Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Meredith R. Lyons

Meredith R. Lyons grew up in New Orleans, collecting two degrees from Louisiana State University before running away to Chicago to be an actor. In between plays, she got her black belt and made martial arts and yoga her full-time day job. She fought in the Chicago Golden Gloves, ran the Chicago Marathon, and competed for team U.S.A. in the savate world championships in Paris. In spite of doing each of these things twice, she couldn’t stay warm and relocated to Nashville. She owns several swords, but lives a non-violent life, saving all swashbuckling for the page, knitting scarves, gardening, visiting coffee shops, and cuddling with her husband and two panther-sized cats. Ghost Tamer is her first novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

While I was writing it, the working title was The Train because the train crash is the inciting incident that changes Raely's life. When the el flies off the rails, only Raely survives. She loses her best friend and acquires an ability to see ghosts. One says he's been with her all her life, and one in particular is trying to take her soul. A lot of the action takes place on Chicago's el train. But not only was that not a very interesting title, the deeper story is Raely learning about who she is—both by taking a look at her past and embracing her new present—and accepting that new person, rather than wishing to be what she was. She has to move through a lot of grief and pain to become herself, which no one ever wants to do, but she is stronger for it. And with grief the only way out is through. She is the Ghost Tamer. And it's a much cooler title.

What's in a name?

I am much better at naming characters now than I was when I started writing Ghost Tamer. Raely had no name for quite a while and then somehow I ended up using an amalgamation of my middle name and the first two letters of my last name as a placeholder. By the time I had finished the book, she was permanently Raely. I did change a few other character's names. I had a habit of just throwing generic names like Bob and John everywhere—again, I'm much better about this now—partially because I'm a pantser and these characters may or may not grow. The ones that became major players I went back and found some good names for them. Lovonia was one who had a good name from the beginning. She kind of sprang out of the ether fully-formed and started bossing me around.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

She would be shocked and appalled that there are no horses in it. I actually wrote my first novel when I was thirteen. It was hand-written, in pencil or erasable ink—so 90's—on whatever paper I could find. It was a western with lots of horses and was 636 pages long. I still have it in a big three-ring binder.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

That's an interesting question. It depends on the book. For Ghost Tamer, the beginning was easy, I just wrote the nightmare. As I mentioned, I don't plot things out, so there's always a bit of thrilling panic when I've passed the midpoint and I'm still not sure how the thing is going to end. I always figure it out, though. And everything gets tweaked. For this one, I definitely changed more about the ending, but I can only think of two or three scenes in Ghost Tamer that have stayed exactly the same since they were put down.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I drew a lot from my past to create Raely's life. From living in Chicago and trying to carve out a place for myself on stage to trudging through those bitter winters on public transportation. I mined my own experiences with grief to color hers, but, although she's similar to a younger version of me, Raely is herself. She's much cooler than I was at her age, quicker with her on-point snark—she's a comedian after all—and much more damaged. I wanted a flawed, raw character who made mistakes, had struggles and learned from them, but I needed her to be likeable so that the reader would stick with her, so of course she's funny.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was an actor in Chicago for seventeen years which has had an influence on how I put a story on the page. I start from a place of character and find joy in dialogue. The plot is improved and issues tweaked later, and usually I have to punch up the "set dressing" afterward also. I was also a stage combatant, competitive boxer and kickboxer, and self defense and cardio kickboxing instructor, so I really dig into the fight scenes. Not only do I know how it feels to be hit, but I know how to tell a story with violence that's clear even to the uninitiated. I hope that doesn't sound too nuts. In spite of owning several swords, I promise I live a non-violent life now.
Visit Meredith R. Lyons's website.

12 Yoga Questions with Meredith R. Lyons.

--Marshal Zeringue