In the following email interview, McLean discusses what inspired this third story, how it connects to the previous two, as well as why — despite what the titles might suggest — they’re not about some guy named Mark.
For people who haven’t read any of the Dark Dreams books, what is this series about, and when and where do these stories take place?
The Dark Dreams novels are about Jane Walker. She was born with three strikes against her. One, she was abandoned at birth. Two, she’s afflicted with a form of narcolepsy that leaves her paralyzed when she’s dreaming, and she dreams of some horrific past events. And three, she bears a chain of birthmarks that snake around her body, from her feet to her forehead.
The novels follow Jane as she learns more about why she was abandoned, why she’s having these dreams, and what the birthmarks really are (hint: they’re not birthmarks). The books are all set in present day downtown Vancouver, BC, in Canada.
And then what is the new book, Scorch Mark, all about, and when does it take place in relation to the previous installment, Ghost Mark?
Scorch Mark is the third book in the series. In it, I asked myself what would happen if the protection extended to Jane through the blood marks, was instead given to the bad guys. It was fun to play with the good vs evil trope. And while the scenario with the blood marks is playing out, a trial is underway for the man who kidnapped Jane in the first book. But justice through the court system is a complex legal dance, and Jane’s paranormal abilities complicate matters. I enjoyed pitting the legal system against the paranormal elements because, in a courtroom, the truth could condemn Jane faster than the lies she tells to cover up her extraordinary abilities.
When in relation to writing Ghost Mark and the first book, Blood Mark, did you come up with the idea for Scorch Mark, and what inspired this new book’s plot?
When I was plotting Ghost Mark, I kept my eyes open for opportunities to extend the storyline into a third book. It wouldn’t have been through a cliffhanger because I really don’t like it when I finish a book and find myself stranded on a ledge. I wouldn’t have written Scorch Mark if there wasn’t enough meat for a satisfying, stand-alone meal.
Happily, three tantalizing plot lines evolved. One surrounds the silver offering bowl that was responsible for Jane’s blood marks: a powerful Inca artifact that had a ton of potential. The second and third plot lines inspiration came from readers who wanted to know more about the man named Buddy who we met in Blood Mark and who reappears in Ghost Mark. And finally, readers wanted me to write about the trial that would have come about following the events in the first book, Blood Mark.
Hang on: Blood Mark, Ghost Mark, and Scorch Mark…but the main character is named Jane, not Mark? Or was that too obvious?
Ha! How about Jane was bloodied, then ghosted, and finally scorched? Three terrible dates, and none of them with a guy named Mark.
The previous books in the Dark Dreams series were all supernatural thrillers. Is it safe to assume Scorch Mark is as well?
Oh, it’s definitely a supernatural thriller. Some reviewers call it supernatural suspense, but the pace is full-on thriller.
As we’ve been discussing, Scorch Mark is the third novel in the Dark Dreams series. Is this an ongoing series, or is Scorch the third book of a trilogy or a five-book series…?
I hate to admit it, but I failed the “series” test. My first book [Secret Sky] was a one-off story that spurred a second before the ink was dry on the first, and a third came galloping out soon after. I thought for sure it was going to be a trilogy. I even rebranded it as such. But the fourth book laughed at the trilogy idea and the fifth and sixth books trampled it to dust. After the seventh book, I slapped the series label on them [The Gift Legacy series] and called it a day. So I’m not going to say the Dark Dreams series is a trilogy. And though I’m not currently planning a fourth book in the series, I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.
Scorch Mark is the third Dark Dreams novel, but it’s also your tenth novel overall. Are there any writers who had a big influence on Scorch Mark but not on any of your other books, and especially not the previous the Dark Dreams novels?
In his biography, Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” So even though I can’t name a single writer who had a big influence on Scorch Mark, I’m sure there are many smaller pieces of colored glass that contributed.
How about non-literary influences; was Scorch Mark influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Yes! Jane’s story was inspired by the opening scene of an NBC show called Blind Spot. In that scene, a bomb squad tech approaches an abandoned duffle bag in Times Square. It’s nighttime and the square has been cleared. Emerging from the bag is a woman (Jaimie Alexander) who is covered in tattoos from the neck down. The woman doesn’t remember who she is or how she got the tattoos. I wondered what it might be like to have to live with those markings. That thought process led to the questions: where did the marks come from, why did they choose to give them to Jane, who was responsible, and how could she not know their origin?
And then, to flip things around, do you think Scorch Mark – and, of course, the rest of Dark Dreams series — could work as a series of movies, a TV show, or a game?
The three books could easily work as a series of movies. (And wouldn’t that be fun!) But I don’t think they’d fit as a three-season TV series, at least not the way they’re currently written. Right now, each book tells the story from three characters’ points of view, and each chapter is assigned to one character. Unless viewers were to binge the series one episode after the other, I think they’d get frustrated. They’d get a chapter of Jane’s story one week, then a chapter of Sadie’s story the next, and a third character’s chapter in the third week. They’d have to wait until the fourth week for Jane’s story to pick up again. Maybe I’m not giving weekly viewers enough credit, but I would want to rewrite the story to combine the three points of view so that each week’s episode touches on all the characters, instead of just one.
So, if someone wanted to adapt the Dark Dreams series into some movies or a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Jane, Ethan, Sadie, and the other main characters?
Krysten Ritter, who I enjoyed in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, would make a great Jane. Julia Garner, who I loved as Ruth in Ozark, or someone like Gabriella Wilde, who is both an actress and an Estee Lauder model, could play Sadie. And someone like Dylan O’Brien, who starred in American Assassin, could play Ethan’s role.
Wait, why not Mila Kunis? The woman on the cover is a dead ringer for Mila Kunis.
Mila Kunis! Yes! (why didn’t I think of her?) I wouldn’t say no to casting Mila. And yeah, Mila does look just like the cover model. That’s the same model the designers used on Blood Mark’s cover.
And then, what if someone wanted to adapt the Dark Dreams series into a game, what kind of game should it be?
Do you remember a mystery board game called Clue? Hasbro put it out. I’m not sure if it’s still in circulation, but players had to guess who committed a crime from a handful of clues. Players might identify the culprit as the butler who killed the victim in the library with the candlesticks. I can already see Jane’s motorcycle as a game piece, the silver offering bowl, Ethan’s Fat Boy, a cell phone, an empty bottle of Scotch. So many possibilities.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Scorch Mark or the Dark Dreams series?
Given the state of the world these days, I think everyone needs an escape. The Dark Dreams books will fit the bill.
Finally, if someone enjoys Scorch Mark, and they’ve already read the rest of the Dark Dreams series, what supernatural thriller of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I would recommend Annette Marie’s Guild Codex books. Marie’s books have a lot in common with mine. They’re both series, both set in Vancouver’s inner city, both center around a bar, and they both feature magic. Also, they both have strong female leads who are not averse to punching above their weight.