Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you what may be the last in my series of author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Let me say, before we get to the introduction, that this has been a lot of fun for me. An eye opening experience, but alas all good things must come to an end. Currently, I don’t have any more scheduled interviews. If you’re reading this and thinking “Hey, what about my story?” don’t fret. I would very much like to speak with you. Drop me a line and we’ll make it happen.
Now, on to the introduction. Today we’ll be talking with author, journalist and Mom Melanie Hearse. Check out her website, she has a journalistic bibliography a mile and a half long. Interestingly, however, her contribution to FROM THE INDIE SIDE, THE GREATER GOOD, was a first step into the world of fiction. It’s an interesting mashup of Mother’s Day and Tales from the Dark Side and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.
Mel, who lives and works in Australia, has a novel on the way and has since produced several short stories. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and ask a few questions. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.
MT THE GREATER GOOD feels like the first chapter of a dystopian generation ship tale to me. The idea that these people will live a very long time and are aware of the impact that their lives might have on the Earth as-is makes me wonder where you’re headed. Without giving away too much or spoiling future shorts can you tell us a little of what you intend?
MH The story started for me after I wrote an article on the science of longevity. I interviewed some of Australia’s top researchers that have been covering this from all angles — how to make it happen, and how to manage the impact. But writing the article left me with so many unanswered questions, and I have a psychology background and an interest in how we humans function and tick, so this story was really me getting my thoughts on it out. I’m not convinced we do a good enough job caring for the people and the planet we have now, so I’m not sure longevity is a science we need to be focused on.
These characters are going to work through the ying and yang of how I personally see such a thing rolling out, and the two boys are going to eventually find themselves head to head – or heart versus head. The grandfather’s leadership will also be challenged and we get to find out more about their role in it all and what motivates them. Each follow up story takes a different viewpoint – the father/ grandfather and eldest son, the two boys versus one an other…and Leila becomes a surprising ally for one of the boys.
MT As our family’s stay at home parent I can understand the anxiety that Lanie feels once she finds herself in this dilemma; give up your kids and live, or face the consequences. Why didn’t she try to buy more time?
MH What an excellent question. I can’t actually answer it, but it is something I am going to mull over in my mind and it will be addressed in future books as it is a very important question to be answered. My gut feeling is it will come back to the perceived safety of her boys though – after all, she would have felt safe with her husband at the helm and she was proven quite wrong there, so she’s certainly not going to roll the dice that he’d keep the boys safe if she spilled. Watch this space, good question indeed!
MT How did you become involved in the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?
MH I’m a stubborn and motivated gal, and having spent some time working with Susan, sharing a space, she knows how I got my start in journalism by knocking on doors again and again (but politely) and never giving in. She also knows I never miss a deadline and if I say I’m going to do something, or I want to do something, I will work my backside off to do it – I don’t ask for opportunities and then bail on them. She also knew I’d been working on a fiction novel and told me if I got something to her that was of a good enough quality, she’d put it up for the book.
My first draft was…well it wasn’t good. She started out critiquing me gently and I told her I hadn’t gotten to where I am today without being able to take brutal honesty in the spirit it’s intended, so she gave it to me. Draft two was a vast improvement and something she could see working, so I rallied a couple of friends to beta read for me and went through that draft again and again until it was ready for David Gatewood.
MT You’ve got a novel headed to the shelves this year, tell us a little about it? Is it done?
MH Funnily enough, it is the antithesis of the GREATER GOOD series! It’s a chick lit, Hollywood glam style beach read, following six emerging stars as their ensemble show skyrockets them to fame. Then folk around them start getting knocked off and each one of them has a good motive. It’s not done, but it is coming along fast and furious and I’m really loving it – and I’m allowed to say that because I have enough bad drafts of started and stopped novels in my computer to know the difference!
MT I’ve started to look through some of what I can find of your journalistic endeavors here in the States You seem to have an interest in health and family. Which, although I am indeed eating a piece of banana bread while I type this question, are both preoccupations of mine as well. Are you a runner? Any other sports?
MH Ha ha ha, my sports are like my writing — all styles, all over the shop! I do love running, and I ride my bike everywhere. I’ve taken up kickboxing, pole dancing, Zumba, more recently slacklining (can’t recommend it enough — great with kids as well, really good for them) and kayaking. Oh, I got one of those “have you got a door? Then you’ve got a gym” resistance trainers for my last birthday – they are fun, if very hard work for anything beyond squats. So I like to be active but I’m not intense about any one sport.
The family writing has been such a blessing – all the issues I’ve ever faced as a parent I’ve been able to write about, and talk to the leading experts in the field AND feel like I can help others in my shoes with what I’ve found out.
MT I am very interested in the tools and processes other writers use to create their works. In THE GREATER GOOD you have a impressive collection of high anxiety scenes. How do you treat scenes like this? Do you use any special tools or techniques when writing anxiety or situations where the outcome is out of the protagonist’s control?
MH I have suffered (and I do mean suffered!) anxiety since I was in my early twenties so it’s an easy one to draw on for me and one I could imagine Lanie would feel a lot – she’s lost her memories and can’t trust her own brain and thoughts; and that’s something I relate to – that wondering if what you are thinking and feeling is real or something you are inventing. When I say easy I mean it comes naturally, but its actually quite draining and confronting to write at times.
MT Was THE GREATER GOOD something you had sitting in a drawer or did you write if specifically for the FROM THE INDIE SIDE anthology
MH Specifically for the anthology — I was trying too hard to come up with a story idea and eventually I walked away from trying. About half a day later, the article I’d written on longevity popped into my head and I remembered all the questions and scenarios I saw in my head while doing the article, so I knew it was the story I wanted to write.
MT You share writing space with Susan May. How do you know each other? Were you friends who just happened to both be writers or did writing bring you together?
MH We had kids at the same school and friends in common who kept telling us we had to meet. Then I think we found each other on Facebook, commenting on friends posts. So we caught up and got along. Then I was finding it hard going being a full time stay at home writer, getting a bit isolated – I have kids, so the afternoons and evenings are generally spent doing their things. My hubby suggested renting a shared office space, but I thought about Susan living nearby and asked her if she wanted to trial working together from time to time. We don’t always get a lot of words on paper, but we do bounce ideas off each other and we have a new project we’ll be doing together very soon.
It’s nice being able to talk in writers language to each other – my hubby works in IT, and when he gets together with work mates they always talk in computer nerd speak which no one understands – now I get to talk in writer nerds speak with someone!
MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced, but I want to know if you would offer Indies advice about what they can do to reach those readers? You seemed to have figured out the ins and outs of discoverability.
MH Susan is the one that bought me over to the Indie side, and she’s taught me a lot about discover-ability. I also grew up in a sales and marketing family, and worked in a bookstore for six years before doing a psych degree and then moving from a govvie health career into health writing – so it’s a bit like all my past experience is lining up in a row, ready for this next step.
Advice wise, I think if you are going to go out alone as an indie, be open to honest feedback — don’t take negatives as negatives, see them as opportunities to improve what you do and be grateful for the time readers give you in getting that feedback to you. Definitely use a good editor — no point reaching readers if your work is still needing a good fine tuning. In terms of reaching them, I think being genuine is key — a writer I have gotten to know that isn’t indie, but has a huge online fan base has built up a cult following just by being herself and sharing her journey and process with her online fans — she asks them questions as she’s writing, she shares whats she’s been up to, and people feel invested in her work, and that she’s genuinely invested in them. Being involved in an anthology is another good one — it’s a chance to be read by fans of more established writers. You just have to get over the fear of sharing a space with them; it can be daunting knowing someone is reading you after something amazing by an established writer!
MT Do believe that there are any specific or unique challenges for Australian independent authors that citizens of other countries might not encounter?
MH Not really, touring would be one, but I’m not there yet!
MT I am very interested in the tools other authors use to create their works. Give us a run down of what your writing space looks like. What are the tools you keep in your tool box? Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? Is there anything you’re unhappy with or is there a feature request that you have for a particular tool?
MH I have a gorgeous office with a real fireplace, a big teak desk and a view of the grass out my window, all bookshelf lined etc (I have an obscene amount of books). But I write in my lounge room, hunched over a low coffee table with my two dogs snoring next to me on the couch. For some reason the study doesn’t work for me, despite having created my dream writing room!
I like to think I’m a planner, but I write my plans and promptly lose them, so I suspect I’m a pantser. Or I’ll get halfway through a plan and get impatient so I’ll start writing. Yes, Pantser. Can I be a Planser?
MT Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers before we sign off?
MH Best advice I read while going through this process, after I started over thinking everything and stressing to the point I hated my story was by Stephen King. “Trust your reader will follow you.” It’s very freeing. He has people believing an angsty teen girl can move things with her mind…or in possessed cars for goodness sake — he’s the master of trusting his reader and it really works — if he tried to explain these things with logic to the reader he’d lose them, so he just assumes they’ll figure it just is. Leaving him free to get on with the story telling. I’m not 100% there yet, I have to throw off my journalists need to explain everything step by step, but its one of the best pieces of advice I’ve read.