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 https://melissa-delacruz.com/

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Writing A Novel Set In the Publishing World with Lauren Mechling

Mindy:             Today's guest is Lauren Mechling who has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, The New Yorker online and Vogue where she writes a regular book column. She's worked as a crime reporter and metro columnist for the New York Sun and a features editor at The Wall Street Journal. A Graduate of Harvard College, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

Mindy:             Lauren joined me today to talk about how her own experiences in print media helped form the world of her new novel, How Could She?

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Mindy:             Your new book is titled. How Could She? And it follows Rachel, Sunny and Geraldine. It is very much set in the media world it deals with print, it deals with the collapse in many ways of the print industry and then also the rise of podcasting. So why that world?

Lauren:            Yeah, it's about two collapsing worlds, the collapse of friendships over time and the collapse of an industry that is very dear to my heart. I've been part of, you know, initially print media for two decades. And I also was able to weave in one of my true loves and newer love, which is podcasts. I've listened to so, so, so many podcasts. And it all has sort of fit together, as I thought about it in the sense that the stories about three women, okay, they all started out in the print media world and now, you know, a decade later in their mid thirties they have succeeded to varying degrees or in one case not succeeded.

Lauren:            And podcasting is this new dark horse, or it was. And so Geraldine, the character who, you know, all the memos of how to get ahead in life passed her by. She followed her heart and it backfired on her. And she's essentially suffering PTSD at this point from a failed relationship. And she's working at a job that's so beneath her. The only opportunity she really ends up having is one that she creates herself, which is a podcast. And that ends up being the engine of her, you know, ascent and a, you know, a whole new adventure for her.

Mindy:             And one of the things that I enjoyed so much being also an author and moving in the print world myself in the world of publishing, one of the lines that I loved was when one of the characters who is writing a YA novel is talking to an editor and the editor says, "You write beautifully but so does my cat." And I loved that. It was a wonderful indication and it's so true, that just being able to write and even write very well is not enough. There are so many elements involved.

Lauren:            More and more. I mean I think at the time when I wrote that what I was thinking was there has to be a hook, there has to be a high concept there. You know, in order to write a story that has any chance in the market place, you also have to basically tell a whole other story, which is that of yourself and market yourself on, you know, in social media. So yes, being able to put a sentence together is sort of the least of it.

Mindy:             Right. Even if you can do it very well, it doesn't matter. You have to be a hustler and you have to be a mover and a shaker and you have to be able to sell yourself. And I think it's a really interesting dichotomy because a lot of creatives aren't that person. That the performative quality when you're a writer isn't necessarily always there. So do you have any, any thoughts on that?

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Lauren:            I've definitely had to jump into the limelight more than I ever was. I've always felt like I've been like living in the margins even when it doesn't seem that way to other people. I always feel like a bit of an outsider and an observer and yes, now I am, um, you know, writing tons of personal essays and doing interviews about myself. It's, it's strange and I feel that the Lauren Mechling from two years ago, if she saw what was happening, she might be horrified. But it's actually fun and it's necessary. I think it's completely justifiable in a way that maybe the snobby, older version of me wouldn't have thought. I, you know, I really have a story to tell. And so I'm doing whatever I can, I'm doing it for these three women who I invented.

Mindy:             When I was first getting started, I had that, oh, you know, writer in the high castle creating their art for Art's sake. And now I'm like, what do you want me to do? Do you need my hair to be pink? I can make it pink.

Lauren:            It's also fun. I'm not an introvert and I'm not an extrovert. I'm a mix of the two. And writing is hard. I don't feel, I don't think I would be happy if I were in a castle just churning out fiction nonstop. I'm meeting, really cool people. And I also really like, you know, even talking on the phone, which I never get to do anymore. Now I get to do it. And so there's, there's a good side to it. Absolutely. I hope it'll feed me and feed me to, you know, to go back to the castle or as it were, the Brooklyn desk and you know, go back, go into retreat a little bit again.

Mindy:             No, absolutely. Because it is a solitary undertaking and you do need, you do need to refuel sometimes and other people... I'm the same way. Other people help me do that. If I was working in solitary constantly, just being an artist, I think it would stop. My work would suffer.

Lauren:            Totally. There's left, right? There's a writer, oh, Kristin Miller. I remember once, she's a young adult writer and she wants to tell me she had a theory, which is there has to be an equal amount of coming in and going out in that, you know, material comes into you and then it comes out of you as your work and it's important to her to take breaks and be in the world and then go back and have funny things to say about it.

Mindy:             Oh yes. I agree with that. I was a YA librarian for a long time, so I remember, Kristen's series.

Lauren:            Yes. Great. Kiki Strike.

Mindy:             Yes. And Kiki Strike. Yeah.

Lauren:            Yeah. She's so cool.

Mindy:             Wonderful writer. Coming up, the complexities of female friendships as a storytelling concept.

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Mindy:             So the focus of the book also, while the setting and the realm that it's operating in is very much the, the print world. Your focus is very much on female relationships and the intimacy of that, but then also the intimacy fading and there becoming this space in between and some of the assumptions that we make about people that we used to know and perhaps changed and all of the different ways and the complications of a female friendship over time. So if you want to talk about that a little bit since it's a huge focus in the book.

Lauren:            Well, when I started writing the book, I was thinking about the three women's arcs, you know, as an x-y axis of, you know, where they would start when the book starts in January, you know, New Years and then where they would find themselves the next New Years. But in turns out it's essentially not a very accurate way of thinking about the way people change or their relationships change because there's the element of time as this third dimension. And in that sense that people who are intertwined and have a relationship between the two of them, when they reach a point of, you know, everything going well and feeling close to each other and they have, you know, they know how to relate to each other and they have their rhythms. Life throws curve balls and one person will have failures and one person will have successes or you know, new people enter the picture.

Lauren:            And so friendships are, they're very, very, very vulnerable and they're all, they always have to evolve to the moment and then be ready to spin around again and take on a new configuration. And in the book, I really, I looked at these three women who had a, they sort of had a pretty good thing going when they got to know each other. I mean, it was a bit of a fraught triangle because two of the women were very suspicious of each other and not very close, but they all knew where they stood and they all had their roles and they all were for the better because of their relationships with other women. Enter a decade plus, and it's really, really, really hard to maintain the fiction that friendship, these friendships will just remain strong and unchanged and keep going because, you know, someone has a baby, someone becomes a, you know, semi-famous person. Someone has setbacks that cause her to feel, feel sad in a way that other people maybe they don't really understand or they can't truly relate to.

Mindy:             Yes, it's very true. Especially in, um, relationships where one person has a level of success that another has clearly not achieved. You can't ignore that imbalance.

Lauren:            Right. And of course there's lots to go around, but it often doesn't feel that way. It often feels as though one person's success is the reason why you're not where you want to be. Well, and I think it's hard. And the other way, if you, if you know, you do become lucky in some way, you've acknowledged that. Do you talk about it with your friend or you know, do you just keep talking about the same old thing or do you say, hey, I get it. This is weird, this thing that I want it to happen has happened.

Mindy:             It is literally only criticism I have of Big Little Lies. I don't know if you watch it, but

Lauren:            I watched the first season.

Mindy:             Okay. No one ever talks about the fact that Jane is poor. Like it just doesn't come up.

Lauren:            Oh, that's interesting.

Mindy:             Well, right. I mean they're all just so rich and so well off and they're like, Jane's our friend and it's never...

Lauren:            Right. Why can't we talk about that? But my story is set in New York City, class and wealth are huge, huge factors in who we are and how people perceive us. And we all also have these financial mysteries that we conceal from each other. You know, everyone has weird way of surviving. People you know, do things on the side or they get things slipped to them from their aunt or something and it's not, you know, people don't even talk about their salaries very often.

Mindy:             No, I remember that when I got my first book deal, my editor said, don't tell other authors what your advance was.

Lauren:            Uh Huh. Did you think she said that because she didn't want other authors to ask for the same or do you think it was that she didn't want people to be jealous of you or what?

Mindy:             I have no idea. I am not sure. And at the time I was like, oh, okay. And because I was a baby writer I was like, okay, I'll take this very seriously. But now I, I'm just... I believe in transparency and I'm just very honest about what I make and I don't feel a reason to like maintain this fiction of the mystery of income in the creative world.

Lauren:            Right? I mean, right now there's that thing going around where people are, you know, everyone was horrified when the author Taffy Akner talked about how she reached a point in magazine journalism where she was asking for $4 a word. And people were scandalized by that saying, that's so much. That's so unfair. But it's just think even that it's ridiculous and it's simplistic. And if, let's say a magazine writer is writing two 1000 word stories, like it's still not enough to live on. So we're so easily shocked and scandalized by talking money.

Mindy:             Oh, we are, that's very true. When I do, um, when I speak in front of groups and people ask, especially if I'm doing school visits, kids love to ask, how much money do you make? That's always what people want to know. And so I just started answering them. And then I tell them the number and they're just like, oh my God, and then I break it down for them. This is before taxes, this is spread out over 18 months in three payments and once you do that, they're like, oh, it's actually not that much money. I'm like, no, it's not. One of the questions I get because it's a symbol I guess for I'm very landlocked, so maybe that's why, but people will always ask me, do you have a boat? And I'm like, I have a canoe and I bought it used. That's my budget.

Lauren:            It's like in New York, a car in New York City.

Mindy:             That's exactly what it is.

Mindy:             Lastly, how podcast figure into Lauren's new novel and where to find the book and Lauren online.

Mindy:             So I want to talk about podcasting and your focus on podcasting in the book as well. Since that is how Geraldine then goes on to make a mark for herself and how you know, what led you to that? I know that you're an avid listener, so it just your own consumption. What kicked that particular plot element?

Lauren:        Sure. I mean it must've been, you know, it's, it's front and center and then in the back of my head, just the, the beauty in the world of podcasts and then as a fiction writer, you know, we, we sort of retake the ingredients that life hands us and make art out of them. And when I listen to podcasts, one of the things I do, I learn about the world and people who are being interviewed. But I also fantasize about, I don't know, just the podcasting life and who are these people who are doing the interviews and how do they get here? And usually it is people who come from more traditional of journalism backgrounds or entertainment backgrounds and then they decide that they want to do something where yeah, they can curse and things don't have to be perfectly or redone over and over.

Lauren:            It can just feel natural. And I love also the, the conversational element because we don't have conversations the way, I mean, I used to talk on the phone for hours, hours and hours a night when I was young. There's nothing that terrifies people more than the words, "are you up for a quick call?" It's like people are scared. They think that it means I've, you know, I'm going to tell them that somebody died or that I'm mad at them when in fact I just like to shoot the shit.

Lauren:            So in podcasts people get to do that and it worked in the narrative because there is like, there isn't that barrier of entry as far as I imagine to making podcasts as there is to getting a job at some international corporation that peddled news and culture stories. So Geraldine, I love her. She is lost. She is lovely. She is curious. She's smart, she's unafraid but fragile. And of course she latches onto podcasting. And in fact it turns out to be the best thing she's ever done in her life. Whereas her friends who have these more, you know, perceived as fancy, enviable situations. I mean one of them is a coveted artists, you know, tastemaker. And then the other one is a Young Adult writer and who has a part time job in a magazine, but their professional struggles are much greater.

Mindy:             Last thing, let listeners know where they can find you online and where they can find the book.

Lauren:            The book is available anywhere are sold. It's called, How could She? Has a bright orange cover with big lettering, hard to miss. And online I am at Lauren Mechling on Twitter and I spent a lot of time there and on Instagram I am at Laurenomics like economics, but Laurenomics and I am also at The Clog Life, which is a whole other story, but it's a very fun community.

Making Art Even When You're Lost with Andrea Hannah

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Mindy:             Today's guest is Andrea Hannah, an award winning author, essayist and workshop leader. She teaches on living a healthy, creative life at her Wild Heart retreats and writes about making art on Twitter and Instagram. Andrea joined me today to talk about using the same process, whether she's writing fiction or nonfiction, and the constant hustle of being a successful freelancer.

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Mindy:             You have written both essays and novels. You are a staff writer for Bustle and your YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust released from Flux in 2014. So you obviously have some experience across the board with different types of writing. If you could talk a little bit about your own creative process and how you manage those different arts of writing with the essay versus fiction.

Andrea:            It's super interesting because when you think about it, all of those forms and structures are completely different, right? But when I start any piece, whether it's a long form piece or even a short story or a poem or even if it's something for myself personally, I always start the same way. I think of my creativity as a message of what I want to say and who I am. We work in ideas and we are putting new, innovative thoughts out into the world that hopefully catch fire. So I always start with what do I want to say with this piece? I have tons of interests and I could go in a million different directions at any time. What is it that's important for me to say and am I the person that should be saying it?

Andrea:            So once I have that down, then I kind of work in big ideas, big abstract ideas I might think of mood or tone or theme. And that's where I started getting some visual ideas. I have like a private Pinterest board where I start putting things together for that. I build a world around it, characters and plot. And that's true for both nonfiction and fiction. So even when I write essays about my past, you're still applying a narrative structure to a life - basically to chaos. The only difference with Bustle is that I'm projecting Bustle's message. So they have a specific prompt and they have a message and what they want to say. And I'm just making sure that I echo that.

Mindy:             As someone who is interested myself in freelance writing and that process of getting picked up to write smaller pieces as opposed to really burying yourself in something that's going to take possibly years to write and hope that it can turn into an income. Can you talk a little bit about managing those smaller pieces and turning those smaller pieces like an essay into a freelance income? How does one get their foot in the door at a place like Bustle?

Andrea:            It is so rewarding to just work on a piece for like a week and turn it in and see it get published and be done with it like it's off your plate and it's so satisfying because you know how it is with a novel. It's just years and years until you can really see the finished product. Security's a big issue. I have two small kids and if I wanted to make a freelance career, I knew I would have to have something that had some stability where I knew more work was coming just for my own mental health. Bustle is actually one of the best companies to freelance for because they often post job listings online and they will look for what they call staff writers, but they're actually freelancers. Like I have to pay taxes out of my... On my own. So they have staff writers that they are on staff and you get a weekly schedule and a weekly list of articles and you apply for the job like you would any other job.

Andrea:            Like I think I sent in my resume in a pitch, a sample pitch, and then they called me and we had interviews and back and forth kind of thing. So, and I get a trial day there, but it's been wonderful. I've been there for a year and a half. It's a great company to work for and I know that there's always work coming, so it's got the stability of a regular job. But then there's also the flexibility, which is great. A couple of my other freelance clients, I go straight for. They're people that I pitched directly where I liked their work online, like they might be small business owners or studios or different places that I've been to before that I really like and I had sent them an email just conversational, friendly, like, Hey, I've been to your yoga studio or I really admire your work or I've read this book and I follow your business on platforms.

Andrea:            If you ever need a content or a copywriter, I do both. Here's a sample of my work, please contact me. And that's worked out for me a few times as well. So I have a couple of stable ghostwriting clients that I meet with on the phone every week and I write blogs and different social media posts for them as well. So, and then I also place like the periodic essay in different places as well, like Thrive Global or MindBodyGreen or any of those. That's not where the majority of my income comes from, if that makes sense.

Mindy:             Every freelancer that I've talked to talks about the hustle involved because you are chasing down every job.

Andrea:            Oh, for sure. Absolutely. So for me, having those stable behind the scenes incomes are really important for me because it's enough money where I feel secure enough and anything after that is bonus. So if I can't hustle for a specific week because I have a sick kid or I'm sick, it gives me a little bit more leeway.

Mindy:             You also have extensive experience, not only with your own creative process, but nursing the creative process of others as well as their creative soul. You offer both workshops and retreats to assist creatives. So if you could tell my listeners about how you came to create these programs and what they have to offer to participants.

Andrea:            You know how you look back at your life and there are clues to what you should have been doing all along, especially when you were younger and you don't really see it at the time. But hindsight's twenty twenty. That's kind of what this has been like for me. So I was recently at lunch with a group of writer friends and we were chatting about writing stuff and all of them said, oh yeah, I used to come home from middle school and just open up my mom's clunky laptop. And all I did was write until it was time for dinner. And they all chimed in. They're like, yeah. And I wrote my journals and I wrote in this and I was kind of like, aw, I didn't do that at all. I never had that desire to do that. What's interesting is I was always kind of like a creative kid who liked to make crafts and, and do art, and I went to art classes and I did dance and ballet and I wrote funny stories for a period, but mostly I was a creative kid who wanted to be a helper.

Andrea:            Anybody who needed help. I was always like, oh, I'll help you. And I was always kind of like, everybody's unofficial counselor. And I loved it. So I went into teaching actually. Really, I was a special education teacher for a long time and that quenched that thirst to help people, but it didn't necessarily allow me a lot of leeway to, to explore creativity and others'. And then early in my career, my mom died and she was super sick for a while before that. And my mom was a really, really creative, wild woman person born a little bit too soon. Um, she was just born at the wrong time and didn't have a lot of chances to express as her creativity.

Andrea:            She was a single mom working a lot, that kind of thing. And so her passing away really lit something in me to help creative people create with less friction in their lives. And uh, it merged the creative part of myself and the helper part of myself. There's this lack of allowing in creative people, so many artists and writers and musicians I talk to say things like, I can't write that because that's not marketable or I can't write in the morning because then I might miss this. I can't miss a single basketball game or else I'll be a bad parent. Or, if I take time for my own writing, the house will go to garbage, kind of thing. There's so much resistance to just letting yourself be who you're going to be and allowing yourself to be creative in the ways that you were made to be creative and allowing your projects to be what they're going to be.

Andrea:            And so over the years between my teaching - I also teach a creative writing class at a community college - doing mini workshops, has really led me to distill that theory down to "let's teach people how to know themselves, how to allow creativity to come through them." That's basically what my retreats are about. That's what any of my newsletters are about. It's, it's about time to sit back, find out who you are and what works best for you, and I've designed some specific tools, like a mapmaking process. And we do use some esoteric tools sometimes, like we dip into Tarot and astrology and all that stuff as tools for self-reflection so that you can find your own path and what works best for you and and make some cool stuff.

Mindy:             One of the things that I really heard you talking about underneath all of that is guilt. Essentially it's a lose lose because we feel guilt if we aren't being creative because we do know that we are not fulfilling something that we are called to and also we are failing that project. Whatever that project would be. Whether you have one novel in your, if you have 10 it's like if you are not fulfilling that story, your story that no one else is going to tell, then you do feel like you're failing on that end. But then as you're saying, there is just a myriad of real life requirements that we have everyday. Kids, job, work, house, all of the things, social pressures, even all of the things that we are required to do to be a healthy functioning human being or at least socially responsible. And I think especially women, especially when it comes to the house and keeping the house clean and keeping food on the table and raising the kids. And it's not meant to be a sexist statement because plenty of men fulfill those jobs too. But I think women suffer more socially and personally if they're not doing those things and doing them very well.

Andrea:            I totally agree with you. I can't tell you how many people, women in my life have been or women identifying people in my life have been like, ah, I can't. I when the kids get older, I will make that website, write that novel, paint that painting. Women more than men, need somebody to stand there and pat them on the back for a second and be like, look, it's all right. You can get going on this. And I like being that encourager and I, even if that means I'm not in person encouraging them at a retreat. Maybe it's through Instagram posts or a newsletter or whatever. I just want women to know that what you make has value beyond and who you are has value beyond what you can do for somebody else.

Mindy:             I think it's really interesting too, you're talking about being a creative yourself yet, but many of your urges are directed towards helping others with their work. And I find that really fascinating to be honest because, and I say this as a creative myself, most of us are pretty self involved.

Andrea:            That's so funny. I, yeah, I didn't think of it like that.

Mindy:             I have never felt like, you know, I am going to help someone else make their work as good as possible because that is a drive that I have. You know what I mean? It's not. My passion is for my own work I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Andrea:            So you know what's so funny about that? I think that goes back to me as a kid being like, well what do you mean? Nobody? Like everybody else is sitting around painting and writing. Like I want to go help that kid on the street or something. And I'm not trying to say that to be like, look at me. I'm so awesome. It's just truly has been a drive within me my whole life. And I think what's interesting about that is I actually just quit teaching in a traditional school very recently and I had been teaching part time for a while. Up until then, and to be honest with you, I could have financially quit teaching a while ago, but I didn't for the reason that I didn't want to ever stay at home all day and write. That has never appealed to me. That kind of gives me hives. Thinking about it, I wanted to teach like I want to help people. I want to be interacting with people regularly. So I just started doing my retreats last year and I've booked a bunch of workshops and I'm regularly teaching at the community college by my house. I feel like I could leave that school setting. I wasn't going to be at home writing all day, which is so funny because people are so different.

Mindy:             Coming up. How Andrea's upcoming release A Map for Wild Hearts is designed to help creatives find their way through the obstacles blocking their artistic goals.

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Mindy:             So let's talk a little bit about how you do help people find their way to their art. Your newest release A Map for Wild Hearts: How to Make Art Even When You Are Lost, is designed to help the reader with a myriad of problems that they may come across in their creative process, but also their larger lives. So if you could tell us a little bit about that, what your goals are for that book and some of the things that you're hoping to address with that title.

Andrea:            A Map for Wild Hearts is one of the books in my heart. And I would say it's kind of a culmination of all of my life's philosophies wrapped up into this workbook. And it's part guidebook, it's part essay, and it's part research-backed philosophy on how to create with less friction. So the First Section of the book is titled How You Got Here. And it's very forest metaphor heavy, but it's all about how you may have gotten lost. Various ways that creatives tend to get lost. Everything from toxic relationships or showing your work before you're ready, or a comparison or lack of stability and structure in your own life or not dreaming big enough. And it talks through each section that way. And then the second section is How to Make A Map. Basically, how to get yourself out of the woods. You start with the idea and I walk readers through their creative process.

Andrea:            There are seven chapters where it starts with internal and it ends up being external. So the first three chapters are ideas and identifying your own voice and identifying your direction you want to head into. And each chapter comes with specific activities. Everything from prompts to mad libs style, fill in the blank to little quizzes. So they go through and do that. And once you've got your internal stuff together, you can kind of start to seek out relationships that are good for you or how to know when it's time to show your art to somebody. That's a lot about emotions. Like jealousy and anger and sadness. And then it also talks about joy.

Mindy:             I particularly like what you're saying about toxic relationships and also comparison. It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, someone is ahead of you. I know so many people and I was one of these that I thought, you know, if I could just get published then I will be happy. And uh, that's simply not true. You appreciate being published, but then you're like, well, I've got one book out now I want two. Now I want a movie deal. Why don't I have a Netflix show? You're never fulfilled. And then you're looking at other people going, well they have that. Why don't I?

Andrea:            So I'll tell you a little story. I'll be completely honest about this book as well. This is indie published and it's the first time I've done this and I've actually hadn't had any interest in indie publishing even though I think it's wonderful. I just, it hasn't been my avenue of choice until now. And I have an agent, we had this on submission for a long time as a proposal. And then I wrote the entire thing and had it professionally edited, which I don't suggest anybody does that, but I was so certain that this book had to be out in the world that I was going to indie publish it if it didn't sell. So it was an investment for me. We put it out and it got really close to being picked up several times. But in the end it was the marketing department at acquisitions that was like, I don't know, it's kind of this strange hybrid, like I wouldn't know how to market it.

Andrea:            Is it adult? Is it this? Is it a workbook? Is it a prose book kind of thing? And so it got turned down at acquisitions and for me that was heartbreaking. But I sat with myself a little bit there and I said, okay, what's the message, right? Do I think this is important enough to go out? Like I tell all these creatives, be brave, make without fear, put things out there, take chances. So I had to do that as well. And I am indie publishing this. It comes out on August 13 and to be honest with you, I'm, I'm happier with the publishing journey than I've been in a long time. It doesn't have a traditional book deal, but people are excited about it. People who read early copies have said that it's helped them so much that they can't wait to share it with other people. And that's really all I wanted for the book. So in the end, my goal is aligned with with what it is and I think that that matters more than looking at what other people have going on for them.

Mindy:             That's the truth. And I know just from having gone to acquisitions and been turned down quite a few times, that marketing, they're the ones that make the decision in the end and as a creative it is frustrating because I have zero control over what the market is doing. You have to look at it as a positive in that if it's the case that it made it to acquisitions, then that is an indicator that you're doing something right. It's not a judgment on your work usually. It literally is the market and the list at that moment and in that time that is making the decision about whether or not you're getting published.

Andrea:            Totally. And I say that in A Map For Wild Hearts too. There's a thin line between knowing when critique is valid and when you have to trust your own gut on something. And for me that was the line. If I had had editors saying, you know this part needs work, this doesn't make sense. If I had found some common threads, some common ground between all of what my agent was saying and critique partners and editors, then I would have really taken that to heart. There was no common thread and it was a marketing department decision for me that just meant well then I'll market it. Like, I'll do it.

Mindy:             Right. Absolutely. You know your audience and you know how and who to market it to. So strike out on your own for sure. And I like to what you're saying about how you had to take your own medicine, essentially you had to go and do the thing that you have been telling people to do for a long time and make that leap.

Andrea:            For sure. And I'm not going to lie, it was, it is and was super scary, but I am so glad that I've done it. So my advice to anybody trying to make anything is you go and you do it and try not to think about what other people are doing and just listen to your own true voice on it. And it might end up with an agent or it might end up with a publisher or you might be indie publishing it or you might lose passion for it and put it in a drawer. And you have to be okay with all of those results. You know how publishing is. You just don't know what's going to happen.

Mindy:             Oh, you don't. And it's entirely out of your control, which is freeing once you managed to embrace that.

Mindy:             Lastly, writing through chronic pain, illness, depression, and where to find Andrea online.

Mindy:             One of my most popular episodes on this podcast is with Hillary Jastram who is the CEO of SickBiz and she deals with chronic pain herself while being a creative. And so her episode about mental illness and depression and dealing with chronic pain while being a creative is my most downloaded episode. So in A Map for Wild Hearts is chronic pain, depression or mental illness something that you address as a block, as something that is getting in the way of the creative process for your readers?

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Andrea:            Oh heck yes. I am depressed and I also have generalized anxiety disorder and if you believe it or not, for all of my loving being around people, I also have social anxieties. And I have worked with different therapists and medications my entire life. So I address that a lot and I'm honest about that a lot. I offer suggestions, but mostly I offer grace. I want people to feel, especially people who are chronically ill, to feel that they are witnessed and seen and heard and that there is another creative out there that is doing her best to make cool stuff everyday. But that sometimes I just can't make it either. And one thing that I have that I think is helpful for anyone dealing with chronic pain as a creative is at the end of each chapter I have a Make Your Map exercise so people can actually make a visual representation of their creative process. And then if that is too hard for them and they're, you know, just struggling to get through that, there's something called a mapping modification where it actually gives you visuals or suggestions so that you can just plug them right in their map and it kinda takes the burden of figuring something else out away from you. So I think it is also helpful if you're really, really struggling. There's another like stepping stone to help you get there.

Mindy:             You've mentioned the mapping concept a few times. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that process works?

Andrea:        Sure. It is so fun. Actually. I just had a workshop on it and online workshop for a Woman Unleashed and it was so much fun. I provide you with a pdf of map paper, but you can make your own. It's mostly just a blank sheet of paper with a little box in the corner for a key and then another box for a compass. So as we go through each chapter and we work from internal to external, we add little things to your map and we kind of think of the map as one project at a time. So if I'm working on finishing my novel, I try to make this map to represent what I'm going through and what my creative process is going to look like just for this project. Because as you know, things change with every book and piece that you write.

Andrea:            I have this map and in the compass section I might think of a theme I want to go towards or a message I want to send and I write it down on my map. And then as I'm going along, I think of typical obstacles that might get in my way before I finish this thing. And for me that looks different with every book that I write. So this last book I just finished. I was in too many things, coaching too many soccer things, taking kids to ballet, just I had way too much going on. So I wrote that in my key with a little extension bridge as my symbol for that. And then another obstacle I had lack of rest and I put a little angry grizzly bear in there for that. And so you may make a key of all of your obstacles that, that you can foresee coming up and you also make the key of the antidote for those obstacles.

Andrea:            So, over extension would be rest and not resting would also be rest. And then also community and socialization or I'm trying a creative art that isn't writing, to kind of refresh my brain. And you just make a path through the woods. I walk you through in more detail on the book. A lot of people like to use the maps when they finish as like a vision board so that they can tack it up on their corkboard or on their desk so they can keep it handy when they're feeling really stuck. And a lot of people alter them as they go along, like and they come other obstacles and they can brainstorm with friends about what the antidote might be. And it just kind of gives you a really realistic picture, a bird's eye view of what it's going to take out of you and that you also have solutions to those things that you might come across.

Mindy:             Very cool. So it is a literal map of the obstacles that you envision getting in your way to your goal and how you plan to circumvent them.

Andrea:            Yes, totally.

Mindy:             So cool. I love it. Last thing, what is up next for you and where can listeners find you online?

Andrea:        Oh my gosh. I feel like I have a million disjointed parts coming out next for me. I actually just finished my first YA in a really long time. It's called Black Bear Wild and it's about black bears that lumber into this town and are attacking the town and people because they are, they're starving from climate change, which is actually a real thing that's happening right now. And about a girl who is, her father is like a famous wildlife biologist and then her longtime boyfriend goes missing and they think it was a bear attack and she's got to figure out all this. So I'm really excited about that book. It's still in the editing phase with my agent though, so it'll be awhile until anything happens to that. But I'm super pumped that I went back to YA after a long hiatus there. And then I am also working on a graphic novel and it's called Heroes of the Oak and it's about, um, it's a Jumanji meets Stranger Things mashup, which is really fun. I'm just doing my retreats and I'm doing some workshops. I'm doing one in New York City in October. And you can find me online on my website. It's just my name. It's Andreahannah.com and I'm on all the socials at andeehannah.

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