Sunday, January 24, 2021

Interview with Mary Ann Fraser

I’m so glad I got the chance to interview Mary Ann Fraser about her debut novel, MORTAL REMAINS. Mary Ann is the award-winning writer and illustrator of many, many picture books, and now she’s thrilled to have her first novel be part of the inaugural line of Sterling Teen books.

Hi, Mary Ann! Can you tell us a bit of what your new book is about?

First, thank you, Lynn for this opportunity to introduce my book to your readers. I’ve lived with these characters for close to twelve years, and like a mother whose children are grown, I now get to see them make their way into the world. It’s both scary and incredibly rewarding! So let’s jump in.

In this coming-of-age story, a buried past meets morbid present.

Lily McCrae loves her job doing makeup for the dead at her family’s funeral home. Lately though, her best friend Mallory is too busy reinventing herself to hang out, her stepbrother Evan is preoccupied with college applications, and her father has been pushing her into taking over the family business, leaving her feeling lonelier than ever. She finds herself spending more and more time in the prep room talking to her “clients.” After all, the dead listen better than anyone.

When the neighboring house is leveled in an explosion, Mallory, Evan, and Lily find a mysterious hatch in the rubble and discover that someone is trapped inside. Someone who says his name is Adam. Trouble is, Adam has been missing for four years; forcing Lily to reconcile her past feelings for him as together they delve into his mysterious past while she also struggles to figure out what she wants out of life.

Why this novel? Why now?

When I was about ten, my mother took me to church for an open casket memorial service. I was FREAKED! That event hung with me for years. But in 2009 I came across an article about studies conducted in the 1970’s by NASA’a Ames Research Center. The studies were based on a theory proposed years earlier by Dr. Cairns-Smith. He claimed that clay was not only the building-block of early life but also possessed evolutionary properties. I compared this to other creation stories I’d read or heard about and began to wonder: to what lengths would someone go to bring a loved one back from the dead? MORTAL REMAINS became my way of exploring that question.

What was your research process like?

Research was like a walk with my characters down a long and winding corridor lined with doors waiting to be opened. Each door revealed a new subject to explore—funerary procedures and customs, lock picking, cosmetology for the dead, Latin phraseology, surfing terminology, Jewish mysticism, and so much more. It was SO easy to get side-tracked, but thankfully Lily and Adam had a way of pulling me along.

After successfully writing and illustrating over seventy picture books, why did you choose to tackle a novel?

I think it’s typical after reading a great story to say, “I want to read another book like that.” But even as a kid, whenever I read a great book I thought, I want to write one like that. The problem was that for years the very notion of putting that many words down was daunting—especially after writing so many picture books. Then years ago, I heard Judy Bloom say that the goal for any author should be to write the novel you want to read. So simple and yet so liberating! Finally, I began to imagine that this was something I could do.

Did you find it challenging to switch from short picture book texts of under a thousand words to this much longer form?

I remember the first paragraph I wrote. I fussed and sweated over every word. Slowly, though, the words began to flow—boy, did they flow. That first draft quickly grew to 500 pages! Turns out cutting is the REAL challenge. Saving all the larger discarded bits in a separate file made it easier to let them go. I figured I could always cut and paste them back in. The funny thing was that I don’t think I ever retrieved anything out of that file.

Do you have a favorite writing ritual you can share?

I am definitely a morning person, so I usually start my writing day early and with the biggest cup of tea I can hold. I re-read my pages from the day before, and if I’m on a roll I’ll keep going into the night. I find I miss my characters and their world when I’m away so am always eager to get back to them. My favorite part of the process is revision. To me the first draft is like gathering clay—a lot of heavy lifting. Once it’s all lumped together, then I can truly begin sculpting my story.

The cover image is so strong and mysterious. How excited were you to see it?

There was a lot of discussion about how best to represent the story, and I think Irene Vandervoort has done an incredible job of pulling together different elements to create the eerie gothic yet romantic feel the book required. Flowers and their meanings play a significant role in MORTAL REMAINS. Irene chose a rose for the cover, a flower which represented respect for the dead in ancient times. Lily is all about respect for the dead! It’s the living she struggles with.

What’s next for you?

MORTAL REMAINS was actually the second novel I wrote. Recently, I revisited my first novel and completed a major rewrite. I also have a picture book coming out in Fall 2021 with Capstone called LET IT GROW. And finally, I have a MG non-fiction book in the works. Early in my career I could only focus on one book at a time, but now I welcome the variety and feel very fortunate to be able to work in so many genres.

To wind things up, I have to know: as a lifelong Californian now living in colder climes, what do you really think of snow??

I really love it! I decided early on that if I was going to move where there was “weather,” I would fully embrace it. Now I get to ski and snowshoe regularly. And when the weather is too abominable to venture outside, I light the fire, embrace the hygge, and settle into my office to write, paint, or read.

Mary Ann Fraser grew up in California’s Bay Area. She attended UCLA and is an award-winning picture-book author-illustrator with over 70 books for young readers. Her books have been Junior Library Guild Selections, and have been awarded Book Links Book of the Year, IRA Young Readers Choice Award, and American Booksellers' "Pick of the List." She makes her YA fiction debut with MORTAL REMAINS.

She is a long-standing member of SCBWI and a founding member of the Children's Authors Network. Mary Ann lives in Idaho’s Treasure Valley where she enjoys hiking, skiing, gardening, and painting. To learn more about her or her books visit

To order a copy:

Barnes and Noble -
Indie Bound -
Amazon -
Website -

OR (this has ALL Mary Ann's links for ordering and social media and website)


  1. Great interview! I can't wait to pick up this book!

  2. Terrific and so wonderfully macabre! Loved learning about the backstory and am happy you're enjoying your new home.