Melina Marchetta the Australian author of several award winning novels such as On the Jellicoe Road and Saving Francesca. Her newest fantasy novel, Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere Chronicles, #3), will be available September 26th 2012 (AUS) and March 13th 2013 (US).
“I just don’t get the big deal,” Archer complained as we made our way up the hundreds of steps to the Holy Temple of Marchetta.
“Are you kidding me?” Steph demanded as we wheezed and puffed our way up to step number 384. “It’s Melina Marchetta. Archer, you had better know who Melina Marchetta is.”
“First I heard of her was from Kat. I don’t understand why she has a temple though. My back is killing me. I’m going to get a migraine for sure now.” Archer’s face was red and sweaty. Steph and I weren’t doing to much better.
“Let’s. Just. Get. To the. Top!” I puffed as I took each step. The hot Australian sun blazed and baked the steps, reflecting the glare back into our faces. We reached the top and collapsed into a useless heap of gooey, sweaty human parts.
“It’s worth it. We’re meeting Melina Marchetta today guys. She’s so worth it,” I reminded them as I dragged myself to my feet. “C’mon! Up, up, up! We’re going to be late!”
“I hate you so much right now, Kat,” Archer said.
On our feet, we made our way to the entrance where the acolytes stood in flowing, soft robes. “Welcome, weary travelers,” one greeted, bowing her head and stepping forward. “When you have caught your breath you may meet the goddess herself in the gardens of Jellicoe Road next to the Alibrandi river.”
“We’re going to the where next to the what? Have you all gone mad? She’s just an author!”
The acolyte’s eyes widened in horror. “He’s not with us,” I quickly interrupted. “And I think he may be a little soft in the head,” I added for good measure.
“This way, please,” the acolyte said with a soft smile and a wink. “The goddess is waiting for you.”
We came through the spacious, luxurious temple and out into a cultivated garden where a woman sat sipping from a tall glass and looking remarkably ordinary in her surroundings. Unlike the acolytes she wore regular clothes which consisted of flat shoes, jeans, and a shirt. “Does she know she’s in a temple? Her temple?” Steph leaned over and asked me.
The acolyte stepped forward a little meekly. “Not quite,” she admitted with a hint of shame in her voice. “We invited her here under… less than honest pretenses. We asked her to speak at a health resort and requested that she holiday here afterwards.”
“You’re going to let her go, though, right?” Archer asked. “She’s not some kind of prisoner here, is she?”
The acolyte cleared her throat. “If you will proceed, we will transmit your questions to her.”
We approached across the lush lawn and Marchetta smiled at us from where she sat as we neared.
“Your gloriousness,” the acolyte said, bowing down to her knees, “Your interviewers are here.”
Steph and I collapsed to our knees in front of her.
Marchetta looked distinctly uncomfortable at our unadulterated worship.
“Marchetta will take your first question now,” the acolyte interrupted, stepping away just to the perimeter of the yard where dozens upon dozens other acolytes stood, basking in Marchetta’s glory.
“Um, okay,” I murmured, supremely uncomfortable. “Froi of the Exiles, working for Lumatere Queen and King to which he is fiercely loyal, is sent on a mission into rival nation, Charyn, that brings him into the life of princess Quintana. Froi did not start this series out as a typical, or particularly likable character. What was writing his story like? Did you worry people wouldn’t get him or be able to sympathize with him?”
Marchetta smiled as her eyes dodged to the people surrounding her.
“I know for sure that I didn’t have huge plans for Froi when I started writing Finnickin of the Rock because I would never have named a leading character “Froi”. More importantly, I would never have included that scene in the barn with Evanjalin. When I started thinking of the sequel I knew I’d lose readers because of both Froi’s past deeds, and because of his relationship with a character as broken as Quintana. So I did all I could to explore his redemption and to ensure that his past actions shaped the person he becomes three years on. All I can hope for is that readers made their own decision about who he is in Froi of the Exiles. I don’t know whether people are capable of such great redemption in real life, but tend to write what I hope for.”
Archer nudged me when she finished. My mouth hung open and I wiped some drool from my face.
Steph woke up from a daze of worship as well and checked her pad for the next question. “Quintana is an incredibly troubled, tormented character and her life story seems to be one tragedy after another. Was it difficult or painful to write her experiences and trials?”
Marchetta thought for a minute before replying. “The strange comfort about being the writer is that I know where the novels are heading, and I know the characters are ultimately going to be okay. The reader, of course, doesn’t know and I forget that too often. I remember my agent reading the first hundred pages of The Piper’s Son and telling me how concerned she was for Tom and I thought, why? He’s going to be fine.” Marchetta said, taking a deep breath and sip of her drink. “Quintana was a bit different because her abuse was sexual and physical. Trust me, you don’t go into the rape of a character lightly and I was determined not to give details. It’s why I wrote it from the point of view of someone who witnesses it, rather than Quintana who experiences it. What Froi witnesses is who he once was as a victim of sexual violence himself, and who he could have become as a perpetrator if he hadn’t met good people who challenged his moral code. So that scene is a game changer. The hardest scene I had to write concerning Quintana was the would-be hanging because I wanted to tap into what would be going through someone’s head if they knew they were going to die. I was determined she would not go quietly.”
“And Quintana as a character?” Stephanie pressed.
“As a character she confused me for a long time. She lived in my head for about a year before I wrote her and one moment she was indignant and somewhat innocent, and other times she was so cold and cutting. So she came to me in fragments. Now, of course, it makes sense why she came to me that way. I remember the frustration before I left to go overseas to research Froi of the Exiles. I only truly understood who Quintana was literally the day before I boarded the plane. I remember being so excited about how powerful her spirit was, but I was scared I would not be able to control her. If I had to choose my best writing in Quintana of Charyn, it’s a chapter near the end when we get the most lucid Quintana. Every time I read it in an edit, I feel so satisfied that I achieved more than I set out to do.”
“I have a question,” Archer interrupted. “Do you want us to break you out of here or something?”
Marchetta opened her mouth to answer when a cough sounded from behind her. She shut her mouth quickly and forced a polite smile on her face.
The acolytes shifted uncomfortably and there was a sense of apprehension and agitation building between them so I signaled for Steph to press on. “Your representation of female characters has been exemplary in every book, Froi is not a deviation from this. Is this from conscious application or is it organic for you?”
Marchetta’s smile became a little more genuine as she replied, “Thank you. That’s very important for me. The girls feel as if they are organic, but I know they come from that place of constructing people who I want existing in this world. The hardest characters to write are those like Phaedra and Beatriss and Narnie Schroeder and Justine Kalinsky. Because they are so kind and gentle and good. In real life you want those people in your world, but in a novel you have to make sure they don’t disappear on the page. So I do that cruel thing of thrusting change on them and watch how they react to it all and they end up being my favourite characters.”
Steph had her pad out and and written a quick note. “Nod if you want out of here.” She held the note out of view of the acolytes and low enough for Marchetta to read as she asked her next question. “How do you process and handle the myriad of emotions your characters experience and feel – and that you, in turn, write? Do you find they affect you?”
Marchetta nodded very circumspectly before answering the question. “The hardest time was The Piper’s Son but that was only because some pretty sad things were happening around me. I started writing that novel knowing it was about sadness and grief and upheaval, and of course the next couple of years in my life was about sadness and grief and upheaval. If things had happened the other way round I don’t know whether I would have written it.”
“Wow…” I murmured, transfixed.
“There’s a trend in my work that the darker the events in people’s lives, the stronger the humour and I think it’s my way of coping. The Finch-Mackees were such fantastic characters to have in my head because I found them so funny. Same with Arjuro and even Froi and at times Gargarin. I didn’t realize how much I regretted the sadness I introduced in Jellicoe until I had to revisit it for the film script. I wish I could go back and save everyone’s life but I’m not allowed to anymore. The final time I read the Jellicoe script before handing it in to a funding body, I cried for the last twenty pages.”
“Are you crying, Kat?” Steph asked.
“No…” I replied, wiping my eyes because there was something in them. “You?”
Steph gripped my hand in empathy and passed the pad to Archer so that he could ask a question. Archer stared at the pad and scrunched his nose as he read. “Is there a character in Froi you connected with more than the others? One whose struggles spoke to you more? Like say the struggle to escape a creepy temple filled with weirdos who might not ever let you go?”
“I’m always interested in people, real or fictional, who were never meant to lead, but circumstances force them to. Lucian would have been one of those grunting males if not for his father’s death and he’s pretty awful to begin with. He’s a racist towards the Charynites and he treats Phaedra and the valley dwellers so badly to begin with, but he discovers compassion and empathy because he’s forced to listen and be a bridge between people. He reminds me a lot of the character of Tom in The Piper’s Son. They’re both the same age and are sons of charismatic leaders. They both do the wrong thing by the women they love and they both lead their families or people back on the road to normalcy.“
“Ah Lucian…” I sighed.
“And of course, the Queen of Lumatere and her Consort. I was very careful about them when I was writing FotExiles, because their love is so strong but their relationship is so fraught with conflict. Finnikin is seen as inferior by some Lumaterans because he’s the Consort and she’s the Queen. Plus he has issues with the bond she has with Froi. Plus he doesn’t like sharing her, even with their daughter. She, in turn, senses something’s wrong and questions whether he’s happy with them in the palace, and so on and so forth. They’re quite a fragile couple despite appearances. Their scenes in Quintana of Charyn are pretty raw emotionally and I put them through a lot, but I still believe their relationship is the core to the entire series. They are a powerful force together.”
She emphasized the last line and looked at us meaningfully. The acolytes behind us muttered and grew unsettled.
“I wish I’d brought Tabitha with me,” Archer murmured under his breath.
“I may have brought some smoke bombs…” I admitted.
“What? Why?” Steph asked.
“I wanted to show off that new disappearing trick…” I admitted. Steph and Archer rolled their eyes in disbelief while I handed each of them a bomb while trying to hide my activities from the acolytes.
“The cover for Froi of the Exiles has been very positively received, how did you feel when you first saw it?” Steph asks.
“That cover has made me feel like a perve. It’s beautiful. I had given my editor and designer a vague idea of what I would like to have seen and Zach Ahern, the model and photographer, appeared in my inbox one day. There’s a scene in Quintana of Charyn where Froi gets etched, so it works even more. And I really love the US cover of Froi. I’m not a big fan of seeing an entire face, but I think there is something so strong and sinister and appealing about it. He’s the Froi of Part 2 masquerading as Olivier of Sebastabol,” Marchetta replied, fanning herself a little.
I felt an ache in my chest, knowing that our interview would be over soon.
“You created a wonderfully imaginative world for this series. Was it challenging to craft their world considering your other novels, previous to the Lumatere Chronicles, were contemporary?” I asked.
“The fantasy world has to live inside my head for a long time before I commit it to paper (or computer screen). There were certain parts that I was working out right until the last minute, especially when it came to setting and curses. After spending so much time world building Froi of the Rock, I remember finishing first draft of The Piper’s Son and reassuring my publisher that I’d work on the setting the next draft. She pointed out that there was nothing to work at. That’s because I live near Tom’s neighbourhood and I know it well. Fantasy is different. Lumatere and Charyn look very European or middle eastern and Sydney Australian doesn’t.”
“No it does not!” I agreed.
Marchetta smiled and continued. “And then there are the details. If I could write a fantasy novel without a battle scene I’d be the happiest person in the world. In the first draft of Quintana of Charyn I wrote something along the lines of “The surrender was swift”. My US editor advised me gently that people may want to see the battle or realize that one actually took place. That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but almost true. It’s so difficult trying to explain the sounds and sights of battle without the clichés, and of course the battle isn’t important in Quintana of Charyn. The surrender is. But I knew I had to include it, so I cheated and had Froi losing his hearing in the midst of it all. In that way, I just had to concentrate on the visual. And it worked beautifully and one day I’ll tell people that’s exactly how it was always planned.”
The leader of the acolytes approached, causing a shiver of fear to work its way through Steph, Archer and I. She lifted the veil off her face and looked at us serenely, but with definite authority. “Perhaps you should ask one more question and then finish your interview. The great Marchetta needs her rest.” We gulped and nodded as the woman retreated across the yard.
“How has it been for you to see the fan reaction for Finnikin of the Rock and now Froi of the Exiles?” I asked, my voice broke a little and I fidgeted with my pen, trying to express the full meaning of my question.
She took a deep breath, putting her glass down gently on the table and sitting up more in her chair. “Pretty extraordinary. I don’t think I write the type of books that fly off the shelves and I’ve come to accept that, so all I can hope for is that more people discover my work. I don’t know where the fantasy novels would have ended up if not for my readership. I think back to my first novel finding its place in the world because of word of mouth. The same has happened with the Lumatere Chronicles. The mainstream press has less space each year for genre novels so I’m grateful for the talk online and the hand selling in independent bookstores. My readership, whether they came through Alibrandi, Jellicoe or the fantasy novels, is very loyal. They may not like all my stuff, but most will give me another chance with the next novel.” At this point she stopped and said loudly, a little in the direction of the acolytes, “The fun part is the events. I’m going to Com Con in San Diego in July and there’s a few other places here and there including Sydney and Melbourne and Canberra and fingers crossed for Perth and Brisbane in September.“
“I’d say it’s about time we got you to those events,” suggested Steph. Her game face was on as she turned to Archer.
“It’s about to go down!” he agreed, cracking his neck.
“In that case,” I added. “We’d better book it!” I threw down my smoke bomb as Archer and Steph did. Marchetta led the way through the yard as the Acolytes screamed and tried to give chase through the smoke.
“I wish this were the most insane thing we’d ever done!” I yelled over the noise. “Thanks for the interview!” I shouted to Marchetta who ran beside me.
She huffed and waved me off. “I tend to over speak so please feel free to cut it down!” she yelled back.
“Not on your life!” Steph replied as a cry rang out behind us.
“Seriously?” Archer asked. “What is it with Marchetta?”
“You’ll just have to read to find out!” Steph replied.
And that’s how we ended up breaking Melina Marchetta out from a crazy cult of obsessed fans. After that we had pie. It was great.
We want to give a huge thank you to Melina Marchetta for the interview. We had a blast busting you out of your temple!
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://cuddlebuggery.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/melina-marchetta.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Melina Marchetta’s first novel Looking For Alibrandi was published in 1992 and was released as a film in 2000 which she also wrote. She taught secondary school English and History for ten years during which time she released her second novel Saving Francesca followed by On the Jellicoe Road. In 2006 she left teaching to become a full time writer. Her first fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock was published in 2008 and in 2010 The Piper’s Son, a companion novel to Saving Francesca was released. She has written a children’s book, The Gorgon in the Gully, as part of the Puffin Pocket Money series. Her novels have been published in 17 languages. Melina lives in Sydney where she writes full time.
Don’t forget to check out Quintana of Charyn when it releases September 26th 2012 (AUS) and March 12th 2013 (US)
Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi must travel through Charyn to search for Quintana, the mother of Charyn’s unborn king, and protect her against those who will do anything to gain power. But what happens when loyalty to family and country conflict? When the forces marshalled in Charyn’s war gather and threaten to involve the whole of the land, including Lumatere, only Froi can set things right, with the help of those he loves.
We are giving away one signed paperback of Quintana of Charyn courtesy of Melina Marchetta.
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