‘Maeve Fly’ Author C.J. Leede On Her New Serial Killer Novel 

Maeve Fly

C. J. Leede’s debut novel Maeve Fly is the perfect read to get into the mood for Halloween. This extremely fun horror follows the titular character as she works as a certain ice princess at a certain corporate park, relishes in her Sunset Strip paradise of dive bars, and is filled with glee as the spooky season rolls in. But things are starting to unravel in Maeve. Her best friend’s brother’s arrival in LA sparks something in her, something that might even disturb the likes of Patrick Bateman.

We delve into Maeve Fly deeper with C. J. Leede as she tells us about her inspirations, how she fell into horror writing, and her favorite reactions to her debut novel so far.

Dread Central: Describe Maeve Fly in 3 words. 

C.J. Leede: Horny, weird-girl, and feral.

What drew you to writing in general?

CJL: I fell into writing in a really roundabout way. I had an open elective course my last semester of undergrad and I was like “Well f*ck it, I’ll take a writing class for fun.” Then my professor, unbeknownst to me, actually sent something I wrote to his agent and editor and after I graduated they reached out and asked for a book. I didn’t know how to write a book, I didn’t know anything! I had never even thought about it. 

But I attempted it and I realized I love doing this. Thus ensued a seven-year journey of applying to grad school three times before I got in, and then shopping three different books with a million agents. But we’re finally here! It’s been awesome. 

DC: What drew you to write horror in particular?

CJL: So I went to a decidedly not genre-focused program, in fact almost nobody was writing genre. But I kept handing in stories and my professor said I think these are all horror stories. At first, I was resistant because I’d never read any horror, I hadn’t even read Steven King, nothing. I’ve always been someone who’s afraid of things. So when I started reading them, I really just thought, “Wow, this is exactly what I want to write and what I want to be a part of.” The community rocks.

DC: What was your favorite part of writing Maeve Fly?

CJL: It was really important to me with this character, I didn’t want to write another nihilistic character who just doesn’t like anything or is sick of everything and is bored. I wanted her to really have things she loves and cares about. Those things were not necessarily things that I love or care about. I feel very neutral about the hypothetical park corporation. I’ve learned a lot about said corporation in the process of writing Maeve Fly and I think I really gained an appreciation for a lot of that, I really enjoy it now. But that was the case with a lot of Maeve’s interests, and so the things that I do love so much are Halloween and dive bars, tiki bars, theme bars, all of those things. So, I think exploring her loves and really getting into that headspace was definitely my favorite part. 

DC: Was there a particular scene that you really loved writing?

CJL: Yeah, there were a few I would say! I loved all the Tata Tiki Lounge scenes. Particularly, I loved writing the scene where “Purple People Eater” is playing and the Pretty Pretty Princess game. I found the Talleulah scenes cathartic to write but emotionally difficult. I think the bar scenes really were my favorites. 

DC: Have you scared yourself whilst writing?

CJL: Oh yeah, one hundred percent! Maeve Fly is my first time writing a slasher and I hadn’t even seen any slashers. I watched Halloween for the first time while writing this book. I’m so behind! I also read Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw which was fabulous because he references like every slasher so it was a beautiful education for me. But you know when you write the scene, you’re in it so much longer than it takes to read it. You know, the tour bus scene and the Liz scene, these were definitely scenes where I questioned what I was doing, by putting this out into the world. 

I became kind of hyper-fixated on Brett Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park. It’s my favorite of his. In it, the fictional Brett is haunted by fans who are obsessed with Patrick Bateman, so he’s haunted by this serial killer who he wrote. I kept thinking, “Am I just going to be haunted by Maeve forever?” But so far, so good!

DC: What have your favorite reactions to Maeve been so far? 

CJL: It is a very polarizing book and my whole team told me it would be. I think I wasn’t expecting quite how much that would be the case. The part of me who just relishes in chaos has really enjoyed that. My mother said two things when she read Maeve Fly. The first thing she said was, “Well you’re my daughter but I don’t really want to be in a dark alley with you.” The second thing she said was “Your family’s going to view you completely differently after this.” That interestingly has not quite been the case! I think a lot of people were not that surprised.

A lot of people have strong reactions to the eggs. In fact, I find with reviews that a lot of people’s biggest objection, they don’t like the eggs. It’s been a wild ride! I really enjoy the people who connect with Maeve because she’s got a strong sense of loyalty and so there are people who are like “Oh my god this character’s like me but she’s doing crazy sh*t.”

My favorite bad review, which maybe or maybe not I should be repeating, was a Goodreads reviewer. She got really hung up on the logistics like there’s no way an NHL player could afford a house in the Beverly Hills Flats or there’s no way two girls living on the Sunset Strip would commute to Anaheim for work. At the end of the review, she said, “I don’t know if Maeve is stupid or C. J. Leede is but I’m so happy I don’t have to keep trying to figure it out.” I love it!

I mean it’s just so funny, because you know I’m writing a book about somebody who eats the skin off somebody’s face… You’re right, it should be really factually accurate. People are so literal about things. My stepdad is a musician and with the tour bus scene, so many people were like “Oh okay, you were really saying something there.” I was like “No, I really wasn’t!” All I was saying was don’t think that you’re hanging out with a moral character here. And we needed a samurai sword.

 It can bring so much joy seeing the ways in which your work really doesn’t sit with people. Uou want to put something out itself and anything that’s really itself is not going to be for everybody.

DC: Favorite horror creators? 

CJL: I think there’s a trend right now from moving away from Stephen King, which I understand because there’s a ton of new work out there and we want to support new writers. But the reality is, he’s created this body of work that we do return to again and again for a reason and I think he’s so inspiring. I love Joe Hill as well, I can’t stop reading Stephen Graham Jones. 

There’s a book called The Library at Mount Char [by Scott Hawkins] that I’ve read so many times and I always talk about it. It’s the most unique horror novel I’ve ever read. I love Mike Flanagan so much. I’ve watched Midnight Mass multiple times, it’s my favorite thing that’s come out on television ever. 

DC: What is a source of inspiration for this book that might surprise readers? 

CJL: I’m very, very close to my two grandmothers. I’m very lucky they’re around and they’re very strong women so that definitely influenced things.

I went to the hypothetical park one time with my goddaughter. We went not to the section of the park we wanted to go to. I had thought “Oh great, we’re going to the Haunted Mansion, we’re going to the castle.” Instead, we went to the other park. The thing was we stood in line for an hour hearing that snowman song again and again and then also the opening sequence from, I’m gonna call it the movie with the little boy and the balloons and the couple… You know, the saddest sequence that’s ever existed in anything and it was on repeat! I was just standing there like “How did I get here?” You know, and here we are!

When I started this book I had just moved to L.A. and totally regretted my decision. I absolutely hated it here, I couldn’t understand why people would choose to live this way. I had moved from New York and moving from New York to anywhere is difficult because it’s just a singular kind of life. New Yorkers tend to fall into this headspace that it’s the only place on earth that matters. I had convinced my boyfriend to move out with me, we’d brought the dogs.

I was totally regretting it and then COVID hit. We were stuck inside and we hadn’t really explored the city at all. So a lot of this book was just me trying to get to know a city from my car and through the internet from home. By the end of writing the book, I’ve totally fallen in love with L.A., I can’t really see myself leaving. I think if you look at anything for long enough you’re going to fall in love with it for better or worse, so you gotta be careful what you choose to write books about, in my experience!

DC: What themes and topics are you looking to explore in your next projects?

CJL: I’ve handed one in already, this is my Catholic guilt and shame novel but it’s a lot about sex, it’s a lot about… I mean those are really the main things! Sex, Catholic guilt, and shame in the American Midwest. I really wanna draw a clear picture of place in each book that I put out. They’re all going to take place in new locations and have place really act as a character. I really fell in love with Wisconsin, many years ago, the first time I went. I’ve now been to all fifty states because I drive around a lot. I really just thought it deserved to have a novel. And then the book after that will either be a Colorado book I’ve been working on that may or may not have cannibalism involved. Or Maeve may make another appearance. We’ll see.

Right now, horror novels don’t often end up in series anymore, it seemed like in the 90s we had a lot of series. I think we’re kind of moving into a moment where horror gets to continue in the way that sci-fi and fantasy do and I think that’s very exciting. I don’t know why we feel we have to end if we’re having fun! It’s funny too, in horror movies, we do get sequels all the time, we get repeat characters and I’m excited to see that happen more in books. 

Maeve Fly is out now from Tor Nightfire Books



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