Melinda Grace wrote her first piece of fiction in middle school, but didn’t write a complete story until an introduction to creative writing course at SUNY Oswego, where she earned a BA in human development. She went on to earn a MS Ed in counseling and currently works as a school counselor. When she’s not guiding the youth of America, she’s planning her next vacation to Disney World, laminating anything she can get her hands on, and binge watching on Netflix. Meet Me in Outer Space is her debut novel.
Tell us, what was your inspiration for MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE?
A lot of different things went into the inspiration for MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE, my own personal experience being the primary influence. The secondary was music and the third was a realization that what I was writing was bigger than me. It seemed to be a situation in which all the pieces to a puzzle that had been floating around in my head came together at the same time.
The first piece was the idea to create a character with a Central Auditory Processing Disorder, which came while writing a scene for a different book. I started to consider whether that character could have CAPD, but ultimately decided that character already had enough going on. So, even though I chose to nix it for that character, I couldn’t let the idea go…which means I spent a lot of time thinking about where/how I could take this idea and make it into its own book.
The second piece came during my 45-minute commute home from work one day, when Stellar by Incubus came up on my playlist. This has always been a favorite song of mine and as I listened to it I thought “in what situation might someone tell another person to ‘meet me in outer space’,” which then opened the door to all the things I mishear because of my CAPD. So, I thought, “this is probably something I would mishear someone say.” I went home that day and wrote the scene in which Edie believes Hudson asks her to meet him in outer space.
The last piece was a happy accident of sorts, as Edie’s story started to evolve I realized how little my target audience may or may not know about CAPD or, in a much broader sense, what it’s like to have a disability in college. When it comes to the adjustment from educational law at the primary-secondary level (elementary/high school) to the Disabilities Act in the real world, things aren’t exactly equivalent. I wanted to convey something real in a way that people completely unaware could still connect with.
Did you plot the story in advance or did the story and characters develop as you wrote?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret…come in close…closer…*I don’t plot*. I don’t plot. Not even a little. Typically, when I have an idea I write that initial scene and then I start the story at chapter one and write until I’m done. I rarely write scenes out of order and I generally let the characters just develop. In the beginning, MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE was no different, however once my editor and I got into the thick of it, I quickly realized that some of the major changes needed outlining, character overhaul and development, and that as ideas popped into my head I had to write them regardless of where they fell in the timeline.
Along these lines, I’d like to share how MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE became an OwnVoices book. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had never heard of the OwnVoices movement until a fellow Swoon Reads regular clued me into it. In November of 2016, Katie Kaleski DM’d me on Twitter to tell me about the OwnVoices hashtag (definitely check Katie out, she’s a brilliant writer!). I immediately set to work researching what #OwnVoices meant and whether my book, my own story, fit into that narrative. I didn’t set out to write an OwnVoices book, I set out to write a book about what I know and what I’ve been through with the idea that perhaps someone with the same disability, a similar disability, or any disability could read my book and see themselves in the characters.
Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?
I love all my characters, even Dr. Clement! My favorite character to write, however, was Serena. From the first draft to the final draft, Serena has evolved the most as a character. Her intentions have always remained the same, but her way of going about them changed drastically. I think she was my favorite character to write, in part, because I saw myself evolve as a writer through her character development. Getting Serena “right” was a level of difficulty I never imagined existed and I am proud of the character she has become.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?
Hands down the most challenging aspect of writing MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE was editing. From the first word to the final period, the manuscript took me less than six months to write, have beta read, revise, have beta read AGAIN, and then finally post to Swoon Reads. It wasn’t hard, it was enjoyable. I loved every minute of writing it. What challenged me the most was making big changes that, at first, were difficult for me to see as improvements. As much as I resisted some of the changes, I can now see how and why those changes needed to be made to make my book into the best possible book it could be.
Please share with my readers a bit about your road to publication.
I began my journey to publication in a very non-traditional route, www.SwoonReads.com, an imprint of Macmillan.
It’s essentially crowd-sourced YA with the help of the fantastic editors at Macmillan!
After completing my first manuscript, I happened upon www.swoonreads.com while looking into the process of querying an agent. I was a reader on the site for a short time before I decided to upload my own manuscript. Swoon Reads is an online writer’s workshop. Other members read, rate, and review your manuscript (and you return the favor by doing the same). The editors at Swoon Reads pay close attention to what manuscripts are being read to completion, the reviews and ratings, and the participation of the author.
Was it easy or difficult?
It. Was. Difficult. BUT there were easy parts, too.
I became a member of Swoon Reads in March of 2015, uploaded my first manuscript in May 2015 (I think) and my second in January 2016, neither were chosen, though at the time I believed them both to be amazing pieces of fiction that the world needed to see. When neither were chosen I gave up hope that my style was what Swoon Reads was looking for. Despite my lack of confidence, I uploaded MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE in October 2016 hoping for feedback from the community, which I have to say is an AMAZING community of writers! It was a complete shock when I got the “Swoon Reads would like to chat” email that December!
What made Swoon Reads easy were the people I met along the way. Once my book had been chosen, the Swoon Squad, the Reader Approved, published authors like my mentor Karole Cozzo, as well as the people I met while falling in love with their writing. Moriah Chavis and Sean McMurray were huge fans of my other manuscripts and I of theirs. We held each other up, bounced ideas, brainstormed, beta read, and were a shoulder for each other to cry on (metaphorically of course). Like I said before, MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE was never supposed to “make it”, but both Moriah and Sean, despite not knowing me in real life or owing me a darn thing, supported the book so wholeheartedly that I had to post it. I took the chance because of them. They, the community of Swoon Reads, is what made it “easy”.
What is the single most important tip of advice you’d give new writers?
Nothing revolutionary, simply be persistent, stay current, make connections, and stay connected. Oh, and of course, write what excited you. If you’re excited about your manuscript it will show through to the reader.
What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
Jeez. That’s a hard one. For me personally, the best writing advice I ever got was from my sister, Emily, I asked her to read something I’d written and made a point to ask her how my dialogue was, and her response was: “on point, as usual”. To translate that into advice for the masses, stick with what you’re good at. Dialogue is my thing (or at least I believe it’s where I shine). I wish I could build worlds, or create new species, or reimagine a classic tale. If those were my strengths, I’d stick with them. But instead, I write what I’m good at…talking. I can hear the conversation in my head as I write it. The inflection in the character’s voices, the pauses, the pronunciations. I know people who can see a world, touch it in their mind, and put it into words that share the vividness. Stick with what you’re good at, always push yourself, but in the end if all else fails and you’re struggling to get started, use what you’re good at to lay the foundation. If you were to look at the first draft of any of my manuscripts, you’d see that 99% of my scenes/ chapters begin with the dialogue and dialogue tags…I write what I can see most vividly and then fill in the rest as I go. Sometimes that rough draft of dialogue is two lines and sometimes it’s pages of conversation.
READ MORE ABOUT MEET ME IN OUTER SPACE
INTERVIEW : YA SH3LF