Chatting Veronica Mars’ New Book Series with Co-Author Jennifer Graham

Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars

It’s no secret that Veronica Mars has an insanely dedicated following.

After the beloved mystery TV series ended in 2007, it found new life this year in the form of a Kickstarter-funded feature film. Released earlier this month, the Veronica Mars movie was written and directed by show creator Rob Thomas (who also co-created another cult favorite series, Party Down). In the film, Veronica (played again by Kristen Bell) returns to her hometown of Neptune, California, years after the show’s conclusion to investigate a murder that her former flame, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), is accused of.

But while fans (or “Marshmallows”) eagerly wait to see if Veronica Mars will be getting the sequel treatment, they can already find out what happens next to the beloved private investigator. Picking up almost three months after the events of the movie, Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Amazon) is the first installment in an all-new original mystery book series. Co-written by Thomas and author Jennifer Graham, the novel (published on March 25 by Vintage) finds Veronica back in Neptune, this time trying to solve a missing person’s case. And when a second girl with unexpected ties to Veronica’s past goes missing too, it’s up to Veronica to uncover the truth surrounding one of her most personal cases yet.

Taking a break from writing the second novel in the series, Graham chatted with me about transferring Veronica Mars to a new medium, how she and Thomas worked together, what Marshmallows can look forward to in the book, and more.

Author Jennifer Graham

ALEX NAGORSKI: From a storytelling perspective, what are the advantages of telling Veronica Mars stories on the page versus TV or film?

JENNIFER GRAHAM: One of the things that fiction can do that TV or film can’t is to give the reader access to a character’s internal life. Obviously, Veronica in both the movie and the show has that hardboiled voice-over, so to some degree we get to hear what she’s thinking, and Kristen Bell conveys a lot of nuance in her performances. But in a book we get a little more of Veronica’s mindset, which was both exciting and terrifying for me. On the one hand, we have this amazing opportunity to bear witness to more of her thoughts and memories and get closer to her personal experience. On the other hand, the act of imagining the interior world of such an iconic character is a little intimidating, especially when that character is as complex as Veronica. Veronica’s a bad-ass, but she’s not a cartoon bad-ass; there are ways she’s vulnerable or even insecure. I didn’t want to show her mooning around or being self-pitying, but I also didn’t want her to come across as a robot. I tried really hard to capture that balance.

Does this book work as a jumping on point for the Veronica Mars universe? Or do readers need to have seen the show and movie to understand what’s going on?

We tried to make it accessible to both veteran Marshmallows and people who aren’t fans yet. I think anyone with an interest in PI fiction could pick it up and be quite entertained, whether or not they’ve seen the show/movie. I did drop in a few in-jokes and call-backs–as a fan myself, they were a lot of fun to write–but I don’t think they’re distracting or confusing. And Rob’s characters are so damn good, I think new readers will be more than willing to jump in.

Were you a fan of the series before working with Rob on this novel? If so, what’s your favorite episode?

I totally was! I’m not sure what my favorite episode is, but I have a half-dozen favorite moments–Lilly’s tribute video, which always makes me tear up; the plot twist at the end of “You Think You Know Somebody;” the “locked room” mysteries of “An Echolls Family Christmas” and “Ain’t No Magic Mountain High Enough.” I’m a big structure junkie, and so my favorite moments of Veronica tend to show the tightness and control of the narrative while also giving space for the emotional through-lines of the series.

Can you walk me through you and Rob’s creative process as co-writers? Did you alternate writing chapters/scenes, or did you have to figure out a system of how to write together at the same time?
We “broke” the plot of the book writers’ room style–Rob had the seed of an idea, and we sat down to hash out the main twists and turns of the plot together. When we had the basic structure nailed down, I went home and wrote like the wind. I had an outline to work from, but Rob really encouraged me to take some ownership of the project as well, which was so generous of him and so fun for me. I had plenty of space to flex my creative muscles and contribute to Veronica’s world. Then when I’d finished my draft, Rob got involved again in the revisions, to make sure the whole thing was in line with his vision.
The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is described as “the first book in a thrilling new mystery series.” How many books are planned? And have you already started working on the sequel?

I am feverishly working on book two as we speak! So far that’s all that’s set in stone. Everything after this next one depends on how the books are received.

The book picks up right after the events of the historic Veronica Mars feature film, which was released earlier this month. Will the characters in the book be familiar to fans of the show and movie, or are you introducing a whole new roster of characters?

Most of the characters are from the show and movie. I think Veronica Mars fans are really invested in the supporting cast, more so than in a lot of comparable franchises. Part of the draw of the series is Veronica’s relationship with the various members of her support network, and I wanted to make sure that relationship played a role in the book. As a fan myself, I would have been disappointed not to get to write anything about Keith or Weevil or Wallace. There are definitely a few new faces too, though–it’s a brand new case, and Veronica’s been away from Neptune for a long time.

What are some of your personal favorite mystery novels? And are there any particular authors who inspired you while writing this book?

My favorite crime writer is probably Ed Brubaker. He and Sean Philips put out a comic called Criminal that I re-read half a dozen times while working on Veronica. It’s not a mystery per se, but it is pure pulpy noir in the very best sense–full of antiheroes, bad decisions, lost causes, tortured pasts, haunting secrets, and grit, grit, grit. Anyone who’s into Veronica‘s darker genre nods should absolutely check it out.

I also re-read a lot of classic hardboiled and noir material while I was working on the book–Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, Micky Spillane. I wanted to make sure the cynical, hard-edged element of those writers took up some residence in my prose. And I’m a Gillian Flynn fan, too. Her first two books especially engage with trauma in a way I think is relevant to working with Veronica, whose trauma has historically been a part of her drive.

If you were a private investigator, what’s the first mystery you’d try to solve?

This question runs the risk of exposing me as a total ghoul, because I am a little bit obsessed with famous unsolved murders. Zodiac, the Boy in the Box, the Black Dahlia, the Axeman of New Orleans, the Cleveland Torso murders. The obvious Whitechapel legacy. But morbid curiosity aside, I’d like to believe I’d also put my skills towards exposing corruption and inequality. Neptune is a convenient microcosm, but there are a lot of Sheriff Lambs in the world.

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is on sale now.

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.