My son and I love the Los Angeles Public Library. Recently, we were chatting with the librarian at our local branch, when she told me about Mary McCoy‘s debut novel, DEAD TO ME. Mary is the head librarian for LAPL’s downtown Teen’Scape (the young adult department at the Los Angeles Public Library). (And she was kind enough to put The Family into LAPL back in October.)
DEAD TO ME is a film noir-inspired YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of 1940s Hollywood. If you are a noir fan, a fan of LA’s architecture and wild/sordid history – you cannot miss this read. I read it in two days and found myself inspired. I haven’t read any teen noir before – brilliant idea.
Let’s talk to Mary. This is one of my favorite interviews! Her answers are so provocative and fascinating! The interview is dotted with the cool imagery Mary was kind enough to share. Without further ado – I introduce you to the lovely Mary McCoy.
I believe you grew up in Western Pennsylvania – how did you become interested in L.A. stories? (Those of the Black Dahlia persuasion, etc.)
I happened to get really into film noir and true crime right around the time I moved to Los Angeles, which was a happy coincidence… or an unhappy coincidence given the subject matter. I started writing for a blog called the 1947project. Every day we’d write about a different crime that had happened on that day in history in Los Angeles, and I learned about many of the tragic, scandalous, and hair-raising stories in the city’s history. Sometimes it was something well-known like the Black Dahlia, while others it was something more obscure or minor – such as this one where a pair of bored tween girls terrorized a Glendale neighborhood by leaving notes in mailboxes that said things like, “You are to be killed tonight at 10pm sharp” and “Beware of the goat.”
Tell us about your job! How did you land at LAPL’s Teen’Scape or did you help create it? (For those of you who don’t know – Teen’Scape is the young adult department at the Central Library, providing teens with a place of their own to work on computers, study, read, and relax.)
I’ve worked at the Los Angeles Central Library for my entire career in librarianship. I took over Teen’Scape in 2011, but before that, I was a history and genealogy librarian, which was also a job I loved. (Among the many reference questions I answered, I once helped someone working on the show Mad Men figure out what a phone in a Roman hotel room, circa 1963 might have looked like.)
But now I work with teens, which is much more amazing! Every day I am impressed by their dreams and ambitions, and I love doing my little bit to help them achieve those things. It takes a village, and your local librarian is just one small part of the village.
Have you always wanted to write a y/a novel? What was the inspiration for Dead To Me?
I didn’t set out to be a YA writer, but every book-length idea I’ve ever had has been YA. I like YA because it respects the reader’s time. YA fiction can be very literary, but it also tends to be resourceful and lean and gripping in a way I appreciate as a reader.
My film noir and true crime habit played a part in me writing Dead To Me, but I was also inspired by the movie, Brick, which is a contemporary noir set in a high school. I thought that the heightened emotions and drama of noir fit in to a high school setting so well that I was determined to write one myself!
The Dead To Me cover is so gorgeous and art deco and just swoonsville. Did you have any input? Who was the artist and what was the process like? It’s such a great fit with the book and aesthetically beautiful.
Love, love, love that cover. My editor came to me with a mock-up of the design. It was nothing like I expected. I was SURE I was going to get something black and white, so when I saw all that color, those palm trees, that blood stain, I was totally blown away. The final design was almost identical to the mock-up, only they doubled the size of the blood stain, which I thought was a classy touch.
Annie and Alice’s codes are so fun and imaginative! Are you a code person? How did this part of the story come about?
People say write what you know, but I prefer to write what I’m obsessed with, and I find codes and ciphers endlessly fascinating. Once I found out that something called a nihilist cipher even existed, I knew I had to find a spot for it in the book.
Spoiler alert: Alice’s relationship with Annie remains complicated right up to the end. Without saying too much – the love story is non-traditional as well. How did you decide to make these decisions? I found these dynamics refreshing and unusual. Very real.
There are no sequels in noir and no happy endings. I wanted to write an ending that was satisfying to the reader, but not entirely happy. It’s just what felt right given the tone of the book and what all the characters have been through. I didn’t give the characters everything they wanted, but I hope I gave them just enough.
As for the love interest, when a book is set over three days and packed with kidnappings, chase scenes, and near-death experiences, how does the main character have time to fall for someone? Trying to answer that question was totally challenging, but those scenes ended up being some of my favorite ones in the book.
Do you have any advice to new or aspiring y/a writers?
Finish something. I did National Novel Writing Month in 2010, and it was a life-changing experience. Before that, I’d always started projects and abandoned them, but NaNoWriMo forced me to see something through to the end, and I learned so much in the process. I also wrote a book blog for awhile, and reading and writing with a critical eye was also useful to me as a writer. It made me think about what made a story work for me and helped me learn to write the kinds of books I loved to read.
Is there a new book in the works?
Yes, I’m working on another YA novel right now, but it’s a secret. The one thing it has in common with Dead To Me is that it’s also set in LA.
How do you manage being a mom, work and make time for inspiration and writing?
Someone once told me, “Want something to get done? Ask a busy person to do it.” Maybe it’s that?
Any words of wisdom for teen readers?
Find creative ways to deal with boredom.
Learn more at http://mary-mccoy.com/ or follow Mary on Twitter at @MaryElMcCoy.