Sherrilyn Kenyon On Letting Characters Drive Story

Mindy:             Today's guest is Sherrilyn Kenyon, best-selling US writer of the Dark Hunter series. Sherilyn has published over 80 novels under her own name and also under the pseudonym Kinley MacGregor who writes historical fiction with paranormal elements.

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Mindy:             One of the things that I really want to talk to you about today is the fact that you didn't have the most auspicious start, really came up out from poverty to achieve everything that you have done. I Would love to hear more about that. Tell my listeners about that struggle and that journey.

Sherrilyn:         My dad was a Sergeant in the Army and, and my mother put herself actually through school very later on. My siblings are 10 and 16 years older than me and I have a sister with cerebral palsy, so everything that my parents made kind of went to my oldest sister, her medication and everything. Once my baby came along, he was in ICU for the first few weeks of his life. It set us back.

Mindy:             I think it's important for writers especially, but also all creatives to hear these kinds of stories because I'm certain that there were moments in your life where you've felt hopelessness and helplessness.

Sherrilyn:         Nope, still do! That doesn't go away. I always looked at it... you know, when my mother was 16 she had my oldest sister with cerebral palsy. Given that, you know, we weren't really allowed to complain to my parents because my kids have autism but, they're mobile, they can speak. We're very fortunate. So I've always focused on what I have. To me, as long as I've got my kids and they're healthy and they're happy, I can deal with anything else. And my mother bred that into us.

Mindy:             I love that mentality. I think it says a lot. I love what you're saying about motherhood. I'd like to talk about that a little bit more when it comes to writing. Most of my listeners are indeed aspiring writers and I'm confident that there are plenty of mothers and fathers out there. And also I'm sure single parents that often feel like it's so difficult to find the time and make that time. We do have to remember that our children are the lights of our lives and the most important thing in our lives. So can you talk about finding that balance between your need for a creative outlet or even you having to hit a deadline for business reasons versus that care and that need that you have for your child and your family?

Sherrilyn:         Oh, absolutely. I mean, I was published before my kids were born. I didn't have to really make time because the work was always there. But unfortunately the writing did not take off immediately. I wasn't JK Rowling where I wrote one book and suddenly hit the big overnight success. You know, I ended up having to work two, three, sometimes four jobs while on deadlines. So the deadlines were nothing new. I mean, I had deadlines since I was a teenager, especially with my writing. I was a latchkey kid. And for people who don't know what that is, I mean my parents couldn't afford a babysitter so we got locked in the house while they were at work. So when I had my kids, I didn't want them to know that feeling of isolation or I didn't want them being raised in afterschool care and all that fun stuff.

Sherrilyn:         Cause I had horror stories from all my friends. the one time I went into one when I was real small it was, like, I'm not a very big person. And I always tend to find that one person who thinks they can steamroll right past me. And unfortunately I'm a Chihuahua who thinks it's a Great Dane. So I'll stand my ground and it's not a good idea, especially on the playground. My oldest was born, like I said, prematurely. So I brought home like a three pounds tiny little thing that would fit in the palm of my hand. To me the kids were always gonna come first no matter what. And in terms of the writing, it was always flexible. So I would wait until they were asleep. Sometimes I would sit there with them, you know, on my chest. One of those little snugglies, or sometimes when I didn't have a snugly or, I couldn't afford one. I'd have them wrapped in a blanket tied to me. They ever needed anything. And even now, I mean they're grown men, but if they need ramen at 2:00 AM they know they can come down here and go... Mom? It's like, okay, I'll go make your ramen for you.

Sherrilyn:         When I did have to work outside the home, that was when it became tricky and I'd have to do things like I worked for Ingram entertainment and I was very fortunate. My boss would let me go in at like three, 4:00 AM I could work while they were at school and then I'd be home when they got off and I'd pick them up, bring them home, make them a snack and then I'd sit with either laptop or... you know, pictures of my house shows that my computer was in a corner of, I had one in the corner of the kitchen, one in the corner of the bedroom and one downstairs where they were. So wherever the kids were playing, I could follow them room to room with my disk and insert it in a new computer and start working while I watched them.

Mindy:             That's wonderful. I like that idea. So when you were in this situation as a child, when you were a latchkey kid, as you were saying, did you always know that you wanted to write? Was that always a goal? For you?

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Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah. I was five years old. I told my mom, I'm going to be a New York times best selling writer, and my mother was putting on her makeup, doing the mascara, and she stopped and looked at me and said, honey, do you even know what that is? No, but it's on all the books you read, so I think it might be a pretty good thing to want to be. Since I wanted to be a writer. Right? My mother just kind of rolled her eyes, like, Oh my God. My Brownie manual has, when I grow up, I want to be a writer and a mother. I did it in that order.

Mindy:             That's amazing. Speaking of doing it in that order, your first book came out while you were still in college, which is very impressive. I wrote a book while I was in college, but it certainly didn't get published and it didn't deserve to be published, but can you talk a little bit --

Sherrilyn:         I don't think mine did either! Oh, I've apologized so many years for that. It's like, I thought it was great. I did. I did, but I was 18 and 24 please forgive me.

Mindy:             I totally understand. I remember when I was writing in college, um, just pecking away at my laptop and, well, it wasn't even a laptop. It was a desktop thinking that I was writing a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. And then of course going back and reading it later and just being like, Oh, this is actually just dreck. Like, this is trash.

Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I've got quite a few of those. But then others that I read, I'm like, that's salvageable.

Mindy:             I want you to talk a little bit about that experience in college because I remember, and I honestly, let's, let's be truthful. I feel like it is something that most of us still feel, or perhaps even as an adult, struggle with that idea that if I get published, everything will be okay if I get published.

Sherrilyn:         [Laughter]

Mindy:             So, I mean, was that your perspective as a college student? Just talk about learning that lesson that it's quite simply not true.

Sherrilyn:         I never had that perspective of it. I got published for the first time when I was 14. And my life really didn't change. Well I'd get a couple hundred dollars here and there off my writing. Really by and large what I got paid in were just copies. I'm not sure if they still have publications that pay you like that. I was just happy. It's like I've got a byline. What was I? Grade school when I started selling my own? My dad had one of those old um Oh God, what do you call them that-- the ditto machine. So, but dad had one of those so I would roll mine off and I would sell them to my friends for like a nickel. I was so happy to have anybody come up to me and go, do you have the next installment? What's going to happen to these characters next? And really that was all I ever concerned myself with. It wasn't, this was somehow going to solve all problems or just like - people like my characters! And that's cool!

Mindy:             Definitely. So when did that change? When did you hit a point where you were like, I think I would like to try traditional publishing?

Sherrilyn:         That ended as soon as I made my first sale at 14. I mean I saved up my babysitting money when I was 12 to get a subscription to Writer's Digest magazine. But to me it wasn't about making money. It was more, more people will read my characters and like them.

Mindy:             And now you've made this transition to where you've had more than 80 novels on the New York times bestseller lists. So you were right, you told your mom you were going to do it and you did it. Are you ever just set back by your own success?

Sherrilyn: :        Nooooooo. No. And I don't look back on that journey, unless they make me to, because it was really painful. Every time a book comes out, I'm giddy as a school girl to this day. I mean in the back of my mind is the old saying "neither success or failure are ever permanent." That monster stalks me everywhere I go.

Mindy:             Again, I know many aspiring writers and I was one, I was one too who really felt that if I hit that goal, if I got published, that everything would be okay. And obviously that isn't true. I have eight books out and am contracted for two more. Every day is still a struggle and I can't imagine having 10 times that out. Can you talk a little bit about retaining that drive and the energy and the creative spark when you are so prolific?


Sherrilyn:         It's always the characters. Things will happen in life. Like, you know, most people know, I'm going through a divorce right now. So it, for me right now, it's really hard just because my attention is being drawn to everything but the writing for the first time in my life. I really can't write when I want to be and that, that's the most frustrating thing for me. Yeah, y'all have made it impossible for me to work. But you want to live off my work. And I don't understand this concept that people... I mean you know how hard it is and how time consuming it is. And the man was here for 27 years. Although in 27 years I never could convince the ex that magic fairies don't walk in and write the books at night while I, you know, the two hours while I sleep.

Mindy:             Nope.

Sherrilyn:         You know, really, I'm not goofing off the 22 hours I'm sitting in my chair working. I really am working. But in terms of finding the drive, it's the characters, it's always the characters. There's so many, you know, I write cause I want to find out where it goes. I'm not a plotter, I'm a pantser. I get these amazing people in my head and they start talking. It's like, what's your story? I got to know. And so that drive has never really gone away. But you know, unfortunately life will occasionally grind us to a halt. That's when it gets frustrating.

Mindy:             Definitely. I'm also a pantser and I feel that amount of anxiety is alleviated once I start writing cause I don't have a plot. I don't have a plan. I don't know what's going to happen. But I trust these characters to tell me their story and I just feel like they're kind of guiding everything and they're bright enough and real enough in my head that I believe that the story is there and it will unfold. Is your process similar?

Sherrilyn:         Both of my sons are actually writers. "Mom, am I doing it right? I don't know." And it's like just sit in the chair and do it. You spend so much of your day agonizing over the perfect structure of your sentence. Kid, just get in there and let them go. It may be written in blood but it's not carved in stone. You can always rewrite. My older son finally took him a long time too cause he was angsty about it and he finally got - Oh yeah, I can rewrite! Yeah. I get it now. It's like that only took 24 years. But okay!

Mindy:             It's true. Rewriting is writing. That is where I believe the real work comes in because I feel like a first draft is very much just me solidifying and moving an idea and a concept onto the page, so it's a physical object or at least a Word document that I can manipulate then in order to draw the story out, I think it's interesting you mentioned your son said your son asks you, am I doing it right? And I don't think there's any one right way to write a novel. I'm sure we all have different approaches even though it sounds like you and I are similar, I'm sure we still do things differently. Over the course of writing all of these many, many, many novels, has your process changed at all? Have you tweaked it?

Sherrilyn:         Mine hasn't, but you know, I've, I've been in the business now for almost 40 years of my God. Yes. It really is that long. Thousands of writers... well, tens of thousands of writers I've met over the decades. Yeah. Everybody has their own process and you know, one of the things that I tell when I teach workshops, if you have a beginning, a middle and an end, congratulations, you're a writer. Celebrate. Because you've got to where a lot of writers don't. Yeah, don't ever let anybody tell you how to write your books. I mean, that's... writing advice. It's like a buffet. You go in and you look around and you go, Oh, I like that. I like that, I like that. But if you don't like it, leave it behind cause you don't need it. What works for you works for you.

Mindy:             That's right. And I personally, when I have fellow writers that are friends that are very serious plotters and planners, and when I tell them about my process, they just break out in hives. They think it's crazy.

Sherrilyn:         They're horrified. Yeah. They're like, God, how can you get to the end of the book? You don't know.

Mindy:             Well, yes, exactly. They think I'm crazy. It's funny because I don't actually poke at my process a whole lot. I've been doing it for a while and I don't want to look at it too hard because I don't want to break it by examination.

Sherrilyn:         Exactly. And that's... you know my son, "Mom, explain!". It's like I can't and I don't want to like you said, I, you know when I do workshops and stuff I'll teach people - this is what a plotter will do. We're called pantsers Cause we set our butt in the chair and we go. We just go. But I can tell you all about how to plot one and how to do character stuff that I can tell you the mechanics of it. But I can't tell you what I do when I sit in my chair cause I don't know, I just daydream and type.

Mindy:             I'm so glad you say that because I am similar. I just daydream and type. I love that. Um, I feel often that I'm not even really writing something. I feel like I'm just kind of funneling or channeling something.

Sherrilyn:         Exactly. Yeah. Like I'm a medium. So the spirits are out there and they're whispering to me and they're telling it to me. I'm... All I'm doing is the conduit for it.

Mindy:             Yeah , absolutely. I feel, I feel exactly the same way. It's, it's interesting to know that someone else has that experience.

Sherrilyn:         Oh, there are a lot of us.

Mindy:             So you were saying about your characters and how your characters are, what draw you in and bring you back and keep you moving forward and keep that flame of interest alight. When you are as famous as you are. When you are as prolific as you are and when you are multi published the way you are, your characters are no longer yours alone. They have become the property of the public. So do you ever experience any type of push or pull with that concept when people have strong either positive or negative reactions to your books? Is it always just - hooray! You care! Or do you ever just have this, you know, this used to be just mine.

Sherrilyn:         I guess maybe because I'm from a really big family and we had to share everything. So I don't feel like they were ever just mine, but you know the characters have a life of their own. It's like -- get in there! I told you! What are you doing! Stop! Just Stop!

Sherrilyn:         One of the things I try to do, especially with descriptions is I write the characters so that anybody can relate to them. Criticisms I have taken is that they're like ambiguous when it comes to... I don't describe them usually more than once, maybe twice. And I do that intentionally because I want any reader anywhere to focus on their emotions because at the end of the day, we're all human. And so I want whoever the reader is to feel such a connection with that character. They can slide right into their skin, whoever they are.

Mindy:             Agreed. As a reader when I am reading something, I will put people that I know, especially when I was younger, put people that I know in certain characters skins and if there was too much physical description of the character, then it might actually knock me out of the story because I was picturing my friend or my enemy or whatever, and then they gave me too much info and it took away my mental picture.

Sherrilyn:         Yeah, exactly. It's like, no, I focused on, what the meat of the character is and what matters to that character and you know, their reaction to things more than I weigh this or I weigh that or I'm this tall. Unless it's something where I'm doing it to make a point. Like in the case of Ash, he's 9,000 feet tall and it's problematic for him. When you're unnaturally tall or you're unnaturally short, that that does become an issue. Or in the case of Bride, Bride's not the biggest heroine I've ever written. She's just the one who had the biggest problem with her weight. So, you know, unless it's something like that that I'm writing, you really aren't aware of their, their physical descriptions or limitations or not limitations.

Mindy:             So speaking then about fans identifying so closely with your characters. Do you receive a lot of, um, emails, tweets, DMs, people reaching out to tell you what the books have meant to them, or a character has meant to them?

Sherrilyn:         Oh, God, love them. Yes. Yes, I have. And I love it. Yeah. It's all about that connection.It's what I got into this to do. It's to make people care about my people. Although, you know, some of them... You're allowed to hate Apollo. Apollo, you can hate!

Mindy:             Well, that's why... I had an event last night and there was a girl there who told me, she said, I'm really mad at you about the ending of one of my books. And I said, that's awesome. I'm really glad that you're mad at me because I made you care deeply about something that never happened to a person that doesn't exist. It's a huge compliment.

Sherrilyn:         Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Mindy:             So tell us a little bit about Hex Life.

Sherrilyn:         Oh, that's the tiny little short story I wrote with my son. There are a lot of short stories in there from other writers. That was fun cause it was a, an idea that my son had and he actually wrote the first draft on it and he's like, I don't know how to finish it. Mom, can you help? And so I got in there, I'm like, okay, I gotta fix your grammar. And then I fixed a couple of other things. He's like okay, fine. It's our story now, Ma. We had a lot of fun with it and I'm like, well, can I put a Hell Chaser character in? And he went, sure, go ahead. Just take it over.

Mindy:             Tell us then about At Death's Door.

Sherilyn:        At Death's Door is also a Hell Chaser, Dark Hunter book. No spoilers cause it just came out. Oh my God. I let one drop real bad at Dragon Con. And I knew I'd done it the minute I said it. And everybody got real quiet. And I went "y'all didn't know that, did you?" No, we didn't. I, Oh God, no I didn't. Yeah, I did. Oh, it's about Belinda who was turned into a voodoo doll, living voodoo doll, really get to go into the Caribbean West Indies, folklore of which I've been wanting to do in the past two books but was trying to hold back so that I could really delve deep into it with the third book. Um, so I, you know, it looks at the loa, um, the hero is one of them. Uh, he's actually a psychopomp so it's, it's really different to me, and it was very cool to write.

Mindy:             And tell me a little bit about some of the research that you did on that. The culture and the, the magical systems and everything involved there.

Sherrilyn:         My mother's best friend was a Gullah woman. There's some hoo-doo involved. My aunt Berta would do a lot of hoo-doo, root work and stuff like that, which not necessarily all of them do, but Berta was a real big on the root work, grew up around it. And so, you know, as a little kid, it's like, one day I'm going to write about these. And she'd always make me little poppet dolls for different gifts and different things. And I've got... they're all over my house. That's what actually got me first interested in all the different kinds of poppets that were made because they're not all African or West Indian. They're also a lot were made in Europe, which most people don't realize that were done. Um, so just kind of been a lifelong interest of mine.

Mindy:             With so many books out there, so many series running. And you were saying that you actually let something slip before when you were on a panel. Do you ever hit a point where someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer? Cause you can't remember what you wrote?

Sherrilyn:         Knock wood. Not yet, but I have had people ask me things that they were mistaken and they'll argue with me and I'm like, no, I'm pretty sure I'm right.

Mindy:             So last question - what are you working on now? What do we have to look forward to here?

Sherrilyn:         Queen Of All Shadows. I don't have a date for it yet. I hope it's going to be out next fall. That's a book that I actually started a billion years ago. It was supposed to come out. Oh, was it after Zarek's? No. Um, it was the book that was supposed to come out instead of Unleash the Night. !hen I first sold Dark Hunter, I had, I don't know, 60 to 70 books that were in partial states of completion from, you know, my teen years. I've been working on Dark Hunter forever. Anyway. And so his was the one I was working on when Ren said hello, you don't want to tell his story, he's a loser. Put that manuscript aside, come talk to me. And so I'm finally getting back to it. It's only been, gosh, what, 15 years? 16 years?

Mindy:             I understand. The first novel I ever wrote, I wrote in college and 15 years later is when it got published and is actually my best selling book. But I do understand returning to something like that.

Sherrilyn:         Yeah. Yeah. And it's very different too because you go back and go, I hope I'm a better writer now.

Mindy:             Oh, for sure. Um, I, I definitely was. There's no doubt. If I weren't then something has gone horribly wrong.

Sherrilyn:         Oh yeah. Yeah. But in the back of your mind, you're like, maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm fooling myself. I don't know.

Mindy:             So what you're saying is that imposter syndrome never stops?

Sherrilyn:         No, never. Never. Never.

Mindy:             That's good to know. And tell my listeners where they can find you online.

Sherrilyn:         I'm at Thank you, mom. Let me spell that cause my mother was unkind. I put her through 36 hours of labor supposedly, and that was her curse on me. Um, it's M Y S H E R R I L Y

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Melissa DeLaCruz On Maintaining Creative Spark Through 50 Novels

Mindy:             Today's guest is Melissa DeLa Cruz, Number One New York Times bestselling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for readers of all ages. With her 50th novel, The Birthday Girl releasing earlier this month, Melissa joined me to talk about longevity in publishing, retaining the spark of creativity, and how writers need community.

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Mindy:             So your newest release The Birthday Girl is your 50th book. That is amazing.

Melissa:            Oh, thank you. I'm glad I'm younger than my book count.

Mindy:             Well actually that's a lovely way to put it. I myself have eight books out and I know that the bloom comes off the rose pretty quickly in publishing and it can be a drag sometimes because you do have to focus on the business side of it as well, and the creativity side can get a little drained sometimes. I think. So, any thoughts on that here at your 50th book?

Melissa:            Yeah, and I think as a fellow writer, writers kind of understand what it's like, right? I mean when you say the bloom comes off the rose, I think we all want to be writers. We want to be authors, but then how do we make a living at it? I think that is like the biggest question and I heard it's not even really about selling your first book, it's about selling your second. I think that there's not really a path to it. Everybody kind of finds their own way. I started out wanting to write adult fiction and wanting to write commercial adult fiction. You know, Terry McMillan was one of my favorite writers. I wanted to write fun books for women. And my first book was adult book, but my editor said, I think you need to try out this new genre that we're kind of promoting. It was called young adult. And she said, I don't know if you've read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Gossip Girl, but we kind of want to be in that genre. Do you think you want to try it? And I said, okay, well I'll try it. Because her other idea was a murder mystery. And I said, okay, I'm going to try a murder mystery. And she was like, yeah, you can’t write these.

Melissa:            And she said, my next idea is YA. I said, okay. So I wrote The Au Pairs and as I was writing this book about three teenagers and the Hamptons who are nannies by day party girls at night - that was our tagline. I just really enjoyed it and I thought, oh my God, this is what I'm meant to do. This is what my voice is meant to do. And I have written 50 books because I started out writing series. The books will either come out every eight months or every three months. We tell the stories through several books and I think J K Rowling made everybody think, oh, you have to write seven books. That's how it is. So I explain that it's not, you know, that I'm writing 50 huge long adult novels. Some of my middle grade books are only 50,000 words long and they would come out every three months. So that's how the count gets so high, so early,

Mindy:             Certainly. But 50,000 every three months, that is still a ton of work.

Melissa:            Yes it is. And it was a really difficult, because my career kinda took off right when I also became a mom. So I always joked that I never saw her. The nanny would say, oh, she's rolling over. Oh, she's doing this. I'm like, oh, that's great. You know, I never saw any of those.

Mindy:             Yeah, yeah. No, it's true. When you cross that line from writing being a hobby into being your career, that is part of where that bloom does start to come off the rose where it becomes not so much I want to write today, but I have to write and that's a distinction.

Melissa:            Oh yeah, no, definitely. And I think what happens sometimes is people forget about how fun it is. Try to always remember that you, you wanted this, this is your dream. And writers always roll their eyes saying, oh, we're living the dream. But we really are. I mean, I get to, we get to imagine things and play and even though it does sometimes feel not as fun as we imagined it to be, maybe more of a chore and a stressor. This fun, creative thing that we get to do. You have to find that spark in your work still, to be able to work, I think. Like it has to be fun and it has to be something that you want to spend time with.

Mindy:             I remind myself, I remind myself every day, whatever my complaint might be, if I am upset about, I don't know, Amazon not having my book in stock or if I'm upset about a bad review or like whatever. It's just like Mindy. You write for a living. Be quiet. You're all right. You're all right.

Melissa:            My friend Ally Carter said, you're not a $20 bill. Not Everybody's gonna like you.

Mindy:             You gotta roll with it. When you're a writer, you're, you are creating content for the public and your public is, it's the public. They are not a monolith.

Melissa:            Not your mom.

Mindy:             Not your mom. That is the absolute best way to put it. It is not your mom. You mentioned YA, and you mentioned a lot of titles that are really familiar to me because I was actually a librarian in high school for 14 years. Yes. Loved it so much. So you mentioned Traveling Pants and Gossip Girls and um, of course Twilight. And those all happened right at the time when YA just kind of blew up. And of course I remember your Blue Bloods series, handing those out to kids. I see on my handout here, there are 3 million copies in print now, which is amazing.

Melissa:            It was fun. And it was interesting when YA became YA and became something that people paid attention to because when I started out in the genre had like maybe one tiny stand in the Barnes and Noble, just kind of added to the children's section. And now you go and it's almost half the books are like YA. It's a little crazy.

Mindy:             It is. It's completely changed. It is a completely changed market. And when I was growing up, it didn't even exist. Like there were a handful of authors. Middle grade plus. They weren't touching most, not all - obviously some authors, Judy Bloom of course comes to mind - would touch things that others would not. But yeah, it is changed. It's a changed market. That is for sure.

Melissa:            50 books later you're returning to that initial push that you wanted to write adult and you're jumping in with The Birthday Girl, a domestic suspense. So why specifically domestic suspense as you're jumping into the adult market?

Melissa:            So my first novel was adult contemporary and then, Witches of East End was an adult urban fantasy. This is my fifth book for adults. I wanted to write in the genre that I basically read as my escape. So I try not to read a lot of YA and kid lit because I write in that and I want my reading to be just for me, just for pleasure, just for escape. So I usually read in a genre that I don't write in. So I read a lot of literary fiction and I read a lot of thrillers and I got really into domestic suspense genre. Basically I'm a Target mom. I go to Target, I buy whatever the books are at Target and they put a lot of these books out there and I read them all. I read Ruth Ware. I read The Wife, you know, While You Were Sleeping.

Melissa:            So those kinds of books that I was really drawn to and I always wanted to write a mystery but I don't think I had the chops for it 20 years ago. And I think after having written all these books and understanding plot and structure, I think I was like old enough and experienced enough as a writer to write the book I wanted to write. And it also came from an idea of wanting to write a mystery in Palm Springs because I think it's a place in America that has a little bit of historic uh, glamorous, mythical, Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack and you can still go there and it is like going backwards in time. So I wanted to set it in Palm Springs. And then about 10 years ago when I was 38, we bought this house in Palm Springs and I joked that I bought it to throw my 40th birthday party in. I was going to have this massive elaborate extravagant 40th birthday and like it was a revenge party.

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Melissa:            I was going to show everybody who had been mean to me in high school. Look, where the bitch is now! It was just this huge monstrous kind of delusion. I thought, oh my God, that's so gross to want that much attention and that much validation. We don't need that. But I remember that feeling of being on the cusp of 40 and 40 meaning something that was like so big and terrible that you wanted to squash that and kind of celebrate this milestone in a way that was kind of in your face. So I thought, okay, I'm going to have this woman planning this huge party, but then everything goes wrong. This party that's supposed to meant to be amazing celebration of her life is also like a time when all the ghosts of her past haunt her. And the book really came alive when I realized I could write it in two different timelines because I do write for YA I was like, Ooh, I can sneak in kind of this dark YA book into it? So that made me happy.

Mindy:             The cover is amazing.

Melissa:            Thank you. I'm not good with covers and I never really know what a good cover is. And I remember when we did The Descendants books The Isle of the Lost cover with the big apple. They're like, this is so great. And I'm like, really? And my husband was like, you're crazy. That is a great cover. And with The Birthday Girl too. He was like, that's a great cover. Everybody's like, it's awesome. Like really? Are you sure? Like, I never know. So thank you.

Mindy:             It's great. Like as soon as I saw it as a librarian, my immediate reaction was, oh, people pick this book up.

Melissa:            Oh, I'm so glad. Thank you.

Mindy:             Yes, most definitely.

Melissa:            I cannot take any credit. My notes make the cover worse.

Mindy:             No, absolutely. And that's the kind of thing whenever I get any compliments on my covers, I'm like, well thank you. But it has nothing to do with me. You are also a co director of YALLFEST, which is a huge celebration that takes place in Charleston every year. I've been lucky enough to be invited and it's awesome. So thank you for all the immense amount of work. I'm sure it goes into that.

Melissa:            Oh my God, thank you! I was like, Mindy, we've had you! Awesome.

Mindy:             Lovely, lovely event.

Melissa:            We're very proud of it. I think we're almost at 10 years. I can't remember if it is our 10th which it might be. We will have big party, I think 10 years is next year. Actually. I think it's next year.

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Mindy:             That's cool. It's emblematic of the YA community and how tight knit it is, and it really is truly a celebration and you can see authors interacting with each other, but there's also 30000 teens. It's an amazing kind of coming together of book minded people and a great love of, of course, the YA age range. So do you feel a similar type of community among the adult authorship or is it a different kind of setting?

Melissa:            We started YALLFEST because we wanted a book festival just for our genre, just for the people in our industry, who were writing our books. Because before there were all these teen book festivals, they would send you to these book festivals and you would be kind of the redheaded stepchild and you would meet these adult authors. They'd never knew what to do with you or like, What? You write YA? What is that? And you kind of feel a little bit not left out, but you not maybe really belong. And so we thought, let's have a festival that's just for us. It's just for teens. But Not even an age range. You know, it's a mindset. Youth and optimism and you can be a YA reader no matter how old you are. And so that's where it came from, from going to these other festivals and feeling like they don't really get me or my books.

Melissa:            And then the teen festivals are now so big that all the mainstream festivals now have a whole YA track. So that's kind of nice to see. We did start it because we wanted a place where the writers were celebrated. Writers kind of, um, make communities around genre. Thriller writers are kind of like, YA writers in a way where they all know each other and support each other. And it's a small kind of close knit community. I do look forward to that. People tend to band together with the kind of books that they write and there are communities in the publishing world, murder mystery. Thriller writers. They're always a lot of fun.

Mindy:             That's really cool. That's really cool. So when it comes to writing a dual timeline, that is always kind of challenging, I think. You're basically operating pacing, character building and everything within two different stories, kind of writing two novels to create one story. So how did you go about keeping yourself organized for one thing, but also just planning that out - or do you pants it?

Melissa:            No, I'm a plotter. I definitely am a planner. I like outlines. I think structure is really important. While the book was in my head, I also wrote like a pretty detailed outline of where I wanted to be because I wanted each chapter to kind of inform the other. So you would see something in the past and then something in the present and you would know that happened, uh, in the present because it's something that happened in the past and I wanted it to in the same time. I didn't write each chapter one after the other. I would write five Palm Springs in her forties chapters and then I'd write five Portland in her 16 year old mindset chapters. So it's like once I was in that certain POV, I would stick to it and kind of jump ahead. But then I also had to make sure that the chapters were still aligning in that way. Yeah. It was a lot of planning and then also like some kind of alchemy where, oh, it kind of all works. I don't know. I don't know how it works. When you're in it just kind of playing and writing and hoping, and then you rewrite it a lot and then you know, hopefully it's done.

Mindy:             Sometimes you step back and you're like, oh look, that worked cool.

Melissa:            Exactly. And it's kind of like, phew. Subconscious writing.

Mindy:             Totally. I feel that way often. So you're writing not only two timelines but you're writing someone as a younger person and then writing the same person in their forties so I am interested in the challenge of that because you have to have the voice there so that we know it's the same person. I'm curious about your approach. Were you imagining her first as a 16 year old and then wondering what kind of 40 year old person would the 16 year old evolve into or were you looking at the 40 year old and saying what happened to her when she was young?

Melissa:            I think when I thought of the character, I kind of knew everything. I knew that she had grown up poor and I knew that she had successfully built her own business. You know, kind of picked herself up from her bootstraps using her beauty and then I knew that something would happen at her 40th birthday because something happened at her 16th. But I didn't know I was going to do, like you said, two novels in one/ and when I realized, oh I could do that, that's how I'm going to show what happened in the past. It kind of clicked. I always knew who she was her entire life. I just didn't realize where I was going to put the camera. I was like, Oh yeah, right there at 16 and definitely at 40. She kind of was whole in my head. Like I knew who she was. I knew her background and her present.

Mindy:             Very cool. Very cool. Last question. What's up next for you? What are you working on?

Melissa:            So right now I'm taking a little bit of a break because I have a couple of books coming out next year. So I'm working on a couple of things that haven't been announced yet. This next year I have a new YA fantasy romance. It's called The Queens Assassin. It's coming out in February. They came to me in a dream. I dreamt about this assassin, this girl hiding in the bushes. And I was like, what are they doing? And I always joke when I wrote my vampire books, Blue Bloods, I would be on panels with Stephanie Meyer and Stephanie would talk about how Edward and Bella came to her in a dream. And I'd be like, please and roll my eyes. And now I want to apologize because now these characters came to me in a dream and I wrote a book about them. So you know, I guess it does happen.

Mindy:             My first book came about because of a dream and, and I guess you can't question inspiration right when it lands.

Melissa:            Oh yeah. You got to go with it. And then my next work after that's coming out in April is Gotham High, which is the first graphic novel that I've written. I've had my books adapted into graphic novels, but I've never written an original graphic novel. And it is the story of Bruce Wayne and the Joker and the Catwoman in high school. That's Gotham High.

Mindy:   Yes, that's exciting. Tell listeners where they can find you online.

Melissa:            I am at

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