With Your Bare Hands: Interview with Marie D’Abreo
Marie D’Abreo loves chatting with anyone who can make a decent cup of tea, so I lucked out and got an interview with this author and illustrator, whose new book, Lost in Guyville, a graphic novel for ages 11 and up, just came out in May. Marie loves connecting with other artists, writers, and comic admirers of all kinds. Originally from England, she is an author and illustrator who made her home in San Francisco around the turn of the millennium.
Kristy Lin Billuni: This book is about a twentysomething woman, but I feel like I could share it with my pre-teen niece too. Would it appeal to a younger audience?
Marie D’Abreo: Definitely. It deals with relationship dilemmas, self-expression and emotional angst. Any sexual references and imagery are intentionally kept on the tame side, so it’s suitable for girls who are curious about grown-up life.
KLB: Can you talk about your main character a little, describe her?
MD: She’s girl-next-door attractive, yet she has a spunky, quirky side. I think a lot of women will be able to relate to her, as well as the experience of getting distracted by romantic relationships and losing sight of larger goals. I had quite a bit of material to draw upon there.
KLB: Tell us about the story.
MD: Alex is starting to make her way in the world after college. She’s exploring relationships with the guys in her life but she values her independence too. She also has a strong desire to express herself so her cubicle job isn't cutting it, and she’s juggling a ragtag bunch of female friends and roommates.
KLB: I am in love with Alex.
MD: Thanks! I wanted to create a female character that felt real. She doesn’t have it all together, she has self-doubt and loses her way at times, but she does have some self-esteem.
KLB: She is very real to me, very human.
MD: Her imperfections were important to me because I feel there are a lot of female leads out there that are either completely self-deprecating or, conversely, unrealistically tough or beautiful.
KLB: Can you talk a little more about the inspiration?
MD: The book was inspired by my years in Minnesota and my experiences in the world of dating as well as the workplace. It was also quite nostalgic to draw many of the old haunts. For example, The Loring Cafe has since closed, but with the help of Google I was able to recreate it from memory.
KLB: Does Alex symbolize or stand for someone in particular in your mind?
MD: Alex represents the ordinary girl, even her body is ‘average’. I think no matter who we are, we have a part of us that feels that way.
KLB: When did you originally think of the concept?
MD: The idea was hatched over a year ago, but it evolved a lot.
KLB: Ooh, what did it look like originally?
MD: It was set in Silicon Valley and the lead was male, but he ended up as a secondary character – Alex’s friend.
KLB: That is a lot different from the final story. What changed next?
MD: I felt it would be fun to set the time period back in the ‘90s when I went to art college in Minneapolis.
KLB: What was it about that time and place that sparked for you?
MD: I had similar life experiences to draw upon and I thought the weather would make a nice backdrop to the storyline. If nothing else, I didn't have to draw cell phones and texting, which can get quite dull!
KLB: So how long did you work on the project?
MD: Once the story was developed, the book took about eight months to create. I made this book while there was a seismic retrofit going on right underneath my apartment. I get extra points for that, don’t I?
KLB: Yes, you do. How do you stick with a project for that long?
MD: The main thing is to never wait to ‘get in the mood’ for writing. You have to get on with it.
KLB: What have you learned from working on a third book?
MD: With each new book you make, you trust your creative intuition more.
KLB: What was harder about this project, compared to, say, Beautiful?
MD: I struggled more with external challenges (like building construction noise or physical pain) than with the creative process this time around.
KLB: How do you get close to your characters?
MD: I let my characters live in me while I’m out walking or taking a shower. Then I scurry off to write down notes. I do that until chapters take shape in my mind.
KLB: Thanks for sharing that! Process is a very personal thing.
MD: Absolutely. Some years ago, when I’d take classes in making kids’ books, I was taught things that didn’t really work for me, such as storyboarding. I struggled with that and got stuck, for years.
KLB: How did you get back to your own process after those experiences?
MD: Classes and workshops were valuable in other ways, but to get in the flow for my first book I decided to make sketches of my main character and just see what she had to say, about anything at all. Then the character started to lead me along.
KLB: What advice do you have for new writers and comic book artists?
MD: For anyone starting out, especially creating a graphic novel: Discover your own creative process. Find your way of writing, your style of artwork. Trust that they will naturally develop over time.
KLB: Anything else?
MD: Always remind yourself you have a unique voice to offer the world, and continually let go of comparison and perfectionism. One thing that kept me going was something a friend said to me early on: Don’t let perfect get in the way of very good.
KLB: What tools do you use to get on track when you lose your way?
MD: When I feel distracted or blocked I tell myself to ‘switch over to the comic book channel’ then ask myself: what happens next? It’s a trick I came up with to slip back into the state of flow.
KLB: Do you think your job is glamorous or sexy?
MD: People might think being a writer is sexy. What they may not realize is that writing a graphic novel is like digging a huge hole, in the dirt, with your bare hands.
KLB: Physical and laborious.
MD: Right. And getting up and doing that every day for the better part of a year. It’s about as sexy as childbirth.
KLB: Did you always want to be a writer?
MD: I was good at Art and English growing up, and went into graphic design and animation. For a while, I pursued a Masters in psychotherapy but decided to stick with creating stuff.
KLB: You studied psychology? Do you think there’s a connection?
MD: Yes! Ideally, my comic books make you feel like you’ve just had a fun, but far less expensive, therapy session.
I want to inspire you, so I coax sexy writers like Marie D’Abreo to reveal their creative secrets and processes in writer interviews.
Buy Lost In Guyville and Marie’s earlier books, Beautiful and Sky Orb.
Watch the Lost In Guyville video trailer.
Follow Marie on Twitter and Instagram, and browse her other comics, art, and design on her website.
I cultivate sexy, bold, free writers in stimulating, one-hour private sessions. I also write essays and short stories about sex, writing, and sometimes pigeons.
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