Interview with Melissa Senate

Today, author Melissa Senate stops by to tell us about her new book and answer a few questions. Check it out!

About Melissa Senate

Photo of Author Melissa SenateMelissa Senate 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. Visit her website melissasenate.com for more information and she’d love if you became her friend Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MelissaSenate) and followed her on Twitter (http://twitter.com/melissasenate).

About the Book

The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate
(Pub Date: 11/17, Simon & Schuster’s Downtown Press imprint, $15.00 trade paperback)

Cover of The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate
Introducing THE SECRET OF JOY (Simon & Schuster trade paperback, $15.00) by Melissa Senate, the "warm, winning" new novel from the bestselling author of See Jane Date and Love You To Death.

Buy the Book from Amazon

The Secret of Joy is a Simon & Schuster Book Club Pick! For more information, check out the
Reading Group Guide:

Praise:

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! — New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips

The Secret of Joy is a warm hug of a book. Insightful, wise, and romantic, it’s as inviting as the small-town life it depicts. — Claire LaZebnik

A wonderfully heartfelt story about hope, possibilities and the yearning for real connections. Senate’s latest will take you on a much needed vacation, while sneaking vital life lessons in when you’re not looking. –Caprice Crane

The Interview

1. Tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it.

A: 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 . . . .

The inspiration: 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.

2. Who do you picture in your mind when you write?:

A: 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.

3. What was the inspiration for your hero? An actor, a picture you saw, some random guy in the coffee shop?:

A: 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.

4. Writing a letter can be daunting. How do you even begin the process of writing a novel? Does it start with a title? A character? A plot? All or none of the above?

A: An idea flits into my heart, mind and soul (if I may be so dramatic!) and I just know. The idea, just a wispy thing, grips me and I think about it until the two major characters– my protagonist and the person or thing who "forces" her change—become clear. Then I write out a one page treatment, a bare bones synopsis, then think about that, then revise the storyline into a "pitch" I can share with my agent. If she green-lights it, I’ll then let myself dream it into a full blown synopsis, which is what I usually sell a novel on. The synopsis, in its major plot points, rarely changes, but how the characters get from page one to page 325 is another story.

5. What’s one piece of writing advice you’ve found valuable on your journey to publication?

A: Trust yourself. Your gut knows. You know.

6. Tell us why your editor is the best editor ever in the universe.

A: 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.

7. Any tried and true tricks for beating procrastination?

A Tried but not true: taking laptop to a library or coffee lounge without wi-fi. I can’t handle more than an hour or two without checking email or reading through Twitter or Facebook. Tried and true: a deadline, whether self-given or publisher-given.

8. Which ‘craft’ book has inspired or helped you the most throughout your writing career?

A: 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.

9. If your book were to be made into a movie, who could you see playing the lead role?:

A: For the main character, Rebecca, I see Rachel McAdams. She has such sweetness and hope in her eyes, and such a lovely face. For half-sister Joy, Kristin Bell, with all that "Veronica Mars" intensity. For delicious Theo, Rebecca’s love interest, the very attractive Aaron Eckhart. Love his face.

10. If you could only own and read 5 books for the rest of your life, (excluding your own) what five books would you choose?:

A: The Portable Dorothy Parker; the collected works of William Shakespeare; To Kill A Mockingbird; Anne of Green Gables; The Color Purple; and I can’t leave off this gem: Why I Like My Mommy by Max (my son’s latest work in first grade!)

11. Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment?

A: 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.

12. What’s next for you?

A: 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 . . . .

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One Response to “Interview with Melissa Senate”

  1. RKCharron says:

    Hi 🙂
    Thank you for the excellent interview with Melissa Senate. Thanks to Melissa for sharing. I really enjoyed learning more about Melissa and her writing. I posted about this interview on my blog too. Thank you so much for sharing.
    All the best,
    RKCharron
    xoxo