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Interview: May 2012

In HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER, now available in paperback, debut novelist Lish McBride tells the story of Sam, a normal teenage boy who discovers that he’s a necromancer. In this interview, conducted by Teenreads.com’s Sarah Rachel Egelman, McBride explains why she decided to write about necromancers as opposed to other mythical creatures. She also shares how she constructed Sam’s family and friends, gives a glimpse into the next book in the series, and reveals what type of magical creature she herself would want to be.

Teenreads.com: Vampires are a literary staple, but necromancers not so much! Can you explain what a necromancer is and how one came to be the hero of your novel, HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER? 

Lish McBride: Necro comes from the Greek word for corpse --- when you add that to the "mancy" part, you get someone who can raise the dead, usually for divination purposes...that means they raise the dead to ask them questions, generally about the future. There are more of them in literature and pop culture than we think, it's just that they are almost so ingrained that we don't name them for what they are when they pop up. Odysseus practices necromancy, after all. They are in the Bible, cartoons (“The Venture Brothers”) and I think that girl in “Ghost Whisperer” would count. But yeah, not as prevalent as vamps. Probably because they haven't become all suave and sexy. Okay, just imagining Sam trying to be suave and sexy made me laugh. 

So why did I make Sam a necromancer? I'm not quite sure how I came to decide that exactly. I wanted to pick something that wasn't as prevalent. I think it just popped into my head. But it came from me reading up on necromancy and voodoo and thinking about what I would do if I was someone who had to raise the dead. Traditionally it involves some sort of blood sacrifice and, like Sam, I'm a vegetarian. I can't kill animals and eat them to survive, so I certainly couldn't do it for a ritual. So Sam sort of came out of that question --- what would I do in that position?  

TRC: The story centers on Sam, who has just found out he is a necromancer and a powerful one at that. He now must contend with an evil villain, a secretive council, and a whole slew of magical creatures and zombies. How did you get the idea for this story?  

LM: Well, Sam came from a really crappy (and old) short story that I'd written. It was just awful. But when I was in college, I needed a short story for a class, so I pulled Sam and his job (fast food employee) and reworked it from scratch, this time with Ramon (then named Mitch), Frank, and Brooke (then named Megan). It also sucked. Frank and Brooke were really flat and the story ended with Brooke getting eaten and Plumpy's exploding. When I needed to write a novel to graduate grad school, I went back to the short story. I'd been thinking on it for a few years, so I'd added some things. Originally I don't think Sam had any magical powers, so when I had to explain why Plumpy's was attacked by zombies (which was what happened in the short story), I came up with Douglas. When I came up with Douglas, I had to come up with a reason for him to send the zombies. Which helped me come up with Sam as a necromancer (This sort of answers the last question) and the Council. Things just sort of dominoed (is that a word?) from there. In fact, Ashley and Ed were from other short stories I'd written in grad school as well. 

TRC: Tell us about Sam, or Samhain Corvus LaCroix. What kind of young man is he? And did he develop or change as you wrote him? 

LM: Sam is sort of a reaction to many things. You get a lot of alpha males in fantasy fiction. Everyone likes the buff action hero, right? And sometimes I do as well. But other times they annoy me. And I grew up with a lot of friends who were these funny, sweet, geeky beta males --- you know, nice guys --- and I wondered why they didn't get the same sort of representation. Nice is underrated, I think. So in some ways, he's an amalgamation of the guys I know. Sam hasn't changed much. He's grown, but at heart he's always remained that funny, sweet, geeky, awkward, skateboarder who tries to do the right thing, but screws up a lot on the way.

TRC: A major subplot of the novel, and one that is integral to the main plot, is Sam's relationship with his family --- his mother and biological father. Did you set out to tackle familial issues explicitly, or did they surface as you told Sam's backstory?  

LM: I try to never tackle issues explicitly. Story comes first with me. I think that when you go for "issues," a lot of time the story suffers. For some writers it's different --- they set out wanting to write a satire of something and that's great, but honestly I wanted to make something that was more about the characters and entertaining the reader and let anything else that happened, happen. I can't remember when I decided to make Sam's family life the way it is --- or if it was a conscious decision. But writers tend to pull from what's around them, and when I was Sam's age, friends who had the "traditional" family (one mom, one dad, married only to each other ever) could be counted on one hand. Even now I can think of only a few. Most of my friends came from broken homes, non-traditional families, and so on.

So it would make sense that Sam and his friends reflect that. Frank's parents ignore him. Sam comes from a broken home. Ramon's dad is MIA. Only Brooke has a "normal" home life. I've noticed that kids in the situations where they are lacking that foundation, that stability, seek it out elsewhere. The lucky ones meet great people and build their own surrogate families. So that's what Sam did. He gathered friends to fill the gaps left by his estranged biological father and the death of the man he considers his real father, Hayden.  

Sam's attitude towards his stepfather definitely stems from my own upbringing. My parents were divorced a few times, and I quickly learned that the real parent is the one who gives up their Saturdays to drive you to soccer games and helps you with your homework or shows you how to ride your bike, not the one who shares your same gene pool. I think that people need to appreciate too that healthy, loving, supportive home lives are more important than "normalcy." I know some great, happy, well-adjusted people who came from "broken" homes, single-parent homes, same-sex parent homes, or were raised by grandparents or aunts and uncles. Normalcy can be overrated.  

TRC: This book has elements of a few genres: horror, fantasy and adventure. How would you characterize it?

LM: Um...Forventure? Can we make up a new category? I like things that are hard to classify. 

TRC: Was HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER originally written for teen/young adult readers? If so, why did you write your story for that audience?

LM: I didn't sit down at my computer and go, "I'm going to write for teens!" I didn't really imagine any audience at all. I wrote it to 1) graduate from grad school (it was my thesis project) and 2) see if I could actually write a novel. I didn't think anyone was going to actually read it except for family and the friends whom I could force into such things. My agent told me it was YA. My editors confirmed it. And I think that was the right way for me to go about it. I write the story I want to write. If it happens to be YA, great. Occasionally they will have me tweak things to keep it in that area, but the majority of it just sort of...comes out YA.

I'm so happy with that, you have no idea. I have always wanted to write for kids and teens. I just figured I'd write for adults first and then work my way into the YA/kids section. That's just how I thought it worked. Like somehow authors had to prove themselves first before they were given the honor of shaping young minds or something. This way is much better. I get to warp young minds and corrupt youth from the get-go. Win!

Besides, and I know I'm biased, but I have had such a great time meeting other YA authors and talking to teens. Everyone has just been so damn cool. 

TRC: The title and chapter names are funny, and there is a good deal of humor in this otherwise dark story. Was your intention always to blend scary and funny? And why the rock-’n-roll references in the chapter names?

LM: Yes. I like scary and funny. My personal reaction to...well, pretty much any emotion is humor. Scary? Make a joke. Heart-warming? Make a joke. Sad? Make a joke. I have a really hard time in my own life being a sincere human being. Example: My friends made me a bridesmaid at their wedding. Now, I love my friends and I was glad they were getting married, but you should never, ever, put me in a ceremony where I have to act respectable. During the ceremony, the other bridesmaids were crying. You know, being normal human beings with actual human emotions. I was passing them tissues and holding the bouquet in front of my face so you couldn't see that I was giggling. (My mom said she could tell that I was laughing, by the way, so it didn't work.)

So, since I'm an emotional robot and seem to handle everything by making a joke, it would make sense that my characters, when faced with terrifying elements, would react with snark. Humor is a great way to handle things and to me much more useful than panic. But then, as an emotional robot, I would say that, wouldn't I?

As for the music references, that just sort of happened and it made sense because Seattle is a city obsessed with music. We love it. When I was a teen, the two big answers to "what are we going to do tonight?" were watch movies or go to shows. And Sam shares that obsession, so it just made sense. At least to me it did.

TRC: If you could be a necromancer, werewolf, witch, or one of the other magical figures in your book, which would you be and why?

LM: Hm. Well, everyone tries to kill necromancers, so that wouldn't be fun. Though talking to ghosts is cool. I've always liked werewolves. Not really drawn to the witchy thing, but it has its plus sides...I wouldn't want to be a harbinger because then I'd be dead. James has cool powers, but I wouldn't want to be bound to someone else. I think a were of some sort. As long as it was the kind where I was sentient in the animal form and not a danger to friends and family. Plus, I want healing powers like Wolverine. (Who is not a were, but still, fast healing is fantastic.) 

TRC: You have an MFA in fiction. What did you learn about writing in school that helped you most in writing this novel?

LM: So much. Really. One, it helped me to connect to other writers. Having people to talk shop with is great. There were also a lot of things that I was doing that were sort of, well, like stepping on my own feet, if that makes sense. I wasn't quite getting across the things I wanted to. My MFA program helped me with lots of little tips, tricks, and sort of gave me an understanding of how to go about things that I didn't have before. Plus, I learned that the only way to write was to sit down and actually write. You can't just talk about it and hope it happens. You have to work at it all the time and make it important. There is a huge difference in my writing before the program and after. And making friends with other writers, building that community, learning how to read in front of a crowd and such...well, it helped me get the confidence to send out and submit my work. Sometimes realizing that other writers are just as freaked out about writing a novel as you can help a lot, actually. 

TRC: Do you have favorite horror or fantasy books? What authors inspire you?

LM: Oh man. So many. I read a lot of horror and fantasy growing up --- Stephen King, David Eddings, James Howe, C.S. Lewis, Anne McCaffrey, and so on. I soon realized that I really liked the writers who add humor. Currently, though, it's Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Tamora Pierce, Jasper Fforde, Eoin Colfer, Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, Rick Riordan, Jim Butcher...those are just a few. I want to crawl inside their brains and muck around. Which sounds creepy, I know.

TRC: The sequel, NECROMANCING THE STONE, comes out in September. What can readers expect? Are you working on anything else at the moment that you’d like to share with us?

LM: They can expect the return of pretty much all the characters from book one. NTS is mostly dealing with the fallout from HMC, N. A lot happened to Sam and his friends and a lot of things changed, and now they have to deal with those changes. So more Frank, Brooke, Sam, Ramon, Ashley, Brid, and so on. But there's also a lot of new people and creatures. Like Sexy Gary. For some reason, I'm particularly proud of him.

What am I working on now? Well, that's still mostly under wraps. I will say that I'm trying to fit in as many explosions as I can, which obviously means it will be a better story. More boom = better book, right? What do you mean "no"?