I met Melanie on Instagram and was blown away with her work and my first thought was, “I gotta interview her!” So check it out y’all!
What are you working on right now?
My first three books were romance novels and while it’s something I’m very comfortable writing, I want to challenge myself (though let’s face it, I think romance will be integral in whatever I do). So my big project is a three-book (minimum) fantasy series that I think I’m going to need quite a while to write and do justice to. In the meantime I’m also plotting a novel heavier on the suspense seen in my first books. Because I know I can do something a little more complex on that front. Finally, I’ve got kind of a random project planned (that incidentally I’ve not spoken about before, so you’re hearing it here first!). If you’ve read my first books or watched my Instagram feed, you know I love Italian food. So I’m going to put together a companion recipe book for The Safeguarded Heart series, including recipes from dishes mentioned in the books, some of my own Italian family recipes, and others I’ve found from other chefs and adapted over the years. Nothing fancy, just a fun extra for anyone who drooled over the food scenes in the books
At what point did you decide The Safeguarded Heart was to be a series?
I knew TSH would be a series when I finished the first book. Because, you know, it ends on a cliffhanger. And I’d be a real bitch to leave it there. But seriously, I didn’t feel like the story was finished, so I wrote another. And I felt the same after the second, so I wrote a third. It feels fairly complete now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t come back to it at some point.
Have you run into any obstacles while writing this series?
Honestly, these books flowed out fairly obstacle free. I wrote the first in 4.5 weeks, the second in 6 weeks, and the third in 3 weeks. It was one of the most liberating, exciting experiences of my life. I don’t expect that will always be the case, though.
What to you, is the best part of writing one?
The best part, hands down, has been seeing other people enjoy them. Because I wrote stories I would want to read but had no clue if anyone else would feel the same. It’s absolutely amazing to get so much positive feedback and it definitely makes me want to keep going
Has your creative process changed since you published your first book?
Absolutely. My first was my experiment, where I learned exactly how much story is needed to build characters, suspense, and keep things varied enough to be interesting in the general range of 70-90k words. I didn’t plot much when I started writing but learned quickly that some structure was necessary while still leaving room for the story to flow true to the characters and situations I’d created
Many readers have remarked that your plot keeps them guessing—one reviewer said that the ending “satisfies me more than any other book series this year.” How do you maintain a plot that surprises readers?
Besides killing people off willy nilly? Haha. (That doesn’t happen in these books, btw, folks, I’m not George R.R. Martin over here). I spend a lot of time thinking about what all the characters are thinking and feeling and try to have them react in a way that’s consistent with the personalities I’ve created which causes them to go off in their own directions. That alone is usually enough to push a plot down a path that doesn’t follow the logic/personality of the main character, so it can take the story in a surprising direction (even for me at times). I also think leaving certain things a mystery does a lot for keeping a reader interested.
How do you wrap up the story in a way that satisfies all questions?
From my previous answer, a satisfying ending comes from getting all the characters back on the same page (see what I did there?) and resolving the mysteries. Though let’s be real here. You’re never going to write something that satisfies every question of every reader and wraps up every subplot neatly. And while the romance genre comes pre-built with an expected ending, that doesn’t mean I don’t purposely leave some situations unresolved. Because life is messy and unresolved. Plus, if everything was resolved then there wouldn’t be much room for more books in the series, would there?
Another reviewer recommends your book to anyone who is looking to be “consumed by the characters and be made to feel they are a part of you.” What’s on your “must haves” list of creating characters? How do you assemble a cast of genuine characters?
Here’s where it becomes obvious that I’m no literary master. I don’t know what the formula is, or if there even is one. A lot of what I write is done on gut feel of what’s needed (and to be fair that instinct has been honed from a lifetime of reading). I started TSH with a strong female character in mind, including her physical appearance/age/etc, strengths and weakness, backstory, and so on, and then created a male character that had traits opposite of what she’d normally go for. Because there has to be conflict. From there as I wrote it became obvious what other people and personality types needed to be added to the mix. It’s just takes asking yourself questions like “if this happened to me, who would I ask for advice?” Then you make that person and ask yourself how they would respond. Or sometimes you ask yourself “who could come along and make this situation even worse?” and then create that character and get in their head. I did mini backstories for a bunch of the characters to aid this as well. Also, since it’s hard to step outside of your own creation and make sure your sense of each character translated onto the page, it helps to have a good set of beta-readers.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Without including spoilers, there’s a scene in my second book, All of Me, where Sera goes to the hospital to visit a friend. It’s intensely emotional. That’s all I’ll say about it. I’ve actually cried writing a few scenes. I thought that was weird at first, but if my books don’t move me, how can I expect them to move others?
As an avid reader, have read anything that made you think differently about fiction? Writing?
So much of what I read sticks with me. I was a huge fantasy reader from the get-go and always wanted to create my own world. But it wasn’t until I read Anne Rice’s books that I thought about writing novels. Mind you, this was the mid-1990’s, but hers were the first that I read that were their own world AND had erotic undertones, and boy was I intrigued. I wanted to write stories like that. I would start to but lose my nerve quickly. And then I got my hands on her Sleeping Beauty series. They were my introduction to sex-heavy content, and I never even imagined such a book was possible (I wasn’t a romance reader until recently). But still, I didn’t believe I could do it. Until I read the Fifty Shades series (which I actually enjoyed elements of) and realized that a story doesn’t have to be perfect (or even all that well written) for people to love it. That’s when I felt like I finally had the nerve to attempt it.
I see you’ve worked with Wicked Dreams Publishing to produce The Safeguarded Heart. What’s important to you when selecting a publisher?
Wicked Dreams Publishing is actually my company. Right now I use it primarily as my own label, but once I get more experience I may also branch out and use it to support other indies. Right now self-publishing fits my goals best. But were I ever to select a publisher, I’d have to be pretty confident in their value add - industry contacts to enable wide distribution and marketing, being able to retain enough control over my work so that it’s still something I’m proud to publish, and basically just proving that they’re worth the hefty percentage they’ll take. That’s not to say there aren’t some excellent publishers out there, but I’ve also heard far too many cautionary tales of not great ones. I’d have to be confident in their ability to garner exposure and increase sales to give up complete creative and legal control over my end product.
How do you find balance life with your creative endeavors?
For me, writing is what gives me balance. I gave up my traditional 9-5 job to be home with my son, though I still also run the property management company that my husband and I own. It’s been amazing to get back to having a creative outlet that still lets me feel productive. My biggest issue is letting go of things so I have time to write. Have you ever seen the TV show Friends? Well, I’m pretty much Monica. So I’m always cleaning or cooking something. It’s an incredibly far cry from the days when I worked as a lead engineer for the Boeing Company, but I find being a stay-at-home-mom far more fulfilling than I thought I would. But being home all day, its hard to turn off “house stuff.” Thankfully I have an incredibly supportive husband who sees how happy it makes me, so he takes over parenting our four-year-old so I can disappear into my hidey hole (the Smallest Bedroom, Our Home, Seattle Area, WA). You know I love something if I’m willing to let the house be dirty to do it.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you heard?
Just write. And if you can’t write whatever it is you’re trying to write, write something else. It’s true. Eventually all the words will come. You don’t need to force them.
To start in the middle. Do people really do that? It seems like you’re begging for heavy edits if you don’t build consistency and tone from the beginning. But that’s my $0.02.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’m not in this for fortune or fame (though I wouldn’t turn them down if they happen along). I just want people to enjoy my books. So if you do, let me know! There’s no bad way to contact me, but I’m most active on Instagram (@melanieasmithauthor) or reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are always appreciated too!