#AuthorInterview with Christina Maraziotis, author of Haunt
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Christina Maraziotis, author of Haunt: A Novel (Loveletting, Book 1).
FQ: Thank you for your time today and let’s dive in. Before getting to the actual read, I was drawn to the ‘Trigger Warning.’ I don’t recall ever having picked up a book and seen a preface to the story quite like this; particularly the second paragraph in this ‘warning’: "...Difficult situations are often described in graphic detail. This includes (but is not limited to) the subjects of sex, lust, vulgarity, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse..." You site many more examples in this warning to your audience. My question is: was this something you thought to write (or was it upon the recommendation of your editor). Either way, why?
MARAZIOTIS: It's my pleasure! This is an interesting question, it is something I have pondered over a lot prior to the publishing of Haunt. It was not upon the recommendation of my editor, for he actually recommended against it. He felt it wasn’t necessary to include, which in part, I do agree; I feel people (readers) should be able to separate fiction from reality, and when it comes to books, there is certainly a freedom we authors have the privilege to abuse, without penalties of society - within reason.
So in that regard, part of me hesitated to place a trigger warning at all. On the other hand, I too have my own subjects I may become triggered with, and I equally respect that others have their own as well - and would appreciate a warning prior committing to a novel, let alone one that is as long of a commitment as mine. Haha.
FQ: In line with my previous question, I want to clarify this observation is not a judgment. Rather, it’s a curiosity given the world we live in today. Were you driven to write such a disclaimer to avoid caustic backlash from someone who may be incapable of embracing this epic story for what it was intended to be, in my opinion: fantastic storytelling?
MARAZIOTIS: Thank you so much! I really appreciate your opinion on my storytelling. I think this is a very important question actually, for the world we live in today could be considered, perhaps, more susceptible to judgement and caustic backlash than any other period. Even as someone born in the 90s, the concept of "cancel culture" rather bewilders me. And to be completely honest, the trigger warning was not placed to avoid that, for the content of this book (and especially the ones following after it) will challenge that culture and will reel in harsh criticism regardless of having a warning or not. You cannot avoid that, which is something every author needs to make amends with.
The trigger warning was merely placed to respect people that do have a legitimate reason to be triggered by it, and not the current social climate. However, not wishing to contradict myself, it can be a useful tool to avoid hateful reviews from people that could not comprehend the deeper meaning behind such leaden subjects that are very real in the world we live in. To give an example, this story is based in the 19th century; unfortunately the world back then was a lot more racist, therefore in dialogue, I have to implement that reality. A reader could take this out of context, and feel inclined to paint me as a racist author. Nobody wants that.
FQ: This is a very lengthy book (758 pages) and yet, the content, flow and period of time was extremely captivating. I’m a ‘page-turner’ in that I enjoy the interaction of turning the page as the story grows. Do you think you may lose certain readers given the magnitude of this novel? Did you get any pushback from your editor to shorten the page count? If so, how did you justify the length?
MARAZIOTIS: Thank you again for the kind words, as well as for pulling through such a long novel! Haha. Bear with me, for this (ironically) begs a lengthier answer as well. Yes, I absolutely think I will lose certain readers due to the length of the book; I think they will not give it a chance because it may appear intimidating, or perhaps, simply boring. I believe as a society our attention span has rapidly shortened, and I find that rather sad. Then again, there are readers, and there are...readers. Some prefer a quick read to cleanse the palate of a book they read prior, while others prefer to immerse themselves in a lengthy series and stay there for a while. Both are fine, and I definitely don’t say one is better than the other. I too enjoy a palate cleanser where your brain is allowed to relax for a moment before diving back into heavier subjects.
All that being said, I am aware which books sell the most out there, and what agents or publishers are looking for, and honestly these books do not represent me personally, nor my style of writing. It is very rare for me to find myself engrossed in world-building and character development within a short book. Perhaps this is a personal flaw of mine; yearning to grow with the characters over a longer period of time - but this is precisely why I chose to write such a long novel, for the readers to feel like they were in that desert together with the protagonist, and to feel the exhaustion she felt, and the bond between her and the horse that carried her. I want the readers to feel and understand a character’s emotion, decision, or thought process that they made along the way, and why no-one is perfect. Why characters cannot always be politically correct, or heroes, or morally true. I find that I simply couldn’t have achieved that in a shorter novel. In fact, the first draft version of Haunt was 60,000 words shorter, but I felt through my third edit that I needed to add more scenes in Hope, to further develop that relationship between the protagonist and the outlaw. Prior to that, it felt rushed. So, If you asked me to take out any scene, I would tell you I couldn’t, for every scene serves a purpose in character development and the sake of the story overall.
On that, I do switch from character to character, and they all have stories that merge with each other and progress throughout the series. The whole series is mostly a day by day adventure, and I very rarely skip months or years - for the sole reason to not detach the reader from time, if that makes sense. Of course, that method alone requires a longer read or story. Again, this might be my flaw. I simply enjoy exploring the freedom for characters to have a day when they go hunting, or to the theatre, or sailing, or any other activity that would be considered unnecessary, yet enjoyable to me. I have spent hours upon hours researching that era and its interesting events, and while I don’t want this novel to be taken as strictly historical, I do like adding that detail of realism.
No, my editor fortunately is an avid supporter of my whole writing process which I’m very thankful for. It’s important as an author to write for yourself, first and foremost, and this certainly puts some of us at a disadvantage. I could have split Haunt into three books - I would have profited a lot more from it with cheaper printing and three different books to sell - but it wouldn’t have the same impact.
FQ: I can relate to your biography where it states, "...suddenly it dawned on her: writing was the only thing that actually made sense..." I applaud you for such a tremendous accomplishment in writing Haunt and committing to your natural talent as a writer. There are so many elements and layers to this epic read it is difficult for me to site one instance. How saddened were you to pen the end of this novel and face the reality that while your characters shall remain a part of you, they are no longer a part of your daily diet?
MARAZIOTIS: I really appreciate that very much. I never believed Haunt would ever be published, for it started as a personal journey for me. So I feel like this answers the question; for I was so very saddened that I had to make it into a lengthy series to go with the lengthy novel. Haha. The ending took me a long time to finish. Even though I never write with a plot in my head; the story develops as I write it - I knew the end, and I dreaded it, for I had really bonded with that particular character. I had a few moments where I had to step back and take a breath to be honest, and after I had to part with this fictional world, I felt empty. And this is the sorrowful feeling I wish for my readers to experience as well, after such a long journey. Thankfully, the series is still being written right now - and when it is done, I have another one in my head.
FQ: In line with my previous question, how do you overcome the melancholy when it comes to saying ‘farewell’ to the amazing characters you essentially have lived with while writing the story?
MARAZIOTIS: I think you will find that answer in the next book of the series, Curse. But there are several deaths throughout this journey that truly tugged on my heartstrings. In a way, I deal with that melancholic feeling by mentioning and honoring them throughout the series. I never wish for a character that was important, to be forgotten.
FQ: It is abundantly clear to me you are a voracious reader and I say this because I will stand firm and debate any fellow author who discounts the vital importance of how a writer must also be a voracious reader in order to perfect his/her writing. What is your opinion on this?
MARAZIOTIS: I strongly agree with you on the importance as a writer to read different books and authors, but I will also say, I am a very picky reader and tend to gravitate towards very few authors. And that is because I’m cautious of not adopting other authors’ writing style, which easily can happen if you start comparing yourself to popular authors that are not (for better or worse) necessarily your style. Thereupon you may run into the dangerous conception that you are doing something wrong, and you should alter writing style to please the masses.
FQ: To elaborate further on my previous question, is there a particular author (or authors) who have left a lasting impression on you? If you had to name your top three, who would they be (and why)?
MARAZIOTIS: I would definitely have to say Neil Gaiman. I truly appreciate his dry humor, the subtle mysteriousness and dark elements, the flow of his writing and the obscure meaning behind his words or scenes. Whenever I’ve read a “palate cleanser” book, and then turn back to Gaiman’s work, I remember why I choose to write more challenging and complicated stories. It just captivates you on a deeper level.
As far as the other top two, I would certainly include J.R.R. Tolkien for his impeccable world building abilities; I mean, seriously, I don’t think anyone could top what he has achieved with The Lord of the Rings series. It’s almost an ideology at this point; the world he created - not just a novel.
And last but not least, Oscar Wilde. For the simple reason that when I first picked up his book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was blown away by all the detailed descriptions and long, witty dialogue which I’m very partial to.
FQ: You list the titles of the books in your Loveletting series. In each title, you have bracketed one of the letters. What is the significance of this?
MARAZIOTIS: In this series, there will be a variety of puzzles of varying complexity that the reader needs to put together. Perhaps they will never all be found, but I really enjoyed implementing such challenges for people to analyze later on. The brackets are a part of that puzzle, perhaps a lot more obvious than most. They separate two different words and meanings (if you omit the bracketed letter) and both of these resonate with the titled book’s content.
FQ: I literally got chills when I read the quote you cited by Neil Gaiman: “Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you...” What a spot-on statement! If you had ten seconds to name that book for you, what would it be and why?
MARAZIOTIS: Different books definitely struck me at certain chapters of my life, but The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was the very first book that I took seriously as a child - and evidently, it stayed with me and instilled the bug of dark, gothic tales within.
FQ: Thank you very much for your time today. I would ask ‘what’s next,’ but you’ve already mapped out the titles to the next 6 books in this series. In book two, Curse, are you able to share a little toward what your audience can expect?
MARAZIOTIS: I will say, there are a lot more than six books in the series already written, and all of them deliver something different and yet connect to each other, with (hopefully) no room for plot holes. Curse will set the tone for the rest of the series, and you will find the protagonist of Haunt not recognizable. Haunt’s audience should expect a brooding story to be unraveled, and lots of tension with three major new characters. One of them, if I may say, was brilliantly created to confuse the reader’s mind...an extremely complex personality. There will be many plot twists, and perhaps, a great surprise for lovers of Haunt.
Thank you so very much for this truly enjoyable interview, filled with anything but the usual generic questions. It was a very helpful opportunity for me to express certain thoughts I usually keep to myself. I truly hope you will find the rest of the series, if you choose to embark on another journey in these lengthy novels, equally as enjoyable as Haunt.