This week we’re revealing the cover for Lazarus, a YA paranormal thriller our acquisitions manager has dubbed “Veronica Mars…with a ghost sidekick.” It’s a vibe we love, but of course the story is more complex than that, with complicated families, a heartbreaking romance, love, loss, suspense, and intrigue.
Before we introduce the cover though, we wanted to spend a little time getting to know the lovely author, playwright, screenwriter, and producer Maryanne Melloan Woods.
Maryanne, can you tell us a bit about Lazarus?
Lazarus is the story of Margo and Hank, teen detectives in tiny, god-forsaken Lazarus, Nebraska. Margo and Hank, 16 and 17, have a profoundly deep relationship; the only hitch is that Hank has been dead for two months. The pair team up to solve a local murder, with Margo doing the every day gumshoe work and the late Hank spying on suspects unseen. At the same time, Margo’s trying to solve the cold case of her mother’s murder seven years ago. As Margo’s quest becomes more perilous, Hank will try to protect her, anguished that he can’t do more as Margo finally battles the sinister forces that killed her mother.
Rewinding for a minute, the idea for Lazarus came to me in the form of an image: a teen girl surrounded by the bleak, harvested cornfields of her prairie hometown, grimly intent on solving a murder. I knew that the girl had better instincts than all the adults around her, including her police chief father. I also knew that she had a love of funky thrift store fashion and that—at only 16—she had a very deep relationship with her charmingly wise-ass boyfriend, but that something had happened to keep them apart.
I was working in tv when I had the idea, so Lazarus started out as a tv pilot. It got me a lot of meetings around Hollywood, but ultimately didn’t get picked up. But I couldn’t let go of the story; it really resonated with me. So I turned my attentions to YA fiction.
Did you have a set outline for the story or were there things that surprised you as you wrote?
With every project I write, I outline and outline and then outline some more 🙂 I have to know the progression of every scene or chapter before I can start fleshing it out. That said, important elements definitely changed from the outline to the writing process with Lazarus. Most importantly, this is a whodunit, and I realized I had picked the wrong perpetrator! So, back to ANOTHER outline, and then the story flowed more smoothly. Everything clicked into place.
You’re a screenwriter and a playwright too. How are novel writing, screenwriting and playwriting similar or different?
In a larger sense, they’re actually not that different. I always think in terms of three acts, a structural form that goes back to Aristotle, and I found it worked well for writing a novel too. In “Act One,” which is usually about the first quarter of a story, you’re setting up your characters and story and getting the reader/audience involved. You’re also beginning the journey of the protagonist, something they’ll pursue until the story’s conclusion. In the middle section or Act Two, their journey becomes more and more challenging, with many setbacks and adversaries. The last act of a story is a build to the climax of the piece, in which your protagonist finally battles their toughest opponent. This form works in any genre: mystery, comedy, sci-fi, what-have-you. It’s what readers/audiences want and expect from a story.
That said, there are certain differences between script and novel writing. Most obviously, scripts rely heavily on the dialogue between characters. In a novel you’re telling the story directly to the reader, which is a more intimate form of writing. Also, in this form, I had to learn to describe characters and places in more detail; in script-writing, much of that is left up to the casting director or set designer.
What are you most excited for readers to experience in Lazarus?
The depth of Margo and Hank’s relationship, which gives a romantic element to the story. But most of all, I suppose, the twists and turns of the mystery. I hope it’s a ride that keeps readers guessing!
If your book were to be made into a movie or series, who would you cast as the main characters?
Oh, this is fun for a novelist to think about. Let’s see: I’m a fan of Millie Bobby Brown on Stranger Things. I think she’d make a great Margo. I think Cole Sprouse has both a strong presence and great sense of humor, which would work well for Hank. I could see Felix Mallard from Happy Together as the handsome, brooding Boyd. And I think Peyton Elizabeth Lee would make a good, funny Delia.
What are you most proud of so far in your writing career?
You know, making my way through the Hollywood funhouse as I pursued my tv writing career was not easy, so I’m proud of that. But I can honestly say that—as far as a single piece of writing goes—I’m proudest of Lazarus. Much of my career has been in writing comedy for tv and theater, which is certainly a skill that needs to be learned and honed. But I found I had to dig extra deep to write a YA thriller, using every element of craft I’d ever learned plus learning new ones that suited the genre. Also, I lost my mother while I was writing Lazarus, which I think broke my heart open to a deeper place than I’d ever written from before. Creative writing became a kind of therapy, with an authenticity that hopefully goes from my heart straight to the reader’s. I even named Margo’s mom after mine. So for all those reasons and more, Lazarus will always be a very special project to me.
Thank you so much, Maryanne! It’s fun to learn more about you, and we can’t wait for readers to see the cover this Friday, and fall in love with Margo and Hank a little later this year!
She has taught screenwriting at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York, UCLA and the American Film Institute, and served as a panelist for TV writing seminars at NYU and the University of Wisconsin. Maryanne was also a mentor/teacher for The Unusual Suspects, a playwriting workshop for at-risk teens in L.A.