“Lady Madonna” first appeared in 1991 in the anthology Obsessions, edited by Gary Raisor, and it won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Story that year. It’s a little tough for a parent to read, particularly a relatively new one like me . . . So I’m almost afraid to ask: What inspired it?
The title is a riff off the Beatles song title. I’m not sure what inspired it, to be honest, although I do remember looking at images of the sorrowing Virgin Mary and thinking, “Why didn’t she fight for him?” A Catholic friend replied, “Because she believed.” This question of a mom-who-fights came back to me when I was working in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. I kept imagining myself as Joyce out there with a bazooka. Joyce packed Buffy a sandwich; I would have packed her some hand grenades.
When I wrote “Lady Madonna,” I didn’t have a daughter yet, but I wanted one. Some of my friends were so overprotective of their children that I just spun the story out to the extreme. But I did feel that some of them were going to have a hard time cutting the apron strings when the time came.
In this story, you go to some dark places on hot-button topics like religion, motherhood, and mental health. Aside from the award and reprints, what feedback have you received from readers about “The Lady Madonna” over the years?
Mostly people just look at me and say, “But you seem so nice.” This happens to me a lot. In the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program, where I’ve taught for eight years, I have the reputation as “the nice one.” Nice Nancy. Sheesh. I think people are a little nervous discussing it with me to my face. I think it freaks them out that I wrote it.
Did this story come to mind at all when you became a mom? Could you have written it after having your daughter?
I’ve never let this story wander very far from my mind. I’ve been approached several times about having a short story collection, and I’ve decided to wait until I’ve finished with my young adult contractual obligations. Many of my short stories are strong horror. I don’t want anyone else to be freaked out until I feel freer to freak them out.
Your most recent novel was the novelization of Crimson Peak. How awesome was that movie? (That isn’t the real question, but you can answer it if you like.) You’ve done media tie-in books before, but I believe this was your first adaptation. What was that process like, and what was it like to finally see the film?
I absolutely loved every moment of novelizing Crimson Peak. I saw the film at Legendary while I was working, and fell in love. Not all the special effects had been added at the time. It is so faithful to the Gothic canon that Guillermo del Toro drew inspiration from. He’s a horror-literate horror reader and fan. I was allowed to add a lot beyond the script. To me, it was a return to writing horror, and I am so grateful that I had this opportunity. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the experience.
In addition, two limited editions of my novel have been created and signed by Guillermo del Toro. They are absolutely stunning. I have never had such a beautiful edition of anything I’ve been in as the lettered edition (only twenty-six!) of Crimson Peak.
I novelized many, many Buffy episodes and also wrote many, many original Buffy/Angel projects. What surprised me about novelizing a movie was the need to add material—the average movie script simply isn’t long enough—so you go sideways and add or extend scenes. I never alter a scene from the script, however. I replicate what the script says exactly. I’m doing Ghostbusters right now, and I’m having a blast.
Do you have any particular rituals or habits that are either essential to writing or fuel your creativity?
I absolutely need coffee to get started. After that, all I need is my laptop and I’m good. I’m writing the answers to these questions in an airport. I’ll be writing on the plane. I can work anywhere.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now, and what else we can expect to see from you soon?
The paperback edition of the young adult teen horror thriller, The Rules (written with Debbie Viguie) will be out in June. Beauty and the Beast: Fire at Sea, an original novel based on the TV show Beauty and the Beast, will be out in May. Ghostbusters: The Official Movie Novelization will be out in time to coincide with the film, which releases in July.
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