Marissa Doyle graduated from Bryn Mawr College intending to be an archaeologist, but she somehow got distracted. When not writing historical YA and fantasy for adults and kids, she's sailing on Cape Cod, quilting, or collecting 19th century fashion prints. She lives in her native Massachusetts with her family, an alarming number of research books, and a highly opinionated fourteen-pound lop-eared rabbit who shares her fondness for coffee and dark chocolate. She is the author of the young adult historical fantasies Bewitching Season, Betraying Season, and Courtship and Curses.
Where did you grow up? North Dartmouth, Massachusetts-a former sleepy dairy town now paved with malls where cows once grazed. Very sad, but at least there's now a large Barnes & Noble amongst the malls as well as a fabulous independent bookstore, Baker Books.
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
My earliest book-related memory is my older sister teaching me to read when I was four; we used to play school, and she taught me then with her old Dick and Jane readers. By the time I was six I'd read The Andromeda Strain because I was in love with science fiction and space travel (I thought Neil Armstrong's walking on the moon two days after my sixth birthday was a lovely present). Of course, I didn't understand most of it, but I still read the whole darned book. Fortunately all my family were readers and saw nothing wrong with me attempting it.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
My first book, written in pencil when I was seven and complete with illustrations, was entitled Geraldine's Halloween and was a about a young scoffer named Geraldine who wore prissy pink dresses and didn't believe in Halloween. She ended up being sacrificed to the Halloween gods for her impiety. There were a lot of scowling jack o' lanterns in it as I recall, as well as some irate-looking witches and vampires with blood-spattered chins and a ghost or two. I think I wrote it because second-grade me was tired of rainbows and kittens and fluffiness in children's books-I wanted something dark and big and scary to grapple with. Now I tend to write stories with happy endings. Go figure.
But maybe it isn't so strange. I think kids are braver readers than a lot of adults. Kids use books to learn about the world, to test it and taste it, while adults often use books to escape from it.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
Sort of, I think...what I think is that I still have an inner teen somewhere who remembers every agony and every giddy happiness and how it felt to be wise and semi-mature one moment and utterly, utterly stupid the next. There was a lot of me in Persy in Bewitching Season-her earnest desire to melt into the woodwork and be allowed to stay home and bury herself in books and not have to talk to strangers.
What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
I spent fourth grade reading Laura Ingalls Wilder over and over again, and sixth grade alternately re-reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Edgar Allan Poe. While the Poe didn't particularly stick, I think Blackbird Pond and Little House have-which is why I love to add in the details of daily life in my historical fiction.
What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
Making things. I have a strong drive to create, so when I'm not writing I'm quilting or knitting or needle-pointing or reupholstering furniture or sewing. And I also love old stuff, so I collect early 19th century fashion prints and dance cards, and certain types of china and glass. And when I'm not doing that I'm catering to the whims of Maple, our pet rabbit, who is litter-box trained and has the run of our house. He sleeps under my bed and begs for carrots at the dinner table, and is a thoroughly adored family member. There are pictures of him on my website.
Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
I LOVE Van Reid's Moosepath League books-they're splendidly witty and have a delightful 19th century feeling to them without that 19th century turgidity of style. They're what you'd get if you crossed Charles Dickens with Mark Twain. I'm also a disgustingly slobbery fan-girl of SF author Connie Willis, who can be both extraordinarily funny and extraordinarily moving, often in the same story. Read To Say Nothing of the Dog for the former and Passage for the latter, and Doomsday Book because it's both funny and moving and an amazing evocation of the totally foreign, different mind-set of medieval people.
What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Read! Read all you can, in all genres (even ones you're not very fond of) AND non-fiction. Re-read books and think about what you loved or hated about them and how they accomplished what they did. It's the absolute best way to assimilate a strong vocabulary and acquire an intuitive sense of how narrative works.