If you haven’t heard of Michelle Hodkin, then maybe you just haven’t paid enough attention to the books with the eerie couple underwater on the covers in bookstores. The bestselling author’s Mara Dyer series has inspired so many fans in the Philippines, including me, so we were all ecstatic when Fully Booked, who does awesome things like Free Comic Book Day, made all our dreams come true by bringing Michelle to Manila earlier this year.
I had the honor of asking her some questions. She was so sweet, with a soft voice and a charming smile that makes you wonder how this could be the person who writes such dark stories. She stayed up past midnight during her signing in the BGC branch of Fully Booked to connect with her fans and give them what must have been one of the best moments of their lives. It was such a joy to interview her, and I hope you enjoy this interview!
Q: The concept for Mara Dyer is so bizarre. How did you come up with the idea?
A: That is kind of a long story. Basically, I used to be a lawyer, and I practiced civil anti-terrorism litigation, which is not a lot of lawyers do. And then one day, I was in New York for a hearing, and I met this woman whose daughter had been in accident. Her best friends died, and she survived, and she wanted to find an attorney to represent them because her daughter had emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorder. And I was like, “That’s not the kind of law that I practice. I can only help you if you died in terrorist attacks, which I hope doesn’t happen! So maybe I can put you in touch with someone else.”
She turned to leave, and I realized her daughter had been with her the whole time as her daughter followed her out. I was just struck by this girls’ presence. I just got this immediate sense that there was more to this story that even her mother knew. And I took down her information and everything, to put her in touch with somebody else, and filed it away and forgot about it.
A year later, I was back in New York for my brother’s college graduation, and someone said something that reminded me of that girl. And I wondered what happened to her, if they ever pursued the case or anything. So I called the phone number—I dug it out of my email archives—and it was disconnected. I Googled the family, but I couldn’t find a record of them anywhere, and so, I just immediately got this idea for a story.
It was very light on plot, but I knew the main character’s name would be Mara, and she was very loosely inspired by that girl. I started writing on the plane ride home and wrote through the night, and I had 5,000 words the next day. The next week, I had 20,000 words, and it just snowballed from there.
They were terrible words! I had to rewrite them all, many, many times, but yeah, that’s how it started. I’ve never written anything before that.
Q: You studied law, but Mara Dyer deals with a lot of mental and medical issues. How did you law background contribute to all that?
A: When I was working on these anti-terror cases, one of the cases I worked on was called Almog versus Arab Bank, and it was on behalf of Israeli and American victims of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. The majority of our clients were Israeli, so I was traveling back and forth to Israel all the time. And all of our clients, every single last one, had post-traumatic stress disorder. Either they themselves had been in terrorist attacks, had been on buses that had been bombed, or they lost family members to bombings or lynchings. There was a father whose three-year old girl was shot by a sniper on their way to a synagogue. So every single one of them had some version of post-traumatic stress disorder, and for all of the clients that I represented, I saw that many different manifestations of PTSD.
And so, when I was writing Mara’s character and knew that she was going to be through experiences that was going to cause post-traumatic stress disorder, I drew on my experience to lend truth to what I was writing. But for the diagnoses of the characters, I relied very heavily on my sister-in-law, who is a clinical psychologist and a friend of mine who’s a pharmacist for accurate prescriptions of what the characters would be on.
Q: Did Mara’s voice come naturally to you, or did you have to work on it?
A: Mara’s voice came really naturally. Noah’s voice, I had to work on. In the second book in the series, you get a little bit of his point of view, and that did not come naturally. That took more practice. I had a sense; I would get lines of dialogue in my head, of things that he would say, but I didn’t slip into it as naturally as I did for Mara.
Q: Mara’s intials are MAD while Noah’s are NESS. Together, it spells MADNESS, which fits into the theme of the series, and it’s such a cool detail. Was that intentional?
A: It was on purpose. *laughs* That was intentional.