Melissa Ford on Sequels, Writing and 'Measure of Love'
As an avid reader, I find myself frequently fascinated by the writing process. How do authors create these worlds that I get to visit? Series intrigue me even more. How much does the author plot out in advance? Luckily for me, BlogHer's Blogging and Social Media Editor Melissa Ford is also a published author. She just released Measure of Love, the sequel to Life from Scratch and was willing to let me pepper her with these questions.
When you started writing you Life from Scratch did you know it would be part of a trilogy?
Not at all. Life from Scratch was nearly complete when I started wondering what happened next. What if Rachel got remarried to her ex-husband... how would that work? I sent along the idea to my agent who said, "write it!" So I did. But midway into that book, Measure of Love, I started thinking about how interesting the story would be from another character's point-of-view, especially if they talked about the same time period. So the third book is actually a sideways sequel -- it's Rachel's nuptials and friendship through Arianna's eyes. I ended up selling the third book as part of a two-book deal with Measure of Love, and Apart at the Seams will come out in 2014.
I've heard a number of authors say that their characters sometimes surprise them. Did you feel differently toward any of your characters when you revisited them? Had they changed in ways you hadn't expected?
Yes! I hadn't found Arianna all that interesting when I wrote Life from Scratch, but she became infinitely more interesting to me in this book. And then others -- like Rachel -- were like revisiting an old friend.
I've always thought that the second book in a trilogy must be difficult to write. You need to resolve some of the things from the first book but still leave some things to be resolved in the third. Had you mapped out what would happen in each of the books before you started?
I think these three books form a pyramid or the point of an arrow rather than an arc. You have Life from Scratch, which is the point that stabs the story. And then backing it up are these two books that stand hand-in-hand, driving the characters forward. You could read Measure of Love without reading Life from Scratch and not miss a lot. But you wouldn't want to read the third book without reading the second one. Those two are intertwined and the stories feed one another. There are about 6 scenes that I called "anchor scenes" that appear in both the second and third book. They're the scenes that repeat, though they're told differently since in one place, Rachel is the narrator and in the other, you get to hear the thoughts in Arianna's head. So a lot less mapping than is necessary for a traditional trilogy, though putting together the third book felt a bit like a calendar jigsaw puzzle, making the two stories match up, time-wise.
I know authors carry a large share of the responsibility for promoting and marketing their own work. Before you published Life from Scratch, you published a nonfiction infertility guide Navigating the Land of If. I'm sure that marketing and promoting was different for nonfiction and fiction. What did you learn from your experiences with your first two books that you are applying to your third? What are you doing differently?
I'm doing a lot less traveling and more social media with the fiction. Actually, I'm doing a very fun contest right now since I have this third book coming out soon. It's called Say "I Do" to Measure of Love and Have a Character Named After You contest. A bit of a mouthful, but it's something fun that I can set out there because I have that third book deal in hand. There are 12 different things you can do -- some once, some over-and-over again -- to enter, and the winner will have their name and their partner/friend's name in the book too. The contest is publicity for the book, but it's also my way of getting someone very real into the book as a thank you to all the help people did to make the first book a success. Over 125,000 copies of Life from Scratch were read, and that happened because a lot of people pitched in and helped get word out there. So that contest is open until July 1st and it's open to everyone: single, married, gay, straight, old, young, male, or female.
Did your writing process change between writing your first book and Measure of Love? Was it different for nonfiction than it was for your novels?
Yes and no. There was actually a lot of research that went on with the novels. Tiny throwaway facts that I put in the first book suddenly became stumbling blocks in the second and third books. For instance, Arianna is a finisher for a clothing designer. I know NOTHING about clothing design. I luckily had a friend connect me with the atelier director at Narciso Rodriguez and Brenda walked me through clothing design. I spent a few hours down at the Daily Show, trying to learn what a writer on a comedy show does to make the character of Noah believable. So there was a lot of starting and stopping with both the non-fiction and the fiction.
What advice would you give to people who want to write a series?
Write the first book! I'm not saying that to be funny; I really mean sit down and write. Too many people get anxious as they're writing, thinking, "oh, this isn't good enough" or "this won't ever be published." And it won't if you stop. But it might if you keep going. And don't be too held by the idea of a series. You may find as you finish the first book that you actually feel done with that story. And that's okay too.