Thursday, November 10, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Melissa Pearl

Hi everyone!  Today I have the privilege to have Melissa Pearl here. Melissa just recently released her first book, Golden Blood. I'm especially excited to have her here because she's decided to self-publish her work and I'm hoping to get a guest post on the topic (nudge nudge). So, let's talk about Melissa!

1. How did you get started as a writer?
All my life I've had stories buzzing in my brain. I'd spend hours making up stories, acting out scenes, inventing characters. I had a whole book of ideas. One day I was telling my friend about one of them and she told me I should write it. So I did. Man, it was SO much fun, I wondered why it had taken me so long to get around to it.

I've never acted out any of my writing...which is probably a good thing. I like not having a criminal record!

2. What was your first complete story?
It's called The Bigger Picture. It's about a girl who has a one-night stand at a graduation party and gets pregnant. She manages to hide it from her parents and then leaves for college with this huge burden. She then meets up with the guy who got her pregnant and lucky for them, they fall in love.

3. What made you decide to write it?
My best friend told me to :)

Ha! That's awesome. I don't think I've ever had that response before. But whatever it takes!

4. Do you free-write or outline?
I used to free write, but I'm up to my tenth manuscript now and from everything I've learned, I think I get a much better story if I really plan it out. There's still room to move within that plan, but it does stop my story from heading down the path of drivel.

On the other hand, it seems like most people give a similar response to this question. Makes you think there might be something to this 'outlining' thing after all...

5. If you outline, do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?
I usually construct most of the story in my head first. I have all these different scenes floating around and I'll jot down random notes. By the time I have most of the story done, I have this huge long document of varied scenes, which I then organize. Some of the scenes are dropped in this process, so that saves me editing them out later. I read an amazing book by Robert Mckee called STORY. It has taught me so much about how good stories move and flow, where they should climax and how the beats of a story work. I feel like my writing has improved big time since implementing some of his suggestions.

Brooke Johnson, my second interviewee, does something similar, but she writes them out on note cards and plays mix-and-match with them. I actually really like the idea you both use.

6. What do you do to counteract writer’s block?
Take a shower or go for a walk with my iPod. I find some of my best ideas come to me in the shower, maybe it's because it's the one chance in my day where I can lock the door so my kids can't reach me :) Walking is good for me too; I usually just need to find space enough to get my mind working again.

I like the walking idea...though it's getting a bit too cold in my neck of the woods. :(

7. How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)
That's really hard. I often find myself writing similar male leads in particular. I guess I'm attracted to a particular personality type :) For the story I'm currently planning in my head, I've really had to force myself to change my characters, make them different to everything I've done before. It's really fun, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. I'm really having to think about this one in order to make it good.

I think about the main characteristic that really defines the character (at least as far as the story is concerned). Then I think about the kinds of experiences might help a person develop that characteristic. From there I try to think about other ways those experiences might influence a person. It has made developing characters a lot easier! Oh, it also helps you figure out how a character might realistically react in different situations.

8. What exercises to you use to develop your characters?
I'm a big fan of character profiling. I like my characters to have a detailed history, things in their childhood that define them and make them who they are. I also use the personality types quite a bit and look at how that affects their reactions Another thing I like to do is find a picture of an actor that I think they look like. I paste that up while I'm writing so I can look at them and imagine how they move in the story. scratch my last comment. You're basically doing it already. Now I feel dumb. *shakes fist*

9. How do you build a believable world within your stories?
I do a lot of research about the area that the story is set. Even if you've never been to a place before, I think you can make the story believable by using photos and a little info so you sound as though you know what you're talking about. Understanding the culture of the setting is important too. Part of a believable world, for me, is having minor characters that represent the culture of the setting through their dialogue and attitudes.

Culture is HUGE!!!!! I think a lot of authors forget that. And it's true no matter what genre you write. Remember that, people! It will be on the test!

10. What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

I'm going to refer to the book STORY by Robert McKee again. He suggests that each scene in your story needs to change from a positive beat to a negative beat and then from negative to positive so the story is always moving. I think this helps to avoid slow stretches. In saying that, I think it's important for a high-paced story to have a little down time every now and then. I actually really love those happy moments thrown into a story for a little, light relief.

I agree. I'm also a fan of comic relief. Often the jokes that make people laugh the most aren't even the funniest ones...they're the ones timed just right to break tension.

11. How does your own life inform your writing?
I draw a lot from the emotional things I've experienced in life. In the second book of my trilogy (due out in December), my character goes through a really hard time. I drew from my own experience of heartache in order to capture her emotion. Drawing from past experience can hopefully bring a little realism and believability into the story.

They say 'write what you know.' Sounds like you do that pretty well.

12. Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?
Yes, one. It was SOOOOOO awesome. I attended the NZ Romance Writers conference.

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention Melissa is from New Zealand. Isn't that cool? It's in my top 5 places to visit.

13. What did you learn from it?
So much. I took screeds of notes. It was a very satisfying experience and I recommend that anyone who is serious about writing attend a conference if they can. You make amazing connections. I now belong to an awesome writers group. Three other fantastic girls who are just as passionate as me about writing. I also learned a whole bunch of stuff about the current market. You get to meet published authors who are amazingly generous with their time. The writing world is a cool place to hang out.

Agreed! I haven't met a ton of authors (yet), but the ones I have met never seem to forget what it's like being an unpublished, aspiring writer. I think that's why they're so willing to talk to you and help you out. Writers are good people.

14. Who is your favorite author?
Hmmm - that's tough. I like so many. Probably my favorite YA author is Simone Elkeles.

... ... ... yeah, I've never heard of him. Add another one to my list of authors to investigate!

15. Favorite book?
Again - hard question. How do I just choose one? The first trilogy I read and could NOT put down was the Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers. I've read those book so many times the glue on the spine is disintegrating :)

I love finding books like that! It's one of the most satisfying things in the world, I think.

16. Favorite genre to read?
YA Romance. I particularly like anything with a little action as well, but romance is the key. I devoured the Twilight series.

Yeah, I'm the other way around. I have to have action, but like a little romance to round it out. Also, I saw a t-shirt the other day that said "Team guy-who-almost-hit-bella-with-his-car." It made me laugh!

17. Favorite genre to write?
YA Romance. My trilogy is a YA paranormal, but I don't want to get stuck in that genre. I also have a whole bunch of other stories to write. Most of them are YA action/adventure with a strong romantic element.

Yay action/adventure! My favorite kinds of stories!

18. When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?
Being a mother of two young boys, I don't really have much spare time, but if they bless us by going to sleep early then my husband and I love to watch a good movie. We are both total movie buffs. When I do get the chance to go to the actual cinema and see one, I still get that excited buzz as the theater goes dark and the movie trailers begin.

I think I've been to the movies four times in the last....oh, probably four or five years. Yeah, doesn't happen that often.

19. What are three interesting facts about you?

My husband and I spent 9 months travelling around North America, living out of a Chevy van. The best road trip ever!

The longest road trip I've ever been on was two weeks. I'm kind of jealous.

I spent three years of my life as a missionary kid in Pakistan - an awesome experience.

Hey cool! Tell me about that!

I love to sing :)

Thanks to Melissa for stopping by! All you romance fans out there can find her book, Golden Blood, on smashwords and It sounds like a fun idea!


  1. Thanks so much for this great opportunity, Reece. You are a fantastic interviewer :) A guest post about self-publishing will be coming your way soon :)

  2. Such an awesome interview. Thanks Reece and Melissa. I'll also take note of some book references mentioned.

  3. That was a fun interview! Melissa sounds awesome. I'm going to have to buy STORY. I've heard so many good things about it!

  4. It's always fun to see how different and similar other writers are. Thanks Reece, and Melissa!

  5. Thanks for sharing your process. It's always great to hear how other writers do what they do. Best of luck!

  6. Melissa's first book is pretty awesome. I've read it already and can't wait for the next one!!