start a newer, shinier project,” admitted Mancusi.
Still, Mancusi always had time for a good story.
“I was always a fan of fantasy novels growing up, from Robin McKinley to Anne McCaffrey to Marion Zimmer Bradley. But while these authors instilled a love of fantasy in me that still exists today, my writing style is polar opposite. I’m more of Joss Whedon disciple when it comes to writing. I love the way he’s able to mix torturous scenes of angst-ridden drama with biting wit and humor. It’s not secret that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a huge influence on my Blood Coven series.”
Her Blood Coven series, which was first published in 2006, was cut short after just three books. The publisher decided to end the Blood Coven series on Girls that Growl after making a decision to stop publishing young adult novels. Though Mancusi had good sales and a devoted fanbase, the publisher vastly preferred their adult romances.
But rather than let it go, Mancusi chose to fight – and fighting paid off.
“I could have given up. Instead I rallied my readers in a ‘Save the Blood Coven’ campaign and had my agent keep pushing the publisher. Finally we got a lucky break when my German publisher asked if I would continue the series for them, even if the books would no longer be published in English. I said yes, figuring I would be paid to write the German version and then just give away the English translation online – this was, of course, before self-publishing,” said Mancusi.
When Mancusi began writing Bad Blood, the fourth book in the series, a new phenomenon hit the publishing and movie world: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.
“Everyone became vampire crazy. My US publisher came back to us and said not only would they buy the fourth book, but they would repackage and re-release the first three as well. I was over the moon. Finally Sunny and Rayne would get their happily ever after. I ended up finishing the series on my terms, with eight books total,” said Mancusi.
Mancusi wasn’t always enthusiastic about young adult literature. She originally wrote adult romance – but lucky for Mancusi, her editor had started a new YA publishing line and wanted Mancusi to try her hand at it.
“The rest is history! Though I wrote many more adult books as well, there was just something special about writing for teens. Their enthusiasm, their commitment to the world the author creates, their emotional intensity, and their willingness to accept crazy hybrid stories that don’t fit into a mold won me over,” said Mancusi.
There aren’t too many differences when it comes to writing young adult and adult for Mancusi. She thinks her novels would probably have probably been considered new adult if they were released today. They feature younger protagonists and are often written from the first person with what she describes as a snarky, chick-lit style voice.
“Perhaps it’s more of a focus, what the characters are dealing with. For example, with adult romances, the ultimate focus has to be on the romance—take that out and there is no book. In young adult it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have lots of romance or very little. And the happily ever after doesn’t have to be so final. It could be a happily ever after for now.”
Throughout her journey as a writer, the most important lesson Marcusi learned is that she has a chance to make a difference in the lives of teenagers.
“When I wrote Gamer Girl, which was loosely based on a bullying experience I went through as a teen, I got so many emails from young teen girls who related to my character Maddy and had their own bullying stories to share. They told me that my book helped them stand up to the haters and find their own happy ending as Maddy did in the story. That made me incredibly happy.”
And if she could tell her pre-published self just one thing?
“Never give up, never surrender.”