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Saturday, 10 December 2011
I recently had the pleasure of reading Melissa F. Miller's first novel, Irreparable Harm (available in paperback and ebook formats). Heroine Sasha is a hot-shot young lawyer, but the novel has as much high-kicking martial arts action as it has complex legal arguments and courtroom battles. I really loved it, and was delighted to have chance to ask Melissa a few questions about her writing.
I see from your biography that, like Sasha, you're a lawyer. Are you also a secret Krav Maga ninja? And if not, where did you get the idea to give Sasha that particular skill set?
I wish! No, I can’t kill you with my bare hands. I knew I wanted to make Sasha a physically small person, because I find it really interesting how small women are often underestimated. Some of the most formidable female attorneys I know are diminutive--but, they don’t live the life of the legal thriller. I needed Sasha to be able to kick physical butt, despite her size. And I wanted it to be believable. As it happens, I have a good friend, who is not an attorney, but who is a small woman who practices Krav Maga. I’ve always been fascinated by it and she carries herself with a great deal of authority. So, the Krav Maga scenes are the result of picking her brain, watching YouTube videos, and reading about the self-defense system. That said, I wish there were a Krav Maga class near me, but the closest is over an hour away. I will jump at the chance to learn it, though, if the situation ever presents itself.
Did you find it hard to fit in writing a novel alongside your legal career? How did you juggle your time?
Oh my goodness, yes. Running a law firm with my husband takes a great deal of time, between practicing law and doing all of the administrative work that comes with owning a business. But, it also gives me a lot of flexibility as to when I work. So, my schedule is pretty fluid. The juggling really comes in with the kids. We have three children, who are currently 6, 4, and 15 months. So, a lot of my writing time is grabbed piecemeal—twenty minutes here, 250 words there. In addition, I have an extremely supportive husband, who holds me to a schedule of writing two mornings a week (unless some child-related activity interferes). He takes the kids to do something fun and I go into the office for a solid three hours. The rest of the time, I steal from sleeping. I stay up after the kids go to bed and/or get up before the sun rises to make a big push on word count when I don’t have to feel guilty about neglecting my family. I may not practice Krav Maga like Sasha, but I definitely rely on coffee to function just like she does!
How would you describe your approach to the process of writing? Do you use any specific techniques for plot or character development?
In a word, scattered! The way it has worked so far, is I have gotten the idea for a novel either in the shower or while driving. This is more frustrating than it sounds because the idea comes complete with entire scenes, lines of dialogue, etc. written in my head. By the time I can safely write it down, though, the specifics have evaporated and all that remains is the idea. But, using that idea, I start sketching out a really barebones plot. I’ve learned not to outline in any detail because I end up scraping almost all the original plot, with the exception of that initial nugget of an idea.
Character development is really an interesting process, for me, at least. Sasha was originally going to be a female commercial pilot named Grace. But, I couldn’t write her. I resisted having a protagonist who was so much like me—i.e., a female attorney, but Sasha was fairly insistent and forced me to scrap Grace. As an aside, I am aware that I sound like a crazy person when I talk about my characters. But, it is completely true that my characters don’t necessarily develop the way I want them to. I sketch them out in broad strokes, but then they take on their own personalities. I have learned that if I try to force them to act in ways that they don’t want to, I end up with a mess of a scene that I can’t use.
Approximately how many books will you need to sell to match the starting salary of one of Prescott & Talbott's junior associates?
If I sell 80,000 books at $2.99, I would match the $160,000 starting salary of a first year associate at Prescott & Talbott. That’s before bonus, of course!
Will there be more from Sasha in future books?
I am putting the finishing touches on Inadvertent Disclosure, which the second book in the series. Here’s the blurb for it:
When Sasha goes to rural Clear Brook County to argue a plain vanilla discovery motion, she's not planning to stay long. Aside from the wealth of natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale beneath the town, there's not much there. But when the county's only judge appoints her to represent a cranky old man at his incapacitation hearing, she's thrust into the middle of a bitter dispute over hydrofracking.
Then the judge is murdered. Sasha sticks around to bring the killer to justice. The only problem is, in a town hotly divided, she's not sure who to trust and who to take down.
Inadvertent Disclosure will be available before the holidays.
I have future plans for Sasha, too. I’m working on the first draft of her third book, Irretrievably Broken. Then, I guess, I’ll just keep at it, until I run out of legal doctrines that begin with the letter “I”!
That sounds great - personally, I can't wait for the chance to read Inadvertant Disclosure. Do you have any other projects up your sleeve?
Non-Sasha projects that I have kicking around are a YA suspense novel and a woman’s fiction novel in the style of Karen McQuestion or Jodi Picoult. I also have a crime fiction novella and a crime fiction short that are clamoring for attention. I could definitely use more hours in my day, but I guess that’s true for all of us!
Thank you so much for reading Irreparable Harm and for inviting me to connect with your readers, Rachel.