Megan Miranda Talks Science, Snow, and Her New Book

Feeling chilly? Megan Miranda‘s Fracture is the perfect winter read–frightening, mysterious, addicting, and romantic. It’s about seventeen-year-old Delaney Maxwell, who’s out with friends when she falls through the ice of a frigid Maine lake in the dead of winter. She’s under the water for eleven minutes, and there’s no question she should be dead–but she survives, against all odds. The thing is, Delaney feels a little . . . different after her accident. You can read the beginning of Fracture on Figment here. We sat down with Megan Miranda, a former scientist, to find out what inspired her debut novel.

You have a thing for medical mysteries involving the brain. Did you ever come across a crazy medical mystery when working as a scientist?

Not when I was working, unfortunately. My previous job wasn’t quite that exciting (not that I didn’t love doing it, but it dealt a lot more with the smaller details and less with the big picture). I wore a lab coat and goggles and gloves, but the mysteries at my work were on a much smaller scale, like: hey, why are all my cells dead? Or, why is that one data point completely off the grid? Or who ate my lunch? I swear I left it right here! But anyway.

One of the oddest things about studying science is how much of it is accidental. How a mystery can lead to some of the biggest medical advances. Like the discovery of penicillin. Total accident. A scientist accidentally left a petri dish out, and it got contaminated. But the mold that contaminated the petri dish killed the bacteria growing on the plate.

The why was the mystery. Turning it into a drug that could be used to treat infection took several scientists and a 12-year gap. Science is often a mix of mystery and research. So I guess my work fell more on the other side of the mystery—working in the lab to figure out how to turn a theory, or a discovery, into something that can be used.

In Fracture, protagonist Delaney and her neighbor/rescuer have a pretty complicated relationship. What are the challenges of writing a layered, complex friendship-cum-romance?

I believe most close relationships are fairly complicated. Anything with history has . . . well, history. The challenge is to have people understand that history without showing it. Can a quick exchange of dialogue say three different things? Can you see both how two characters’ relationship used to be and where it’s currently stuck in the same exchange? Sometimes you can show more by the things that characters don’t say. Or by having your characters say something they don’t mean . . . or think something they don’t say. So I think the challenge is that: choosing when to say, and when not to say. When to show a piece of their history, and when to let the reader fill in the blanks themselves.

I wrote Fracture three times, so the last time I wrote it, I knew those characters really well. I felt like I could see all their history and how they would act around each other because of that past, and I hoped the reader could see it too. I think it’s the decision not to over-explain that allows for the complexity.

You had a friend undergo a traumatic brain injury. Were there a lot of unknowns in that injury and recovery process? Did that experience inspire you to write Fracture?

I’ve known a few people who’ve recovered from different types of brain injuries, and there were definitely a lot of unknowns in each case. Nobody can predict exactly who will recover, or how they will recover. I wouldn’t say it inspired the writing of Fracture, but it sparked a lot of questions I had in general about who we are, and those questions definitely fueled some of Delaney’s questions. And the experience gave me more insight into Delaney’s potential recovery.

What do you think are the most important elements of crafting a mystery?

I like the idea that a mystery doesn’t have to be stated . . . that it can sit just beneath a story, fueling it along. Maybe you didn’t even know you were wondering about it until you got the answer. For me, when I’m reading, connecting with characters is the most important element regardless of genre. The mystery has to always be there, but in the background. When it pops up, it should feel natural—just like another part of the story.

The closure of the mystery is also extremely important. I think the answer needs to be surprising but feel obvious at the same time, if that makes sense. Like that the answers have always been there if you were looking for them. But I like the idea that maybe you weren’t actively looking for them, that you could be swept up in the rest of the story, as well.

How did you switch from being a scientist to being a writer? Was the transition difficult?

It sounds like a big transition, but it really wasn’t. I’ve always loved to write, even when I was a scientist. It just wasn’t something I concentrated on as a career. On the flip side, I still love science, even as a writer, so I hope both sides of me show through in my writing. As for making the transition, it was much more gradual than flipping the career switch. I had two kids and was staying home with them at the time, and I realized that was my chance to take a real shot at the writing career. So I started to treat writing like my job in the hopes that it would eventually become my job. Now that it is my job, the structure is already in place (well, kind of—writing with kids at home is always an adventure).

What’s it like being a Bookanista?

When I fall in love with a book, I like to rave about it on my blog . . . sometimes embarrassingly so. Being a member of the Bookanistas potentially gives that book love even more reach since we link our blogs together on Thursdays whenever we have a book we’d like to gush about. I’ve also found some great books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own through their suggestions. We all have different tastes, so it’s nice to be exposed to those different types and genres of books.

We’ve heard you were once attacked by a wild turkey. Is it safe to say you don’t have any pets at home?

Haha, yes, it is definitely safe to say that. Partially because, in the back of my mind, I have this uneasy feeling like they might decide to attack at any time, but also because I have two small children, and at the moment I feel like we’re at maximum capacity here.

You had to do some extensive rewriting for Fracture. How did you know when the book was done?

The problem was, I thought I was done each time. I thought it enough to send that first version to agents and to send that second version to the agent I eventually signed with. It wasn’t until writing Fracture for the third time that I could really tell, in hindsight, that the process of writing the first two versions wasn’t the same. At all. I am not a plot-first person, so I made a lot of game-time decisions while writing the first two versions.

With the last version, the one we submitted to publishers, I could see the entire story stretching out before me as I was writing. I’d write a scene and see how it would affect everything coming after. And I felt like I was racing to get there. Everything was falling into place—plot, characters, theme—and I could feel that this was it. I knew it in this giddy, ohthis is working kind of way. I wish I had a more eloquent way of explaining it, but it was really only in comparison that I could tell. Also, though, now that I’ve written my next book, this seems to be my process. I tend to write a few quick drafts to get a feel for the story and my characters before I can sit down and put it all together in a coherent, layered story.

You don’t seem to have a lot of patience for tears—do you think this proclivity against waterworks affected your conception of Delaney?

Oh dear, is this because of my blog? Haha. I come from a family of non-criers, and, somewhere along the way, I got a reputation as such. Which is weird, because suddenly you feel like you can’t ever cry. And you never know how to react around people who aren’t afraid of crying. And then your kids cry, because they are kids, and you’re not really sure what to do with that. Um, or maybe that’s just me.

Though it wasn’t something I consciously did, now that you bring it up, I think my awkward relationship with tears definitely affected Delaney’s development. Tears can be more than just tears. They can come with a ridiculous assortment of baggage, ranging from embarrassment to awkwardness and back again.

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