I first met Melissa Stewart through the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA). She has been an indispensable volunteer with the organization, supporting the membership, helping to organize events, and is now a board member as well. Melissa is one of those hands-on people seemingly always available to do the heavy lifting at PNWA and help new writers become better writers. I was thrilled to see she has a women's fiction horror story, written under the pen name M. Leigh, in the new release It Came from the Trailer Park.
CHRISTINA: Women's fiction horror? What is that?
MELISSA: I define it as dark stories told through a female lens. Horror is the perfect place to explore women's issues, their experiences, and perspectives. I love women's fiction but sometimes wish it was more visceral. I love horror but sometimes wish it would delve deeper into women's issues. So, I try to do both.
CHRISTINA: I wonder if Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca would be considered part of that genre...? I am the biggest scaredy-cat, but I am a fan of Gillian Flynn. Her Sharp Objects and Dark Places haunted me for days. And I have been trying to get the nerve to pick up Susan Hill's The Woman in Black.
Pantser or plotter or hybrid?
MELISSA: I would say I am a combination of plotter and pantser. When I started my current novel, it was just a short story. Which turned into a novella, which turned into a novel, which is now a potential series. In that process, I have had to plot and organize to keep me going in the intended direction; however, there are magical moments in the pantser phases that shouldn't be ignored. It is where authors surprise themselves the most, I think.
CHRISTINA: That really is magic when something comes together when it wasn't planned.
What comes first? Plot or characters?
MELISSA: For me, the characters always come first. It is always a voice in my head telling me the story. At first, I never care about where the story is going, only how the characters are reacting to their situation. I want to see what they are going to do next.
CHRISTINA: I like that you let the characters drive the story and your story develops from them.
What do you think is your strength as a writer?
MELISSA: My strength as a writer has always been dialogue. Perhaps that is because I am a character driven writer, but I love trying to come up with the most authentic ways to tell the story through my character's voice. Tension through dialogue is what I love to read, so I strive to keep my readers engaged in the same way.
CHRISTINA: Oh yes, I love good dialog. It keeps the momentum moving forward with each intended utterance, yet without seeming forced.
What do you owe the real people whom you have based some of your characters on?
MELISSA: Most of my stories are set in Appalachia because I grew up hearing stories from my family members about the land, people, legends, conflicts. I owe a lot of my writing to my family because those tales have stuck in my brain, and I believe it is such a unique region to explore.
CHRISTINA: How proud they will all be to read your debut novel! That's the kind of thing that gives me goosebumps.
Best advice for new writers...?
MELISSA: My best advice to new writers is to be patient. Give yourself time to finish your projects, time to learn the craft, time to learn the business, time to edit. Time to be rejected. Put yourself in places where you will meet other writers/agents/publishers. No one is a success overnight, and the best support a writer can have is other writers. Oh, and have a thick skin--this will take time to gain as well.
CHRISTINA: If that is not the truth! One hundred percent agree.
What is your current project?
MELISSA: This Halloween my story, "The Bucket," is included in the third installment of It Came from the Trailer Park by Three Ravens Publishing. I am so excited to be included in this amazing anthology.
CHRISTINA: Congratulations! I do love a well-developed collection of stories.
What does literary success look like to you?
MELISSA: What success as a writer looks like to me is never giving up. If you have a story to tell, write it down. Then edit until you can't stand it any longer. Then edit some more. Keep putting your work out there. Even if no one is biting, keep writing. The stories in our head won't magically go away just because no one is "buying" our work. This is a very frustrating business, and the writing has to bring joy. If it doesn't, the industry may not be for you.
CHRISTINA: I wish you every success with this new release and the next steps in your writing and publishing. You deserve every good thing! Thank you for your time, your availability to new writers, and for sharing such thoughtful advice, too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melissa Stewart writes women's fiction horror under the pen name, M. Leigh. She has been published with Flame Tree, Black Hare Press, and Three Ravens Publishing among others. For more info check out www. mleighstories.com and socials @mleighstories