Posted by Sharon Wray
How did this all happen? It started with my daughter’s love of YA novels which led to the buying and borrowing of many(!) books.
That led to my reading and falling in love with the YA genre too.
Then came the announcement that my all-time favorite romance author was writing a new YA paranormal romance series with her daughter.
Once I told Ellen (an aspiring author herself) about the series, she asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do a mother/daughter interview with the mother/daughter writing team?”
To which I replied, “Yes!” And because Suzanne is known within the writing community for her generosity, I reached out to her and she said “Yes!” as well.
The Night Sky series debuted last October, followed by the prequel novella Dangerous Destiny. The second book in the series, Wild Sky, came out a few weeks ago. Upon Night Sky’s release, critics praised the novel for its witty dialog, strong female leads, realistically drawn characters, and a fabulous secondary cast — not to mention a brilliant new YA world where kids with unusually strong powers must fight against those who would use them for nefarious purposes.
None of this praise comes as a surprise since these are the trademarks of Suzanne Brockmann’s adult romances. For her adult fans, this YA world is an extension of the world from Suz’s paranormal romance Born to Darkness. For younger fans, Melanie’s sharp insights into the minds of teenagers is as engaging as it is hilarious. The Night Sky series is a gripping, fast-paced adventure that Ellen and I have enjoyed experiencing together. And I’m so grateful to Suz and Melanie for sharing their YA world with us.
Now, on to the interview!
They could be hunting you.
Hunted. Kidnapped. Bled. Someone is snatching girls and draining them for a secret that’s in their blood. A hormone that makes them stronger, faster, smarter. A hormone that the makers of a new drug called Destiny will murder to get their hands on. These girls could be anyone. They could be anywhere.
They could be you.
When Skylar discovers she’s a Greater-Than, a girl with terrifying power, her life will never be the same. The only way to stay alive is to join the fight against Destiny and become the ultimate weapon.
Sharon: Thank you both for spending the day with us! I loved the heroine Skylar, but I fell in love with her best friend Calvin. How did Calvin (who is in a wheelchair yet has a brief moment where he can walk and dance) feel about having to go back into his wheelchair?
Suz: Calvin is a very optimistic person, but he’s also a realist. He knows that his wheelchair is a part of his life. So even though I’m sure he felt a little twinge of disappointment when his stint out of the chair ended, he adjusted gracefully right back to the life he has known for years.
Mel: All I can say is for anyone interested in the relationship Calvin has with his wheelchair, wait until the sequel, Wild Sky.
Sharon: I am reading Wild Sky now and loving the Calvin moments! Were you influenced by any specific YA books?
Suz: Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, starting with A Wizard of Earthsea, were among my very favorites growing up. And of course, like most of the world, I adore The Hunger Games trilogy!
Mel: I think I read A Wrinkle in Time between fifteen and twenty times. I loved it that much.
Sharon: For your YA reading, do you prefer physical books or ebooks? Ellen much prefers books to her Kindle. She surrounds herself with her favorite books while she sleeps!
Suz: I’m an e-reading woman. I’m in love with the convenience. (And I have a very old school Kindle, which is almost like reading a book!)
Mel: Either works for me!
Sharon: We caught the Star Trek references, but didn’t read any Joss Whedon references. Did we miss them? (Ellen and I are huge Buffy fans, except she’s Team Angel and I’m Team Spike.)
Suz: Believe it or not, Mel is (whispering) not a Buffy fan. She’s resisted all of my urging and pleas to watch it. I think someday she will, and then her head will explode from the shiny, but until then . . .
Sharon: (Not a Buffy fan? Yikes!) In Night Sky, you used one of my all-time favorite quotes of yours, “Do the best you can at the moment”. That quote has gotten me through some difficult times. Can you tell us the story about that quote or why you feel so strongly about it?
Suz: There’s a book called “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz, which is a wonderful outline of a philosophy that I try hard to embrace. One of the agreements is “Always do your best,” to which I added “in the moment.” Because, obviously, your personal best is going to depend quite a bit on what’s happening around you. For example, your personal best while running a 5K is gonna be seriously different if you have the flu versus being completely healthy, right?
This comes in very handy when, as an author, your career spans several decades and dozens of published books. I’ve learned a lot since my very first book, Future Perfect, came out in 1993—in fact, I’m a much, much better writer now. But at the time, that book was my personal best, and because of that, I remain very proud of it!
Sharon: I love that philosophy! Thank you for sharing it. So, whose idea was it to write a book together?
Mel: My mom sent me a cryptic text a few years ago, asking me to meet her at our local Barnes & Noble. I did, and she sprang the idea of the two of us writing a book together. She thought it would be a good idea for us to walk through the store and see what was out there in the YA market. But she wasn’t sure what I would think about the idea of co-writing one. In case it wasn’t obvious, I JUMPED at the idea. J
Sharon: Aren’t moms wonderful? Right Ellen? J
Ellen tries hard not to roll her eyes, but fails. “My turn!”
Ellen: Why did you put in the song Anaconda by Nicki Minaj? I was really surprised to see it because there are parodies of it all over Instagram and school.
Mel: We tried to imagine what songs would still be around decades from now—and which of those very old songs Calvin would find the most amusing!
Suz: I’m pretty sure someone’s still gonna be singing those lyrics in 2115!
Ellen: I hope so! (grimaces) Do you have a writing playlist or a certain song you listened to while writing?
Suz: I’m a musician, so I have to write in silence. If music is on, my attention is completely taken by the melody and the words of the song, and I get nothing done!
Mel: I have lots of playlists for my other job (personal trainer) – especially for my long runs. But writing is something I need to do without music, too.
Ellen: How do you think strong heroines in YA literature, including Skylar, have influenced readers?
Mel: I know that when I was a young reader, I was inspired by strong female characters. I think that having that kind of role model made me as tough as I am. (The good kind of tough.) J
Suz: I hope hope hope that girls who read both Night Sky and the sequel, Wild Sky, will relate to Skylar and to Dana, too. In a society that so often sends a message that girls must attempt to look and act alike, Skylar realizes what Dana already knows: that being different – not being the same as everyone else – is a STRENGTH, not a weakness.
Ellen: Buffy (and Angel) are two of my favorite characters ever. Do you think the current group of strong YA heroines started with Buffy?
Suz: There were strong heroines in pop culture before Buffy, but I have to say that, in my opinion, Buffy is by far the most important female fictional character in the past 20 years. For a smallish, cute, blonde sixteen-year-old to have her strength, courage, and all around kick-ass attitude blasted through so many stereotypes that I think (and hope) that she’ll continue to inspire girls for decades to come.
Ellen: Can you explain the dual writing process? Did you each write certain chapters or was one person responsible for dialogue and the other responsible for description? How did you revise and still love each other?
Mel: We made up our process as we went along, but the general plan was this: Mom and I got together and worked through a detailed outline of the story.
Suz: I’ve been an outliner/planner from way back. So, just like with all of my other books, Mel and I sat and talked and took notes for hours and hours before we started to write. We talked extensively about Sky. As our main character, we really needed to know her, inside and out. Mel spent some time on her own, too, writing some of Sky’s backstory from Sky’s point of view. What that did was really hone Sky’s voice so that we both knew exactly what she sounded like.
Meanwhile, I took all of our random notes about the plot and conflict (we mapped out about three books’ worth!), and I organized them into a structured story outline. And then we sat down again and thought about the best way to introduce Sky and Calvin, and we extensively outlined chapter one.
Mel: At that point, I wrote a first draft, and Mom revised it. (We did it at the same time, though – I would send a chapter, and Mom would revise it as I wrote the next chapter. Then I’d read the revisions before moving on to the next one.)
Suz: Every time we came to the end of the segment we’d outlined extensively, we’d do more brainstorming and figure out the details of the next series of chapters.
Mel: Of course, sometimes we’d shift things around. Sometimes Mom would say, “skip this next scene because I’ll write it—I see it so clearly,” and then I’d revise that scene that she wrote. But one thing was ABSOLUTELY constant – we did not sit together and write in the same room at the same time. We tried that only once. Nope. J
Suz: Yeah, that was awkward! We had to revise a bit of dialogue, and so I turned on my computer and we both pulled our chairs up to it and . . .
Mel: Crickets chirped!
Suz: After just a few minutes, one of us said something, “Let’s not do it this way.”
Mel: And the other said, “Oh, thank God!”
Ellen: Wow. Are you familiar with fandoms and shipping? If so, what are your OTPs in the Night Sky world? What is Skylar and Milo’s ship name? Skylo? Milar?
Suz: I’ve bumped up against reader expectations in my romance novels, and while I am a fervent believer in OTPs upon winning (and earning!) an HEA, I like stories that give characters an opportunity to explore the romantic landscape in advance of that HEA.
Mel: I like your suggestion of Skylo! J
Ellen: Thanks! Can boys be Greater-Thans?
Mel: Yes, but many more females than males are G-Ts. You’ll learn more about that in the next book, Wild Sky!
Suz: We introduce one particularly fun new character in the sequel. (Can’t wait to hear what you think!)
Ellen: Will the backstory/worldbuilding be explained more in the next book? (my mom said this was explained more in your adult novel Born to Darkness, but I’m 16 and I’m not allowed to read that yet!)
Mel: Yes – Wild Sky goes into more detail about the world. But there’s always more to learn as Sky learns more! J
Ellen: Will Nicole (a character from Skylar’s past) make an appearance in the next book?
Mel: No, not in the next book, but you’ll find out more about Garrett in Wild Sky!
Suz: Yeah, one of the first rules of writing is “Torture your characters,” so we thought we’d do just that by forcing Sky and Cal to interact rather extensively with football-playing school bully Garrett!
Ellen: My friends and I love to note-card our favorite books. Do you have any suggestions for note-carding Night Sky? (favorite quotes or passages or one-liners?)
Suz: For me, it’s pretty much every one of Cal’s Would You Rather questions! (And there are more of those in Wild Sky!)
Mel: Ooh, I think that’s something that you should share with us! We’d love to hear your favorite lines!
Ellen: I’d love to share! Here are some of my favorite one-liners and quotes:
I lack both a phone and a give-a-d*mn. (p. 380)
And love was still coursing through the air like it had its own individual pulse, but something else was casting a spell that lingered as it blew through the lit candles and brushed against the red rose petals sprinkled across the bedsheets. It was desire. (p. 435)
And I know I complain a lot about my mom. But when it comes to taking care of little girls who’ve been kidnapped and nearly killed? She kinda rocks. (p. 481)
Would you rather . . . ? (Calvin’s question throughout the book!)
And he kissed me. And I’m not talking peck on the cheek, either. (p. 306)
I had so much crap on my mind that my brain actually hurt. (p. 194)
Because life was so dang dangerous now, unlike the incredibly safe and bucolic good old days of the twenty-teens, or whatever ancient but perfect decade Mom had grown up in. (p. 13)
I had a bad case of swamp butt, and my jean shorts were sticking to my backside uncomfortably. (p. 1)
Now Suzanne and Melanie would love to hear from you! Do you have a favorite YA book or character? Or a favorite book one-liner or quote? Or any question about what it’s like to work as a mother/daughter team?
Thank you so much, Suz and Mel, for spending the day with us and sharing your own creative stories. Ellen and I are reading Wild Sky and hope you’ll come back for another interview soon!
Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter, Melanie Brockmann, have been creative partners on and off for many years. Their first project was an impromptu musical duet, when then-six-month-old Melanie delighted Suz by matching her pitch and singing back to her. (Babies aren’t supposed to do that.) Since then, Mel has gone on to play clarinet and saxophone, to sing in a wedding band, and to run seven-minute miles. She is one of Sarasota, Florida’s most sought-after personal trainers. Suz has driven an ice-cream truck, directed an a cappella singing group, and can jog a twelve-minute mile if chased. She is the multi-award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty books. Wild Sky is the mother-daughter team’s second literary collaboration and the sequel to Night Sky. Their next collaborative project is an indie movie called Russian Doll in which Mel will star, while Suz executive produces. Each strongly suspects that the other is a Greater-Than.
Night Sky and Wild Sky are available from the following retailers:
All photographs courtesy of Suzanne Brockmann and Sharon Wray.