Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Grey, debut author of YA Fantasy THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, which will be out Spring 2015 from Delacorte. From Publisher’s Weekly, THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT is about Echo, a pickpocket runaway adopted and raised in New York City by a race of creatures with feathers for hair and magic in their veins. The series follows Echo as she becomes involved in an ancient war and a centuries-old love, and discovers startling truths about the world she lives in.
Melissa Grey penned her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. As an undergrad at Yale, she learned how ride a horse and shoot a bow and arrow at the same time, but hasn’t had much use for that skill since graduating in 2008. Her debut novel, THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, will be published by Delacorte/Random House in spring 2015. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow her on Twitter @meligrey.
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for your debut book?
The first seed for THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT was actually its main character, Echo. She existed before any other element of the story, including the premise. Echo’s personality guided the way, even if some of the finer details about her backstory changed as the plot developed. She’s always been a runaway, a thief, an outcast, and a fiercely loyal friend.
I was heavily inspired by firebird mythology in Slavic folklore. I’ve diverged from the source material in an extreme way, but at the core of the firebird legend is the quest narrative. In THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, Echo and her friends are tasked (some more reluctantly than others) with finding the elusive firebird, which is prophesied to end an ancient war. Traditionally, the firebird serves as the culmination of a quest and it’s one of those things that’s both a blessing and a curse. I liked that, as a mythical being, it was neither good not evil. Moral ambiguity is such fertile ground for storytelling.
How did you come up with your title? Were there any you considered first?
Mother of pearl, do I have tales of title trauma. The working title I queried with was FIREBIRD, but there are approximately 30,000 books out there with that title, so I knew it wasn’t going to stick. I exaggerate, but it was too generic.
My agent and I then came up with FEATHERS AND FLAME, which is what we used when we went on submission. It’s a pretty title, but if you look at the current and upcoming crop of YA books, there are a lot of X AND Y titles. It’s a trendy formula, so we needed something that would stand out.
After a long, arduous process, my editor at Delacorte Press came up THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, and I love it. It’s evocative and mysterious and absolutely perfect. As the title would suggest, there are many things afoot at the stroke ofmidnight, and Echo is at the heart of it all.
What was the hardest part of writing this particular book?
Early on, I struggled with how I wanted to tell the story. I started out writing in first person present tense. That didn’t work. I tried first person past. That didn’t work either.
My next draft was dual point of view between Echo and another character named Caius. Caius is pretty much Echo’s foil: she’s a thief, he’s a prince (naturally, sparks fly). They operate on opposing sides of the conflict at the heart of the story. Writing their POVs was great, but something was still missing.
As I was writing, it became clear that I needed multiple narrators to tell my story, a la A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Having more than two narrators was a gamble (especially in YA), but once I embraced it, writing came easy. And I found a great home at Random House with a wonderful editor who believes in the story as much as I do, so no regrets.
Is there anything that helps you get into the writing zone – music, for example?
Ideally, a writer should be able to work anytime, anywhere, but when I have the luxury of setting the mood for myself, atmosphere is very important. I write my first drafts by hand, but even when I’m working on my laptop, I like to write by candlelight. I came across the band MS MR when I was starting the first draft, and their music automatically puts me in the zone. They’re a big part of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT playlist, which you can listen to here.
What is it about young adult fiction that draws you in as a writer?
The time period between fourteen and eighteen is bursting with an urgency of emotion, and the pivotal events of those years help shape what kind of person you’ll become. There’s something beautiful and resonant about coming of age stories, no matter how old or young you are as a reader.
My editor was on a panel at New York Comic Con, and someone asked her how she felt about the YA designation. I think her answer resonated with a lot of people and it definitely summed up how I feel about writing for a young adult audience. To paraphrase her response, YA has an obligation to tell a story. As a writer, you can’t get lost in our own meandering, masturbatory prose. The story has to come first.
Was there ever a time when you seriously considered giving up on your writing dream?
Nope. Never. I decided when I was querying that I was going to finish my trilogy even if no one read it but my critique partners. I’m happiest when I simply let writing be the goal of writing.
Do you have any advice for writers trying to get published?
Take your time. Develop a thick skin. Do not rush. Not your story. Not your craft. Not your query. Do. Not. Rush. Writing is a skill. Take your time to master it. Read profusely. Know your genre. And always research agents and publishers thoroughly and target your submissions carefully. I could go on, but that should do.
Can you say anything about your next project/s?
Right now, I’m focusing Books 2 and 3 of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT trilogy (slated to come out in 2016 and 2017, respectively). I’m working on the first draft of Book 2, and I’m already dreading titling it! Having my debut novel be the first installment of a trilogy is daunting, but in a delightfully masochistic sort of way. As for what I’ll write after all three books are done . . . it could be the stress talking, but a standalone novel might be a nice change of pace.
Thank you so much, Melissa! I, for one, can’t wait to read THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT.