Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Catching up, and a Chat with Melissa Senate

I am FINALLY reconnected to the Internet after three long days offline--our modem was fried by the batch of storms / flash floods / lightning / hail / tornadoes / four horsemen of the apocalypse that rolled through Wisconsin over the weekend. But I can't complain--did you see news footage of the houses washing into Lake Delton in Wisconsin Dells? (A moment of silence for the Tommy Bartlett water show, which I've heard will still go on despite the fresh absence of the, uh, you know, the lake. My question: will the waterskiers shift to four-wheelers and rollerblades?)

I'm still recovering from the launch party and catching up on emails, so now is a fantastic time to tell you that I'm thrilled to have joined the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit (GCC), which is the brainchild of the talented Karin Gillespie. I will be visiting the blogs of other author-members of the GCC in July, and hosting them here for a Q & A when it's their turn in the spotlight over the next few months.

Today I'm pleased to present Melissa Senate, who I first learned about in a Newsweek article featuring her debut novel See Jane Date, which was later made into a movie featuring Charisma Carpenter (doesn't she have a fabulous name for an actress?).

Melissa is the author of seven novels, including her YA (Young Adult) debut Theodora Twist. A former editor of romance novels and teen fiction, she lives on the southern coast of Maine with her son, his Pokemon card collection, and their two witchy black cats. She’s hard at work on her next young adult novel for Delacorte, and just sold her next two adult novels to Pocket Books. Her newest novel, Questions to Ask Before Marrying, was just released on June 1. About the book:

A very popular New York Times article lists fifteen questions couples should ask (or wish they had) before marrying. Ruby Miller and her fiancé, Tom Truby, have questions 1 to 14 almost covered. It's question 15 that has the Maine schoolteacher stumped: Is their relationship strong enough to withstand challenges?

Challenges like…Ruby's twin sister, Stella. The professional muse, flirt and face reader thinks Ruby is playing it safe. And that the future Mrs. Ruby Truby will die of boredom before her first anniversary or her thirtieth birthday, whichever comes first.

Challenges like…sexy maverick teacher Nick McDermott, Ruby's secret longtime crush, who confesses his feelings for her at her own engagement party.

But before Ruby can plan the wedding that may never be, Stella announces she's pregnant by a one-night stand whose name might be Jake (or James? Maybe Jason?) and who lives somewhere under the glittering lights of Las Vegas. Ruby and Stella hit the road to find him—with a lot more than fifteen questions.

And after three thousand miles, a stowaway relative and hitchhiking teen lovebirds bound for an Elvis wedding chapel, the Miller sisters might get some answers.


(I love a good roadtrip novel!) And now, let's commence with my interrogation:

1) Now that you are multi-pubbed, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?

Not a thing! It seems like something should have changed, but my process is the same: I write a detailed synopsis, around 10 pages, in the character’s voice, and then I break up the synopsis into chapters and then scenes. I always need that road map, always need to know my last line so that I am writing to it, toward it. There are always detours and the roads less traveled that make the writing process so interesting and frustrating and wonderful and hard, but I need that trusty map. And map and all, I struggle like crazy with the first 50 pages, to get the voice right for me, to know and understand the character well enough to write her. I wish I could just write a crappy first draft and just get it all out on paper, out of my head, and then go back and do the flesh and blood work, but I need to write and revise and polish as I go or I can’t seem to move on to the next scene. I actually hate this about my process and need to work on changing it!

2) Do you listen to music while you write?

I wrote my first novel, See Jane Date, to Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Toward Ecstasy CD, but that album was very much tied to what I was writing about, feeling at the time, and that’s never happened since with me and music and a book. I always try to find a soundtrack CD for my manuscripts, but I keep coming up cold. Oh, to have a musical muse once more!

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?' (I pay WAY more attention to dialogue, plot structure, and character development now.) If so, is it harder to lose yourself in a story now?

It’s funny that I’m usually not conscious of structure and development while I’m reading/watching, but just the other day, I was very uncharasterically struck by Kung Fu Panda (yes, I have a five-year-old!) and how perfect (too perfect, really, which is why I think I was so aware) the storyline was in terms of hero and anti-hero, the emotional angles, the journey. The villain’s back story stole the show for me, and I was surprised when he was vanquished instead of “rehabilitated.” I suppose that was a good surprise; when you expect something stylistically and don’t get it. I was also so surprised recently by a book I’m loving, Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos, and how she, as the author, speaks directly to the reader. I couldn’t stop thinking about that as technique and it made it hard for me to concentrate. But usually, I’m just lost in a story/show/movie and don’t think about the “work” until it’s over.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?

I’ve been to Rome three times and could go three times in one year and want to go back again. I’ve never been as struck by a place, never been almost unable to breathe as I was in the Vatican Museums. There’s an angel statue on the steps of one of the amazing ornate buildings that so captivated me I just wanted to sit next to it for an hour. From the amazing food and wine to the history and beauty and art and very handsome men, Rome makes me want to sit on a tiny balcony with a good glass of red wine and write. Rome makes me feel.

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?

Oh, the stories I could tell about the people who’ve come out of the woodwork when I became Google-able as an author. From ex-boyfriends who had manuscripts (of course!) to my very first best friend from the third grade, to a half-sibling I’d never met (hmm, that just might have inspired my next book!)

Thanks Melissa! Isn't she lovely? This Friday I'll be posting here again as well as over at The Debs, where I'll be gushing about hot authors.


  1. Hey! I just got SO excited when I read your comment!! I thought for a second it was someone playing a joke on me :) I'm loving your book so far, it made me lose some sleep last night :)

    I'll let ya know how my best friend's girl is, it sounds really interesting!!

  2. Oooh this looks good too. I may be crushed by my to-be-read pile.

  3. This is a great idea and a very interesting interview. Can't wait to see the others. Thanks for doing this!