Reprinted from Author Dean Mayes
I am really excited to be featuring the sublimely talented author Melissa Foster this week. Having just turned the final page on her latest release "Chasing Amanda", I wanted to feature Melissa here writ large because it is not often that one has the pleasure to read a story that is so engaging as well as being intellectually challenging and – put simply – a reading experience, rather than being just a good read. So let me begin by giving you my take on Chasing Amanda.
Chasing Amanda by Melissa Foster My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I tweeted recently that upon completing Melissa Foster's "Chasing Amanda" I declare that this is one of the most intelligent, engaging and luminous books of it's genre in 2011, so it is with much pleasure that I elaborate on those descriptors here and now.
Chasing Amanda transcends the conventional "who-dunnit" styled thriller yarn by introducing multiple potential antagonists into the narrative early that have you, the reader, thinking right from the get go. And just when you think that you might have figured the mystery out early, Melissa Foster throws in the most elegant curve ball that totally knocks you off balance and has you scrambling to revisit the clue-set once more in an attempt to regain the upper hand in the story experience. It is an intelligent mystery that is certainly the most unique I've read and it's definitely the most challenging – and I mean that in a good way.
We are witness to an unnerving tale – set in Boyd's, an 'every-town' in rural Maryland, USA. Through the eyes of Molly Tanner, an engaging woman who presents an attractive dichotomy of hardened determination underneath a vulnerable exterior, we journey through a complex narrative which has at it's center, a missing young girl for whom time is fast running out.
Molly's unique gift for clairvoyance – which is both a blessing and a curse, becomes a vital tool in the search for the missing child but it puts her at odds with the town's folk, the authorities and even her husband. It is here, in the relationship with her husband Cole that we are able to access the roots of Molly's "Knowing" and how it has impacted on her and her family.
Author, Melissa Foster, paints in several key back stories that serve as powerful drivers of the central plot and she handles them with an almost surgical grace, integrating them into the narrative so that they become a natural extension of it.
Her attention to characterization too, is a joy to read and none of the actors in Chasing Amanda, are there to simply be. The relationships are fully realized and they are sometimes painful to bare witness to. Motivations are defined cleverly and are revealed as they need to be. This is, once again, the genius of Foster's prose. Each of her characters serve the story wonderfully and it makes for a very satisfying reading experience.
The sense of mystery, tension and atmosphere are imbued deftly into the narrative and like Kwei Quartey – who I reviewed last week – Melissa Foster's style is sensorial – visual, aural and tactile. If you let it "Chasing Amanda" is a story that you can experience rather than just simply observe.
Upon completing "Chasing Amanda" I sat back and said aloud, "Wow…just Wow". I was exhausted but exhilarated, knowing that I had read a novel that had been written with consummate care and respect for the genre in which it resides.
Melissa Foster is a stand out author. "Chasing Amanda" is a stand out novel.
Now here's the real treat for you. Melissa Foster has kindly agreed to sit down in the luxurious DFA pad today to talk a little about Chasing Amanda and her writing journey and I began by asking her to fill me and you guys in on how that journey began.
Melissa Foster – welcome to my little patch of ground and thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. You have certainly blazed quite a trail across the writing world with two brilliant publications "Megan's Way" – which I note, is being adapted into a screenplay – & "Chasing Amanda". Could you tell me a little about your writing journey and your background that has lead you towards Melissa Foster, Author?
Hi Dean, thank you so much for featuring me on your site. I don’t know about blazing a trail, but I’m doing what I can to make my mark and help others along the way. I have six children, and I waited about fifteen years to be able to write full time. I think it’s for that reason that I savor every second of my writing day. I’ve just started a blog series about my road to publication and beyond, so I won’t bore you with those details, but I would be happy to share a bit of my path with you.
Like many other aspiring authors, I went the traditional querying route with Megan’s Way back in 2009. The economy was bad and the publishing industry seemed to be on the cusp of many changes and experiencing lay offs. I was told by several agents that they liked Megan’s Way, but could not sell as story that was not upbeat. That was all it took. Tell me that something can’t be done, and I will find a way to prove you wrong. I decided to put Megan’s Way into the hands of readers and use it as a test of my writing abilities. I quickly found out that readers enjoyed my writing, and found inspiration through Megan’s journey.
My next release, Chasing Amanda, was picked up (via referral) by a publisher the day after they read the book. That, too, proved to be an eye-opening experience. There are benefits to using a small publisher and benefits to self-publishing. I’ve decided to query literary agents for my third book, since I have yet to go that route. Publishing has been a learning experience. I really owe my readers a tremendous amount of gratitude. Without their encouragement, the process of being turned down when querying could be overwhelming. Thank you, readers!
Readers certainly are our target after all and I know, in my own experience, they are more important to me than any of the 'middle men' I have dealt with in my own journey. With "Chasing Amanda" you have crafted an exceptional story that is quite visceral – that is to say – we as the reader, are given the opportunity to go deep into the psyches of the central characters. It makes for a gripping reading experience and I know that, at times, I was certainly having to remind myself to breathe. Was it a challenge for you to explore those psyches – in particular those of the darker characters in the story? Did you find yourself exhausted by those explorations?
That’s a great question, Dean. I tend to climb into the heads of characters and remain there while writing from their perspectives. What I found was that I was continuously looking for the likable trait, the one thing that would salvage my attachment to them. It made me dig deeper into who they were and why they each did what they did. I enjoyed that level of writing. I wasn't exhausted by it, but rather energized by the process. I learned a lot about where characters could be taken.
That is some great insight Melissa and certainly encouraging for those of us who value character as drivers of plot. How much of your central character, Molly Tanner's experience in the story was informed by your own life experience? For example, there is a strong parental theme running through the narrative. How much of your own experience as a parent influenced Molly's characterization?
I always want to be able to say that the female characters are not at all like me, but honestly, some of those traits that you see in Molly, the way she interacts with Erik, the determination, that is partially drawn from my own life. I am not as brave as Molly, though. I’m not sure I could have done what she did at the end of the book. I won’t reveal it here, but I can only strive to be that brave.
I will note that in my next book, Come Back To Me, I am nothing like the main characters. I worked very hard to make sure that connection was not made.
Ahhh, you've already got me intrigued! Clairvoyance features strongly in "Chasing Amanda". What attracts you to this gift and how did you develop it conceptually for the story? What research did you undertake on the faculty of clairvoyance?
I’m drawn to the supernatural because of personal experiences. Some shy away from controversial topics, and I tried to do that, but I was unable to change that aspect. I finally decided that some people would enjoy that aspect of the story, while others might poo-poo it in general, and that was something I was willing to accept. I spoke to people who have many different “gifts” of clairvoyance, and the research was the most interesting I’ve done to date.
Those supernatural elements are definitely some of the most intriguing to me. How did you approach the story construction for "Chasing Amanda"? Did you structure a refined plot right from the beginning whereby everything was known to you or did you take a more organic approach that allowed the story to flow and for you to make the discoveries that we as the reader make?
I am a total panzer. I knew that Molly was going to look for Tracey, and I knew who had Tracey, the rest developed as I wrote. I feel confined by organized writing. Outlines stifle my creativity, so while it makes for more work later (my editor ALWAYS wants an outline), it works for me.
Panzers everywhere just did a little happy dance of excitement Melissa! How did you feel upon completing work on "Chasing Amanda"? To me it was a roller coaster ride of intense imagery and narrative and I reluctantly closed the final page feeling quite exhausted – and I mean that in a good way! Did the experience of writing such a rich and cracking story leave you feeling the same way?
Thank you for the compliment, Dean. I began writing Chasing Amanda in 2006, when it was titled The Knowing. After the first draft, I set it aside and wrote Megan’s Way. When I returned to Chasing Amanda a year and a half later, the storyline had begun changing. The ride of writing Chasing Amanda was exciting, the ending elated me. When I figured out the best way to bring closure to Tracey’s situation, I remember a smile that would not fade. I practically screamed from the rooftop, and was excited to send the manuscript off to my beta readers.
Awesome! You have a strong and impressive presence across the social media landscape and your ethos towards the support and promotion of fellow authors is a lovely quality. What has been your experience in developing your promotional platform and how successful do you think it has been?
Wow, thank you. I don’t think of myself as having anything very impressive, besides The Women’s Nest, which, to me, is impressive due to the members and their caring nature, rather than what I’ve done to create it.
In social media, while I have to use it to market my books (don’t we all), I also see it as a way to remind people to be kind. I decided a few months ago that I was going to let my own personality come through, so you’ll see many posts about kids, kindness, peace, and promoting others. I gain great pleasure from helping people stop and smell the roses, and helping their days be a little bit brighter. If I could have an ideal job, it would probably be to walk around and give people compliments, help them to smile, hold doors open, etc. Sometimes I see people with such long faces, like life has just beaten them down, and I try to do something that will help them see the brighter side of life. Friendship goes a long way.
I think my nature has drawn people to me, and I’m thankful, because I’ve met some of the kindest, most giving and interesting people through social networks.
You certainly have attracted a lot of people to you and I must say, in my own experience, you are truly a joy to know. I look forward to your Tweets! Now, there seems to be some exciting developments happening in your world, most notably with your other work "Megan's Way". How is the development of the book as a screenplay progressing and what new projects are you looking towards?
There’s been a big change in that arena—including a change in directors. Megan’s Way is now gearing up to be a major motion picture instead of heading for film festivals. It’s quite exciting. I’m not at liberty to disclose much more than that until I’m given the go-ahead, but it’s very exciting indeed!
I’m hoping to have my next release, Come Back To Me, published soon, and in September I’ll get back to writing Shades of Gray, a YA/women’s fiction crossover.
Lastly, I will be launching the WoMen’s Literary Café in a few weeks, bridging the gap between readers and authors, and bringing author services and cross promotions under one easily navigable venue. This will be the ultimate give-back to the writing community, and the goal is to teach authors how to promote and cross promote without associate costs. There are several authors who are partnering with me in this venture, and together we hope to help everyone gain a solid platform and name recognition.
Thank you so much, Dean, for giving me the opportunity to be a guest on your blog. The Women’s Nest Book Club is reading Hambledown Dream in September, and we are all looking forward to discussing it with you later in the month.
I am so excited for you Melissa and I sooo hope that this wonderful opportunity comes off in a big way. Melissa it has been a true pleasure talking to you and I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to drop by and have a chat. And I especially want to thank you for supporting me. I am so looking forward to chatting with your readers over at The Women's Nest.
Read more about Melissa Foster over at her official site Melissa Foster Dot Com.