Author Q&A: Melissa Ford on The Art of the Sequel

We’ve wrapped up the book tour for Melissa Ford’s third novel in the Life From Scratch series, Apart at the Seams.  And we’re fortunate today to have the author herself answering questions our very curious book group put to her.

On Writing

Book Tourist: How did you accumulate so many foreign-words-with-no-real-English-equivalent?

Novelist Melissa FordMelissa Ford: It started with a word that actually wasn’t used in the book: protekcja.  I was working on a draft of the book and had to use that word in conversation with someone on Facebook.  It’s this huge idea of protections/connections/favourtism that we don’t have in English because it isn’t really part of our culture.  The person I was speaking with is also a Hebrew speaker, so while the rest of the message was in English, I left that word untranslated because… well… it’s an untranslatable word, but I knew they would understand it.  Then I went back to working on the novel and thought, “Noah seems like the type of guy who would get excited about untranslatable words.”  I wrote down all the untranslatable words I knew in Hebrew and then started collecting them by asking others what words they knew.

Why a sideways sequel? How did you ever think of such an awesome idea? Did you write both books at the same time or separately? What did you learn from the experience about your own perceptions of other people and situations?

I’ve seen it done a bunch of times, and I’ve always enjoyed it myself.  And it made sense to apply it to this situation.  I think we all think we know things about our friends, and if we were to actually be able to shift perspectives, we’d see how little we understand.

You’ve written on your blog about visiting The Daily Show in researching this book. What other research did you do (for this or your prior fiction?

I spent a lot of time speaking with a designer at Narciso Rodriguez too.  I knew NOTHING about television production or about fashion — so why did I choose two professions I knew nothing about to become major plot points?  Never again.

I feel as if everything potentially becomes research for a book: travel, interesting conversations, visiting someone at their work place.  I’m always tucking aside little things I notice and thinking, “that could bring some verisimilitude to a future book.”

On Characters

Arianna is single, a mom, and driven, however she cohabits with a guy who appears to be the opposite and balances her type A personality. She shares, “Ethan isn’t exactly the poster child for responsibility.” I disagree. Ethan is in his own way; he softens her edges, loving and supporting her for who she is. He is familiar, safe, and wants commitment. She fights it all, which is why Noah is so tantalizing. And scary. One of the fascinating triangles in your book. I  appreciated how the men respected each other. Did you play with writing this triangular relationship another way, and if so how?

Yes!  In the first draft of the book, Arianna was much more interested in Noah from the get-go.  She had a crush on him after they had coffee together, and she was much more proactive in pursuing him.  Then the book swung in the other direction with Noah pursuing Arianna from the get-go.  And finally, I settled on the relationship forming organically over time; a crush is born as they spend time with one another and see how much they have in common.  That crush isn’t necessarily romantic on Arianna’s end; it’s more of an I-wish-my-boyfriend-understood-me-like-he-understands-me thing.

Ethan tries hard, and does pretty well navigating Arianna’s contrasting messages. She appears to make a lot of assumptions about what she feels he should do without having the discussions and creating an environment of understanding. Communication is an issue throughout the story. She makes assumptions about her friend Rachel’s blog, and about others. She talks in her head, a lot. Why doesn’t Arianna communicate better with Ethan, Rachel, her co-workers, and others? Why doesn’t she speak up?

Why don’t any of us speak up? I say that tongue-in-cheek.  There are so many times when I could easily tell someone something, but I don’t because I don’t want to rock the boat, or I think there is no point in saying the words aloud, or I think I know something when it turns out later that I don’t.  I think we all make assumptions every single day.  And part of what makes life interesting is when we realize how off we were in what we first assumed about each other.

I know that as an author you might regard your characters as “children”, hence you love them all, even if sometimes it is a different kind of love. That said, who was more fun to write, Arianna or Rachel? Whose “pain” touched you more, Arianna’s not wanting to marry Ethan or Rachel’s divorcing and then marrying Adam?

I never thought I’d get into writing from Arianna’s point-of-view — it was very difficult for me at first.  But ultimately, I think I enjoyed Arianna more because she is so different from who I am.  I ended up really loving her by the time I said goodbye to her.

How challenging was it for you to take yourself out of writing as Rachel & place yourself as Arianna?

As I said above, it was really hard at first.  Arianna holds her feelings close to her chest and doesn’t discuss difficult things.  I can’t say that I really understand people who operate this way even though I know plenty of people who do.  I think writing from her point-of-view helped me to understand those people better.  And love them just the way they are.

On Happy Ever After

Does Arianna really love Ethan for who he is, what he offers and how he offers it? Can she? I came away feeling she could not over the long haul. I felt she did not really delve deeply enough into who she was or what she wanted and why, other than her son, who was on the peripheral. I picture her in the future as single, sometimes happy with her choices but not fully understanding why she makes them. I never got a feel for her as a mother or her relationship with Beckett, little warmth and maternal overtones. By the end of Apart at the Seams, Arianna seems to be moving towards meeting Ethan half way, however I had little faith that the relationship would be long term. What did impression did you intend to leave your readers with?

I think they’ll make it for the long-haul, unmarried well into old age.  I think Ethan is a pleaser, and he’ll be attempting to please her into the future.  Attempting being the operative word because he doesn’t always get that what would make him happy may not make other people happy.  And I think Arianna genuinely loves him.

There was a lot more about Arianna parenting in earlier drafts of the book which were taken out because this was really a story about her relationship with Ethan and Noah.  We all have many aspects to our identity and infinite pages worth of time to explore them on a daily basis, but in a book, you need to keep a laser focus.

On Blogging and Friendship

About 4% of the way through the book Arianna tells us she “misses” Rachel. She says, “Sometimes I feel as if the blog is the only door I have to her brain lately.” She then goes on to discuss various changes which have impacted their relationship. Do you feel sometimes that starting a personal blog can have a distancing effect on relationships all by itself? If so, how do you think this happens?

Wow… that’s a really interesting question.  I think it can if you assume your friends are reading.  I have a friend that I know reads from time to time because she’ll bring up a post.  But I go into every conversation assuming that she hadn’t read my blog that week and repeat information I wrote about because I never want to take it for granted that someone reads or knows something about me.  So I think as long as you never expect your friends to gain important information via social media, you’re fine.  The second you start putting social media between you as the conduit for the relationship, you run into danger of creating distance.

On Sensibility vs Passion

About 7% of the way through the book, Arianna describes her reasons for choosing the safe career option rather than the fulfilling one, referencing her priorities in life and how they’ve changed and evolved. She says, “I’ve been working to support myself, but not really working to fulfill myself.” How have your priorities changed and evolved throughout your life so far? How do you see them changing and evolving over the next ten years? Can you tell us about the trade offs you’ve made and are prepared to make?

Again, a really interesting question.  I could earn a lot more if I wasn’t a full time writer, but being a full time writer gives me the space to be the parent I want to be while still having an income.  How many other jobs slip into the hours a person wants to work without detracting from the rest of their world?  I get to volunteer in the twins’ school and at their computer club, run a book club for kids, and be “off” (for the most part) the moment they walk into the house.  But the trade off is the financial piece — I’m definitely not earning what I could be earning.  It means checking out library books more often than buying new books.  It means opting for a DVD at home rather than going out to a movie in a theater.  Not things that particularly bother me, but something to consider if you’re ever thinking about writing full time.

That said, one thing I am really struggling with is writing the book I want to write vs. writing the book that I know will sell.  I have tremendous jealousy over writers who have written the sort of books I want to write.  I know — totally useless emotion, but there you go.  It becomes a struggle to justify writing the book I want to write, which likely won’t sell because I can’t do it as well as the writers I admire, or writing the book I’m happy to write, which probably will sell.  I usually go for the book I’m happy to write.

And to be clear, I am really happy with the book I’m working on now, which is — once again — women’s fiction.  I enjoy working on it.  I like the characters.  It’s a great project.  But there’s that book in the back of my brain, my passion project, which is always begging me to work on it.  I obsess about that book, specifically about the fact that I probably shouldn’t put my time towards it.  Did I mention that I’m obsessed with it?

~~~~~

I bet I’m not the only one who would line up to read Mel’s passion project (well, if people still had to line up to get books). Write it, Mel, write it!

Help an author out: If you’ve read any/all of Mel’s books, make sure to review them on Amazon.

Thanks to all book tourists for their participation on each other’s blogs, and to Mel for entertaining our questions. Find Mel at her blog, Stirrup Queens, and as section editor at BlogHer.

In case you missed it the first time, here are links in this book tour. Click around to see what we’re discussing in Apart at the Seams.

Lori of LavenderLuz.com
Kim Court
Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully
Anne Bauer of The Sound of Hope
GeoChick
JodiFur
Kathy at BloomingBurghBoomer
Mina
Bronwyn Joy of Journeys of the Fabulist
Tiara
Katherine A of Inconceivable!
Elizabeth of Project Progeny
Judy Miller
Kathy of Bereaved and Blessed
APlusEffort
A

A new book tour announcement is coming soon. Here’s a hint. Stay tuned!

5 thoughts on “Author Q&A: Melissa Ford on The Art of the Sequel”

  1. Excellent! Thank you, Mel, for your answers. And thank you, Lori, for organising everything. It has been so nice to get to know you all, and I thank you for helping me understand my feelings about this book better.

  2. “That crush isn’t necessarily romantic on Arianna’s end; it’s more of an I-wish-my-boyfriend-understood-me-like-he-understands-me thing.”

    I’m glad you said that, Melissa – it’s the impression I got.

    I also love your answer to the blogging/friendship one. It can get tricky if you start expecting people to follow everything you say online instead of receiving it face to face. But I also wonder if sometimes people feel a bit put out when bloggers are sharing their inner thoughts with strangers – like it makes them feel less privileged/cheapens the confidences, which may form a significant part of the basis of the friendship?

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