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Exclusive Interview: “Mockingbird: Strike Out” Author Maria Lewis


Like many female characters in fiction, the Marvel Comics character Mockingbird has often been defined more by what male character she was standing next to than by her own abilities or adventures. It’s something writer Maria Lewis was not only well aware of when she started writing the novel Mockingbird: Strike Out (paperback, Kindle), but — as she explains in the following email interview — also something she was determined not to do.

Maria Lewis Mockingbird Strike Out

I’d like to start with some background. Who is Mockingbird, what does she do, what are her powers?

Mockingbird, a.k.a. Bobbi Morse, is a character that was created by Len Wein and Neil Adams in the ’70s. She made her first appearance in Astonishing Tales as a supporting character for Ka-Zar, who was somewhat of a Tarzan relic who’s a bit lost to time now. Historically, in Marvel Comics, she was always a character that was defined by her proximity to men: whether that was Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Ka-Zar. That was actually one of the things that really interested me about getting to write Bobbi, the opportunity to update that narrative and lean hard into the idea of her striking out (heh) on her own as an agent and operative. She’s one of Marvel’s non-superpowered characters who is super-efficient à la Peggy Carter, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Maria Hill, etc. She is one of the best active S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, a world-class, gymnast, master martial artist, elite pilot and scientific genius…to name a few of her strengths.

And then what is your novel Mockingbird: Strike Out about?

Mockingbird: Strike Out opens with Bobbi negotiating her divorce from Hawkeye, a.k.a. Clint Barton. I thought that was a great starting point in terms of opening on something that she’s very well-known for as a character — being part of a pair — then moving on from it quite rapidly so the audience has the real estate to get to know who Bobbi is as a woman without her being defined by her relationship. She heads to the U.K. for a mission in Oxford where she’s tasked with hunting down one of her old mentors, who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. As a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, she’s forced to work with the U.K.’s counterpart S.T.R.I.K.E., and one of their top recruits, Lance Hunter, whose name will be familiar to people who know Bobbi’s comic book history or who watched Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Where did you get the idea for Mockingbird: Strike Out?

The idea of a superhero divorce book really intrigued me. Simply because I loved that collision of something so normal and human, a break-up, colliding with the world of Marvel, where these characters are literal superheroes but…even superheroes go through relationship breakdowns, too. The juxtaposition of the real and the unreal was what really hooked me, along with the opportunity to write some of my favorite women in comics — the gig of a lifetime.

And be honest, how often while writing this novel did you catch yourself singing, “Mock (yeah) ing (yeah) bird (yeah)”?

Ha! Well, I do write to music, so you’re not far off!

Actually, what I was listening to while I wrote this book was the playlist that I put together for the characters, as music is quite a pivotal part of the story. So for each song or band that’s referenced, I had a playlist on Spotify that I was compiling and putting together so the sounds of the story were really woven into the physical process of writing Strike Out.

As you said, Bobbi teams up with Lance Hunter in Mockingbird: Strike Out. Is there a reason why you had her teaming up with him as opposed to Spider-Man or Blade or some other guy? Or, for that matter, a woman like Black Widow or Ms. Marvel? It is part of Aconyte’s Marvel Heroines series, after all.

Actually, she is in a team with other female superheroes in the book: Maria Hill, Tigra, and She-Hulk. Having Bobbi’s girl gang be such a colossal part of her life and the story was really vital in terms of having that female support network both personally and professionally.

As for pairing her up with Spider-Man or Blade, I love both of those characters. In particular, Blade has been historically very important to me in terms of seeing representation on the page. Also, Blade and Blade II are, for me, two of the greatest comic book movies ever made. I would love to have included them, but you’re given a list of characters that you can and can’t use. Both of those characters were on the “can’t use” pile, so not this time, but hopefully down the line, if the Marvel brass like Mockingbird: Strike Out enough, maybe somebody will let me attend a Blade bloodbath rave (metaphorically).

It sounds like Mockingbird: Strike Out is a superhero action story. Is that how you’d describe it?

My elevator pitch for Mockingbird: Strike Out was Out Of Sight meets Mr. And Mrs. Smith, which I thought were great comparison points for what I was attempting to do with the story. Because Bobbi is a Marvel character who doesn’t have superpowers, I wanted to keep the stakes of the story and her world grounded within that, which meant going back to a lot of classic genre conventions and spy vs spy shenanigans. Those elements are that I love, but there’re also a great mechanism for character development through action rather than stagnant pacing. The other thing that Out Of Sight and Mr. And Mrs. Smith both have in common, obviously, is the chemistry between the two leads. I wanted that to be a memorable part of the story, not just the banter, but the mistrust, the matching of skillsets, the physicality, and the odd couple dynamic of some of my favorite Hitchcock romps.

Now, along with Mockingbird: Strike Out, you have two other novels coming out soon: The Graveyard Shift on October 10th, and Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Daughter Of No One on November 7th. Let’s start with The Graveyard Shift. What is that book about, and when and where does it take place?

The Graveyard Shift follows the host of an overnight radio show of the same name, and that title comes from the nickname within radio and media for that shift, which is generally considered a dead zone. Our lead character Tinsel hosts a horror movie-themed pop culture show, and during the Halloween episode, somebody calls into the show and performs what she thinks is a prank, live on air. She later learns that the “joke” was actually a murder and that there are a series of slayings happening in and around Melbourne, which is one of the birth places of cinema historically. She has to work with her sister in a race against time to work out who the killer is and what they have to do with her show.

In talking to The Bookseller about The Graveyard Shift, you said that it was, “…the realization of a lifelong dream of mine: to write a slasher.” You do realize that makes me feel so much better that we’re doing this interview via email as opposed to in an abandoned mental hospital, right?

Ha! I don’t think that’s such a crazy thing to say, honestly. There are millions of women out there who love horror, myself included, so the idea that we might one day want to write it doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me. I grew up loving the genre as a whole, particularly the sub-genre of slashers, which was a big inspiration for The Graveyard Shift. I like to think of it as a millennial Scream. Slashers were so engaging to watch because they had such clear rules, as dictated rather beautifully by Wes Craven in Scream, but really solidified by people like John Carpenter in Halloween. When there are such clear conventions, as a storyteller that can be a really exciting space to play in because you have the capacity to bend the rules and subvert expectations.

Speaking of an abandoned asylum, though, I worked in a film production office that was based in a building that was previously an asylum and had to be shut down because there were so many deaths. Terrible vibes.

Moving over to Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Daughter Of No One, what is that novel about, and when and where does it take place in relation to the upcoming game Assassin’s Creed Mirage?

Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Daughter Of No One is set in the 800s and follows the mentor of Mirage‘s main character, Basim, who we’ve seen in wee chunks with in the games so far. This is essentially her origin story, and we get to spend time with her as a young woman, beginning to understand the things that led to her eventually joining the Hidden Ones, and why the Brotherhood becomes such a critical part of her life.

In writing Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Daughter Of No One, how much of that game did you get to see or play, and how did that influence what you wrote?

I think anybody who is a professional storyteller has a lot of respect for, and is probably a big fan of, Assassin’s Creed and the universe they’ve created over the past few decades with the expanse of that media brand. I’ve been working with Ubisoft for several years on a different game project, so I know how protective they are of their projects — particularly when they’re in-development — so in terms of what I was able to access of Mirage materials for the novel, it was quite strict.

However, I was fortunate enough to ready through scenes that featured Roshan and even just something as simple as her dialogue, the tone she uses, can really help so much in terms of trying to match that same energy in the novel. She’s a woman of few words in the game, largely letting her actions speak for themselves, but when she’s the main character of a book and you’ve got a lot of real estate with that person you suddenly have a lot of space to fill with how someone like Roshan thinks, what she cares about, what she loves, what she hates, what drives her.

Going back to Mockingbird: Strike Out, do you think this story could work as a comic book?

I was going to say no, because I think adapting a novel to comic book form is harder than adapting a comic book to novel because even though the characters can cross over, the function of the mediums is quite different. A great comic book script is quite light on dialogue because it needs to be to tell the story in the best possible way hand-in-hand with the artist, who is as much the creator of the story as the writer. Whereas in a novel, you need dialogue and you need a lot of it to push you through the story and to keep the narrative engaging so that it’s not all narration or dictation. However, the possibility of seeing some of my favorite comic book artists interpret this story is the thing that makes me go “Oh my god, yes! Absolutely!” Just the prospect of folks like Nicola Scott or Charlotte Allingham bringing Bobbi and her girl gang to life excites me so much. Who wouldn’t want to see that? I’m still obsessed with the work Joëlle Jones did on Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird run.

In a similar vein, do you think it could also work as a movie or TV show? Assuming, of course, that Adrianne Palicki is both available and amenable, of course.

I think I mentioned this in another interview so I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but I had the opportunity to meet Adrianne Palicki a few times while on the pop culture convention circuit touring together, and not only do I think that she’s a rad human and consummate professional, but I think she’s an incredible actress with a rare physical prowess that’s shines on screen. That combination is what made her portrayal of Bobbi so engaging and made her such a fan favorite at the time.

I actually think Mockingbird: Strike Out would work better as a screen adaptation rather than a comic book one, simply because of the reasons I said before about the visuals and the text needing to work hand-in-hand. But in particular with this story, a tight 90 minute one shot like what Marvel did with Werewolf By Night would be really exciting to see, especially if it was outside of the Atlanta sound stages and physically on location in Oxford. A really self-contained, speedy, sexy little spy story that still lives within the world of Marvel but is allowed to exist as its own thing.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Mockingbird: Strike Out?

I guess I just wanna underline that if you’re not a Marvel fan or the prospect of dipping into the world of comics feels really daunting to you — which I totally understand because it’s a medium that has existed for nearly 100 years now and there are millions of stories and continuities and cannons that can be really confusing — never fear! Because as much as there are treats in there for the Marvel diehards, I went to great pains to try and make Mockingbird: Strike Out accessible for everyone. Whether your first love was on the comic book page (like it was for me) or whether you’ve never read any kind of comic book media before, it doesn’t matter for this particular novel. I just wanted people to be able to engage with the story and include audiences rather than exclude them.

Maria Lewis Mockingbird Strike Out

Finally, if someone enjoys Mockingbird: Strike Out, which of the previous Marvel Heroines novels would you suggest they read next?

I’ve got to hype fellow Aussie Amanda Bridgeman here, who wrote the Dazzler novel Sound Of Light [which you can read more about here]. The character of Dazzler is a cult fave for a reason, and I think what she’s done with her and the universe is out of this world (literally).



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