It's an absolute pleasure to host Melissa Senate, GCC pal and fabulous writer, on Brant Flakes today as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, THE SECRET OF JOY (Simon & Schuster, trade paperback)!! Melissa lives on the coast of Maine with her son and their menagerie of pets. She’s the author of eight novels (seven women’s fiction and one young adult) with two on the way. Of this book, New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips said, "The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate opened my heart, made me laugh, cry, and smile all at the same time. A don't-miss read!" It's also a Simon & Schuster Book Club Pick! For more information, check out the Reading Group Guide.
What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed?
28-year-old New Yorker Rebecca Strand is shocked when her dying father confesses a devastating secret: he had affair when Rebecca was a toddler—and a baby he turned his back on at birth. Now, his wish is that the daughter he abandoned, Joy Joyhawk, read the unsent letters he wrote to her every year on her birthday. Determined to fulfill her father’s wish, Rebecca drives to a small town in Maine—against the advice of her lawyer boyfriend who’s sure Joy will be a “disappointing, trashy opportunist” and demand half her father’s fortune. But when hopeful Rebecca knocks on her half-sister’s door, Joy—a separated mother who conducts weekend singles tours out of her orange mini-bus—wants nothing to do with Rebecca or the letters her father wrote to her. Determined to forge some kind of relationship with Joy, Rebecca sticks around, finding unexpected support from Joy’s best clients—the Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset—and a sexy carpenter named Theo...
I love the sound of this story! Welcome, Melissa :).
Can you tell us the inspiration behind your new novel? Several years ago, I received an email out of the blue that said: I think you might be my half-sister. I was. Am. It took me a long time to decide to take that little (huge) nugget and write a novel to help me figure out the answer to some burning questions, such as: if you haven’t seen or heard from your biological father, or any member of his family, since you were little (or, in Joy’s case, never at all), is his child from another relationship really your sibling? Or just a stranger? Does the word father or sister or brother mean anything without back up? I had a ton of questions and set out to uncover how I felt through a fictional character, but it’s interesting to me that I flipped everything on its head in the writing of the story. Nothing but the basic questions that are proposed in the novel are autobiographical. Just the questions! And I surprised myself quite a few times during the writing of this story with how I felt about certain things. Amazing how writing fiction can teach you so much about yourself. (That's fascinating, and so, so true!)
Who do you picture in your mind when you write? Sometimes I picture a lone woman reading my book on a bus or on her sofa or in a coffee shop, and I imagine what she’s responding to, relating to, thinking about as she reads. Would this scene make her smile? Would she relate? But most of the time, I picture my characters’ faces with their personalities etched into their features. I rarely base my characters physically on celebs (except for my first book—Jane from SEE JANE DATE looked just like Ann Marie from “That Girl” (a young Marlo Thomas). She did not look like Charisma Carpenter, who perfectly played her in the TV movie, but now when I think of Jane, I think of Charisma only. Which makes me think of hot David Boreanaz, which is a good thing.
What was the inspiration for your hero? An actor, a picture you saw, some random guy in the coffee shop? I have long been drawn to guys with dark eyes and dark hair, starting with my very first serious crush in 7th grade. But Theo, Rebecca’s love interest, has sandy-blond hair and pale brown eyes because that’s just the way he came out of the keyboard—he sort of created himself. I never base the guys on anyone. They’re always inspired by the guy I wish I were dating. (Yes, I’m single!) Right now, as a single mother, I’d love a guy who, like hot, wise Theo, works with his hands and made things, like porch swings and tree houses for my son. A guy who’s smart and honest and romantic and always seems to say the right thing at the right time. Oh and hot, too.
What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Trust yourself. Your gut knows. You know.
Can you tell us why your editor is the best editor ever in the universe? I’m crazy about my editor, Jennifer Heddle at Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books. I love working with her. She’s just so razor-sharp smart and aware and interested in the world and pop culture (which I’ve learned via being her friend on Facebook!). Her suggestions, starting with our first conversation before she even bought my book, were so intelligent and thoughtful. And she’s New York honest in a very kind way with her editorial letters and edits. I absolutely trust what she says. As I’ve gotten to know her, I’m even more touched that she bought my book. She’s a tough customer, I think. And that’s a good thing.
Which 'craft' book has inspired or helped you the most throughout your writing career? The most inspiring, to me, is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. But I also love Stephen King’s On Writing; Carolyn See’s How To Make A Literary Life, and Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping Into The Open. (Oh! I have ALL of these on my writing shelf and love them. I'm a big Elizabeth Berg fan, too...)
Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment? The moment my seven-year-old son closes those eyes for the night, I stretch out on my little sofa with a good book, hot chocolate (it’s getting cooold here in Maine) and my two black cats at my feet. I’m reading Elizabeth Berg’s Home Safe right now. I love how she manages to write so honestly and elegantly at the same time. She’s able to call someone a shit in the loveliest way. Next up: the seven or so books that came from Amazon, staring with Kristina Riggle’s Real Life & Liars. I love women’s fiction—all these interesting storylines and gorgeous covers.
What’s next for you? Next up is my second novel for teens, THE MOSTS, which will be published by Random House in June 2010. Then, my next women’s fiction novel from Simon & Schuster, THE LOVE GODDESS’S COOKING SCHOOL, about five people in an Italian cooking class, will be published November 2010. I’m staring down a 1/1 deadline (the worst deadline to have!) And I’m being poked at by a new idea... (Best of luck to you on all of this!!)
Thanks so much for visiting today, Melissa, and to everyone reading, I hope the rest of your week is fabulous!