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Cover art by
Greg Spalenka

How did you sell The Monster In Me?

I had spent about five years working seriously at getting published, starting with short stories in science fiction magazines, and then moving about a year later to children’s books, in part because I had a better writing group for my children’s books. (For the first several years, every month I came and read something new for the group and everyone said, “Wow, you’ve gotten much better.” At first I thought this a great compliment, but as it went on and on and on, I realized how far I had had to go).

That last year, I was very frustrated. I felt like I was on the cusp, and I kept getting personalized rejection letters from everyone I sent manuscripts to, but no one accepted any of them. Finally, I decided to work on an old manuscript that I had gotten comments from a friend on but hadn’t yet incorporated, rather than my strategy of writing new manuscripts to the tune of 6-8 a year. (It’s true—ask my agent. He’ll tell you how overwhelmed he was the first year).

So I worked on the manuscript, then prepared a query letter, a proposal, and the first three sample chapters to send out to anyone who had not yet seen the old manuscript. Holiday House was one of the houses on my list, but I didn’t have the name of their acquisitions editor. I suffer a bit from phone phobia, and didn’t have the courage to call up and ask for a name, so I sent it off to “Acquisitions Editor.” Three weeks later, I got a real name—Suzanne Reinoehl—and a request for the complete manuscripts. Three months after that, I got an offer.

Of course, I was delighted. But at that point, I also thought—about time!

I called an agent who was still looking at my work. (Ironically, The Monster In Me was not one of the manuscripts I had sent him). He asked for the weekend to read the manuscript and get back to me. When he did, that Monday, we talked for hours about my career, about the different genres in which I would like to write (including fantasy and science fiction), and decided we were a good fit.

He negotiated the deal after that.

Is Natalie Wills in The Monster In Me patterned on anyone in real life?

One of my good friends in high school is named Natalie Willis, and I borrowed her name, but the rest of Natalie’s life is fictional. If I patterned her on anyone, it was on myself. In junior high and the early years of high school, I felt acutely alone and detached from the rest of the world.

I should admit, though, that I had done very little running when I wrote the book. I imagined how great it would be if I didn’t have a bad knee, to run. It was only about two years after the publication of the book that a doctor recommended I run (a little) to help with my knee pain. And then I discovered how much I loved it.

Why is Frankenstein such an important theme in the book?

I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when I was a junior in high school, and I wrote my AP English essay on that book. I read the book again in college, when I was taking a class on the romantics of German literature. I loved the intricate frames of the story, the first person narratives that give you a sense of how different people all see the same events, and the loneliness of the monster (who has no name). I borrowed a lot of those ideas when I wrote the book, and I wanted to pay tribute to Mary Shelley’s genius at the same time. The Frankenstein movies? Well, I like those, too.

Why is the book set in the small town of Heber?

My husband and I went on our honeymoon there. We were very poor students and one of his family’s friends offered us a week in a converted gas station/cabin that was in Heber. We went and got snowed in. For some reason, the locale stuck in my head after that, and it seemed the kind of town a city girl would hate. I had fun going back and researching it. There really is a great shakes place called “Granny’s” there.

What did you think of the cover art when you first saw it?

I actually had to do a double take to notice the eyes at the bottom of the cover. When I saw that, I fell in love with the cover. It is so subtly done, but it gets at the heart of the book, about running away.

What do you think of the ending?

I was aware when I wrote the book that the policy of the Division of Child and Family Services in Utah is to put families back together. That is the primary goal, not necessarily the child’s welfare, although I am sure officials would argue that the family being stable is the best way for a child to be happy and secure. Probably the two coincide a lot, but not always.

Do I think it is a happy ending? Not really. But it’s a real ending. Natalie hasn’t given up on her mother yet. I don’t know that the next chapter in the book will be Natalie and her mother living happily ever after. It’s entirely possible that Natalie will end up back in Heber in another month or so. I like to leave that sort of thing up to the reader.

Why is the mother such a bad cook?

In the early drafts of this novel, a friend pointed out that the foster family seemed too perfect. I had to add in a few flaws, and that was one of my own. I’m not a great cook. I bake well, but my dinners leave something to be desired. Ask my kids. They will tell you the truth.

Don’t you think it’s a bit of a coincidence that all of the people Natalie meets turn out to be runners?

I don’t, actually. There are a lot of runners around. It just depends on what you’re looking for. When I lived in my old house in Orem, the man down the street was training along with three of his kids for a marathon. I thought they were crazy. Then I loved to my current house, and decided to run a marathon myself. Suddenly, I noticed all of the runners around.

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Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2007 all rights reserved.
Last revised December 24, 2007.