Melanie Jackson recasts Persephone’s mythological story in contemporary times

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Death Drop by Melanie Jackson is a devilish mystery with a missing girl, supernatural undertones, and a thrilling amusement park ride. Part of Orca Currents, an imprint of Orca Book Publishers, Death Drop is a short high-interest contemporary novel and one of several Melanie has written with amusement park themes. Melanie sat down to answer some questions about Death Drop and writing.

Tell us a bit about your book.

The title of my new novel, Death Drop, is also the name of Vancouver’s new thrill ride based on the mythical Persephone’s fall into the underworld. Protagonist Zeke, waiting for baseball practice, lines up for the fiery, faster-than-gravity drop only to land in a devilish situation. A little girl he tries to help disappears—and Death Drop’s staff deny ever seeing her! Gabriel Rossetti’s famous painting Proserpina adds to the baffling brushstrokes of the mystery confronting Zeke.

What was the catalyst for your story?

I love the myth of Persephone and all the art associated with it. I love the idea that no matter happens, spring–Persephone–will always return.

Does your book have a niche? 

I think it will appeal to readers who enjoy a twisty, surprising yarn written in a style that’s both vivid and spare. Recently a journo friend compared my style to that of Lee Child, only for young adults! I didn’t mind that. I think kids who like mythology will enjoy the Persephone angle.

The Orca Currents series are written expressly for middle-school students reading below grade level. What are the challenges of writing for or within a series?

As an Orca Currents series author I face the challenge of coming up with a vivid, puzzling new yarn each time. But I also relish the challenge. Where will the story be set next? What will the protagonist be up against, including circumstances in his own life?

In your opinion, what makes a compelling story?

Vivid setting, brave, flawed, wisecracking protagonist and life-or-death conflict.

Do you gravitate toward a certain genre or type of writing? 

I like mysteries. I like the idea of exploring, Theseus-style, a maze of challenges toward a solution. I love the suspenseful, often magical atmosphere of mystery stories and films.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

I kept reading and rereading–surprise, surprise–Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. A spell-binding, very accessible retelling of Greek, Roman and Norse myths.

What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your book?

I’d love it to prompt conversations about Persephone and other mythology; a look at Rossetti’s wonderful paintings; kids to be unafraid of combining seemingly unrelated elements in their creative writing (in this case a baseball player plus a thrill ride plus Persephone’s myth and painting) — something I encourage in my school presentations and the mystery unit I teach every spring.

Tell us a little known or interesting fact about yourself.

I had my own Theseus-like adventure as a young freelance journalist on assignment for Vancouver magazine. I had to find out about the school years of Michael J. Fox, then red-hot as the star of Back to the Future, for a profile the mag was doing. I started out knowing only that he had gone to school in Burnaby. Not much to go on, but persistence pays off. I sleuthed out Michael’s best high school buddy, photos of and info about the band Michael had been in AND original teenage art by him.

Scottish-born and mystery-minded, Melanie Jackson is the author of Orca’s Dinah Galloway Mystery Series and several Orca Currents titles, including The Big Dip and High Wire. Her next book with Orca Currents, Medusa’s Scream, is forthcoming in October 2017.

Melanie, who lives in Vancouver with her husband Bart, is a business/advertising writer and editor. She works as a writing mentor with the Vancouver School Board and teaches a mystery unit to Grades 8 and 9 at two Vancouver secondary schools.

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