We usually shine the GCLS Writing Academy Spotlight on graduates of the program, but this month, we’re happy and excited to welcome a special guest.
Melissa Brayden is a mentor and instructor for the GCLS Writing Academy. She is also a multi-award winning author of romance books, a NYC theater aficionado, and an all-around kind and fun person.
I was lucky enough to sit with Melissa today to find out about her newest release, her doughnut obsession, and her mad skateboarding skills.
I’m so excited you agreed to chat with me today. You’re truly one of my favorite authors.
Me too! You’re the nicest for having me. I feel so important. I enjoy a good chat and with a friend, it’s even better.
I have a ton of questions, but first, a very important one… Were you really a skater girl?
YES. When I was twelve years old, I could drop in on a full sized half-pipe and had mad skate skills. (Ed. Note. We insisted on photographic evidence. You’re welcome.)
I had a professional board that I saved up for (the Schmidtt Stix Ripsaw, Google it) and didn’t care when the boys tried to squeeze me out of the skateboarding field trip the Youth Center on my air force base took to a skate park. I also wore the long, loud jam shorts, as one did in the late 80s, early 90s.
That is totally adorable and I’m even more of a fangirl now. Speaking of fangirling, you mentioned a couple years ago during an interview on I Heart Lesfic that your most crush-worthy character was Adrienne from Waiting in the Wings. (Ed. Note. We have a thing for Natalie Frederico from First Position) Is Adrienne still in the number one spot or has anyone else moved into first place?
Adrienne is still number one. That was my first book, so you have to understand I threw everything I had into that character—everything I would imagine in a dream girl or love interest, so she’s going to be hard to beat. I do enjoy Natalie quite a bit though. Molly from How Sweet it Is comes to mind. Mallory Spencer from the Soho books certainly factors in and Hadley from Seven Shores is a sexy sweetheart. Oh, my! That’s a lot. *Dramatically falls back onto couch*
Oh yes. I forgot about Mallory. I love that series. You write stand alone books and series. Which do you prefer? And why?
Depends on the day! Stand alones are great because they seem to come with less pressure. I have one story to tell and I want to tell it well. With a series, you have to keep your eyes on a lot of different variables: sustainability, interwoven plots from multiple stories/romances, continuity from past books, and your main overarching through line. However, what’s great about a series is how well you get to know your own characters, and in many ways, I think they come to life more for it – and there’s a satisfaction in that for me, the deeper characterization.
Your newest book, Beautiful Dreamer, came out recently. Can you talk a little about the process for that book?
That one was a hard book for me to write, psychologically, simply because I was convinced it wasn’t any good. That’s self-doubt at its best, right there. I was in my head a lot when I wrote it. Cut to the book being out now and it receiving the best reviews of my career and it seems that I really don’t know what I’m talking about. LOL. Looking back, I wish I’d enjoyed writing it more, and I would have if I had known then what I know now – that people would enjoy it. It was stressful!
It’s so important to hear that from you. So many of us suffer self-doubt and assume that a prolific, multi-award winning writer would be past that. It’s a universal theme! I just love your writing. Your characters are very real. And you have such an amazing ability to write super sweet and incredibly sexy all at once. How hard (or easy) do you find writing sex scenes?
I’m not going to lie. There are days when I just don’t feel it, and cannot get myself in a sexy mood. When that’s the case, rather than trying to force it and knowing it won’t be any good, I table the scene and come back to it on another day. But when the day is right? I enjoy writing them. Any of the scenes where the characters are doing well are my favorite, and sex day is generally one of those.
Do you have any specific advice for writing f/f sex scenes?
Don’t forget the feelings! As an avid reader of both F/F and M/F romances – I can tell you that the main difference between two, other than the obvious, is that the emotional connection tends to be elevated when the scene is between women – at least, I think it needs to be for the most part. As women, we’re generally more emotional creatures and to ignore that (unless of course a specific character simply is not) would be a hit to the authenticity. Plus, it’s what makes us special and wonderful. If we’re not talking romance, if we’re speaking about erotica, then I think emotion is less important. For me? I like to use the sex to bring the couple closer and that involves all the feels.
Okay, enough about you. Let’s talk about us. You’ve been a supporter of the GCLS Writing Academy for years, both as a mentor and an instructor. What inspires you to donate so much time to helping emerging authors?
I live by the philosophy that there is always room for more. I’m not ever going to pull the ladder up behind me because I could be inadvertently silencing one of the best voices of our generation that has yet to be discovered/published. Furthermore, I did a lot of it all by myself early on and made mistakes along the way. By telling those stories, and being honest and frank about what the industry is like, maybe I can help someone sidestep some of the same pitfalls, and instead focus on what’s most important, getting the best books out there. The more good books, the better, I say! Bring on the Books! Bring on the Books!
I totally agree! We all win when we support and bolster each other. Along those lines, what advice would you offer other established authors who are debating whether to mentor for The Academy? (Ed. Note. Do you want to mentor for the WA? Check us out!)
If you can afford the time, it’s good for the soul, it puts more good books into the world, and elevates our genre as a whole – which benefits all of us. Not only that, but it’s a helpful exercise for the established writers to remind themselves of best practices that perhaps they already KNOW deep down, but have gotten away from implementing. Like a tune up, if you will.
That is so true. I learn so much from breaking things down to teach them. What advice would you offer someone who is just entering the WA?
I would tell them they have a lot of good information coming at them from a variety of sources. Be the best little sponge they can be, but also take time to distill information into what works for them. That comment I made above about sex scenes between women being emotional at their best? If that’s not who they are as a writer, or what they believe, they should feel confident in tossing that piece of advice right out the window and craft their own voice, and chart their own course. Some lessons will stick with them for the totality of their careers, and some will (and should) be discarded immediately if it’s not workable for who they are as a writer. This is art. It’s not an exact science. It’s an artistic mechanism, not a mechanical one. There’s a shaping and molding and shimmying (yes, I just said shimmying) that should take place when crafting the creative work.
Shimmying is good for the soul. So are doughnuts. (Ed. Note. Doughnut or donut?
It’s an age-old battle. Check out Time Magazine’s delicious article for more linguistic fun with this sugary food. )
You have a reputation of somewhat of a doughnut fiend. Are snack foods important to your writing process? And what is your writing process in general?
I’m snack obsessed. I love cookies and crackers and donuts and cheese and all kinds of chips (especially the odd flavors Lays keeps trying out) but when I’m writing, it’s strictly coffee for me, and I average 2-3 cups a day. I think the more distractions I give myself, the more I will one hundred percent procrastinate. Snacks will steal my focus and I can’t allow that to happen. So, I relegate them to breaks (I write in 45 minute sessions) and think of them as a nice reward before I go back in.
You have to be pretty disciplined to be a full-time writer. How has your process changed since bringing your amazing son into your life?
Having that little nugget around has forced me to be a lot more disciplined with my time. He goes to school in the morning and is home in the afternoon. So, when I used to have all day to hit my word count, I now have half the time. I’m very much aware of a ticking clock and have been surprised at what I can accomplish when forced to. On an emotional level, he’s made the world look very different to me. I see things through his eyes as he learns the world for the first time, and I can’t help but wonder how it has affected my writing. Beautiful Dreamer is the first full length novel I’ve written with him in my life, so I guess the proof would be between the pages. It’s hard for me to see for myself, however, so let me know!
We think you nailed it. What’s coming next?
You’ll see Back to September next, which is out in November (strangely). It’s about a bookshop owner who falls for a super successful romance novelist. In March, I’ll have the book I’m currently putting the final touches on, To the Moon and Back, which is the romance between a regional theatre stage manager and a film actress giving stage a try for the first time. Next week, I’ll start work on a new series, The Tangle Valley Romances, which will take place on a vineyard in Oregon. (Ed. Note. We’re so excited about this series!) You’ll see those start to come out in July. Whew! And now I’m exhausted.
Wow. With all that writing, I can’t imagine how you have time to read. But what’s on your nightstand?
I need to catch up on my Kristan Higgins, Nora Roberts, and Jill Shalvis romances. I also need to read The Goodman’s by Clare Ashton, Calendar Girl by Georgia Beers, Practice Makes Perfect by Carsen Taite, Breaking Character by Lee Winter, and that new regency romance between women that Avon just put out, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. Oh, and I’ve never read EJ Noyes, but I’m told I simply must. I’m currently 70% into Kris Bryant’s Listen and really enjoying the unique characterization of the narrator. In essence, having a one-year-old is really killing my reading time!
Other than wrangling a toddler, writing prolifically, and being a rad skater chick, do you have any special talents?
Yes, I’m amazing at getting tickets for hard to get Broadway shows because I’ve figured out how box offices work and when they release their seats. I’m a pretty good one line joker teller. I have stellar skills when it comes to making tortilla soup. I’m a fantastic rapper if I’m rapping with the radio (Jay-Z’s Run This Town is my favorite to rap). But probably a skill I’m most known for is literally never losing my cool no matter what happens. I’m the calmest of the calm in a fight, crisis, you name it. I’ve left others speechless with that little talent. (Ed. Note. This is the truth. MB is our go-to when we need someone to tell us to just think about it for a while before responding.)
Last question, but it’s an important one… Will you teach for us again this year?
Of course! I’m in! I always have the best time and like to teach from the same spot in my upstairs office on a sunny Saturday morning. (Fingers crossed for sun this year). I’ll bring the coffee, you bring the questions, and we’ll have a great time.
The GCLS Writing Academy is a yearlong intensive program for new or relatively new writers who have written at least part of a novel. In this course, students will learn the critical components of quality writing. The Writing Academy goes beyond craft of writing and takes students through all aspects of writing and publishing a novel.