Melanie Brockmann Interview by Malcolm Hillgartner
MALCOLM HILLGARTNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Malcolm Hillgartner, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Melanie Brockmann. Melanie is the daughter and writing partner of author Suzanne Brockmann, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a few months ago for this series. Their first book together, Night Sky, is the start of a new paranormal suspense series and is releasing in print and audio October 7, 2014. The audiobook for Night Sky is available for download on Downpour.com, as is the short prequel, Dangerous Destiny.
MH: Welcome Melanie. Thanks for being with us today.
MELANIE BROCKMANN: Thank you so much.
MH: Night Sky is the first novel in a new series, the Dangerous Destiny series. Tell us a bit about the novel and the Fighting Destiny world in which it’s set.
MB: Night Sky is a YA paranormal novel that my mom and I wrote together. It’s set in a world that my mom had already written in for her adult series. She created this paranormal world, but she thought that it would fit really well with a YA audience, and I completely agreed. Night Sky is the first of two, maybe three, novels. We’ll see what happens. But we’re in the middle of the sequel at this point. The first one is due out in October. It’s the story about a teenage girl who discovers that she has very specific superpowers that set her apart from other people. Along the way, she is able to solve a mystery and she meets some really cool other people who also have similar abilities. It was just a really fun experience, writing this novel with my mom. We’re really excited.
MH: What made you decide to set your story in the YA genre? What brought you to this?
MB: My mom was the one who came up with the idea. She knew that I really liked to read YA myself, and that I had gotten a pretty good handle on writing with a YA voice. She knew that if we were to cowrite a novel together, having me help would be a really good opportunity for me to get my foot in the door. Also, she noted that the YA genre has gotten a little darker lately. Dystopian societies are in, vampires were in for a while—this theme of blood and a darker scene—science fiction is really in right now. She thought it was a perfect opportunity to extend her writing experience into the YA, and for me to have the opportunity to write this.
MH: She’s associated with romantic suspense. Were you already, in your own writing, moving into sci-fi dystopian writing? Was it a natural paring, or was this a leap for you as well?
MB: This was a leap for me in the sense that I was not trying to get myself published. I’m a certified personal trainer and a boot camp instructor. While I went to school for writing, I was an English major, I was writing as more of a hobby than anything else. Of course I’ve always wanted to become published, but it definitely wasn’t the focal point for me at that point. When my mom approached me it seemed like a great opportunity. In terms of what I was reading, I would say that I had coincidentally been drawn to that dystopian YA genre at the time. I certainly wasn’t writing anything like that, so it definitely was a very different experience for me.
MH: YA has become such a phenomenon. Its audience goes far beyond its actual description—young adult. I mean, so many adults are reading YA books as well. What do you think is the appeal in that genre?
MB: I turned thirty this year and for me, when that happened, I thought, “Gosh, I’m a grownup now.” It just happens without you really recognizing it until you look back, and it’s been however many years since high school. I think that it’s such an impressionable age and we never forget our teen years. There’s something to be said for having a strong teenage character in a book that really stands out. I think that’s why even adults are drawn to that genre after they’ve grown up, because it’s like being a kid again.
MH: You come from a family of writers. Your mother, obviously, is a well-known and successful writer. Your dad writes as well. Was it intimidating to partner with your mother who has such an established track record as a writer?
MB: My mom is my mom. I’ve watched her career blossom. She started to try to become published when I was in the fourth grade. I think her first book came out when I was nine. I’ve been in the backdrop for a while. To me, mom writes in her bathrobe. She goes to work, she’s got a cup of coffee, and she’s doing her thing. I intellectually knew that she is a New York Times bestseller. I would see her books on the shelves in the grocery store and in Barnes & Noble, but the reality hadn’t really sunk in. Sometimes it does now. For instance, I’ll be training somebody or I’ll be at work, and somebody will approach me and say, “Is your mom really Susanne Brockman?” It’s so clear that I’m speaking with a fan. Like I said, to me, my mom is my mom. She’s not a celebrity by any means, but she is. That being said, she also is extremely talented. I would say it’s been less intimidating and more an overall feeling of gratitude for being able to learn from somebody who I feel is a truly great literary figure.
MH: Describe for us your collaborative process. Do you write together? Do you pick moments and go do them yourselves? How did your various strengths emerge as you began to work?
MB: We didn’t really know how we were going to approach it initially. We just knew that we were going to attempt to write a book together. I had this image in my head of my mom sitting at one computer, me sitting at a computer next to her, and we’re both dictating to the other person. Well, that’s clearly not what we do. First of all, she’s in a different state right now. She’s up in Massachusetts and I’m down in Florida. We did figure out a system that works for us, and we’ve continued to use it for the sequel. What we initially did was sit down, with a notepad and pen by her pool, and brainstormed. We came up with what-if-this, what-if-that, which characters do we want to create. And we created these awesome characters together, then the internal conflicts and the external. It was all just scribbled down on this notepad—very disorganized. Once we had an idea of what we wanted to accomplish, my mom taught me how to brainstorm, which I really think is the most invaluable lesson that I’ve learned out of all of this. It’s one thing to have a good writing voice but it’s another thing to know where you want to go with the story. One of the lessons that my mom taught me was know how you want the book to end before you begin it. That makes so much sense to me now because I would always hit this wall at chapter two. I would write these amazing chapter ones and then I wouldn’t know what to do after that. In any case, we would outline together, then go our separate ways and decide: okay, I’m going to write these two scenes. Once I’m done with them I will send them to you, and you can read them and let me know what you think. Then we would revise together. For sure my mom is a stronger reviser than I am. I’m pretty good at once I know what scene I need to be writing, charging through and getting it done quickly. It’s been a trial-and-error process. More seamless than what we had anticipated, partly because I believe that our writing voices are so similar and we’re so similar too. We’re related, so it makes sense.
MH: It looks like you have two more books in this series, at least in the planning stages. Do you think at some point you’ll want to write a book of your own?
MB: Absolutely. Like I said, before my mother had approached me about this it was definitely not something that was front and center for me. It was always kind of in the back of my brain—that someday, maybe, I would become published. Now that I’ve gotten a taste of it, and I know that I can write a full book successfully, the idea of writing on my own is definitely an attractive one, something that I will no doubt pursue in the future.
MH: Will you be exploring similar themes in your own work or branching out of YA?
MB: I absolutely would. I love writing YA. I feel like I have a really good grasp on the voice. I like writing in the first person. I would like to stay with the sort of darker themes, but I think that my mom created this world with her Born to Darkness books and now with the Night Sky books. I’ve brainstormed a little bit. I like the ideas of zombie apocalypse. I like the dystopian themes. Like I said, I’ve been brainstorming and thinking about what I’d like to do after the Night Sky series is over with.
MH: Can you give any preview of some of the themes or settings that you might be looking at for a book of your own in the future?
MB: My boyfriend and I, this is what we do—we brainstorm. We come up with scenarios and outlines. He’s very creative as well, so the two of us have talked a lot about the idea of coming up with a zombie apocalypse-themed book series, in which another really strong female lead can run the show. I love the idea of writing with strong female characters in my books. I think that’s extremely vital, especially when your audience is teenagers. That’s just one idea and I have, probably, a notebook filled with all those notes and ideas so stay tuned.
MH: I noticed that along with your background as a personal trainer, you also have a deep background as a musician. You play clarinet, saxophone, and things like that. Is there any way that those things sort of dovetail into your writing, particularly the music?
MB: Absolutely. With Night Sky, Skylar has many talents. She’s characterized as a greater-than and she has a variety of superpowers or abilities. One of them is that she’s able to sight-read music and play the clarinet extremely well, and has been able to do it since she was a tiny little girl. I think, for me, a lot of Skylar’s abilities are a way for me to live vicariously through a character. I loved music growing up. I was pretty attached to my saxophone, especially. I was in the jazz band. I was the cheerleader, band geek, slash everything else. I was an interesting combination of everything. The music definitely filtered into my writing, for sure. Similarly, Skylar can run a sub four-minute mile—that’s more of me living vicariously through a character. I’m an avid runner and I loved to be able to create a character who had such a cool superpower.
MH: In addition to cowriting this book, you also narrated the audiobook for Night Sky. Was this your first time as a narrator?
MB: It was my first time. It was a really awesome experience. Fun fact that not a lot of people know: I had caught a head cold about two days before I arrived in Rhode Island to do the recording. The entire time I had my fingers crossed, and I was like, “I can feel as bad as I want to, but please don’t let it affect my voice.” I was drinking a ton of water and tea, and made it through. Overall, it was an excellent experience and one that I would absolutely do again.
MH: What was your biggest surprise as you approached a book as a narrator, in terms of what you didn’t expect to happen that did happen, and the challenges of doing it?
MB: I think that the biggest challenge was that I’m a huge perfectionist. But, I have to say, that the narration process one-upped me in terms of perfectionism. Each syllable had to be pronounced absolutely perfectly. If I swallowed too loudly, if I cleared my throat, if I turned a page and the sound of the page turning was in the audio, we would have to go back. But it was a great experience. I had some awesome people to work with who were very nice and made me feel very comfortable. I had a lot of people warning me in advance that it would be a lesson in endurance, so I went into it with a pretty realistic attitude. Four hundred something pages is a lot to read in your head, never mind out loud, and read it perfectly. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but we got it done.
MH: Do you listen to audiobooks, yourself? If you do, was that useful in getting ready to record the book?
MB: Yeah. I was thinking to myself, when I decided to be the narrator, that I really haven’t listened to as much audio as I wish I had. I definitely have before and I’ve noted that certain audiobooks I prefer over others based on the narration and based on the voice. Some people read in a monotone and it drives me crazy. It doesn’t matter if it’s the great American novel—I’m going to sleep. It was really important for me to practice and make sure that I had each character’s voice down, and that I read everything the way that I heard it in my head. It’s funny because I have this one very vivid memory of an audiobook that I listened to on a car ride, and it was an absolute lifesaver. I was driving from Boston to Florida, on my own, in a car that was on its last leg. Halfway through the trip, the AC died, and it was completely, miserably hot. I was sweating; I was pulling over every half-hour to dump ice on my head. But I had an audiobook to listen to. I remember it was Lisa Gardner’s Gone and the narrator nailed it. She just managed to sweep me out of the world that I was in and into the world of the characters. I can only hope that I accomplish the same with my book.
MH: Do you think the process of having to read your own book, your own words aloud, is going to have a big impact on the future books you write?
MB: I don’t really know. I read the first novel out loud, and then I wrote a prequel/short story, which I read out loud as well. I narrated that. When I read all of that out loud, it sort of motivated me to write the second book faster. That being said, even when I am typing and I’m writing my own stuff in my office, weirdly enough, after I’ve written a scene, a lot of times I’ll read the scene out loud to hear if it sounds correct. It’s one thing to see it on a piece of paper, but to read it out loud, sometimes it sounds awkward, so you have to go back. I know one thing: I will never put the word linoleum in my books ever again because that is the hardest word to say over and over.
MH: That’s a great way to conclude this interview, or a great thought. Thanks so much for joining us today.
MB: Thank you so much.
MH: We are very excited about the audiobook release of Night Sky and really looking forward to the next in the series. Thanks again, Melanie.
MB: Thank you.
MH: Thank you for joining us for this Downpour.com interview with Melanie Brockmann. You can find Night Sky and Dangerous Destiny by Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in September 2014.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
She’s the ultimate weapon in fighting Destiny.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter Melanie have written a pulse-pounding novel of paranormal suspense set in a near future both fantastic and frightening.
Skylar Reid is shaken when Sasha, the little girl she babysits, is kidnapped. She’s scared that the weird dreams she’s been having about Sasha are real—and even more afraid that Sasha is already dead. When a mysterious girl with extreme butt-kicking abilities roars into town on a motorcycle and starts stalking Skylar, things get even weirder. Supergirl Dana tells Sky that she also has abilities, that a hormone in their blood makes them stronger, faster, smarter—a hormone that the makers of a new drug called Destiny will murder to get their hands on.
Dana and Milo, her dangerously hot yet oh-so-forbidden partner in crime, want Sky to join them in their mission—and to mold Sky into the ultimate weapon. She can sense there’s something about her abilities they’re not telling her, but the only way to save Sasha and stop other girls from being taken is to embrace the weird … and fight Destiny.