Monday, September 6, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: Mara Purnhagan

I'm welcoming back Mara Purnhagan, one of my 2k10 classmates, on the launch of her second novel in 2010. TAGGED debuted last March; PAST MIDNIGHT is now available, and Mara has a wonderful story to tell about her success.

I’m so impressed that you finished two novel-length manuscripts and managed to sell them both to appear in one year! More about that in a minute, but please tell us a bit about PAST MIDNIGHT first.

Hi, Janet! PAST MIDNIGHT is the first book in my new series. The books follow Charlotte Silver, a typical 17-year-old girl with very atypical parents: they work as ghost debunkers. Charlotte and her older sister, Annalise, travel with their parents and help them film documentaries. They don’t believe in ghosts—until something strange happens to Charlotte that doesn’t fit in with any of her family’s scientific theories. The books take place outside of Charleston, South Carolina, which is an amazing town.

And the cover is so evocative! What was the process that led to your two sales?

Before I sold TAGGED, I had an interview with my editor, Tara. She asked what else I was working on, and I mentioned that I had completed a first draft of a story that could work as either a stand alone or as a series. She was intrigued by the concept and offered me a two-book deal. Then, after she read PAST MIDNIGHT, she offered me another two-book deal. So I’ll have a book coming out every six months for two years. It may sound impressive, but it was really years in the making—by the time TAGGED was published (over a year after acceptance), PAST MIDNIGHT was being revised and the next book, ONE HUNDRED CANDLES, was in its first draft. It seems faster than it really is—there’s no way I could write a book every six months. I’m glad that while I was waiting to hear back on TAGGED, I began a new project. It kept me from losing my mind, and in the end, I had a solid draft completed that helped me secure a two-book deal.

One of my teachers at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Ellen Howard, talked about writers as “fat writers” and “thin writers.” And this has nothing to do with bathing suits! (I’m breathing a sigh of relief here.)
“Fat” writers write fast and pack in lots of pages and then have to do mountains of editing. “Thin” writers write slowly and carefully and edit as they go. Do you think of yourself as a “fat” or “thin” writer?

I think that’s a great way to look at it. With TAGGED, I was definitely a “fat” writer. I chopped more than one sub plot from the final draft. With PAST MIDNIGHT, I was more on the “thin” side (which sounds funny to me because I was pregnant and closely resembled a manatee). There are a lot more plot twists in PAST MIDNIGHT, and I was very careful about how and when I revealed certain information.

For example, there is a sub plot involving a character named Adam. The truth about Adam is revealed in the first half of the book, and I’m hoping readers can identify that truth before it’s revealed, because the aftermath is important to the second half of the book. I like suspense, but not the kind in which you have it all figured out within the first twenty pages and the ending is a letdown. (By the way, I loved the way you built suspense in FAITHFUL—I did not see those twists coming!)

Wow - thank you, Mara! (blushing furiously) 
PAST MIDNIGHT and TAGGED are very different stories. Do you like to work in such disparate voices?

Yes, I wanted to do something different, although each of the books center around a mystery. I love to read mysteries and it’s great to be able to write them. I also think both books can stand alone, which was important to me when I was writing PAST MIDNIGHT. The major plots are all wrapped up by the end—I wanted my readers to have a sense of satisfaction that their main questions were answered.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m halfway through my first novella. The novella covers the time period between PAST MIDNIGHT (Book One) and ONE HUNDRED CANDLES (Book Two), and will be available online in January 2011. I’m also working on Book Three of the series, which is scheduled to be released in September 2011—if I can get it done on time!

I am so impressed with your energy. Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about PAST MIDNIGHT?

Everything mentioned in the first book-- including names of minor characters and a few important quotes—was put there for a reason. If you like the first book and decide to read the second (which comes out in March 2011), you’ll see exactly why some of the details in PAST MIDNIGHT were so important. ONE HUNDRED CANDLES is darker, spookier—and has a body count.

Thank you so much, Mara! Please tell readers how they can learn more about you and your work.

Thanks, Janet! My web site is


Anonymous said...

Great review! Both these books sound awesome! Thanks for interviewing Mara, Janet!

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed at how prolific you are, Mara. Wow! I loved Tagged and am looking forward to reading all the others. Congrats!

Julie Musil said...

Past Midnight sounds amazing!

I wanted to let you know that I received FAITHFUL in the mail today. Thank you! I can't wait to read it.

Janet Fox said...

That's wonderful, Julie! I hope you love it. :)

Thanks for coming by, Julia and Shari! Isn't Mara something?