How do you pronounce your name?
And thank you for asking! It’s always a little traumatizing when someone addresses you as “Makiia Lucifer” or “Makita Loser.”
What inspired you to write A Death-Struck Year?
I’ve always loved historical fiction and coming-of-age novels. Anne of Green Gables was a childhood favorite. And ever since I watched Charlton Heston (aka Ben-Hur) discover his poor family in the Valley of the Lepers, I have been fascinated by plagues. The Black Death, Hansen’s Disease, cholera epidemics, the Spanish influenza, and how they wiped out whole families-whole communities even-just like that.
A Death-Struck Year evolved over many drafts, but the premise remained the same. I wanted to know what would happen if I took a young woman-a perfectly ordinary teenager wondering what life had in store for her after graduation-and brought the Spanish Influenza to her city. What would she do?
I also write about inspiration and story ideas here.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I didn’t. I went to graduate school because I wanted to be a librarian. Specifically, I wanted to be Nancy Pearl. I think she’s awesome. But after two years of studying literature for children and young adults, ideas started running through my brain in a never ending loop. A pretty girl driving a Ford. An angry exchange with a soldier. Mt. Hood in the background. A flu epidemic.
Finally, to quiet the voices in my head, I drove to Office Depot. I picked up some pencils, bought a few notebooks, and thought, How hard can it be? I still laugh when I think about it.
How much research was involved?
A great deal of it. I was familiar with the Portland area, having lived in Eugene for over a decade. But that knowledge was mostly limited to Powell’s Books and the Starbucks across the street from Nordstrom.
I started by reading everything I could on Spanish influenza and on how Americans lived, ate, and dressed in 1918. At the Oregon Historical Society, I pored over old pictures, maps, newspaper articles, postcards-anything I could get my hands on. I tracked down a 1918 timetable from a train museum in California, downloaded Census records, found a book that showed me how to change the gas on a 1917 Ford Model T.
I also spent time just wandering around, getting a feel for the city. I visited the Skidmore Fountain, the Central Library, Union Station, the historic district of King’s Hill. Also Yamhill Street, where the old Public Market once stood. Researching a work of historical fiction is an addictive process, and I’m grateful for my agent and editor deadlines, because otherwise I’d still be at it.
Where and when do you write?
When I’m disciplined, I write almost every day in an old blue chair in my office. Even when I have no inspiration (which happens more often than I care to admit), I force myself to sit there and stare at a notebook with a pencil in my hand. Usually I’ll end up writing something, even if it’s junk. I try to tell myself that it’s okay if it’s junk. That’s what editing is for. I feel uneasy when I skip this routine, as if I’m playing hooky, although no one knows it but me. I know it. And so rather than feel guilty, it’s just easier to write.
On a related note, click here for a horrible, graphic example of my writer’s block.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Besides writing and reading, I think it’s important to keep your eyes on your own work. Everywhere you look, someone is signing a book deal, signing deals for multiple books, while you’re just a chump with a half-finished draft and little else. It’s easy to become discouraged. Keep your head down. Keep writing. Finish your story. For most people, writing a good story takes time and patience and a little faith.
What are some of your favorite books?
I keep a list of favorite books here on Goodreads.
What are some of your favorite movies?
Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Pride & Prejudice (the BBC version with Colin Firth), The Painted Veil, Master and Commander, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Shawshank Redemption, Cinderella Man, Road to Perdition…and Rocky IV, of course. Can’t forget that one.
Can I purchase a signed copy of your book?
Sure. Click here for more information on ordering a signed copy through my local bookstore, BookPeople of Moscow.