Mara Gan - When Duty and Prophecy get in the Way of Everything
A Pacific Northwesterner by birth and disposition, Mara has lived in Washington DC, Oregon, Japan, and most recently the beautiful Pacific Grove, California, before returning to her roots in Seattle. By day she teaches history to unsuspecting teenagers, and by night she writes books and travels to far-flung places. She loves to be with animals, read, play sports, and drink more London Fogs than is likely good for her. As our Author of the Day, she tells us about her book, Joined.
Please give us a short introduction to what Joined is about.
Joined is the story of Meda, a twenty-year-old woman who is preparing to rule an entire galaxy. She loves the idea of helping people and enjoys the diplomatic side of her job, but feels lonely and isolated because of who she is. Because she has been prophesied to save the entire galaxy from its chaos, she’s become a target for fringe groups and assassins, so her guardians hire a mercenary to protect her- which she hates, especially because he is nail-bitingly attractive. Somehow, she has to find a way to succeed in her job, fulfill the prophecy, avoid falling for her bodyguard, and somehow not get killed in the process. I’ve always described it as kind of like if Greek mythology and Star Wars had an illicit love child.
Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
I've actually been playing with the story idea since I was in high school. It was born of two parallel ideas: we did a mythology unit in my ninth grade English class, and the story of Perseus and Andromeda had always kind of stuck with me; why did the girl always suffer? She was a princess and she gets chained to a rock for some monster, and a guy in flying shoes comes by and saves her and then marries her? I mean... what?
The parallel thought had to do with science fiction. I had always been a fan of Star Trek and remembered the episode where Captain Kirk and the crew discover Apollo on another planet, and the basic idea that all the Greek gods and heroes were real people- just, from another part of the galaxy, so they seemed like gods and heroes to early Greeks. So, I melded the two ideas and tried to give Andromeda a better story than simply being chained to a rock.
Tell us more about Princess Andromeda. What makes her so special?
I think what makes Meda special is that she’s so much like the rest of us; she wants to read books, play sports, she’s lonely but has trouble making friends, and she has social anxiety. She may be the next in line to rule the galaxy and born under a famous prophecy, but she’s just a person with normal wants and normal problems- in addition to the not-so-normal problems. She was easy for me to write in that way. Meda is also special because she is kind, genuine, patient, and always assuming the best of people. She is the kind of person I aspire to be.
Why did you decide to bring a prophecy into the mix?
I wanted something looming over her head, something she couldn’t change and had no control over. I wanted to be sure she had no way to get out of ruling the galaxy, that it was her destiny, no matter what. I have always found inherited rulership to be deeply stressful for everyone involved. How must it feel to be born with that kind of responsibility? To be told from infancy that you’re going to change the world and that everyone is counting on you to make their lives better? That’s a heavy obligation to shoulder.
You have lived all over - how has this influenced your worldview and your writing?
Travel has always been my passion. I’ve wanted to visit everywhere and anywhere for as long as I can remember, and absorbing languages and cultures is important to me. I lived abroad for several years, and although I’ve settled for the moment, I continue to travel as much as I can. Travel broadens horizons and expands our tolerance for uncertainty; Mark Twain famously said that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and it was sentiments like that which helped me write Meda and the kind of person she would need to be in order to do the job she does.
On a more fundamental level, the second book in the series, Misplaced, is set on the island of Santorini, and there was no way I could have written it without having gone there first. The book came together so much better after I visited! I recently returned from Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and book 3 will have shades of those beautiful countries as well.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Cat whisperer and teen whisperer. I seem to be proficient at calming and communicating with both. I do speak three languages fluently and am good at charades for those countries with languages I don’t speak, I love photography, and am a certified wilderness first responder since I love to travel and be outside so much. I make precisely one type of cookie that’s edible and I possess a sixth sense for knowing where a coffee shop might be. I also think I might have an adamantium skeleton; I’ve been hit by a car several times and come out with only minor injuries. Does that count as a skill?
Your story contains a couple of twists. Did you plan them all out before you started writing?
Actually, a lot of them came to me the more I wrote it. I would be writing, and then realize that what I was writing in chapter 20 would be so much better if I foreshadowed or twisted it way back in chapter 5- or something like that. It was so much fun to have those AHA! moments, even if they happened at 2am and made me bleary-eyed for work the next day.
What makes Meda and Perseus such a great team?
They complement each other. Meda is warm and friendly, but scattered and anxious; Perseus is reserved and seemingly cold, but organized and confident. She worries too much and he takes himself too seriously, but he calms her down and she helps him lighten up. They also put the other first, which helps them be kinder people toward everyone else. They make each other better.
Readers say the book was a real pageturner. How did you pull this off?
Someone once told me that as long as you write for yourself, it will have meaning. It’s more honest, more compelling, and more authentic when it comes from the heart. If you try to write for someone else, it loses that sense of soul, and the reader won’t feel a connection with your story. So I wrote it for me. I wrote because I had a story I wanted to write and things I wanted to say, and I was lucky in that it seems others have wanted to read it.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? What inspired you to start writing?
It isn’t so much that I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so much as that I’ve just always been a writer. I’ve been writing stories since I was in fifth grade, although I really got into it when I was in eighth grade. Most of those stories are supremely cringe-worthy now, but some of them were also the birthplace of Joined, so it works out!
What's an aspect of being a writer that you didn't know about going in?
Self-promotion! I’m terrible at social media anyway, but trying to use it and promote my writing feels so hard for me. I’ve learned a lot about how great promotion companies can be and how to use social media, but it will always be a work in progress.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I’m a teacher, so I don’t get to write nearly as often as I like. I try to squeeze it in at night when I can, but sometimes I’m too brainfried from being with students all day that I am simply out of creativity; my best writing times come when I have a few days off and can hear myself think again. When I get those beautiful days, I usually settle in my favorite chair, make a cup of black tea, pick a place to start- and then just go for it! What makes it hard is that my cats usually like to sit on my keyboard, so writing with a 14-pound tubby blob of purring fur can be… slow. I’m also very much a nighttime writer, so I’ll get inspired and madly write for hours… and then realize it’s three in the morning and I have to go to work in four hours. (Oops?)
What are you working on right now?
Book 3! Slowly, since I have a day job as a history teacher, but I work on book 3 whenever I can. I’m hoping to send it to my publisher soon. I have other project ideas for when the Joined trilogy is finished, but first I need to finish my trilogy.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I’m much better at social media than I used to be, and messaging me through Instagram (@maragan6) or Facebook (@maraganbooks) is the best way. I do have a website (www.maragan.org) but don’t update it much, although the contact info does go straight to my email. Maybe someday I’ll write in the blog on my site! I’m also on Goodreads, Amazon, and AllAuthor, and all these places have up-to-date info on my books and how to contact me.