Today I’m chatting with Sydney-based author Maria Lewis. I met Maria last year on a Supanova tour, where I discovered two of her favourite films were Jaws and Alien. Needless to say, we got on like a house on fire! I invited her onto the blog to chat about her books and career, so now you can meet her too.
So, Maria, how did you come to be a writer? Was it always something you were interested in or did you fall into it?
It was weirdly a combination of both. I was always interested in writing and it was consistently my best subject in school. My grandfather wrote a book as I was growing up and I was a voracious reader, so it was in my life but I never had grand aspirations of being a writer. When I was in my final year of high school, I knew university was going to be a stretch financially even with student loans. So I applied for a bunch of different scholarships and one of the ones I got was a cadetship at my local newspaper, where I would work full time as a journalist and do uni a few days a week. That’s the scholarship I ended up going with and when I graduated high school, I started working as a police and general rounds reporter that same week. I was only a teenager at the time, but it was the perfect career for me to fall into as I discovered something I truly loved.
What were your favourite books/films/shows growing up? What kick-started your creativity?
I could literally write an entire novel about my favourite pop culture growing up (most of my books feature an abundance of pop culture references, so I guess I kind of have?). Comic books were my first proper introduction to reading as it was one of the few places I saw women and representation in the types of stories that I loved: action, genre, horror. Birds Of Prey, X-Men and the Cassandra Cain Batgirl run were all pivotal, while my book taste ranged from Roald Dahl’s Matilda to Stephen King’s The Shining. Television was all Buffy, all the time, but basically anything with interesting female leads: Xena, The X-Files, Charmed, Veronica Mars, Powerpuff Girls, you name it.
Your novel ‘Who’s Afraid?’ and its sequel ‘Who’s Afraid Too?’ are globetrotting urban fantasies featuring werewolves and a tough heroine Tommi Grayson. Can you tell readers a little bit more about the story and what inspired you to write it?
I love monsters and I grew up obsessed with the Universal monster movies, but with the exception of Bride Of Frankenstein – whose character is named after her relation to a man – there were very few examples of female monsters. I started trying to dig up those stories, like the Ginger Snaps film series and in books, with Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. I wanted to write a Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde type-story where we could examine the idea of a female monster and truly embrace the feminine grotesque. She-Hulk was a great example of that, so I wanted to expand this concept of a female character who could be physically intimidating, genuinely terrifying, and the predator rather than the prey. Someone who wasn’t necessarily a hero, but didn’t want to be a villain either.
‘Who’s Afraid?’ has been optioned for TV, which is awesome news. Is there anything you can tell us about the potential development?
We’re working on it! That’s pretty much all I can say at the moment, but things are moving. The creative team that has been put together feature some of my favourite female filmmakers working, along with a rad group of allies to back us up. Around eighty per cent of things that go into development don’t end up getting made, but so far the journey has been pretty incredible thanks to the people I’ve been able to meet through this process and places I’ve been able to visit. Fingers and loins crossed, but as someone who has worked as a film and pop culture journalist for over a decade, I’m pretty realistic when it comes to the likelihood of all this shaking down.
Your latest novel ‘The Witch Who Courted Death’ was released in October and set in the same world as Who’s Afraid? Can you tell us a little bit more about this new book and its origins? Are you working your way toward a shared universe?
Yes! That’s exactly right: Who’s Afraid?, Who’s Afraid Too?, It Came From The Deep and The Witch Who Courted Death are all part of the same shared, supernatural universe. Someone on Twitter came up with MLU (Maria Lewis Universe) as a title, which sounds awesome as long as Marvel and the MCU don’t sue me. I’m four books into the world now, with each of the novels featuring characters that recur and cross over. My fifth book – which comes out in October, 2019 – is also part of this world and the thing each novel has in common is it’s about a different type of female ‘monster’. Whether that be a werewolf or a witch, a medium or a banshee, I’m blessed to be enough books deep now that I’m getting to represent all kinds of women that reflect my background and the world I see out there everyday: women of colour, queer women, young women, older women, women with limb differences, women of different ages and body types. You have to earn a shared universe. It has been wonderful to lay the groundwork over the course of several years and several books so that now I’m at the point where there’s not only a glossary in each book (fantasy nerdery ahoy!) but a mix of loyal readers connecting all the dots and threads, alongside brand new ones who have used whatever the latest book is as an entry point into the series. Stan Lee had this saying that every comic book was someone’s first comic book and juggling that kind of dual storytelling is tricky, but ultimately very worth it (I feel).
You’ve also had a vast career as a journalist, appearing on SBS Viceland’s The Feed and writing for the New York Post, Guardian, Penthouse, Empire Magazine, i09, and many more. Can you tell us a little bit more about this side of your career and some of your favourite moments to date?
I’ve been working as a journalist for over 14 years, so in terms of moments there are way too many to list as favourites. My ‘round’, if you will, is mainly pop culture commentary at the moment but I also have covered a lot of crime throughout my career. I guess the biggest highlight has been all the different types of mediums I’ve gotten to work in: I started out in traditional newspapers, transitioned into online, then radio, and eventually television by working on a live, nightly news show like The Feed. When I was sixteen and writing the police blotter, I could have never imagined that years later I’d be getting to produce, write and edit documentary shorts or work on animated documentaries or host something like Cleverman’s after-show talk show Cleverfan. I’m moving away from the non-fiction side of things and doing a lot more screenwriting work in writers rooms at the moment, but if my career has taught me anything it’s that I can’t predict what interesting gig or weird opportunity is coming next.
Your own best fan moment so far?
It sounds cliché to say, but they’re legit all special. Especially when you think about the fact writing is such a lonely, solitary process and all you want is for other people to desperately care about the characters as much as you do. When that happens – on a micro or macro scale – that’s the absolute best. Anytime I see people cosplaying characters from one of my books IRL, I get a little bit emotional as that takes a lot of commitment. Someone also got a Who’s Afraid? She Pack tattoo towards the end of last year, which was definitely a ‘holy fucking shit’ moment.
If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be? Do you have a secret passion that we don’t know about?
I would love to be a production designer in film or television. It’s a career that basically combines all of my interests and I love working as part of a team, which is essentially what film and television sets are but on a much bigger scale. If I could do it all again, that’s the gig I would pursue.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when starting your writing career? What do you know now, that you wished you knew then?
I wish that I had taken a pen name, as in a name that my books would be published under that’s different to my given birth name. Certain female authors initialise their names so their gender isn’t easily identifiable on the cover and they then have a better chance at attracting male readers in male-dominated genres like epic fantasy or historical fiction. I respect that hustle, but for me a pen name would have been a great way to draw a clear line between my journalism work and my fictional, book writing work. It doesn’t hurt so much when I’m writing about film or television. However, if I’m going in to do a sit down interview with someone about a serious subject like murder, sexual assault or major illness, if the interviewee has Googled me beforehand then it can be a hurdle I immediately have to overcome as they’re like ‘why the fuck is an author of merman fiction doing this interview?’
What can we expect from you next?
My fifth book, also part of the same-shared supernatural universe, comes out in October, 2019. I can’t reveal the title just yet, but it is about banshees and that’s an iconic female ‘monster’ I’ve been desperate to dive into for a while now. A comic book story that I wrote as part of the Tales Of Kayfabia universe – The Unfortunate Origins Of Jimmy Havoc – is out at the moment and available as an audio story on vinyl (which is perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever been involved in). I’m also in a movie coming out this year, Little Monsters, with Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad. I play a zombie so who knows if I’ll make the final cut, but it was legitimately a dream of mine to play a corpse in a horror movie so a living corpse is pretty dang close.
Fantastic! Thanks so much for being my guest today, Maria. Best of luck with all your exciting projects.
Folks, if you’d like to find out more about Maria, you can follow her via the links below:
And you can find her books via these: