Interview By: T.D. Shields
What are the titles of your books? How did you choose your titles?
Emerge: The Awakening and Emerge: The Edge.
The first book was originally titled, “The Awakening” after the transformation Allie experiences on her sixteenth birthday. But that was a title I was seeing everywhere and it never felt quite right. I eventually settled on “Emerge” as the series title because I think that word embodies this period of time in the lives of Allie and her friends. “The Edge was a no brainer for me. I didn’t even have to think about it. The book is a prequel that takes place in the months before The Awakening. During this time, both Allie and Aidan are truly on the edge of a big change in their lives. For Aidan, the title holds a little more significance. This is not a pleasant time in his life. He is a powerful Immortal just beginning to learn how to control that power. He is literally on the edge of what he can handle and Allie’s arrival changes that for him.
We all need a hero! Tell us about your protagonist(s). Was there a real-life inspiration behind him or her?
Allie’s character was created as a response to everything I did not want to see in female leads. Some might call me a feminist, but I’m really a hard-core equalist. I wanted Allie to be that strong independent young woman, but I still wanted her to be a genuine, believable girl who doesn’t always make the right choices. Throughout Emerge, Allie is introduced to many strong relationships of equality, most evident in her deep friendship with Aidan who is also her “equal” in power.
In many ways, Allie is much like myself. Her insecurities and some of her experiences come from my own experiences. How she handles herself and the obstacles life throws at here are based on how I wished I handled things when I was her age.
What was your favorite part to write and why?
In the second half of the book, as Allie’s powers continue to develop, one emerges that also affects Aidan. The two experience A LOT of growing pains over this shared gift and it creates some awkward moments for both of them. The way this gift works really presents a challenge to me as a writer, but these moments (that will continue to develop throughout the series), are my most favorite to write.
When you sit down to write a story, do you already have the end in mind? Or do you discover the plot as you work?
Although I do some general planning with outlines and notes (and voice memos of me talking to myself while I’m driving), I am most definitely a “pantser.” I never really know what’s going to happen until I’m in the moment and actually feeling it. So I bounce from one part of the book to another. Right now I’m elbow deep in my current Emerge project and I have a hodge-podge of chapters and scenes that probably only make sense to me. Eventually it all comes together, but I always begin with a solid, but extremely general plan. I don’t like to commit to anything until I really get in there and see how it goes because it never goes according to plan! My characters are too stubborn for that!
What authors have inspired you to write?
My inspiration to write came from a place of an unsatisfied reader, so I don’t want to name names here, but several really bad YA reading experiences in the post Harry Potter years, led me to pick up my pen. My hope was that I could do a better job creating a story with strong role models and a believable fantasy world set within our own. Whether or not I’ve accomplished that is to be decided by my readers, but throughout my experiences as a novice writer, I did learn that writing a book is A LOT harder than I ever dreamed.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you cope?
I don’t often struggle with staring at a blank screen. There is always something bouncing around in my head that needs writing. And there is almost always something I’m excited to write about. But if I’m not sure what direction I need to go in, or if I’m not happy with the way things are coming along with current chapters and scenes, I’ll just start writing something that I know will probably never make the cut for the book. Those exercises help me get to know my characters better. Most of the time, I will write myself out of whatever issue I’m having. Honestly, that’s how The Edge was born. Years ago, I was struggling with the beginning of The Awakening. I didn’t really know the “before” Allie and Aidan well enough yet. So I wrote about their experiences before they met just to help me get the beginning of The Awakening where it needed to be. I wasn’t certain I’d ever do anything with that material, but it never went away and it eventually morphed into the prequel.
But sometimes I have to get away from the computer and just think. I do some of my best planning on a long drive!
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of writing your novel or getting it published that you would change?
If I could have a conversation with myself five years ago, I would tell past Melissa to go find some other authors to give herself a much needed support system. I would also tell her to hire an editor about two years before she finally did and to not be afraid of using beta readers.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Make sure you love what you’re writing. If you have a message you want your readers to get, even better. You need something driving you to keep you motivated to finish. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Looking back now, I should have sought the advice of other writers and readers long before I finally did. I wish I had the kind of support system I’ve found with YA Authors Rendezvous way back when I first started writing.
Writing a book is like building a house. It takes a team of skilled individuals to create a set of construction documents and see it though from the foundation to placing the very last window. No one person can do it all. It’s the same with a book. It takes more than just one author with a good idea to tell a great story, and editing is the most vital part of that process. Educate yourself on what the editing process actually entails because it’s so much more than fixing typos and using correct grammar.
And don’t listen to all the noise. This is a weird time in the world of publishing and everyone has an opinion about how and when authors should promote their books. Some of it is great advice, but take it all with a grain of salt. Keep your head down and write a good book because nothing else matters if your product isn’t the best it can be. Write a good book and all that other stuff will fall into place.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
I don’t know if this is “strange” but I cannot write without music. I also can’t listen to anything that I could potentially sing along with if I ever expect to get anything done. Several years ago, I discovered Classical crossover music was my muse. The music is often contemporary played by a full orchestra or quartet, but sometimes it goes the other way, as classical music arranged to sound more like contemporary music. It’s upbeat and keeps me focused.
What toppings do you like on your pizza?
I’m obsessed with feta cheese on pizza these days. It’s dangerous.
Dogs or Cats?
What does your writing process look like?
I usually have a certain scene rolling around in my mind for a few days before I sit down to write it. When I do, I just jump into the moment and let it flow to see what happens. I will inevitably end up with a bunch of disjointed scenes and chapters that I will spend months arranging into the right order. I’m a stickler for content editing, so I’m never happy with the first several drafts. I strongly feel that a story needs time to evolve beyond the initial drafts. I will spend a lot of time revising, rewriting and rearranging, letting characters develop further along the way. I will typically redraft a novel at least five times before I will even think about sending it to my editor or beta readers. The story will always hit its stride during the editing process and isn’t something that should be rushed.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I’ve sworn off reading reviews pretty much every day since I got my first bad review, but I can’t seem to stop stalking myself. I’ve struggled with some harsh comments from the rare few readers who just don’t like Emerge, but I have to remind myself that the other 98% of my readers love my books. I thought I was prepared for the criticism, but I’ve had a few moments that have been difficult and I’ve had to grow a tough skin. I’m finally getting to the point where I don’t have a panic attack when I see I’ve received a new review (good or bad). I never respond to reviewers unless they are a blogger and we’ve been in touch or I’m doing a blog tour.
What is your best marketing tip?
Don’t be afraid to give your book away for free. And don’t be afraid to spend a little money on advertising even when sales are not immediate. In the months and even years after releasing your first book, it is important to think about LONG TERM success rather than short term sales. Get your book in as many hands as possible. When marketing, think about how many people will see you book. They might not buy it the first time they see it, maybe not even the second or third time they see it, but when they see it often enough, they will start thinking “hey, I need to check this out, it looks good!” Eventually you will start seeing results as more and more readers discover your books.
What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
This is immaculate for me… but on a normal day…
My desk manufactures junk. I clean it up and I turn around and someone has piled books and papers and crap all over my desk! There will always be an iced coffee sitting on my coaster and there are to-do lists everywhere–and there is usually a furry creature snoring under my desk (or sitting on it.)
What’s the worst job you’ve had?
There was a time after college when I was really focused on getting my book done. I worked extremely part time as an interior design assistant, which was much needed experience, but I got paid in peanuts. I didn’t want to sacrifice the writing time I finally had, so I worked for my sister who was a property manager for several apartment buildings. I cleaned apartments after someone had moved out. I scrubbed toilets and nasty bathrooms and cleaned ovens that had probably never been cleaned before! It was the worst job ever! But I could do it on my own schedule and I worked alone so I could “talk out” plot points to myself using a voice recorder. I made great strides in developing the Emerge series during that time, but the work was … humbling. I have great respect for anyone who does that kind of work full time.
Help us bond with you a little… do you have a funny or embarrassing story about yourself to share?
My father really enjoys embarrassing us. He’s been known to chase us around the Wal-Mart parking lot with a lampshade on his head, like you do.
What question were you hoping to answer… but I didn’t ask?
This was a recent question from another interview that I would love to share with my YAAR community.
Tell us something quirky about the characters of Emerge that the reader might not grasp.
I have a ridiculously complicated method for giving supernatural gifts to my Immortal characters. I do not just hand them a supernatural ability to suit the situation. So much effort and research goes into deciding which gifts a character will possess. Aidan and his sister, Sasha are a great example of my process. Most of my characters are loosely based on historical figures and mythological characters. Aidan and Sasha are a reflection of the Greek gods, Apollo and Artemis, who were twins.
Artemis was slightly older than Apollo (by a few hours). Sasha is about two weeks older than Aidan. Artemis was goddess of the hunt, protector of animals. Sasha has an affinity with nature and can talk to and heal animals. Artemis was armed with a bow and arrow and was known to never miss her target. She was also fast on her feet. Sasha never misses her target and is the fastest runner of all the Immortals on Kelleys Island.
Apollo was known as the sun god and the god of music. Aidan’s “sun” gift eventually manifested as a gift with fire and heat. Aidan plays the violin and has a deep love for music. Apollo could heal injured mortals and animals. Aidan is a healer of mortals, while Sasha is a healer of animals.
Allie is also based on the god, Apollo and the mortal, Daphne whom Apollo was desperately in love with in Ovid’s, Metamorphosis. The details are endless, so I could talk about this all day!
How can readers find you? (Internet, social media, booksellers…)
Anything else you want to tell us?
Earlier this year, Emerge: The Awakening placed as a finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards, and just this month, was honored as a finalist in the 2015 USA Best Book Awards!