Today, I’m delighted to welcome to 2018 debut authors to the blog for a fun interview – one in which I had nothing to do with the questions! That’s right. Author Amelia Brunskill interviewed fellow 2018 “Electric Eighteener” Dana Mele about her novel, People Like Us – which comes out February 27th. Learn more about both authors and their books below, but first here is their fun Q&A: Amelia Brunskill (AB): Let’s dive in! As we both know, being a debut author is a whirlwind of emotions! What are some of the most memorable moments of your debut experience so far?
Dana Mele (DM): There are so many. I’ve spent the past year in a state of suspended disbelief. When my now-agent first emailed asking to set up a call about representing me, I was in such a state of shock I convinced myself that someone had hacked into her email and was pranking me.
Signing books at New York Comic Con was a more pleasant kind of surreal. I’m an enthusiastic member of several fandoms. I dressed as a character from my favorite episode of Black Mirror and toured the Westworld experience right before signing books and meeting readers for the first time ever. It’s hard to imagine that anything will ever top the NYCC signing.
Universe, the gauntlet has been thrown.
AB: PEOPLE LIKE US is a twisty thriller set in an all girl’s boarding school, that starts with the protagonist, Kay, hanging out with a group of friends at the lake and discovering a dead girl floating in the water. And it only gets more exciting and terrifying from there! Is there a story behind the inspiration for this novel?
DM: I’m always inspired by places, and this book was primarily inspired by Wellesley College, where I went to school. The lake, the landscaping, the architecture, and the surrounding village and nearby Boston suburbs all formed the world of People Like Us.
As for the plot, there was actually a murder near the lake at Wellesley on Halloween ‘99, which I learned about while I was wandering around in the dark with my friends. We assumed the victim was a student (it wasn’t) and the speculation began there.
20 years later, here’s a book.
AB: Your book has been referred to, in very excited tones, as “gay Mean Girls” and it features a great complicated relationship between Kay and her best friend. How did you approach the representation of a bisexual girl as the protagonist?
DM: I can’t even express how excited I am that it’s being called a gay Mean Girls. As for how I approached Kay’s representation as a queer seventeen-year-old, I basically wrote from memory.
AB: In addition to writing YA, you’ve published a number of short stories. How do you find that you approach short stories versus longer projects, and what do you like/struggle with in each format?
DM: I’m much more comfortable with short fiction. I’ve been writing short stories since I was a teen. I wrote them obsessively in junior high and high school when I was supposed to be paying attention in class.
I had one teacher who said that short stories were harder because there’s more room for error in novels, but I find the opposite to be true. With short fiction, I write a draft and then whittle down, down, down until everything is exactly the way I want it to be, every word in place. With novels, they start too short, and I find myself having to add to the wordcount in revision.
AB: Riddles play a big role in PEOPLE LIKE US. Did you enjoy writing these? Are you a secret poet in addition to being a YA and short story writer?
DM: They were fun because I like riddles, but I am not a poet. Vaguely threatening culinary rhymes are about as poetic as I get.
AB: In your book, there is a beloved high school annual ritual and a prank that goes horribly wrong. Did your high school have any fun or unusual annual rituals?
DM: My high school did not, but in college I was part of a society that had many secret rituals. Nothing evil or harmful, but definitely top secret. Should I leave it at that? Perhaps I should.
AB: WAIT WHAT? But I must know… Sigh. Okay, fine. Your fascinating secret society secrets can stay secret.
So, among many other things, your book is such a fun thrill ride! What are some thrillers, or mysteries, that are personally important to you, and why?
DM: My all-time favorite mystery is And Then There Were None. I will die happy if I get to write a reboot. I know it’s been done. Don’t care. I love the pacing, the characterization, the slow elimination. I love elimination games. They’re basically all I want to write. Structure and tension are built right into them.
Gone Girl is another. I am so loyal to unlikeable protagonists, and Amy Dunne gets first prize. Maybe after Cersei Lannister. They both earn the win.
There’s also an upcoming YA novel The Window that’s generating a lot of well-deserved buzz.
AB: (Blush! I didn’t make her say that, but I’m glad she did!)
If you had to pick your favorite literary detective of all time, who would it be and what actor would you want to see play them in a movie?
DM: I don’t know that I have an all-time fave, but let’s say Cassie Maddox from In the Woods (which I also love) and I would like to see her played by Evan Rachel Wood.
AB: Alright, now a speed round! You’re doing a series of interviews with fellow debut authors (“Author, I Never”), which includes asking what cardinal writing rules they’ve broken. Time to answer some of your own questions!
DM: Ahhh, the tables have turned!
AB: Indeed they have! MUHAHA.
First one: Have you ever cheated during NaNoWriMo?
DM: No, I just quit and move on. I’m a big time quitter.
AB: Second one: What was the most inconvenient time or place you were struck by inspiration?
DM: When I’m putting my kiddo to bed. Or during some other activity where he needs my full attention and I can’t just zone out or take five. I’ve figure out the car (dictate) the shower (text) and middle of the night (jot it like a champ). But kiddo’s bedtime routine is sacred.
AB: Third (and final) one: Have you ever gone several days or even weeks without writing?
Yep. Self care first, always. But I usually can’t last long. I have too many ideas.
AB: Too many ideas to stop writing, but enough sense to pause when needed for self-care! I like this very much, and it seems like a great place for us to end!
Many thanks, Dana for putting up with my questions, and many thanks also to Novel Novice, for hosting this interview!
Dana Mele is a writer, licensed attorney, and LGBTQ rights advocate. Her debut novel, PEOPLE LIKE US, is a YA thriller that is coming out on February 27th from G.P Putnam’s Sons. She has also published short stories, two of which have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and she holds a position at two literary journals (Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal and Luna Station Quarterly).
Amelia Brunskill is an author and a librarian. Her debut novel, THE WINDOW, is also a YA thriller, and it comes out April 3rd. She and Dana met and became friends through Electric Eighteens, an online group of debut YA novelists.
Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.
The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.
Anna is everything her identical twin is not. Outgoing and athletic, she is the opposite of quiet introvert Jess. The same on the outside, yet so completely different inside–it’s hard to believe the girls are sisters, let alone twins. But they are. And they tell each other everything.
Or so Jess thought.
After Anna falls to her death while sneaking out her bedroom window, Jess’s life begins to unravel. Everyone says it was an accident, but to Jess, that doesn’t add up. Where was Anna going? Who was she meeting? And how long had Anna been lying to her?
Jess is compelled to learn everything she can about the sister she thought she knew. At first it’s a way to stay busy and find closure . . . but Jess soon discovers that her twin kept a lot of secrets. And as she digs deeper, she learns that the answers she’s looking for may be truths that no one wants her to uncover.
Because Anna wasn’t the only one with secrets.