The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer

Chasing Perfection and Writing Villains with Melissa Blair - The Halfling Saga

May 22, 2023 Marissa Meyer Season 2023 Episode 157
The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer
Chasing Perfection and Writing Villains with Melissa Blair - The Halfling Saga
Show Notes Transcript

In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with Melissa Blair about her second book in the Halfling Saga, A SHADOW CROWN, as well as transitioning to being a full-time writer, the editorial process and chasing perfection, difficult second acts, writing expansive timelines and using devices to show the passage of time, writing villains, and so much more!

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[00:09] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thank you for joining me. One thing making me happy this week is that at this morning, I sent in a new secret project off to my agent, a completed, finished manuscript that was kind of a surprise for everybody involved, but it was a super fun project to write. I'm so excited about it. I cannot wait to hear what my agent thinks and hopefully she will love it. And then I get to hear what my editor and publisher thinks and fingers crossed, sometime in the near future I will be able to tell you about it. You know that I love it when I get a chance to do this, when I can squeeze in one of these little side projects in between all of the deadlines for not so secret projects. And this one was just pure joy to write. So yay yay for secret projects and finishing things and also maybe taking a break because at this point in time, I have no deadlines right now for I don't think my next official deadline is like 16 months away or something like that. I have not experienced that since my first book came out more than ten years ago. So I don't even know what I'm going to do with all of this sudden, unexpected free time. I mean, I guess I'll probably just write more secret projects. Not going to take a break, am I? No, probably not. Anyway, I'm so happy. I'm so happy and I cannot wait to tell you all about it. I am also, of course, so happy to be talking to today's guest. She is Anishinaabekwe. How did I do?

[02:19] Melissa: You did good. You don't sound convinced.

[02:22] Marissa: You're like, nah, it was okay. Anishinaabekwe of mixed ancestry who has a graduate degree in applied linguistics and discourse studies. Her debut fantasy, A Broken Blade, came out last year and book two of the halfling saga, A Shadow Crown, came out earlier this month. Please welcome Melissa Blair. Hello.

[02:50] Melissa: Thank you so much for having me. And congrats on your secret project. So much fun.

[02:55] Marissa: Thank you. I know it's funny, before we started the recording, we were talking about deadlines and you had a little bit of a break with your writing and this is truly the first time that I can remember not being under some ridiculous deadline. So I kind of woke up this morning after sending in this book and was like, oh, what do I do now?

[03:18] Melissa: That's such a fun, creative place to be, though. Hopefully you have something really fun to not work on for the next few months.

[03:27] Marissa: There is no shortage of other things that I will probably dive right into because I can't help myself. My husband wants me to actually take time off, not write for a few weeks, and just like, we'll have fun family time, and that sounds really smart and healthy, but that's just not how my brain works. So I suspect that tomorrow morning I'll be back onto something new, but tis the life. Well, thank you so much for joining me, Melissa. Congratulations on your second book coming out. How are things going so far?

[04:06] Melissa: Thank you. Things are going pretty good. I feel like the past two years have been quite the whirlwind and things are just starting to settle down. And I feel good about the second book coming out. It's been such a great blessing of a year that I've been able to move to writing full time, which I haven't been doing until up until I'm actually not fully transitioned yet. The full time will start in June, but I'm very excited about that, and I feel very hopeful that editing and writing will be a lot easier when you're not trying to manage a full time job alongside that and contract deadline, especially for how quickly we're putting these books out. But yeah, overall, it's a great time for spring to spring and me to spend my summer writing and figuring out next projects.

[05:07] Marissa: That is awesome. I know for people who the dream or the goal is to be a full time writer, it is such a magical thing when you can set aside the day job and just focus fully on the writing career. And I very clearly remember sending in that email to I was a freelancer before I became a full time writer, and so sending my email off to my clients and being like, Sorry, I'm done. And that was such a good feeling.

[05:37] Melissa: Yeah, mine was a really great feeling, too. It was a bit of a shock, and I felt bad to my employer because I've been working at such a great and supportive place and they've been so supportive about the book, but I didn't think I would be able to leave so soon. For any authors out there who understand how far out royalties come and the entire publishing process, I didn't think it would be something I would be even considering until 2024. But thankfully my readers have been super supportive and I got to earn up my contract really fast. So my work was really surprised when I got on that Zoom call. But yeah, it was a fun conversation after that, and they're super excited for me. I've never worked in a place that is so excited to have me leave.

[06:30] Marissa: Good riddance. That is awesome. I'm so happy for you. Do you have a game plan for because it's one of those things, like, there's this fantasy of writing full time, and then when a lot of people actually start, there's this reality. It's not always parallel to the fantasy, just in that it can be really hard to manage your time and stay focused when it feels like you have all the time in the world. Are you nervous about that or do you have a strategy or some goals that you want to try to accomplish right away?

[07:10] Melissa: I definitely have goals. I try to stay pretty regimented in my writing and my writing goals, like my daily goals, my weekly goals, and planning out my months just so I make contract deadlines. But I did kind of get a taste of this last year when I signed over a Broken Blade and got the deal for the sequel and the following sequel. I took a leave of absence from work to kind of get those books drafted because I knew it would be with the publishing deadlines we were dealing with, I just knew it would be kind of impossible to do while working full time. But it also wasn't enough security to fully leave, so I took a five month leave of absence. So I feel like I've already kind of worked out those transition kinks. It did take a long time. I kind of felt like I didn't get rolling with it until month four, and then I kind of had to go back to work six weeks later. But I feel like since it's only been eight months since I came back, I'll start in a much quicker place. I don't think it'll take me that long to transition over, but I definitely have a game plan because it seems like you and I are similar. I am always writing and I constantly have a project on the go that I'm not contracted for because somehow that helps me write my contracts quicker, having something else to jump into when I'm creatively stuck or when I hate the character that I'm writing from because I'm writing an entire series from one character's point of view. And sometimes she annoys me, so I jump into a different idea and I give us some distance so I can treat her with respect when I jump back into writing her again. Oh, that's funny.

[09:04] Marissa: Full disclosure, sometimes we don't always like our main character.

[09:09] Melissa: Yeah, that surprises readers because I talk about that pretty openly on Lives on my TikTok and stuff, and they find that so surprising. And I'm like, Would you want to be in my main character's head for that long? All of the time. She's not a very happy character.

[09:27] Marissa: No, she is definitely going through some stuff in this series.

[09:32] Melissa: She absolutely is.

[09:34] Marissa: Okay, well, that is a perfect time for me, actually. I can't ask you about the I skipped right over my favorite question that I always start these interviews with. So I want to go a little bit back in time before we had book deals, before we were quitting our day jobs. What is your writing origin story? How did you come to be a full time writer?

[10:00] Melissa: I have been writing almost every day from when I think I think I was seven years old. I always mean to check in with my mom about this, but it was one Christmas and I was given a book set of the Bailey School Kid books and The Chronicle of Narnia books. It was the first time I was given a box set, and on the back of one of the box sets, I think it was The Chronicles of Narnia. It had a picture of C. S. Lewis and an explanation of how he wrote the series and stuff. And it was the first time it had ever occurred to me as a kid that, oh, books just don't magically appear in my room or in the library. Like someone has to write them. And then my mom explained to me that, yeah, it's people's job to make up books and write stories. And CS. Lewis wrote all of these books, and other people write all the other books you read. And from that day, I have been almost a daily writer. I just love that. I just had a gut feeling as a kid. I was like, that is what I'm going to do. And I did stray a little bit away from that. Like, I convinced myself, oh, I should go to university and focus on having the plan A, because very few people actually get published like they want to. And weirdly in the Pandemic when I just decided, I have no other time. I'm just going to write even more seriously than I ever have been and really commit to a project in a way that I never have. It worked and it went really quickly. But behind that was almost 15 years of daily writing, I think a dozen finished manuscripts, which is nice now, because now I can go back and touch things up that don't completely suck and see if there's something there. Some of the earlier ones are pretty terrible, but I'm glad I have them. It's a nice progression to watch me understand basic grammar and sort.

[12:05] Marissa: Right. Was A Broken Blade that first project that you really took seriously?

[12:14] Melissa: A Broken Blade was the first project I ever showed anyone and I ever edited it. So I had queried two other projects before, before the Pandemic, but I wasn't submitting like 50 to 100 query letters the way some people do. I think I sent out like twelve. I was in grad school, so it wasn't a main focus. And then I'm really bad with letting people in my life read my work. I'm getting better at it now. But A Broken Blade was the first one where I was kind of passing pages to people, and I'm like, I think I have something here. I think at least the people on Book Talk and me finding out that indie publishing was a possibility, I think there's something here. And I was passing it to a few people I knew, and then I just decided, you know what, let's send it to an editor. And see what an editor thinks. And if the editor tells me it's complete crap and I shouldn't waste my time self publishing it, it's not going to do well, then maybe I'll hold off. But I kind of in the back of my head was like, I think I can self publish this and there might be a readership there. And then I found out that I absolutely adore the editing process is my favorite part about writing. I love having people tear into my work, and I don't know why I was so scared of it for so long. I get a lot of anxiety handing projects in, and I still am that way, even though I've handed in, I think, my fourth book now, I still get a lot of anxiety before, but I have no problem receiving edit letters. I love them. Give them to me. I think I just hit a wall in manuscript writing. And I love having someone who's and it also helps that I have an editor who really gets my vision because she picks up on what I'm trying to do and she's very clear on explaining to me in a way that makes sense, where the connections aren't happening, where I need to go and rework. And then I love that part of writing outlining and editing are I could do that all day, every day and be very happy. But unfortunately, you need to draft and you need to copy of it before book.

[14:36] Marissa: It's a pretty important middle part there.

[14:39] Melissa: Yeah, the middles aren't so much fun for me, which makes sense because I also hate second act, so it makes sense why I love the first act and the third act of editing a book.

[14:52] Marissa: Right. So I'm so curious about that. I hate getting the editorial letter, even though I love my editor. She's fantastic. She's the nicest person. It always turns out fine, but when it arrives in my inbox, there's always just this panic moment. So I love hearing that you are the opposite and you actually enjoy this part of the process. And I'm really curious if there's, I don't know, something you tell yourself or like, a particular frame of mind that you have around it that makes it more enjoyable.

[15:28] Melissa: I don't think it's the healthiest frame of mind, but there definitely is one I think it all ties into. I'm a recovering perfectionist. I don't like my perfectionistic tendencies. They don't serve me very well, but I am aware of them, and I think that's why I get so much anxiety handing something off. Like first pages off, I delay it, and people in my life get mad at me. They're like, Your editor is expecting that. And you have been sitting on the couch unable to do anything for two days because you won't send an email, just send it. And that's where most of the dread comes from. And I think it's because I'm scared to give something to someone that isn't perfect. But when I get the editor letter back, it's almost like, well, that deed is done. They already know it's not perfect. But I can chase perfection again with that edit letter, which probably isn't the healthiest mindset ever, but it's absolutely what my brain does. It's also the most obsessive part for me in my writing process, and I've learned to schedule my life in a way around that. The three weeks after I get an editing letter, don't expect calls from me, don't expect to see me. The only life that I kind of take care of apart from my own is my dog, because I am in Scribner cooking up a storm with that editing letter. And it usually takes me three weeks before I can have a semblance of normalcy. Again. Again, not the healthiest process. Hopefully it gets better over time, but it is the process as it stands now.

[17:11] Marissa: No, there's something about the phrase chasing perfection that I rather am drawn to. I have some perfectionist tendencies as well, for better or for worse. But I know when I am at various parts of the writing process, you do get into this mindset where it is all that you want to do. Like, you just want to live in this story and live in this world, and it's such a pain to have to come out of it and make dinner or take a shower. You're like, I'm focused, leave me alone. And I rather like, that the flow aspect.

[17:55] Melissa: Yeah, I love that part when things are clicking. And for me, that always happens in, outlining and researching where suddenly it's three in the morning and I think it's 10:00 p.m.. Oh, I know it. I have been sitting at my computer just enthralled and being like, how do I weave this in? Okay, let's go into plotter. Let's fix this. And oh, that's such an interesting something. Make sure I make a note to add that in later. I can spend hours and they can go by, and I have no idea how much time has gone by. And it's the same thing at that stage of the editing process. I'm not a runner, so I haven't run since high school. But I did have runners high once in my life, and I do not feel the need to have runners high ever again. That editing high that I get can't compare. More people should write books than run marathons because it really can't compare.

[18:47] Marissa: That's so funny. I just last weekend ran my second half marathon.

[18:52] Melissa: Oh, my goodness. Good for you.

[18:54] Marissa: It's funny that you're using that as the analogy. No, I didn't start running until I don't know, maybe it's been like five or six years. And it's weird to me how many parallels there are between writing and running. Like you wouldn't think one is so physical and one is so mental. But, yeah, there's a lot of self.

[19:18] Melissa: Discipline, and you hit a lot of walls. A lot of writing is trying to convince yourself that you don't hate what you just wrote and moving forward just, okay, I'll fix it later. Or, okay, I'll deal with that later, but I got to go forward. I can't get stuck on that right now.

[19:36] Marissa: Yeah. And the feeling of accomplishment, for me, that's one of the biggest things with both writing and running, that when you reach a new goal and there's just that feeling of like, wow, I did something that I wasn't sure I could do. And I think that's a really powerful thing.

[19:53] Melissa: Oh, yes. I felt that, especially with A Shadow Crown, the second book in the Hofling saga. It's the book that I didn't know how to write, which is a really scary place to be as a very new author. And I've never been in that position before because I'm such a heavy plotter. But it is the book that I didn't know. I knew what had to be set up for book three and book four. I had very clear visions on where they were. And actually, by the time I handed in the pages on A Shadow crown, I already had the draft of book three done because I was going to that book instead of writing book two, because I just didn't know what to do with it. And I have to say, when it finally turned into a book, which was way later than it probably should have been, we were working right to the last minute with that book. But I felt a sense of accomplishment in a way I definitely didn't experience with a Broken blade. And I think it's just because it was more of a challenge, and I'm kind of proud of it more that I am of a Broken Blade because of that and because I had to rewrite that book so many times.

[21:03] Marissa: No, there's definitely something we said, the books that challenge us the most and maybe aren't the most fun to write, but in the end, that sense of accomplishment and that sense of pride is really strong.

[21:18] Melissa: I hope I get that feeling again. Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off.

[21:23] Marissa: And that is a perfect segue into let's talk about the books. For listeners who are not familiar with this series, would you please tell them a little bit about A Broken blade and the second that just came out? A shadow crown?

[21:40] Melissa: Sure. So both of those books are part of a series called The Halfling Saga, and they are center around the main character, Keera, who at the beginning of A Broken Blade, is a halfling, which means she has part human. She's part human and she's part elf. And in the kingdom that she lives in, that means that she doesn't have citizenship, she doesn't have rights. She's basically a ward of the crown and has to do what the crown says. But Keera has a very specific skill set and has been trained since she's a young girl, to be an assassin and to be an enforcer of the king's policy, which puts her in this predicament where she is enforcing law and assassinating her own people and halflings across the kingdom, which make her really uncomfortable. And after several decades of doing this and trying to dismantle the crown herself, she realizes that this enemy that the king wants her to deal with might just be the person that she needs to partner up with to end the king and the crown once for all. And that kind of kicks off the second part of A Broken Blade, and it keeps going into the second book.

[22:56] Marissa: Nice. So you have mentioned up to four books. Is this a planned four book series or is there going to be more beyond that?

[23:05] Melissa: So I'm contracted for four in the saga, and that's where I see Keera's story ending. When I originally because A Broken Blade was initially self published, I planned five books and it was going to go A Broken Blade, and then the second release was going to be a prequel, which covers Keera's time at the order, which is this assassin school where she was trained. And if anyone has read A Broken Blade, there's a very significant character that kind of gets revealed as part of her past in A Broken Blade, and that character is a central character in that prequel. We changed up the release order that I was originally planning when I went with my Trad publisher. So now it's A Broken Blade, a shadow crown, book three, book four, and then possibly a prequel. But I'm kind of in that it could be under contract because it's not a listed title in the contract, or it could be part of another contract. So I don't know exactly when that publishing date would be in terms of the rest of the series, but my publisher is very excited about it. So at some point it should get in reader's hands. I just don't have a clear idea as to when on the calendar.

[24:17] Marissa: Right, and then do you think you'll continue to write in this world?

[24:22] Melissa: I don't think so. My editor really loves a certain character, Gerarda, and has kind of been intrigued by that character and there could be a spin off book with that. I'm not against revisiting the world eventually. I do have an idea for a story that takes place 1000 years before the events of A Broken Blade, but I want to write new characters. I have to say, writing five books in two years with the same cast of characters kind of drains your creative well. So I am interested in kind of exploring different stories, and I think if I ever do revisit the world of the halfling saga, that's probably best for everyone and give me time and distance away from the characters and the lore, and I'll come back and write I think a more interesting story.

[25:20] Marissa: No, that is totally fair. And I was only asking because the way that you worded your description a little bit earlier that you something to the effect of, well, I think that Keera's story will be done after four books, and it just kind of felt like maybe there's more in the work.

[25:38] Melissa: Yeah, I am tossing around a couple of ideas. For me, I guess I meant chronologically. Like Keera's story will finish with book four. I just don't know if the prequel or book four is going to come out first.

[25:51] Marissa: Yeah.

[25:52] Melissa: So in the timeline, it ends with book four, but you might see her again if that releases after book four.

[25:59] Marissa: Yeah. So you mentioned that you tend to be an outliner, and here we are halfway now through a four book saga. How much of the story did you have planned out when you started writing it? Are you the sort that had outlines for the whole series, or how far ahead were you thinking?

[26:22] Melissa: I had an overall arc for the series from the get go. I actually wrote what will end up being the prequel and A Broken Blade at the same time. Because originally, for anyone who's read A Broken Blade, there are these dream sequences in A Broken Blade that kind of speak to what Keera had dealt with in her past. Originally, I thought A Broken Blade was going to be a dual timeline story where we keep on flashing back to Keera as an adolescent, learning to be an assassin, and then Keera in the current timeline and realizing how different she is. Those two stories just got too big to be the same book, but they were written at the same time, and I just ended up teasing them apart rather than braiding them together. And I knew where we were going to end up. I've known the last sentence of book four since I started in that way. I've known what I've been writing to, and I've had a very strong sense of the theme, the main theme throughout the main two themes, and for every other book except book two, which is funny, the book that just gave out a shadow crown, I had a very strong sense of the detailed plot within each book. Book two is this interesting little book because for me, and how I had kind of initially pictured the series with it starting actually with this prequel, then a broken blade, a shadow crown, then book three and book four. A shadow crown is actually the middle of the series for me. Like, creatively, when I think through, it is the absolute middle. It is an entire second act. And I hate writing second acts. I'm very bad at them. That's where I hit most of my walls. And that definitely happened with A shadow crown, where I knew what needed to be set up for the next books, but I didn't know what to do plot wise. And then the other issue that I was having is a shadow crown's timeline in the book is so much more compressed than the rest of the series. A broken blade takes course over, I think, six or seven months. The prequels over almost 30 years. Books three and book four will also be almost a year each and timeline. And I think a shadow crown is like four weeks long. So it was also my first book ever, and none of my other projects that I've ever worked on that people haven't read have I ever worked with that tight of a timeline for the entire arc of the story. So it was also me trying to figure out, okay, how do I do the setup, but still make an interesting story for readers. But also I have no experience on how to do character development this fast and what realistically works. And I kept on. I think I've probably put 450,000 words into a shadowcram between all of the trial and error of me trying to find my way, which is not my process at all. I usually have my plot, very detailed screens. I tend to underwrite my books when I hand them in for first edits and then fill gaps later with a shadow crown. I just had all of these ideas and I had no real vision to connect them. Thankfully, Laura, my amazing editor, was able to see through all the messiness of the pages that she finally got from me, which was a second entire rewrite from the book. And we did end up basically rewriting the book. I could have moved things around. Events from that draft still happen, but it was just such a shift that I just thought it was easier to rewrite. And I can draft really quickly, especially when I'm starting to not like a story and I'm like, okay, I need something. Let's just focus. And she was really helpful and getting that editing letter and getting on the phone with her and trying to work that through. I also looked up a lot of author interviews that I could find of debuts and them talking about releasing their next book and especially if someone had a debut series right off the bat for any tips I could find. I was digging Deep Shadow Grab and it was such a challenge and I'm so glad, and I feel like I'm a much better writer because of it. But that was the only book that I didn't have a clear vision on, and I have to say I'm proud of it. But I am glad it is over. I am on to a series, a part of the series that I can really see in my head, and I know exactly where I'm going. I feel like I'm walking on stronger ground again.

[31:06] Marissa: Well, thank heaven for editors.

[31:08] Melissa: Oh, I love editors. Editors are lifesavers.

[31:12] Marissa: So, am I understanding correctly that for you, when. It comes to the timeline of a book, you tend to write more time passing year years within a single book as opposed to shorter periods of time. Did I understand that correctly?

[31:30] Melissa: Yeah. The halfling saga is probably the shortest of any project that I've ever worked on in terms of what I'm trying to pass in a story and a broken blade. I think I think it happens over eight months, and that's the shortest, even compared to the rest of my project. I love a dual timeline, so I tend to get drawn to stories that technically if you were to break up the timelines and add them together, then maybe it's not years, but years have passed and you have entirely different characters in the duality of these two stories that you're trying to tell together. Or what I've written a lot of before and what I hope to get out to readers eventually is epic fantasy standalones which do take place over years. Like, I have one story, I think it takes place over 5000 years.

[32:22] Marissa: And the story oh, my gosh, currently.

[32:24] Melissa: Drafting the story that I'm currently drafting. After that, it's a reincarnation story and it takes place, I think, over 11,000 years or something. So, yeah, I'm not used to working with realistic timelines for character development.

[32:36] Marissa: So, interesting, I have the exact opposite problem where my natural inclination is to squeeze everything together. So, like, this happens Monday. By Wednesday, we're at the midpoint, by Friday climax, book is over. And then I have to go back and be like, hold on, did we really have this much character growth and, like, this whole romance in five days? Maybe we should spread this out a little bit. But my brain doesn't want to do that. My brain always wants to squeeze things together. So I would love to know for you, what are some things you use to show the passing of time and make these stories take place over these sweeping periods while still keeping the plot moving along?

[33:23] Melissa: In the Halfling saga, thankfully, Keera is she's not always the truest narrator, but she's true to herself. She does struggle with addiction, so sometimes she's not being as honest as she could be, but she's not realizing it. So that can be an issue. But when it comes to things like time passing, she's very introspective at times and reflective. So I don't do what I think is a very old school fantasy thing. People still do it, but I don't do scenes where Kara is riding on a horse for three weeks long and you have to read five chapters of her riding a horse. I just kind of tell you that it's been quite a while, but thankfully, she's just naturally an introspective character. So I can kind of jump three weeks ahead, have her reflect on it, which makes sense in her narration and her voice, which shows the passage of time. In other books, I always have some sort of device in this book that I'm working on now. There's the main story that is told between two characters, but each chapter opens with different news clippings that tell the story of an 80 year period and how things began to happen. So the passage of time in that story isn't actually really told through the characters and their perspectives at all, but through this added element that the reader is getting from this device that I've woven in. And then the same thing with dual timeline stories. I love a dual timeline story. I love to read it. I love to write it. I constantly feel the pull, even with the halfling saga, even though it's very much not that I'm like, okay, but let's bring in those old characters.

[35:07] Marissa: But it could be because I love them.

[35:11] Melissa: But, yeah, I think in the future I'm probably going to end up writing a lot of dual time. That just seems to be where my brain always wants to go.

[35:21] Marissa: Yeah, we're drawn to what we're drawn to.

[35:23] Melissa: Yeah, absolutely.

[35:24] Marissa: All right, my final question before our bonus round, I want to know about your approach to writing Villains, because there are a lot of jerks in this series, and there's the big villains, but then there's also just, like, people kind of scattered throughout the story that Keera encounters that, as a reader, you just want to punch them in the nose. So, for you, what is your approach to writing characters that is going to get that visceral reaction from your readers?

[36:02] Melissa: I have two approaches because I put my characters in the halfling saga, specifically when it comes to antagonists or villains, I put them in two categories, and one was the Royals. I was very aware in writing the book that I was trying to tell an anti colonial and anti monarchy story in this subgenre that is kind of full of them. So I was very aware of where I was subverting kind of expectations of the genre. And that was like a conscious choice and a conscious foundation in building out the halfling saga. And what I didn't want to do with them is I didn't want to humanize them too much. I didn't have an interest in telling King Amen's background story and why he was the way he was. I much more wanted the story to focus on. This is what happens when people come to your land with a focus and a heart full of needing more power and just taking everything they can from the land. So with the characters who fall into that bin, my approach was, let's just make them as terrible as possible. And I'm not really going to give an explanation because that's kind of the point. The point is, it doesn't really matter to Keera or the Halflings or anyone why they're doing what they're doing, and there's no interest in exploring that for the characters. So I kind of leave that up to the reader's interpretation. Very pointedly. Other antagonists, though it's funny because people group characters that I don't consider villains into the kind of villain category. Other characters, they always have a very good reason for behaving what they are, and a very human reason. You might not know that reason in Just A Broken Blade, but you will definitely have those reasons revealed to you throughout the series. And weirdly, they're always kind of Keera is just such an interesting character to play that I almost put Keera in the villain category. I would say Keera kind of starts out as a villain. She doesn't want to be a villain. She's aware of it, but through action, she kind of has been. And that's part of where this antagonistic approach with some of the characters happens. Like, Keera has done some terrible things, sometimes directly to their families. And of course, they're kind of going to behave a little bit differently with her and through her perspective than they do with other characters in the series. And being aware of that dynamic is very fun to write, especially later on when there are glimpses of other POVs and you see that those characters are entirely different when Keera is not in the room, and that Keera sometimes brings up the worst in people.

[38:51] Marissa: No, and it's interesting, too. You bring up kind of this idea that actions and motivations or actions and thoughts don't always line up, which I think makes for some of the most interesting character dynamics. That kind of gray area.

[39:07] Melissa: Yeah, I really went into it knowing that I wanted, because the subgenre is full, like, I would say, paranormal romance. Almost all of it is like enemies to lovers, and almost all of it has a morally gray aspect to it that's a foundational part of the storytelling. But so much of it is the male character and the non POV character. And that was the spark of inspiration for A Broken Blade. I'm like, no, I want to tell a morally great character as the POV, and I want her to be a woman, but I want it to be directly tied into systems of oppression and that kind of spot that you get put in where you're put in these literal life and death situations, and some of those deaths and some of those lives are in your lives are in your control. And what do you do with that and how does that impact you? And even though you want the best, and even though you don't want to do what you're doing, you still have to do what you're doing, at least in Keera's perspective. And there's definitely characters who disagree with her on that. And it's very fun to write, especially since I never think I'll be in that position. I hope not.

[40:18] Marissa: Right?

[40:21] Melissa: I like exploring moral dilemmas that I hopefully will never have to experience through writing.

[40:27] Marissa: Yeah. No, I do too. As a writer, I tend to be drawn to those stories. And as a reader, I like seeing how other authors interpret them, too.

[40:36] Melissa: Yeah, I love reading them, too. So much fun. I think for the most part, I love to read things that I'm kind of drawn to in writing as well.

[40:44] Marissa: Yeah, no, definitely. On that note, are you ready for our bonus round?

[40:49] Melissa: Yes, absolutely.

[40:51] Marissa: The first question that kind of ties right into what we were just talking about. What book makes you happy?

[41:01] Melissa: I'm a sad girly. I read a lot of sad books. I'm trying to think the last book that made me super happy. I like this romance novel. I am not by my bookshelves. I think it's by Cynthia Higgins. It's called Devon and Chris Planner wedding. It's very cute. It's about these two characters who are on a reality dating TV show, and it's very quippy and very witty, and that makes me happy. And then the last book that made me so happy, I reread it as soon as I finished it was Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas. I really love that book. I love most of the happy books that leave me with such a happy feeling usually end up being ya in adults. I just want to be emotionally eviscerated.

[41:46] Marissa: Yeah. Psychological thing that sad things in fiction and movies and books and whatnot can actually spark happiness. There's, like, this whole study about that which I find really fascinating.

[42:03] Melissa: Oh, I need to look that up because I also love sad movies. And if a movie is too happy, I don't like it.

[42:09] Marissa: Yeah, I know. I remember reading about it. This is a while ago, but in one of those Norwegian countries that's always rates at the happiest countries in the world, but their media tends to be really sad. And so there was, like, this study conducted around that that was really interesting.

[42:25] Melissa: Oh, I'm definitely looking that up after this interview because that makes so much sense. It also makes sense on booktalk. I would say most of the readers, at least on booktalk, are sad book people.

[42:36] Marissa: Right. What are you working on next? I know you've already kind of talked about it a little bit, but what else can you tell us?

[42:44] Melissa: Yeah, so I have the rest of the halfling saga that will be coming out in the next year and a half. I'm working on this book and cleaning it up for my potential agent because, weirdly, I still don't have one of those. Yeah, it's been a whirlwind of years.

[43:00] Marissa: Skipped over that step.

[43:01] Melissa: Yeah, definitely skipped over that step. And I'm cleaning up two books. One is a book that's kind of founded in something called The Three Fires Confederacy, which was this union of different indician obey nations to protect culture and protect language. And then in this story, it takes place about 40 years in the future where language has been commercialized and you have to pay a licensing fee to be able to speak language. And if you're rich enough, you can afford an unrestricted licensing fee. But if you're poor, which most of the people at this time are in what we would call right now, the lower middle class, they have to be on something called quota. So their words that they can speak in a month are heavily restricted. And it is a story of two Anishinabe characters. One who is very much inculcated in the system and the corporation that is oppressing people's ability to speak and one who is not. Kind of coming together. Very similar theme to the halfling saga. And then the other one is I'm going to call it a love story because it's definitely not a romance, but it's a love story through time between two anishinaabe characters, one who lives forever and one who is a time traveler. And I love it so, so much and I hope that gets to readers really soon.

[44:29] Marissa: Oh, my gosh, both of those sound so amazing.

[44:34] Melissa: Yes, a very different turn than the Halfling Saga. Very much more to where I have been writing for a long time. The Halfling Saga is kind of a flash in the pan of a genre I never thought I would be writing in.

[44:47] Marissa: So interesting. Lastly, where can people find you?

[44:52] Melissa: I am on TikTok under Melissa Blair's bookshelf. But you can just look up Melissa Blair and you'll find me. I'm also on Instagram and I am on Twitter, kind of. I don't love to tweet, but I am on there. If that's all these social media someone has for updates on the book and events and stuff like that.

[45:14] Marissa: Awesome, Melissa. Thank you so much for joining me.

[45:17] Melissa: And thank you for having me. This has been so much fun.

[45:20] Marissa: Readers. Definitely check out a broken blade and a shadow crown. They are both available now. Of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore. If you don't have a local indie, you can also check out our affiliate store@bookshop.org shop, marissamyer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise. You can find the links for that on our Instagram profile. Next week, I will be talking with Alex Crespo about his debut paranormal romance, st juniper's Folly. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author and at Happy Writer podcast. Until next time, stay healthy, stay cozy and whatever life throws at you today. I do hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier.