Best-Selling Feminist Author Maria Lewis Releases New Book ‘It Came From The Deep’

If you are a fan of YA Fiction, then you NEED to be a fan of best-selling Australian author Maria Lewis. We wrote about her previous book series ‘Who’s Afraid?’, first released in 2016 and fan-girled about her passion for intersectional feminism and writing stories that are unapologetically female-driven.

Maria is back with a brand new release just in time for Halloween. ‘It Came From The Deep’ is available worldwide on October 31st in eBook form. She chose to make this book available digitally so that her readers from around the world could get their hands on a copy all at the same time, which did not happen with the ‘Who’s Afraid’ books, released the traditional way, months apart in various countries.

Set among the picturesque waterways of the Gold Coast, Australia, It Came From The Deep plunges readers into the world of surf life saving. An elderly professor is murdered, leaving a puzzling crime scene for police to unravel and a laboratory housing all kinds of marine life. But something is missing … something huge. Recent high school graduate Kaia Craig has problems of her own, with her career as an ironwoman on the Gold Coast in jeopardy after a horrific accident.

Yet someone wants to hold her accountable. After nearly drowning in Lake Pelutz and her attackers on the run, Kaia is left with more than just physical injuries. She’s convinced she saw something in the depths of the lake: something that choose to spare her. Uncertain whether she’s running towards the discovery of a friend or foe, Kaia begins digging into a mystery that may have bigger ramifications than she or any of her friends can fathom.

This book is Maria’s first foray into the YA genre, but she did not abandon her penchant for feminism in her characters and story line. She also teamed up with US-based feminist artist Allison Tyree to create some of the imagery found in the book. We had an opportunity to interview the former journalist about ‘It Came From The Deep’, writing feminist characters, and some exciting news about the ‘Who’s Afraid?’ books!

Your first book ‘Who’s Afraid’ was released Sept 5, and the second installment ‘Who’s Afraid too’ to be released November 21 in the US. How are they different from ICFTD?

Although both books have supernatural elements in them, ‘Who’s Afraid?’ is for adults and has found a similar readership to people who loved Charlaine Harris’s ‘True Blood’ books and the ‘Anita Blake’ series by Laurell K. Hamilton. It deals with things like trauma, identity, sex, career, family, race, substance abuse and stepping into your own as a grown-ass woman. It’s a lot of stuff that women go through in their twenties and thirties, albeit through the lens of a werewolf story. ‘

It Came From The Deep’ follows a main character who has just graduated high school and is trying to work out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. It centers on that transition period from girl to woman: something that’s in the rear view for the ‘Who’s Afraid?’ characters.

US readers will also get a chance to read about iconic Australian landmarks in your new book. Can you explain where it is set and why you chose this location?

I’ve always been inspired by places, specifically cities and towns that capture my imagination. In the ‘Who’s Afraid?’ books I wanted to take readers somewhere I thought they hadn’t necessarily been in an urban fantasy series before, which is why the story bounces between Scotland, New Zealand and Germany. ‘It Came From The Deep’ is set on the Gold Coast, which is basically Australia’s Florida. There are canals and beaches and rivers and creeks and the whole lifestyle of the city is very aquatic minded. It’s that place that every visitor to Australia ends up at least once thanks to its theme parks, high-rises and nightclubs.

You’ve been working as a journalist for 13 years in Australia. How has this influenced your writing career?

I started out covering crime and moved into writing about pop culture and feminism, so what I’ve found is the audience for those articles tends to be a little bit older and gravitate more towards my ‘Who’s Afraid?’ novels. Several of the TV shows I’ve worked on tend to target that 18 – 35 demographic as well, so I guess that’s the sweet spot. I am constantly surprised by the scope of the readership though, as I have some very young readers (say 13 and 14) right through to much older (seventies and eighties) which I love because it means there’s something there that’s universally appealing.

You have previously talked about feminism and how this plays a role in your writing. Can we expect to see more of this in ICFTD?

F**k yes (can I swear in this?). Obviously there are always going to be male characters in my books in the same way there are always going to be queer characters, characters of color, disabled characters and characters of all different kinds of body types and age groups because I want my books to be reflective of the world – even if there are fantastical elements like werewolves or mer-people. The main characters are always going to be women.

They may be very different from each other, but I want to write the kind of heroines I want to see. That includes ones that are physically intimidating and can trade punches blow-for-blow with any dude, but also ladies whose strength comes from their intelligence or their compassion or their loyalty. ‘It Came From The Deep’s’ main gal is Kaia Craig, who’s a lot quieter and more reserved than Tommi Grayson from the ‘Who’s Afraid?’ series. Yet the thing I love so much about her is she’s just as bad-ass, albeit it in a completely different way.

Can you tell us about the artwork and the artist behind the drawings?

Inside the book there’s a map of the main set piece – Lake Pelutz – which was drawn by American artist Allison Tyree. Allison was one of the international artists who contributed a piece to The Art Of Who’s Afraid? exhibition in Sydney, Australia that launched the first book back in 2016. The artwork that she did was so beautiful and nuanced and detailed that I knew I wanted to work with her again and the opportunity came up on ‘It Came From The Deep’.

Because the story is kind of like a twisted fairytale, I love how the map she has drawn of Lake Pelutz manages to capture that vibe, convey the geographical information I needed to tell the reader and subtly throwback to those ancient sea maps that naval explorers would draw up.

YA Fiction has become a popular genre for female authors as well as female fans, with many notable titles being turned into major films. How do you think this is changing the literary world for female authors?

It’s getting women paid. Books rarely make a lot of money – if any – and a lot of authors are struggling to make ends meet out there, especially female writers. The YA genre in particular is one that has not only been essentially created by women, for women, it champions women writers unlike any other genre I can think of (except maybe romance). YA Fiction becoming popular means there’s a whole swag of female writers who can pay their bills and there’s a lot to be said for paying bills.

Those YA works getting snapped up for television or film, again, mean those writers that you love so much and have struggled for so long can continue to work on their craft and put out content without having to balance multiple jobs or commitments. I’ve also been really excited about the movement pushing queer women writers and women writers of color to the foreground, which is something the YA community is leading the charge on while others struggle to catch up.

Speaking of which, earlier this year you signed a production deal to turn your ‘Who’s Afraid?’ books into a series for TV. Can you tell us the deets about this?

The ‘Who’s Afraid?’ series is being developed by Hoodlum Entertainment who are the Emmy and BAFTA award-winning team behind a bunch of shows. Development is a long, hard process but I’m pretty confident in the team and especially the gutsy women who have been the driving force behind it at Hoodlum and also Screen Queensland (which is one of our government film funding bodies in Australia, the people responsible for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Aquaman’).

You mention in various interviews that you are adamant about certain characters being played by women of color. Can you explain why this is important to you, in light of so much Hollywood “whitewashing”?

I think it’s safe to say a lot of us grew up seeing variations of one particular type of female heroine – if we even got one at all – in a lot of the mainstream pop culture we consumed. I always gravitated towards comic books for this reason, as they tended to be a few years ahead of the curve when it came to diversity and representation. The reality is if you don’t see a version of yourself depicted in the media you consume, what that’s subconsciously telling you is that you don’t get to be the hero, you don’t get to go on that journey. The whole ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ mantra.

It’s a pretty exciting time at the moment because I finally feel like we’re breaking through in terms of diverse characters not only on screen, but diverse creators behind the camera as well. With ‘Who’s Afraid?’, the main heroine – Tommi Grayson – is a biracial woman of Māori background. The whole story is about using lycanthropy as a metaphor for identity, where you’re in between and not one and not the other. In Australia when the book was being first shopped around, I had a lot of pushback from certain publishers who asked me to change the character from 22 and biracial, to being 16 and white (bonus points if I could add a love triangle).

So we pitched the book overseas, where it was picked up by Little Brown and Piatkus in London, a publisher I’m blessed to say didn’t think there was anything unusual about having a brown heroine and multiple characters of different races and sexualities and backgrounds in the book. Because that’s just the world. Hollywood has a pretty terrible history of whitewashing, so when we first began having serious talks with production companies about developing ‘Who’s Afraid?’ for screen I was very clear that Tommi would need to be played by a Māori actress and not only that, but the Polynesian characters would be played by Polynesians actors, along with other characters of color being played by people of color.

It was a non-negotiable factor and people walked away because of that, as is their right. It would have broken my heart to see Tommi not played by a person of color and we’ve seen that happen so many times with book-to-screen adaptations. I was clear about identifying Tommi’s race in the books – as well as those of other characters – so there would be no confusion if it ever came to casting. You couldn’t say “oh well, it’s never explicitly stated that Sandra is from XYZ background so it’s open for interpretation” because I made it crystal f**king clear from the jump. It’s a relief that the system seems to finally be catching on to this fact.


To learn more about Maria Lewis and get your hands on a copy of ‘It Came From The Deep’, visit her website and get a copy from Goodreads.



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