A belated happy book birthday to Melissa Bennett. Her novel, Hidden Thorns, came out yesterday, January 22, 2018. To celebrate, I’m interviewing her. She credits her southern upbringing for turning her into a die-hard romantic. Her debut novel, Hidden Thorns, is a romantic suspense story, strongly influenced by her Christian faith. A cookbook collector, she loves to tinker in the kitchen, and has grand delusions of one day opening her own café. She grew up in Waco, Texas, but today, she lives in the suburbs of Kansas City with her husband of thirty years, empty nesters except for two lazy Miniature Schnauzers. She’s the proud mama of four fantastic children and is thankful to have her dad living nearby.
SS: Melissa, please tell us about your book. What’s the basic story?
MB: Lil Edwards is divorced after thirty years of marriage. When her new-found independence is interrupted by a stalker, a second chance of love, her faith, and even her life are threatened.
SS: What prompted you to write this story?
MB: It started as a cathartic exercise. I’ve been married a long time, and anyone who’s been married for any time understands that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. (I love you, honey!) From there, I had a dear friend encourage me to keep going. The story unfolded organically.
SS: How did you come up with the title?
MB: Life is a mixed bag. Much like a rose with its thorns. Initially, I titled the book Roses and Thorns. LOL But one Google search, and I knew I needed to change it. Megan, my publisher, helped to find the current title.
SS: Tell us something we won’t learn just by reading the book jacket.
MB: Lillian is named after my great-grandmother. I have an old sepia-toned picture of her that I’ve always admired. She had a mischievous grin in a time when people didn’t smile for the camera. I loved that!
SS: Which is your favorite character? What would you do if you could spend a day with that character?
MB: Gosh, that’s difficult…My favorite character to write is probably Katie, Lil’s best friend. She’s southern, sassy, yet has unplumbed depths. We’ll see much more of her in book two. Of course, Lil would be with us. And I think I’d spend it in the kitchen cooking up all of her mama’s recipes and talking about her extended family.
SS: Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
MB: I think, in some respect, all of our characters must be loosely based on people we know or have met. They’re definitely from my imagination, but bits and pieces of people I know are in them.
SS: How long did you take to write this book?
MB: By the time the book actually goes to print, it will have been three years. I finished the first draft in roughly nine months, but life got in the way of pursuing it seriously for a while.
SS: What kind of research did you do for this book?
MB: There was a great deal of research about roses since they feature in the book. There was also research about firearms, police equipment and procedures, and psychosis.
SS: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
MB: For this book, I was a textbook pantser. Though I must admit, I’m learning to plot – slowly.
SS: What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
MB: The greatest challenge for me is detail. I want the reader to be enveloped in the scene – to feel like they are completely present. But too much of a good thing is just that – too much.
SS: Can you share your writing routine?
MB: My father is in a nursing home near me, so I balance being with him and my personal time. I have three days a week that are “for writing”. If I can get another day in, that’s great. God willing, I will have many years to write. But the time I have left with Dad is a priority. As far as where I write, I have a small desk off of my kitchen that I call my own. It faces away from windows, and there are walls on either side, so there is as little distraction as possible for this ADD riddled brain!
SS: Do you have any writing quirks?
MB: I know that they say you should write, then edit. I’m working on that, but honestly, if I’m looking for the exact word to make my point, I have to find it.
SS: What’s your favourite writing advice?
MB: You can’t edit what’s not on the page.
SS: Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
MB: The nemesis of all writers! I’ve had days, even weeks, where I had no idea where the story was going. Truthfully, at those times I’ve done research – whether that be regarding the craft or something specific to a character or scene.
SS: If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
MB: You can do whatever you decide to do. Don’t let your doubts keep you from starting!
SS: How did you get into writing?
MB: I’ve always loved writing. Even when I was young. As an adult, I journaled, mostly prayer type journals. Like Abeline in The Help, I talk to God by writing things down. I’ve shared a few things with close friends who encouraged me to pursue it. That’s how the book started.
SS: Which books influenced you the most?
MB: When I was in high school, I read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. I was captivated. Every good book since then has influenced me to write. Especially The Mark of The Lion series by Francine Rivers and The Mitford Series by Jan Karon.
SS: What are you working on right now?
MB: The book that follows Hidden Thorns. Its working title is Veiled Blessings, and it’s Katie’s turn to be front and center.
SS: What’s the elevator pitch for your novel?
MB: Lil Bratcher is being stalked. It will shake the very foundation of her faith, her friendships and a second chance at love.
Lil recoiled to the other side of the bed drawing her knees close to her chest. Her face contorted with fear and dread. It felt as if all the blood were rushing from her head, like she couldn’t tell the difference between the floor and ceiling. Gracie, startled awake by Lil’s sudden movements, sauntered to the bedside and laid her head near Lil’s feet. Lil didn’t respond, she was frozen with fear. Gracie pawed at the sheets and whimpered. Still getting no response, she let out a bark in frustration. Lil finally came to. She looked at Gracie and patted the bed to have her jump up with her, something she never allowed the pup to do. This time was different.
“Come girl, please,” Lil pleaded. Gracie complied and greeted Lil with a slobbery kiss. Lil wrapped her arms around the dog burying her face in her chocolate-colored fur.
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