What's it like juggling a gig at Marvel with being a top-selling paranormal romance/urban fantasy author? At New York Comic Con, we asked Marjorie M. Liu, who's writing comics while continuing both her Dirk & Steele and Hunter Kiss series.
Marjorie M. Liu has covered a lot of speculative ground since publishing her first novel in 2005. She started out in paranormal romance with her Dirk & Steele series. Then she moved into urban fantasy with her Hunter Kiss series, which follows the tribulations of Maxine, a bad-ass but soft-hearted demon hunter who's covered in living tattoos. In the meantime, she's writing for Marvel, taking on characters like Dark Wolverine and Black Widow. And at New York Comic Con she talked to us about learning to write for comics, and why she doesn't limit herself to a particular genre.
Now, you started out in paranormal romance and urban fantasy, then moved into writing comics as well. What inspired the jump? Are you a longtime comics reader?
I didn't start reading comics until I was around 19. Before that, I just didn't have access to a comics store. But when I went to undergrad there was a comic book store just down the street, and one day I wandered in and picked up an issue of X Men, from Operation: Zero Tolerance. The art was great and the story was great, and then I picked up the Punisher, and Deadpool, and was totally sucked in. My collection just grew and grew and grew, and so somewhere in storage, I have a giant box with every book lovingly placed in its plastic sleeve. My obsession just grew.
What was it like switching from novel writing to a more visual medium?
Well, it's still storytelling. So you're still dealing with characters, dialogue, plot — you're trying to make things exciting and drag in the reader. So in that way, it wasn't different, it's just changing your focus. Because when you write comics, it's just 22 pages in more of a script format. And that was a bit of a transition.
But fortunately, I had a great editor and a great editorial assistant. I would write my script and they would go through and say what worked. Or they'd say something like, "Having this transition would work better in the middle of the page, so when you flip the page you can see the art." Things like that. Also, the first book i wrote for them was NYX, and the main character, Kiden, can stop time. So I was writing all these descriptions and they would say that when the artist tries to illustrate stopped time, that's not easily done — you have to put in different visual clues. So I learned things like that along the way, but it was fun.
You're so busy with the novels and the comics—how do you manage all this stuff?
I just get it done. I'm the most disorganized person in the world, but I do try to make lists of things I need to accomplish on any given day. So I'll say, you know, the novel comes first, and then there's a comic book due in like 3 weeks, so I'll try to write a couple of pages of that. Then I just go through my list and mark things off.
The good thing is I love what I do. And it's all — the science fiction and fantasy and superheroes — it's everything that turns my brain on. And so I keep up the energy. There aren't days when I say, "Oh gosh, I should have stayed with practicing law. That would would be so much more fun!"
Do you feel like writing the comics has influenced the way you write your novels?
For the most part no, except that when I wrote the comics, the dialogue has to be so sharp and so concise that when I'm writing my novels, the same thing is happening. The dialogue is becoming more concise and a little sharper and a little more to the point.
You've gotten to work with Dark Wolverine and Black Widow. Are there any other particular characters you'd like to take on, either in the Marvel universe or elsewhere?
Some of them I am writing into X-23. I've always wanted to write Gambit, and he's coming into the book and that just thrills me to no end, because I love his character. Jubilee will probably start popping up at some point, and I did get to write her a little in the one-shot. Same with Storm. I've had the chance to write Mystique, in Dark Wolverine. So actually I am getting the chance to write all the characters I want.
Sometimes there are characters I want to write but we can't put them in right now because Marvel is doing other things with them. But I've been very lucky, and my little inner fangirls is just squeeing all over the place because I get to draw in all these people. I love it.
Just to switch gears, I'm interesting in the world-building in the Hunter Kiss series. Are you inspired by a particular source or tradition?
It just came out. I wanted to write the first book one way, drawing in a lot of Celtic mythology. But as I was working on it, it just became a totally different animal. All these different ideas came out about reincarnation, and adapting human skins, and the whole Sumerian mythology, all these different issues that I didn't expect. Because I write organically — I don't plot ahead, because when I plot ahead it's a mess. As I write, things come out. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't and I edit them out. The series just took on a life of its own.
Are you someone who reads a lot of folklore?
When I was growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on. Everything. And I'm still the same way. I don't have quite as much time now, but my bookshelf at home is just filled with anything that looks interesting.
It seems you aren't necessarily constrained by the idea that this is fantasy, or this is science fiction.
I just like to tell a good story, and I like to read stories that embrace many different genres. I think when you're telling a story and you have it inside of you, you don't want to limit yourself to one particular genre. You just want to tell the story and let it grow on its own and take on its own life. And if that means merging demons that are aliens and tattoos and quantum time travel, you just do it, and you find a way to make it work.
What's up next?
The next book coming out is called In the Dark of Dreams. It's about a merman and a marine biologist. They met for all of 10 minutes as children off the coast of Maine, and for 16 years afterwards they were looking for each other. Then they finally find each other again, at a time when it's close to the end of the world — there's a sea monster waking up that could send a title wave that would destroy most of the world's coasts. It sounds weird, but it's deeply romantic, with a lot of fantasy elements like merpeople, and seapirates, and psychics, and people who can start fires with their minds, shape shifters.
What do you think draws you to these very large scale, apocalyptic stories?
I like to tell big stories, but really focusing on the characters. I like to place my characters against the backdrop of things that are out of their control, and then explore how they try to control the situation, and how that affects their relationships with each other, or their relationships with perfect strangers. How it affects them inside, changes them to make them weaker or stronger. For me, it's all about the characters.