Interview: Marissa Nofer
This week we had the pleasure of sitting down with Marissa Nofer. Join us as we talk about how a story she wrote when she was 14 became her first book, how her grandfather keeps her going when she gets stuck, and how important neurodiversity in fiction is to her.
CJ: Hello Marissa! I’m so glad you could join me today. Let’s start with you giving us a little background.
Marissa: I was bitten by a literary bug very early on. I was the nerdy kid with the big Stephen King book in second grade, and I was first published in an anthology when I was eleven. Now I am married with three small kids who constantly remind me to honor that little girl with big dreams. It was a dream I kept putting into the someday category right next to losing the baby weight and cleaning out my desk. When my grandfather was passing away in 2017 he looked at me and asked, “What’s happening with your book, Mija?” I knew I was going to lose him soon, and at that moment the reality of not having all the time in the world got through to me. So I focused on my writing more seriously and published my first book in June 2019. I just celebrated my first authorversary. I keep my grandpa Tony’s picture above my desk, and I ask myself when I get stuck, “What’s happening with my book?”
CJ: That’s beautiful. It’s amazing to have people who support us, even when they’re not around anymore. I’ve not had the opportunity to read your books yet. Can you tell us about them?
Marissa: Absolutely. When I was 14, I got a grand idea that I was going to write a novel. I spent all of my free time on that book; I mean mess, for about a year. It was 946 pages of self-indulgence. It was very twilight-y and had a lot of rambling. The bones were good, though. I had characters that meant something to me, and a general plot that resonated with my values as a young person. That draft sat around for another 13 years and what I originally called Fated (Super original… I know) became The Curious Fate of Nelsonora. The first novel in my Fractured Universe Series. I am about to relaunch that book on the 14th of this month because it needed some more TLC, and I cut some scenes I wanted to revisit. The re-launch version is going to be published under my imprint Tale Bones Indie Press. I named it that because the story had “good bones” and I think any idea can become a great book if you put in the work. The book is about a girl with the ability to predict death. She meets a guy, of course, who doesn’t have a death in his future. Together, they face the challenges of living in a post-war world where people with special abilities are targeted as enemies to genetic purity. She discovers that her unwanted “gift” is only the beginning of a skill-set that may save their lives.
At this point we have a prequel novella, Sick & Twisted, the next book The Twisting of a Bloodline, and the conclusion will be out in September, The Masters and Makers of Beasts.
CJ: You’ve got 7 books out now. Are they all within the same series or are some stand-alone?
Marissa: Four of them make up the Fractured Universe Series. There is one coming next month, Doctor of the Pack, which is the first in a new series called Magic and Medicine. That book follows a young doctor who left her hometown to get away from her father, a werewolf alpha. She returns after his death only to be kidnapped by a rival pack and eventually learns to use her medical skills on all supernatural beings.
Another upcoming book (November 2020) is The Beast Machine. That one will be a stand-alone story. It is a Beauty and the Beast retelling that takes place after our Belle character’s father is murdered. She believes it has something to do with his last invention that cures beasts that were once human. Her revenge plot gets her mixed up with very powerful nobles and she soon realizes one of them has to be his killer… because they are the beasts he wanted to save.
CJ: Where did you get the ideas for your books?
Marissa: I had a tough time socially as a young teen, and I think I built the Fractured Universe series storyline from my desire to have a little more control over my own fate. As for my Magic and Medicine series, I feel like supernatural healing is a kind of overused plot tool. I am guilty of using it too, and I love a lot of books that use it, but I always wondered what would happen if Mr. Hero-Dude-Man couldn’t just fuse his bullet wound shut in 47.6 seconds? Who gives that guy stitches without asking too many questions at the ER or running the blood tests that blow the cover on the whole supernatural world within our own? So I took a very essential supernatural creature, the werewolf, and give him a doctor for a daughter. I am all for adding another badass female role model to my daughter’s book collection. She’s only four now, but someday I want her to have those examples of brains and bravery. A lot of my characters are atypical in more ways than one. I have a main character in the Fractured Universe Series with mental health issues and another who is on the autism spectrum. Neurodiversity in fiction is something I always want to have in my career. I think #inclusivefiction is vital to the next generation’s understanding and acceptance of all people groups. My sons have autism, and they teach me to look at the world in fresh ways.
CJ: I love reading strong female characters and I love that you fixed what you saw as a problem with one. We definitely don’t see a lot of neurodiversity in fiction writing and I think it has a lot to do with the idea that people, in general, read things that they can see fitting easily into their world. Which is kind of ridiculous because how does a werewolf fit into your reality better than someone with autism?
Marissa: Exactly! It all boils down to knowing what to expect. We have a general idea of what werewolves, vampires, and monsters are going to throw into the plot. Sun aversion, shredded clothes, and glowing eyes are normal within the supernatural setting, and as you said, we look for things that fit into our world. We want to see something of ourselves in the story. Every person should be able to find a bit of themselves in a story. So my boys with autism will find characters much like themselves taking on wild adventures. There is a scene in my Fractured Universe Series where Westly (the young man with autism) puts on his noise-canceling headphones and goes right back to kicking zombie asses with the rest of the team. He is just as valuable and capable. He just needs his unique accessories that support his unique needs and sensory sensitivities.
Marissa: My advice would be to make a new friend. There are countless opportunities in most communities to volunteer with children and adults who have unique abilities and needs. As long as you are respectful and open to finding creative solutions to accommodate different communication needs, then you are going to meet some of the nicest and most intelligent and intuitive people in the world. Remember that they aren’t there to be studied, but they are eager to be understood and accepted by new friends. There are a lot of under-represented perspectives in literature. Sexual orientations, religions, family dynamics, and personal challenges don’t all need to fit into the box of what’s expected. I think some of the best characters are the ones who have brought unexpected qualities to the stories we love. It doesn’t always need to be the protagonist who is different either; I think a villain with a truly unique backstory is just as refreshing.
CJ: What do you think makes a good story?
Marissa: I think strong characters make a good story. There are so many books and tv shows that sound TERRIBLE if we mention the plot alone. For example, Gilmore Girls “A mom and a daughter live in a tiny town.” Or Harry Potter “A bunch of weird kids get bird mail and go to school for years. There is a lot of good vs. evil… and wands.” It’s the characters! It’s Hagrid’s inability to not blurt things out. It’s Luke’s grouchy attitude and negativity that slowly (never completely) melts away over the years. Characters are why improv acting can be so entertaining, and why simple stories can entertain people for years and be handed down through generations. If you don’t believe me… go ask a friend about their family. They will describe everyone’s quirks and annoying habits before they tell any actual family history. Those weirdos, characters, are what keep us emotionally connected to the plot.
CJ: Thank you so much for sitting with me today, Marissa. I enjoyed our conversation!
Marissa: Thank you so much for letting me ramble a little about myself today!
You can connect with Marissa via these avenues: