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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Get the Story Down, Then Rewrite: Author Interview with Melissa Payne

What inspired you to write your first novel?
I love stories, whether it’s the ones I read, tell or write. Years before I started to write my first novel, I was blogging about motherhood and marriage. Eventually, my storytelling morphed into writing fiction where my imagination could run wild with different settings and intriguing characters.

How long did it take you to write it?
I wrote the first draft of The Secrets of Lost Stones in four months. Neil Gaiman says to “get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.” And that’s how I approach the first few drafts of my novels, which means it’s not pretty. At all.

For me, that’s okay, because I actually love the revising and editing process. Seriously, I love it. It’s when the meat gets put on the bones, the characters develop fully with each pass and the story grows richer.

Are you active with any writing critique groups?
I’ve worked with a critique group for years and they have played an integral part in this process. I’m also lucky to have a network of writer friends who never hesitate to give feedback when I ask for it. On the publishing side, I have an agent and editor that I trust. I value this part of the process because it’s where I've grown and continue to grow as a writer.

What made you choose to work with Lake Union Publishing?
That was easy. Chris Werner, my editor at Lake Union, connected to the story of Jess, Star, and Lucy in the way I had hoped a reader would. He wanted to share The Secrets of Lost Stones with other readers. Lake Union is easy to work with and fantastically supportive of their authors. It’s been a great experience.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Dialog? Tension, etc?

I love to write the details about characters and the scene. I picture the small things first and then pan out to what’s happening within and around all of that. But sometimes I get lost in the details and have to reign myself in before I lose control of a scene. Or I don’t and I end up with a scene bloated by the heat of the coffee, the snow tapping on the window, the feel of a cotton t-shirt against skin and I forget what my characters were supposed to be doing in the first place.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
From the very beginning, when I’ve gotten stuck or frustrated, my husband would say, Just put pen to paper, babe. I really hated that bit of advice in part because I’m typing, but mostly for how true it is. Sometimes I have written whole sections that I knew would be cut or rewritten a million times because they weren’t good. But I wrote anyway because often the act of writing is what pulls you to the next chapter or creates an unintended but perfect plot point. Oh, and I’m a pantser by the way, can you tell?

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to write past it?

I queried my very first manuscript and had interest but no offers. It went into the revise and resubmit stages with a few agents, but it just wasn’t quite there for anyone. So, I started to write my next book while I was querying. It kept my mind off the constant thanks, but no thanks I was receiving and gave me a goal to focus on outside of the rejections.

And I made sure I was always learning – whether that was from a particularly helpful rejection letter or from the writing of a second book, I was always trying to glean lessons, take-homes, perspectives, that I could apply to my writing and storytelling.

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
I have been awed by the support that comes from other writer friends, non-writer friends, and family. Getting published is a long game so it can be hard for people outside of the industry to understand why you are still trying to get published after all this time. But we are storytellers, so we keep writing until our stories get into the hands of readers.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
Hmmm, I feel like I’m still learning and will always be learning about writing. So, I continue to keep my mind open to new ways to see people and places and emotions and continuously challenge myself to write with a fresh perspective.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
It’s frustratingly simple advice. Just write. Tell your story. Make your characters come alive on the page and enjoy the process. And don’t be afraid to rewrite/revise/edit your socks off. It’s not a sign of failure or bad writing, it’s all part of the process and it’s how we get better.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Learn how to positively process critiques and feedback. What I mean is, when your critique partner or beta reader or editor doesn’t like a scene or a character, listen, take it in, chew on it and figure out if you agree and then let your creative juices flow so you can apply it to your next writing session.

Can you give me a short synopsis of your book to intrigue my readers?
Thirty-two-year-old Jess Abbot has lost everything: her job, her apartment, and—most heart-wrenching—her eight-year-old son, Chance, to a tragic accident. Haunted by memories and grief, Jess packs what’s left and heads for the small mountain town of Pine Lake, where she takes a position as caregiver to an eccentric old woman.

A rumored clairvoyant, Lucy is strange but welcoming and immediately intuits Jess as a “loose end” in need of closure. But Jess isn’t the only guest in Lucy’s large Victorian home. There’s also Star, a teenage runaway with a secret too painful to share. And the little boy with heart-shaped stones, who comes with hope for reconciliation—and a warning.

Soon Jess learns that she’s not the only lost soul running from the ghosts of the past. She and Star have been brought together for a reason: to be saved by the very thing that destroyed them.

Hope that piqued your interest. If you’d like to connect with Melissa and buy her book, here are two links to get you started.
Instagram: @melissapayne_writes

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