Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interview with upcoming novelist Melissa McNallan

I'm ashamed to say I did this interview almost a month ago, and haven't had the chance to post it. But now that it's up, I hope you'll read, enjoy, and share it. Melissa is writing her first novel, and I can't wait for her to complete it. She has some great advice to offer other first time novelists. You can learn more about her work here:

What will your book be about? Can you give us a sneak preview?

My book, tentatively titled Independence, is about a pool hustler's daughter named Independence (Indy for short), who is desperately seeking her own independence. On the way to finding it she opens a lot of wrong doors. She leaves life on the road with her Dad behind for Billy, Billy for Patrick, Patrick for home - only to find that home doesn't fit either. For a sneak preview, the flash fiction version of a section of the novel can be viewed at;

How did you get started?

Ten years ago I had the idea and started writing it down. I joined a writer's group. I've been an avid reader since I was five and a dedicated journal writer from the age of 12. I had little experience beyond that back then, so I struggled to put the words and punctuation down right. My tenses switched and slipped easily.

Laurel Winter, author of the award winning book, Growing Wings, was a member of our writing group back then. She encouraged me a lot by telling me that I had a strong voice. She said that punctuation and tenses can be learned but voice is hard to teach.

I still ended up shelving the book for a while. I'd get to a certain point and just get stuck. I began to read writing magazines. I started getting work writing newspaper articles for our small town paper, getting work in a local women's magazine and finally writing a flash fiction version of I.A.M. I love revising and synthesizing, breaking a piece down to its essentials. I entered it into WOW! Women on Writing's Spring 2009 Flash Fiction competition and placed in the top 25.

Then I earned an Artist's Grant to work on a revision of my book with the assistance of a mentor during the summer of this year. If I don't complete the revision, I have to pay them back.
I highly recommend working with money on the line or as if it is.

Probably the number one reason most writers don’t write a book is because they find it hard to make the time to get started. Did you find it hard to make the time, and how did you overcome this obstacle?

With money on the line, I have come to discover the lack of time to be a bullshit trick we let our mind play on us. I've had that trick played on my mind for years! I wrote 15 chapters in six weeks while: working 30 hours a week, taking two college courses -earning A's in each, being a Mom and wife, writing a 10 minute play for Olmsted County's History Center and serving as a member of the editorial board for the Yellow Jacket Review (a community college literary magazine). Be tenacious. Keep your fingers on the keys. If you don't like sitting down, stand. I do that a lot. The laundry suffered. Those 15 chapters have organic, lovely moments in them that I'm really proud of. There's plenty of rewriting to do yet. Once I realized that I could pound out 5,0000 words in one day, the idea of revising a whole novel became much less intimidating.

Did your inspiration for this book come from a particular situation, or did you have to sit down and think up a unique idea around which to create your story?

The biggest piece of inspiration I had for this piece came back in 1996 when I took a bus from Rochester, MN to Orlando, FL to help a friend move back home. I couldn't afford a plane ticket, so I took a Greyhound bus down. I am a huge fan of Kahlil Gibran and was obsessed with Beat and '60s literature and culture. I was big into the idea "you're either on the bus or you're off the bus" as espoused in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, so I stayed engaged and talked to people. I kept myself open. I met a man who was going to be bartending for a while in Florida and then moving back home to Portland. He was laid back, had a sweet disposition and he talked like I'd never heard anyone talk before. I gave him my address and he sent me a letter from a hotel in Portland. He served as inspiration for Indy's main guy.

That summer, on his advice, I started waitressing in a bar that was rough around the edges and had a pool table in the back. I was 18. I did my best to listen, observe and take things in. I did a lot of journaling at that time. Indy grows up in the bar scene and that comes from me kind of growing up in that scene myself. Like many 18 year olds I didn't know nearly as much about life as I thought I did.

Any other words of wisdom?

Listen to people, really listen. I think developing an authentic voice and strong dialogue comes from that. Then listen to your characters. Be patient, they'll talk. Everyone has the ability to hear their characters talk and to be lead by them, you just have to stay relaxed and open to possibility.

Actors have to really listen to each other when they're working or they come off as being generic and 2-dimensional. I think the same is true for writing.


Erika said...

Thanks for the insightful interview, Usha. Melissa's thoughts on making time for writing really hit home for me. I'm amazed at all that she accomplished as she wrote 15 chapters in 6 short weeks, all the while juggling her many responsibilities. Makes me think I should brush off the manuscripts that have been on the shelf for the past 7 years or so and see what I can do with them.
Thanks to you both for this nice jolt of inspiration.

Usha Krishnan Sliva said...

Thanks Glynis, Erika. I myself thought it was quite inspiring that Melissa puts so much into her work, despite her other commitments.
Glynis, I didn't know you had a book in the making- what's it about?