Melissa Senate has been one of my favorite authors ever since 2003 when I read See Jane Date. So I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed.
With some past novels (See Jane Date, The Solomon Sisters Wise Up), you’ve drawn on your own experiences for inspiration. Did any of your life experiences make their way into The Secret of Joy?
Absolutely. Several years ago, I received an unsettling email out of the blue that said: I think you might be my half sister. Talk about a premise for a novel presenting itself. I always write about what I want to understand more about, so when I started thinking about The Secret of Joy, I took only the idea (a sudden half-sibling) and flipped everything; I made the main character the one doing the seeking, the yearning for family connection. 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.
The Secret of Joy had a couple of tentative titles. Do you think about potential titles as you write?
I have the basic story, from start to finish, in my head before I write the first sentence, and the title usually pops into my mind during the story formation process. The Secret of Joy was originally titled The Love Bus, which symbolized so much about the book—Rebecca’s and Joy’s journeys (and journey together), the cute little “love bus” itself, and the theme—which has a lot to do with movement in every way, shape and form, and of course, love. In the end, when looking at the book as a package—cover, title, cover art, story, The Love Bus didn’t quite work; it was actually kinda limiting. And so my brilliant editor came up with The Secret of Joy, which truly is the perfect title for the book—the secret of joy, also in every way, shape and form, is what the story is truly about.
How does your previous experience as an editor (with Harlequin) impact how you write and how you work with the people editing your books?
The best and worst part about having been an editor is that I think like an editor when I write. Which means it takes me a very long time to write a first draft. I’ve never written a first draft by just getting it out on paper and then going back to revise. I write and revise/edit as I go. I can’t write chapter two unless chapter one is exactly as it should be, and I mean every sentence. The good news about this incredibly annoying kind of writing process is that when I’m done, I generally have to just do a once-over edit and then a polish, and that’s it.
As for how my experience impacts my working relationship with my editor, it’s great because I have a good understanding of what her job entails (and boy, does it entail a lot) and what I can ask for and what is too primadonna-y. And if I write the best book I can, turn it in on time, deliver revisions and edits on time, etc., then I’ll make her very happy.
What was your favorite book as a child?
From a very young age, during every trip to the library I took out (or renewed) a collection of fairy tales by the Grimm brothers or Hans Christian Andersen. And the novel I remember re-reading a gazillion times when I was eleven and twelve: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger. What a gem.
What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I first read it when I was a confused thirteen year old, and amazing Anne with an E and what she taught me about the power of imagination, gumption and moxie changed my outlook and my perception of how much control I actually had over my own self. I would still say it’s my favorite book of all time.
What’s coming next for you? Perhaps that Abby Foote sequel mentioned at the end of Love You To Death?
I had every intention of writing a sequel to Love You To Death (and I get a lot of emails asking where that sequel is!), but every time I sat down to think about Abby and her Ben, their story just seemed so fully told already. What’s next is actually a teen novel, The Mosts, which will be published by Random House Children’s Books in June 2010. And then later in 2010, my next women’s fiction novel will be published. It’s tentatively titled The Love Goddess’s Cooking School and is set in an Italian cooking class. An idea for a fun women’s fiction mystery, a la Love You To Death, has been poking at me, though. So perhaps . . .
Thank you so much for the interesting questions and for having me on your blog!