Melissa's latest book, From the Start, is recently out, and it's one of my favorite recent contemporary romances. Melissa is so incredibly sharp and witty in her writing - her dialogue pops, and her scenes are perfectly paced.
And because I always want to know more about things I love, I invited Melissa over to give us the backstory.
Hillary: Let's get to it! Tell us about From the Start - what inspired the main concept?
Melissa: This question was so easy for me to answer on my first couple books, but when it comes to From the Start, I’m kinda clueless! Unlike Made to Last or Here to Stay, in which I had a pretty solid concept from the beginning, this one came together in a more fluid, organic way…which is really just my euphemism for “messy and complicated.” The story came in fits and spurts.
But I do know that early on one of the things driving the story—which stayed on throughout all its variations (we’re talking multiple, hard core rewrites)—was the idea of two people whose dreams have let them down. Because I think that happens to all of us in different ways, no matter what our dream looks like.
Hillary: What inspired Kate and Colton’s characters?
Melissa: I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure Kate was unintentionally inspired by me. I kept trying to make her NOT me, but she kept tugging on my own emotions and vulnerabilities and insecurities. She’s a romance writer who is convinced she’s not making a difference and feels like she should be doing something “more important.” I can empathize with that.
Colton…he is the anomaly. The guy I never expected to write. He’s a football player…I am not a football girl. But he ended up being an interesting contrast to Kate. Because while she is desperate to do something real and leave her Hallmark-y type career behind, Colton has this whole very real past he can’t even remember and doesn’t want to remember and he craves this sort of make-believe world he’s created for himself. He’s chosen to hide out in a national NFL spotlight…and when that’s ripped away, he’s stuck.
Hillary: You’ve got a number of secondary characters in the book. Which ones are your favorites? Which ones will we see more of?
Melissa: Ooh you’ll see more of so many of them. My favorite, hands-down, is Bear. He randomly showed up in the novella prequel Three Little Words and I totally fell for him. *insert a bazillion heart emojis* I really love Raegan Walker, too, and look forward to writing her book.
One side character I’ve received a lot of feedback on is Megan. She’s young, snarky, and has a little subplot of her own. I had fun with her and she’ll definitely shows up again in the next book.
Hillary: Three Little Words is totally free on Amazon, y'all should get it. So - tell us more about YOU. Because you're awesome. For starters, you’ve got a number of direct references to classic Hollywood films in this novel, such as The African Queen and Bringing Up Baby. What are some of your favorite classic movies? How do you find they reflect in your work?
Melissa: This question is like catnip for me! My very favorite classic movies are rom-coms from the late 1930s and 1940s: His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, My Man Godfrey…
Actually, click here to find my top ten picks. Oh and I adore What’s Up Doc so much that I have trouble talking about it with any semblance of level-headedness. That one is “newer,” though—from 1972. Gasp!
I think classic movies reflect in my work in a couple ways. Dialogue is the biggie. There’s just something about the dialogue in those Golden Era rom-coms…it’s snappy and witty and rhythmic in a way, so often, current movies aren’t. (Not that there isn’t some great dialogue in some current movies—it’s just not as prevalent. Mostly, I think, because Hollywood today leans toward “lowest common denominator” humor.) So I think you’ll see that kind of ping-pong dialogue in my books.
But also, I love how Golden Era Hollywood portrays romances. And I don’t even necessarily mean the morals of it, so much as the drawn-out depth of it. In movies today, people tend to just see each and boom, a conversation or two later, they’re ALL IN and desperate for each other. In the 1930s and 40s, they let us actually see romance develop—experience it right alongside the characters. It wasn’t as rushed or haphazard. I hope that’s reflected in my books.
Hillary: You’ve also got a number of references to Gilmore Girls in this book (Here to Stay, as well). What elements of Gilmore Girls do you enjoy mining the most?
Melissa: Dialogue. Small-town personality and charm. Side characters who are vivid enough that they don’t even feel like “side” characters.
And I have out-and-out “borrowed” from the show. In Here to Stay, I pulled heavily from the Dragonfly Inn and Lorelai’s ownership. In From the Start, I include a picnic basket auction and a “town meeting” scene.
(Hillary interrupting: The town meeting scene is the best.)
Melissa: Sometimes I actually wonder if I take my GG influence too far in my own stories, but then I think, no, there’s something Easter egg-y and fun for people who are simultaneously readers of my books and also GG fans.
Hillary: What other TV shows or movies influence your work? What other ones do you look forward to referencing in the future?
Melissa: Fun question! There are small ways in which the TV show West Wing influenced my upcoming book—Like Never Before. Oh my goodness, writers need to watch that show. It’s soooo well-written.
I’d like to say 24 might be an upcoming influence, but I don’t see terrorist suspense in my immediate future. Still, it’s possible a Jack Bauer reference might show up.
But I have to say, it’s probably the classic movie thing that will most play into future books…at least at this point. And as you already know, someday…someday I will write the book I was always meant to write. A Golden Era Hollywood novel with dual storylines…someday…sigh…
Hillary: I hope so! I want to read that book! In the meantime, tell us about your next book – who are the main characters? What are do you like most about it?
Melissa: I love my next book! It’s called Like Never Before and it features Logan Walker, a former reporter turned political speechwriter (he’s a bit Sam Seaborn-ish, I will admit) and Amelia Bentley, a small-town newspaper reporter. What I love most is that I got to tie in some of my personal loves: newspaper reporting, Charles Lindbergh, and just a hint of mystery. Plus Logan Walker is adorable…in my admittedly very biased opinion.
Hillary: Seriously, I can't wait for that one. Thanks so much for the fabulous interview! Can't wait to have you back when Like Never Before comes out!
And - if you're new to Melissa's books, her debut novel, Made to Last, is free across e-book platforms for a limited time!