—– Interview by Jodi Webb, WOW
WOW: Against the backdrop of parental love, the characters of Megan's Way dealt with terminal illness and a spiritual connection between people. Do you have personal experience with either of these that influenced you to include them in your book?
Melissa: The storyline of Megan's Way came from a very personal event in my life. It had a profound impact on my view of relationships and the safety of them. It made me realize that people can make decisions that might be unthinkable to those around them, but make complete sense to them. I have lost loved ones that I hadn't realized that I'd had strong spiritual connections with, and it turned out that I did. I've had strong spiritual connections to people who I have not loved, but who those I know have loved. I believe that we all are capable of having strong spiritual connections, but it's something that our society doesn't accept as "normal," so people tend to not be open to experiencing such things. Megan's Way and Chasing Amanda have underlying paranormal/spiritual themes because it was part of the characters' being, and particular life experiences definitely played a role in the creation of them.
WOW: I've had research on the mind lately, but for my research it was as simple as calling my local recruiting office and asking them a few questions they were more than happy to answer. It occurs to me that doing research about people living with terminal cancer or spiritual connections can't be that easy. Did you seek out people during research and was it difficult to convince them to share their experiences with you?
Melissa: Research can be done in many different ways. I did not reach out to people with terminal illnesses, but I did reach out to those who had loved ones who had terminal illnesses, and remember, the Internet is your friend. There are many online forums where grief and illness are discussed in detail. Finding the inner turmoil was an easy leap for me, as I put myself into Megan's shoes, as a parent, and into my own shoes, as a daughter.
WOW: Megan's Way is being adapted to film and should be making the rounds of the film festivals this year. Could you tell us how this marvelous event came about? Did you write a screenplay and approach a filmmaker? Did a filmmaker approach you?
Melissa: This was an interesting path. Shortly after Megan's Way became available, readers were inquiring about adapting Megan's Way to film. I hadn't really thought about it much, and decided to just take a stab at it. I have no fear (and apparently no shame), so I called Dakota Fanning's agent, thinking that I'd never reach her, but at least I would have tried. She spoke with me on the phone, seemed interested, and I sent her a copy of the book to read. A few weeks later she requested two more copies, one for Dakota and one for her manager. I submitted those, and followed up about two months later. I received an email stating they loved the story and asking to see a screenplay so they could see if it would be a fit. I've since learned that the scenario was very unconventional, and who knows, she may have just been having a generous day. In any case, I went to work hiring a screenplay writer, and we developed a script that enhanced the role of the teen character. That script is called Pieces of Me. It's a strong script, but was not picked up. From there, I networked with everyone I knew, told them what had happened, and a year later, someone referred me to the director that I'm now working with.
WOW: Amazing! Just another example of how a writer's work isn't done once they type "The End." Were you thinking about the film possibilities for Megan's Way even when you were writing the novel?
Melissa: Probably. Every writer wonders, What If.
WOW: True, I think we all play that If I Was Casting the Movie game with our fiction. Did you write the screenplay?
Melissa: In the case of Megan's Way, yes, I wrote the screenplay, but quite by accident. Before hiring the screenplay writer (as previously noted), I took my hand to creating the script. I wrote a direct adaptation. Being an unconventional person, I then researched scripts and script writing, and was told (by many) that novelists were not screenplay writers and that I should hire someone who "knew" what they were doing. In the end, the director that is doing the film loved my adaptation, and that's the one she's producing.
WOW: So many writers are disappointed about the results when one is captured on film. How do you feel: worried, excited, impatient?
Melissa: I am thrilled that someone wanted to produce Megan's Way and bring it to film. For me, I've accomplished capturing someone's attention and succeeded in taking it to the next level. That's a feat in and of itself. I trust the director–she and I have similar visions. I'm excited and very impatient (as I am in every aspect of my life), but mostly I'm thankful. Even if the film doesn't turn out to be exactly what I might anticipate, it's likely to be a compelling, emotional journey.
WOW: And we're looking forward to following that journey. Aside from the film version of Megan's Way, what can we expect from you next?
Melissa: My third novel, Come Back to Me, is an international love story/tragedy. Tess Johnson has it all: handsome photographer/husband, Beau, 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 accept the growing child inside of her, a new client appears, offering more than just a new project. Meanwhile, two Iraqi women who are fleeing Honor Killings find Beau alive, 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 in the middle of the desert. Beau bonds with the women and children, and together, with the help of an underground organization, they continue their dangerous escape.
WOW: It sounds like once I get my hands on Come Back to Me I won't be able to put it down until I get to the last page! Keep us updated.