WOW: Melissa, it's so marvelous to have you back at The Muffin again and offering us a new book. Chasing Amanda had me on the edge of my seat so I have to ask you how this book came to be. Was it a news story, someone's random remark? Where did the idea come from?
Melissa:Chasing Amanda was born of my worst fears. As a parent, I've always worried about the darker side of society. I evaluate my surroundings for safety first, enjoyment last. I'm a runner, and I used to run on White Ground Road, which is a road that is portrayed in Chasing Amanda. White Ground Road is beautiful, very serene and parts of it are very secluded. One day. while I was running on a particularly creepy section of the road, I began to think about how easily someone could take me into the woods–and how no one would hear me scream. Chasing Amanda was born from that fear.
WOW:Some authors tell me how their books seem to go in a totally different direction once they start writing. Did the plot change much from the inception to the final result?
Melissa:That's a great question, because I think that most books change directions at some point during the writing process. Chasing Amanda's plot didn't change one bit from the original iteration, but subplots were added and back stories were changed. In fact, the sex of Pastor Lett was changed in a later iteration as well, but the plot remained the same.
WOW:It's interesting that the creation of Chasing Amanda was so definite. Perhaps because it was your second book. Does the process become easier with each book? Faster?
Melissa:Chasing Amanda took many years to write because I actually wrote it before I wrote Megan's Way, but it was titled The Knowing at the time. Megan's story was too strong to ignore, so I put The Knowing down while I wrote Megan's Way, and revisited it a year later. It took another year for me to complete Chasing Amanda. The name was changed when I added the subplot of Amanda's death.
I'm now working on my third manuscript, and the writing process definitely becomes more streamlined, and I believe it's because the more we write, the stronger our writing skills.
As for tips on novel writing, follow your heart. If you have a story to tell, and "they" say everyone does, then write it. I think the biggest mistake new writers make is to skip the important step of editing. It's a critical step, and no book should be published without professional editing.
WOW:Along with professional editors, do you have a group of readers to give you feedback on your writing?
Melissa:Beta readers are your best friends and your worst enemies all wrapped up into one. I do have beta readers, or test readers, and they change from novel to novel. I have a few that know me personally, and I have a few that I've never met, but have been associated with. If I am to gain valuable and honest feedback, I have to trust my readers to know that they will not hurt my feelings with their honesty. They are blatantly honest and very picky. I have battled over something as small as one descriptor, and the name of a character. Battle is a strong word, and they aren't really battles, but we have heated discussions sometimes, and I do not always win.
I couldn't produce a strong story without beta readers from all walks of life. If my books are going to appeal to the masses, then they have to offer a valuable theme and enjoyable read. My beta readers help me see things through a reader's perspective rather than through the writer's goggles.
WOW:Can you tell us about your writing experience? Do you have a specific schedule or place to write?
Melissa:I feel like the luckiest woman alive. I love what I do, and would do it for many more hours each day if I had the opportunity. I began writing full-time in 2006, when my youngest child went to school full-time. Since the first day he attended Kindergarten, I've been at my computer, Monday through Friday, from 9 am until 2 pm each day, with the exception of June 15 through September 1st. I don't write during the summers. That's my time to rejuvenate and do a bit of marketing and book signings. I spend the summers with my kids at Cape Cod (where Megan's Way is set).
WOW:A lot of writers are thinking about self-publishing. What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of going the self-publishing route?
Melissa:Self-publishing is a good option for many writers, and nowadays many best selling authors are self-publishing and moving to ebooks (that are self-published). The publishing industry is going through many changes right now, and large publishers seem to be on the fence with taking on authors without a history of publications. No one really knows how long paperbacks are going to remain strong sellers, and if you look at the sheer economy of publishing–ebooks cost nothing but internet speed, while with paper books you have the cost of printing and shipping and then the quandary of costly return policies. I'm a paper book lover, but I recognize that you can buy many ebooks for the cost of one paperback.
One of the main difficulties that surround self-publishing is that you have no big publisher's name behind you, which makes it difficult to get into bookstores. I don't know how much that will have an impact two years from now, but as of today, it seems to still carry somewhat of a stigma.
Marketing is another area of difficulty. Writing and marketing are two completely different occupations, and writers are not marketers. While traditional publishers don't typically handle marketing for their authors, it's easier to maintain a stream on sales when books are on the shelves of bookstores rather than just available on online venues. Then again, that all may change within the next few years.
WOW:You've been offering your ebooks at bargain prices of 99 cents to $2.99. Why did you choose this bargain price? To encourage readers to take a chance on a new writer?
Melissa:This is my second book so I'm not that new of a writer. [She laughs.] Ebooks are essentially downloads. The reason I offer them at bargain rates is I prefer to make my books affordable rather than price them higher for more profit. I write for my books to be read, not for the income. With the vast majority of Kindle books bargain priced, I'm simply keeping up with the market.
WOW:And, always my final question…any news you want to share with us?
Melissa:Megan's Way is currently casting for the film production. This is a major event, because it's my understanding that less than one percent of the books that are pitched as movies actually make it to production. I'm very proud of this accomplishment.
My third novel is almost complete. Come Back to Meis an international love story/tragedy.
Tess Johnson has it all, Beau, her handsome photographer husband, a thriving business, and a newly-discovered pregnancy. When Beau accepts an overseas photography assignment, Tess decides to wait to reveal her secret—only she’s never given the chance. Beau’s helicopter crashes in the desert.
As Tess struggles to put her life back together and deal with the pregnancy she can no longer hide, a new client appears, offering more than just a new project.
Meanwhile, two Iraqi women who are fleeing Honor Killings find Beau alive in the middle of the desert, his body ravaged. Suha, a doctor, and Samira, a widow and mother of three young children, nurse him back to health in a makeshift tent. Beau bonds with the women and children, and together, with the help of an underground organization, they continue their dangerous escape.
What happens next is a test of loyalties, strength, and love.