Martha Elizabeth Bray was born March 11, 1964 in Montgomery AL, and grew up in Texas. She studied theater at the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 1988. At age 26 she moved to New York, where she wrote plays (three of which were produced), worked in book publicity and advertising, and wrote three pseudonymous novels for a book packager. She met her husband, literary agent Barry Goldblatt, during her first year in the city, and they eloped two years later to Florence Italy. They have a teenage son.
Bray’s first novel, historical fantasy A Great and Terrible Beauty (2003), began the Gemma Doyle trilogy, which also includes Rebel Angels (2005) and The Sweet Far Thing (2007). Her other novels include Going Bovine (2009), about a boy with Mad Cow disease who goes on a mythic journey, and Beauty Queens (2011), about teen beauty pageant queens stranded on an island. Her latest novel is 1920s-era fantasy The Diviners (2012); a sequel is forthcoming.
She lives in Brooklyn NY with her family.
‘‘I wrote The Diviners because I wanted to write another series, something historical, but also supernatural. I’m a huge horror fan. That was my reading of choice when I was young – I read everything from horror comics to Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. I love history, too, and I wanted to dive into the 1920s era. That period seems to me as if it came out of central casting. I’m a fan of Gatsby. You’ve got The Ziegfeld Follies, bathtub gin, the Harlem Renaissance, organized crime, and women just getting the vote.
‘‘I was also very disturbed by what was going on in our country post 9/11. There’s a long history of using horror as a means of talking about present-day scenarios. Rod Serling did it a lot on The Twilight Zone. I wanted to talk about post-9/11 America, and as I was watching terrible things happen I thought, ‘Why is everybody rolling over and playing dead about this?’
‘‘I began to do some preliminary research on the 1920s and I saw these overlapping parallels between what had happened then and what happened after 9/11. Post-WWI, there were anarchist bombings, the Red Scare, the rounding up and deporting of ‘undesirables,’ and the rise of evangelicalism – radio evangelists like Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, etc. There was the Scopes trial, which represented so much, too, and Sacco and Vanzetti, the labor struggles. There was just so much! We don’t learn anything.”
‘‘How I got into writing, in general, was that I had never thought about getting into writing. I was always writing, though. Three weeks after I graduated high school, I had a very serious car accident, which I was lucky to live through. I spent two weeks in intensive care. The wreck demolished my face and I lost my left eye, so I insisted on going to college in the fall, which was probably not a smart idea. Of course then it all hit me, and the depression ensued. I just felt completely broken. I was so despondent I was suicidal. The only thing that kept me alive was that as a high school graduation gift, someone had given me this little yellow journal and I began to write down everything in it.
‘‘It took me a while to get serious about writing. I fought it. I went to UT in Austin. I wanted to be a radio/TV/film major, to write for television. But I loved theatre so much I ended up transferring. I knew I wanted to do some kind of writing, but it took me a while to realize what it was. I remember a friend of mine, Christopher, saying to me, ‘If you got serious, and made writing your life’s work, this is what you could do.’ I thought, ‘I’m not good enough to do this, I’ll never be good enough to do this.’ I still feel that way. But they’re paying me. Joke’s on them.”
‘‘I’ve had a lot of LGBT teen readers who talk about the stories that are meaningful to them, because they support their identity, and they thank me for those. I’ve also had readers who are very displeased with me for various things, especially with the way I ended the Gemma Doyle trilogy. My favorite was the girl who wrote to me about the ending of The Sweet Far Thing. She said, ‘I know why you did it. You are an eco-friendly fembot who survives on the tears of teen girls. With the tears I have shed, you will live forever.’ I’m totally embroidering that on a pillow. That is awesome.”