Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Melissa Payne

Melissa Payne is the bestselling, award-winning author of The Secrets of Lost Stones and Memories in the Drift. For as long as she can remember, Payne has been telling stories in one form or another—from high school newspaper articles to a graduate thesis to blogging about marriage and motherhood. But she first learned the real importance of storytelling when she worked for a residential and day treatment center for abused and neglected children. There she wrote speeches and letters to raise funds for the children. The truth in those stories was piercing and painful and written to invoke a call to action in the reader: to give, to help, to make a difference. Payne’s love of writing and sharing stories in all forms has endured. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three children, a friendly mutt, a very loud cat, and the occasional bear.

Payne's new novel is The Night of Many Endings.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I put the majority of my creative energy into creating, developing and writing the story. Finding the kind of title that hooks potential new readers and also accurately reflects the nuances of the story is an art form in and of itself. So I love working with a team when brainstorming a new title.

In my new book, The Night of Many Endings, the story centers around five characters and how a night stuck in a library changes them in one way or another. It’s about perceptions and stereotypes and how we can never really know someone until we learn their story. While in many ways this story is about new beginnings, it’s also about letting go of the past and allowing others in and to do that sometimes we must let our story end in order for a new one to begin.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self wouldn’t be completely surprised that I wrote a book, after all, I read every chance I got and even attempted writing a novel of my own in high school. It was dreadful, by the way, a wanna-be romance heavy on the descriptive phrases and light on substance. However, I’ve always loved stories that are rich in characters, stories that give readers a glimpse into a character’s imperfect world, stories that teach me something new and let me see the world in a different way. So in this sense, I don’t think my teenage self would be surprised that I choose to write character-driven fiction, or that I love to make the setting (mountains, small town, snow storm) as much of a character as the people. I think my teenage would be happy I found a use for all those descriptive phrases.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I usually always know my ending before I start writing, but in The Night of Many Endings, I struggled to get the ending just right. Hmm, perhaps that’s why this title works so well.

I’m used to rewriting my opening pages, usually because I’m just getting to know the characters and the opening pages need to be tweaked to show the depth they developed as my writing progressed.

In this book, I also had to rewrite the ending a few times to get Nora’s just right. I knew she struggled with her brother’s addiction, that she carried her guilt like an albatross around her neck, determined to find him, to fix him, to keep him sober. What I hadn’t yet learned about Nora was how she would overcome a change in direction, a new purpose for herself if it didn’t contain her brother. Getting Nora’s ending just right took me a few attempts because I think it was hard for me to understand how she would let go and what it meant for her character. But I’m very happy with Nora’s ending now and I think she is too.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Most of my characters are pieces of people I’ve observed or known. But as I don’t want to read only about people like me, I also don’t want to write only about people I know.

I love the challenge of developing a character, understanding their backgrounds, their experiences, their perceptions of the world that brought them to page one. In The Night of Many Endings, I had a character who I didn’t always like, or agree with and I definitely didn’t care for some of her thoughts or the way she spoke to other characters. My challenge with her was to understand why she thought or said the things she did. Once I understood her motivations, then I could see how the night with strangers would challenge her worldview and in turn, influence her own shift.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Where I live, snow is a major part of our lives. So developing the storm that strands five strangers in a library in The Night of Many Endings wasn’t too difficult as I’ve lived through a similar blizzard.

In that one, seven feet of powder fell onto our small town. We lost power and had no water, except what we could melt from snow, with only an old weather radio to listen for updates on the storm. When the storm ended, we couldn’t locate our cars. After digging for several hours, I finally found the windshield of one of them. The amount of snow was staggering. We were stranded at our home for seven days before we were able to track down a front-end loader to help dig us out.

The experience of that storm heavily influenced my writing in this book, and especially helped me to describe the cold and dark since those memories persist to this day.
Visit Melissa Payne's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Melissa Payne & Max.

My Book, The Movie: The Secrets of Lost Stones.

The Page 69 Test: The Secrets of Lost Stones.

--Marshal Zeringue