Monday, May 27

Guest Interview: Melissa F Olson, Author of Trail of Dead

E.M. Powell: I’ve been a guest blogger for a number of great sites. But today I get to host a guest on mine for the first time. Most of you will probably be expecting an author of historical fiction, because my novel The Fifth Knight is in that genre. But of course The Fifth Knight is also a thriller and I love my thrillers. So I’m delighted that my first guest is also a thriller/mystery writer who writes urban fantasy. Welcome, Melissa F Olson, author of Trail of Dead!

Melissa F Olson: Thank you very much! I’m happy to be here. I think it’s so much fun when you can combine a thriller plot with other genres or settings.

EMP.  So tell us, what’s Trail of Dead about?

MFO: Trail of Dead follows the story of Scarlett Bernard, a young woman in LA who has a unique ability: She nullifies supernatural powers. If a magically inclined creature like a vampire or a werewolf gets close to her, they revert back to human. In my world, vampires are dead during the day, and werewolves struggle with their inner beast, which makes Scarlett’s ability a unique commodity to the supernatural. She also makes her living cleaning up supernatural crime scenes, so she has strong ties to the magical community even though what she does is basically undoing magic.

EMP: But this isn’t the first time we meet your kick-ass heroine, Scarlett Bernard, is it?

MFO. Nope, Trail of Dead is the sequel to Dead Spots, which was published in October 2012 and introduced Scarlett and her world. Dead Spots opens with Scarlett arriving late to a grisly crime scene, and getting caught by a police officer who eventually blackmails her into helping him solve the crime. The two of them work together again in Trail of Dead.

EMP. I love her name. What inspired it? Did she have any other names before you settled on this one?

MFO: Thank you! Names are important to me – almost every name in my books has some significance, even if it’s just a private one in my head.  When I was casting about for a name for my lead character, I wanted a name that was unique, strong, and sort of badass. The series originally had a somewhat different setup, with a heroine whose superpower was finding lost things or people. Her name was Runa, short for Aliruna, a Norse goddess who found lost things. I came up with Runa’s whole character, but never felt like I could connect with her. I kept tinkering, and came up with my current protagonist, Scarlett Bernard.  “Scarlett” is often associated with the stubborn, melodramatic heroine of Gone With the Wind, but the Scarlett in my own life was actually a two-year-old, the daughter of one of my closest friends. Even at two this Scarlett was terrifyingly strong-willed, unpredictable, and independent-minded. She’s almost five now, but I’m still in awe/somewhat afraid of that little girl. I named my protagonist Scarlett in honor of her, and the second I had the name, it was like I knew the character. I didn’t completely retire Runa, though – she pops up in Trail of Dead as a foil for Scarlett’s love interest, Jesse!

EMP. Mini-Scarlett sounds amazing! And I know what you mean about name significance- I do the same with my characters. As a historical writer, I have to do a lot of research to make sure I’m being as true to the time period as I can. You write paranormal. Do you have to devote a lot of time and effort to world-building in the same way?

MFO. Oh, yes! Worldbuilding is the most complicated, frustrating, wonderfully fun part of writing urban fantasy, because your reader’s enjoyment of the book depends entirely on how much they’re willing to suspend their disbelief. I think you have to mix in believable, logical information when you create new worlds, because it gives the reader an anchor. Before I wrote a word of Dead Spots I sat down and wrote a sort of blueprint of the way magic works in Scarlett’s world, and how it adhered itself to evolutionary processes that ended up creating these creatures we know and love. I eventually posted the blueprint on my website, so my readers can use it as a reference just like I do.

EMP. Have other writers/TV shows/movies given you ideas? Where else do you get your ideas from?

MFO. I think Scarlett owes a lot to Buffy, of course. I try to bring some of Buffy’s attitude to the character, just in the way she approaches really tough situations: with a “let’s go to work” sigh and a quip. My protagonist is emotionally quite damaged, which I loved in urban fantasy series like Jim Butcher’s and Rob Thurman’s. And I often get structural elements from works I admire. For example, I read a really cool twist ending in one of Thurman’s books, and wanted to try it out with Dead Spots. I’ve always liked the movie Batman Returns because I think it does a really neat job balancing two villains, which I did in Trail of Dead. In both of those cases it was like seeing someone perform a really neat skateboard trick and decide you want to try it yourself: you might fall on your butt, but you might also make it your own. Hopefully I pull off the latter.

EMP: Hey, we have a genre collision- actor Anthony Head was ace in Buffy- and he showed up as Uther Pendragon in the BBC Merlin series!
Anthony Head + Chainmail. Welcome to my world!

EMP: Being a writer is very strange profession. We essentially lock ourselves away and make up stories in our heads about imaginary friends. My imaginary friends have chain mail, yours have fangs and excess body hair. What do your family and friends think about what you do?

MFO: The locking-yourself-away thing is one of the reasons I’ve come to enjoy conferences, readings, and signings so much – getting to actually go out and talk about these things that have just been exploding out of your head is so refreshing. I’m also extremely lucky in this area because I have a remarkable support structure who backs me up every step of the way. My husband is my biggest fan, which sounds sappy but is completely true. He gets more excited about where the books are going than I do! My sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my grandparents all come to my signings and talk up my books whenever possible. The urban fantasy genre throws them off a bit sometimes – mostly my family reads John Sandford and James Patterson – but they would cheer me on if I was writing, for example, an index to the New York City yellow pages. I always say I’d probably be a much better writer if I didn’t have such a great family, because a lot of great writing comes from terrible childhoods, but I still wouldn’t trade my family for anything!

EMP: And then of course there’s our readers, the people who buy our stories of imaginary friends. You’ve had some terrific reader reviews for the first Scarlett Bernard novel, Dead Spots. Do you read your reviews? Do bad reviews bother you?

MFO: Oh, boy. Yes and yes. I try not to read the reviews, but it’s so hard to stay away. As a writer, getting a book published can be a long, difficult process, and the whole goal is to simply put your book in front of other people – so when it finally does get published, it’s hard not to wonder what everyone thinks. But I’m the kind of person who never really processes compliments, but agonizes over every criticism, so reading reviews aren’t always healthy for me. The silly thing is that a lot of reviews will complain about something that the very next review praises, so you can make yourself crazy trying to please everyone.  I do my best not to let my reviews on a past book influence my work on a new book, but it can be quite difficult.

EMP: Historical writers (nearly) always get asked which historical figure they would like to meet. So, as a writer of urban fantasy: if you could choose for a day, would you choose to be a vampire or a werewolf? And why did you make your choice? (I know- completely unfair last question!)

MFO: Can I have the historical figure question instead? Just kidding. Within my own books’ mythology, I think I’d actually prefer to be a witch. They lead the most normal lives, while still wielding magical powers. If I had to choose between vampire or werewolf, though, I’d probably go with werewolf. The third Scarlett Bernard novel will focus heavily on the werewolf world, and I’ve been doing a lot of research lately into real wolves’ pack behaviours and interactions. I’m pretty confident that I could fit right into a wolf pack at this point!

EMP: Melissa, thanks for stopping by! It’s been an absolute pleasure.

MFO: Thank you! I’m so glad we could do this.

Trail of Dead is published by 47North on 04 June 2013 and is available for pre-order here. In the exciting sequel to the paranormal thriller Dead Spots, scrappy Scarlett Bernard must track down her old mentor and use her supernatural gift to stop a killer who is leaving dead witches throughout Los Angeles.

We also have a giveaway! Melissa is offering a free copy chosen at random. To enter, leave a comment on this post. The winner will be chosen at random. Post your comment by 09 June 2013 to be eligible to enter.
Author Melissa F. Olson

Melissa F. Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood studio system, Melissa moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, two kids, and two comically oversize dogs—not at all in that order. She is the author of Dead Spots and Trail of Dead.


  1. I feel like I've been waiting forever for Trail of Dead to come out. I can't wait until next Tuesday so I can finally get my hands on it!

  2. I have been a bit slack lately with checking out your blog but I'm glad that I did because Scarlett sounds like my kinda gal and I'm going to order "Dead Spots" and "Trail Of The Dead" asap.


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