Melissa Landers On Writing A Companion Novel

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask writers where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers. In that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Melissa Landers, a former teacher who left the classroom to pursue other worlds. A proud sci-fi geek, she isn’t afraid to wear her Princess Leia costume in public—just ask her husband and three kids. She lives outside Cincinnati in the small town of Loveland, "Sweetheart of Ohio,” where she writes science fiction and fantasy for Disney Hyperion.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

STARFALL is the second book in a duology, so its origin point was the first book, STARFLIGHT. Instead of a sequel, STARFALL is more of a companion novel. It picks up right after the previous story ends, but it’s told from the points of view of Cassia and Kane, who were supporting characters in the first book.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

To me, building a plot for a companion novel is infinitely harder than crafting a fresh plot with original world-building and a cast of characters that I can shape to fit my needs. It’s confining to write a sequel because so much is already established. For that reason, it took a lot longer to craft Cassia and Kane’s story than it did to create Doran and Solara’s. But I still drew inspiration from American history. In book one, I modeled a large part of the premise after the events of Westward Expansion, and book two was largely inspired by the rise of Las Vegas, particularly the mafia’s nefarious means of getting—and keeping—employees.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Oh, yes. All the time. Any synopsis I write beforehand is just a guide.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas come to me often, but they’re rarely as cool as I think they are in the moment. Often times I’ll go back and read my file of “Shiny New Ideas” and roll my eyes at some of the concepts I thought were sooooooo exciting when I first wrote them down.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I’m a practical gal, so when I have more than one story concept in mind, I pitch them to my editor and let her decide which one is the most marketable. Then I develop that idea into a proposal (3 chapters and a synopsis) and wait until I have a deal before writing the rest of the book.

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

You’re right—2016 wasn’t an easy year, and 2017 isn’t shaping up to be a carnival ride, either. I still draw inspiration from the world when I can, but mostly I use writing as my escape. The biggest challenge for me is staying focused on writing when my mind is occupied by other things. Characters can’t whisper ideas to me when I drown out their voices with worry.

But, hey, a little escapism is an essential part of self care. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself.) So if you love sci-fi adventure and need some time away from reality, I hope you’ll pick up the Starflight duology today. Starflight and Starfall are both available in stores and online. ☺