Marissa Meyer is known for her bestselling YA fantasy books, including the Lunar Chronicles, but her newest novel, Instant Karma, is a contemporary rom-com. The book features Prudence Barnett, a high-achieving perfectionist who suddenly gains the ability to cast karma on people, and her complicated relationship with classmate Quint Erickson, whose family runs a wildlife rehabilitation center. Meyer spoke with PW about writing contemporary YA, why she loves rom-coms, and what it’s like writing a heroine who isn’t initially likable (and who might just be based on Meyer herself).
What made you want to write a contemporary YA after writing so many fantasy books?
As a reader, I’ve always loved contemporary fiction. As much as I love fantasy and sci-fi, I feel like contemporary are my happy reading books, my escape books. And as I was wrapping up my Renegades trilogy, which was about superheroes and supervillains, I was feeling creatively drained. I felt like I’d spent three years writing one ginormous battle sequence and I needed a break from the high stakes of people trying to kill each other and take over the world. I wanted something that was a little quieter and a little sweeter. And I had this idea about a modern teenager who one day gets the magical ability to cast instant karma on people. That idea had been brewing in my mind for years, maybe even decades. I just loved the concept of it. I know I go through life like that—when you see someone doing something that you don’t approve of, there’s always that reaction of why doesn’t someone do something, or why doesn’t the universe do something? There was a big part of me that just wanted to experience what it would be like to be able to snap my fingers and do something about it.
That’s interesting, because having that ability doesn’t always bring out the best in Prudence. Was that something you wanted to explore?
That was one of the things I enjoyed most about writing the book. At the start of the book, Prudence isn’t a particularly kind or likable character. There are good things about her and things I admire about her, but she’s really kind of a pill. She’s kind of judgmental; she doesn’t always give people the benefit of the doubt. Yet over the course of the story, we see her have to come to terms with the fact that just because she feels a certain way or is on a different path than somebody else, it doesn’t make the other person wrong or bad. She’s confronted with a lot of tough truths about herself. For me, getting to follow her character arc and watch her grow from that was really enjoyable. I love writing characters who can learn new things and change over the course of the story.
Did having Prudence not be initially that likable feel like a risk?
Honestly, there’s a lot of young Marissa in Prudence. It was really very much me taking a look at my own teen years and the faults I had when I was a teenager and growing up. And over the years as you get older and wiser, you start to see the world in different ways. I can look back—with some embarrassment—at the things I thought and felt back then that I now feel quite differently about. It was almost therapeutic writing this character who has so many flaws and also being able to see her come to terms with that and realize that she can get better, and we can all get better.
This book is essentially a rom-com, and I’ve read that you’re a big fan. What do you love about the genre?
Oh gosh, what don’t I love about rom-coms? I love tropes. I love the comfort of rom-coms. The romance, of course: I‘m the type of girl who swoons. I love a big love confession; I love a big love reveal. I’ve always enjoyed them, and I still do. I’m so looking forward to Hallmark holiday season coming up.
So, is even a bad rom-com good?
It depends. There is a line: some of them can go a little overboard with chauvinism or making women out to be helpless and flighty, and that can get on my nerves. But as long as they’re staying away from that, I’m fine with a little bit of cheese.
Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer. Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 Nov. 3 ISBN 978-1-250-61881-8