For our Black Friday feature, we have Melissa Palmer, author of the recently released book, Twin Oaks. We’re glad to have her with us to talk about the writing process.
1. Tell us about yourself. May include links to Facebook, twitter, blogs, websites, Amazon author page)
I’m Melissa Palmer, not the doctor who writes about Hepatitis or Missy from Homestarrunner, but the author or strange short stories, the autism and mental health crusader, and the author of TWIN OAKS and A LIFE LESS NORMAL. I’m also known as @Noompsydahling where I tweet entirely too many pictures of my cat, cupcakes, and Supernatural memes.
My facebook is http://www.facebook.com/MelissaPalmerWriter
I’m also on Goodreads, but I am a notoriously bad Goodreads updater.
2. How do you choose names for your characters?
Some just come to me because they sound cool, as in the case of Wilma Womack. But some are me being crafty. I have a girl named Iris in the book I’m working on who is based on my daughter Sophie. So I wanted a name we considered for her, plus one that really captures her personality. Mrs. Ringhaus of Twin Oaks is a character who realizes she’s spent her life running in circles…so…I kind of play with names a little bit there. Other times I’m just goofy, as in Gustav the dog, who is based on and named after my cat Gus.
3. Do you talk about your book/characters as though they are real?
4. Do you listen to music when you write or edit? What kind?
I have a steady diet of pre-writing music to get me in the mood. Right now it’s a lot of Hozier. I don’t think I’ve ever connected to an album the way I do with Hozier’s latest release. Some of those songs get me right in the back of the throat. My WIP, BAKING FOR DAVE was born out of the Dave Matthews Pandora station. I guess I have music for baking too.
5. How long have you been writing?
Since first grade, kindergarten really.
6. Tell us about when you realized you were ‘meant to be’ a writer.
I remember being in second grade and waking up in the middle of the night because I “had to write an idea down”. It was a haiku about squirrels, I think, but I remember as a little squirt sneaking into my closet (there was a light in there) and writing into the wee hours of the morning.
7. Do you have a muse?
The right music definitely impacts what I’m writing. Also, as strange as it sounds, water. So many story ideas have come to me when I was in the shower or doing dishes.
8. How do you improve as a writer? (Workshops, conferences, reading)
Rewriting. Teaching writing helps. I am kind of mental about writing, as far as making sure I get it in. I never stop. Even if I’m “blocked” I’m working on other aspects of the writing; things like this, or pre-writing, short stories if I’m not working on a novel. Also, I try very hard to pick at scabs. That is, if something bothers me in real life, I try to slay it in a book. That’s why there are so many things that happen in my books that are mirrored in my life in some way. It’s cheaper than therapy. :]
9. Writing quirks or superstitions?
I always write better when I’m ovulating. I only edit when I am cursed.
10. Tell us about your current work-in-progress.
Baking for Dave follows the journey of a young girl with autism who runs away from home to compete in a national bake-off. She connects to the world through Dave Matthews music.
11. What book are you reading now?
I am in mourning for having finished the GoT books. And by the time this is published I will have finished the new Lestat book.
12. What genre do you write in? What about PoV?
I write contemporary and psychological literary fiction. POV changes depending on the story. My memoir was in first person. And as different as my two books may seem they are really quite similar. While I was frustrated writing my memoir I started thinking about people and their secrets. Then I started thinking, Wouldn’t it be better if everyone just dug the skeletons out of their closets? That ended up being the question that started Twin Oaks. Writing fiction got me to the heart of my non-fiction and both works benefited.
13. Tell us about writing preparation. Character Profiles? Outlines?
I am definitely a bit of a madwoman when it comes to the way I write. First there is a notebook where I scrawl down the idea. Then I rewrite that idea in a neater hand, with some semblance of organization. (Sometimes this second step of the process will include sketches. I don’t mean this in the sense of literary character sketch. I mean this in the sense of- I grab my daughters’ crayons and colored pencils and draw out characters and neighborhoods. After that I type out all my notes. They become the skeletons of chapters.
14. Do you know how your stories will end?
15. Do you books have a message or theme? Or are they purely for entertainment?
I always start out telling myself it’s just going to be a story. But no matter what I’m writing there is always a theme of isolation, of individual versus the “norm”. I guess I have some demons I still have to work out in the old noggin’.
16. Do you have any favorite snacks or drinks that you eat/drink while writing?
I try not to just because I don’t eat after 8 pm and I’m a nocturnal writer. But oddly enough, I noticed when I wrote TWIN OAKS I had a bit of a tradition of the pre-chapter beer. Otherwise I was getting way to precious and nit-picky about what I was doing.
17. Tell us about your other passions.
I LOVE baking, probably too much. I like to make baked goods that are like my writing, fill them with unexpected surprises like bacon and booze. There is a character in TWIN OAKS who is probably a little too much like me as far as getting mental about distance running. Running, as I forgot to mention in the other question, is also another way I get inspired. Something about the silence and solitude, the rhythm of those steps. I get some really good stuff halfway through a run. I also have a character in TWIN OAKS who talks to her dog like he’s a person. She may or may not also be based on someone very close to me. But in my defense I also talk to my cat and fish like they are people.
18. What’s something interesting about you?
I have a cadaver hip. (Side effect of way too much distance running.)
19. Share a small sample (limit to one paragraph, please) of your writing… can be a WIP or already published. This is the blurb I wrote up for my publisher for release.
Twin Oaks is the ideal neighborhood. It’s got manicured gardens, potluck dinners, and good neighbors—the kind that keep their bodies buried deep.
Mrs. Womack is the eyes and the ears of the cul-de-sac, who sees everything but her own loveless marriage. She could be plotting murder as she makes small talk with her genius dog, or she could be thinking about her next sandwich. Mr. Chalmers doesn’t like to leave the house much, but he does love explosives and things that go boom. Mrs. Ringhaus likes a life of structure and rules. The thought of ripping off her clothes makes her blush. At first. Ms. Bea is the reasonable type who is good at pretending folks don’t stare, especially when they do. Then there’s Mr. Pollack, the frustrated painter in a search of truth and love. His wife April searches neither. She never asks once about Mrs. MacMillan, the founding member of the ladies club who has disappeared. Instead she takes in tea with Mrs. Granger, whose teeth look too long for her mouth; and with Annabelle, a known man-eater; and Abigail, who seems to have misplaced her mind. April doesn’t question why the Twin Oaks Homeowner’s Association is not what it seems.
Nothing in Twin Oaks is.
20. Anything you’d like to say to your current and future readers?
Thanks so much for reading. This has been a big year for me. To think after ten years of submitting I got two contracts in the same week. It’s unbelievable the way these things work. I cannot express my gratitude any more than that.
Thanks, Melissa. Good luck with Twin Oaks.