Indie author Melissa L. Colon, one of my critique partners and longtime best friends, talks with me about writing, self-publishing, and being an indie author.
Julia: You’ve been a writer for more than 25 years and recently published your first novel, Colder Weather. How has becoming an indie author changed your view of yourself as a writer, and has it changed your approach to writing at all?
Melissa: I think in the beginning, imagining anything I’d written ending up in book form, was kind of like this unattainable dream. I always liked to write, but the majority of my stories were never book length, and the only thing that came close was a fan-fiction piece I wrote in the mid-90s. Colder Weather was really my first attempt at writing something that wasn’t more than a few pages long. Even after it was finished, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. A friend was self-publishing, but at that time, most of my writing was just for a smaller audience, and I don’t think I was really prepared to push myself into the next stage, whatever that might be. After completing Colder Weather, I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities to create novel-length fiction, as well as creating compelling characters that others would be interested in investing their time in.
I tried to change my approach to writing, but in the end, I went back to what works for me. I’ve always been kind of a Panster in regards to fleshing out a story. Sometimes I have the basic idea of the story, and sometimes, it’s even less than that, and I just start fleshing out the details in this kind of haphazard way. A lot of my planning really is just chapter to chapter. Or, it could be, getting from one story related goal to the next. After Colder Weather, I wanted to be a Planner. I wanted to outline and detail and do all those wonderful activities that others do, and I started down that road with a piece that I’ll call Project SK. I did a character analysis for my main character. I created the world she’ll live in, down to building a bit of a “brochure” to give the place more life. But, as I was doing that, another piece of fiction really started taking form in my head. The more I tried to plan Project SK, a new project was begging to be written, old-school, fly by the seat of your pants style. So, I resigned myself to the fact that Project SK needed to go on the back-burner and my next novel, code name TBH, is moving along nicely.
Julia: Self-publishing is something a lot of writers want to do but are afraid to try. What inspired you to take the leap, and what advice do you have for writers who want to self-publish but are nervous about it?
Melissa: My inspiration came from two friends, both published Indie Authors. I was nervous about putting Colder Weather out there for the world to see, but they were both patient and willing to share their experiences, and that made it less daunting for me.
My advice would be that nervous is normal. I was a wreck off and on while editing Colder Weather, but in the end, I’m pleased with the end result. I highly recommend a writing buddy or someone that you can rely on to give you honest feedback about your work. You may not always take every suggestion that your writing buddy makes, but it helps to have an outside view of your story from someone you trust.
Julia: In what ways has your writing evolved over the years, and what would you say has been the most instrumental thing in helping you develop your craft?
Melissa: My writing has evolved in so many different ways over the years. My first attempts at writing fiction were awful. Lots of dialogue. Very little description. Clunky and full of holes. But, it was a start. From there, my writing started to improve, and I figured out that fiction needs more description to set the scene. More emotion to convey feelings. Etc. The other thing that I’ve evolved into is going from third person/past tense to first person/present tense. While I understand that there is some controversy with first person/present tense, I like the idea of feeling like you’re along for the ride. With third person, you get the benefit of knowing what multiple characters are feeling/thinking, but I’ve really started enjoying looking at the world I’m building from only one character’s POV.
Julia: One of your many writing talents is weaving the threads of the story through the lives of all your characters. Do you have a natural feel for how each character relates to and processes the events of the story, or is it something you have to plan out?
Melissa: I guess I’d have to say it’s a natural feel. I really know very little about each character as I start each new piece of fiction. I always like to think that the characters are telling me the story, vs. I’m pre-determining their actions/reactions. In my newest novel, TBH, I set up the main character, his family, and the event that shapes the start of the book, but the characters really took on their own lives and their own reactions all by themselves.
Julia: Do you have any writing-related goals for the coming year?
Melissa: I do. I’m in the process of writing TBH. I currently have 9 chapters completed, and it’s about 15,000 words so far. My goal is to finish it and start the editing process. I also need to find a new cover designer because the one I used last year is taking a hiatus, so if anyone has any recommendations, please send them my way. ♦
Do you like me? Check yes or no. When sixteen-year-old Emma Jordan unexpectedly runs into her childhood crush, Jace Brown, old feelings come surging back to life with new intensity. As the snow falls and winter closes in, Emma’s world opens up as she navigates first love, changing friendships, and family tension. But young love rarely lasts forever. As Jace deals with changes in his own life and follows his dreams, will their relationship stand the test of time? Or will Jace keep drifting in and out of Emma’s life just like the colder weather?