STEPH: I don't know much about Behind The Scenes. Can you tell us a little about the story?
MICHELLE: BEHIND deals with the Randolph family "crisis" that is mentioned in several other Tabor Heights books -- Joel and Emily, the parents, were hit by a drunk driver in a construction truck, and the university and church community rallied around them to help out, including staging a Shakespearean production at their theater, Homespun.
Readers also met Joel and Emily in the short story, "Homespun," which shows how they met and fell in love during summer stock.
Max, 4 years old in the short story, is now 25/26, and making a name for herself in writing novels and screenplays and stage plays. She is left in charge of the theater and her half-brothers while her parents are in the hospital. Her best friend and writing partner, Tony Martin, is in CA as a writer-in-residence when the book opens. He hurries home to support Max, and is stumped how to share with her the insight he gained while he was away: He's in love with her. He knows, from writing romance with her, that Max won't appreciate him breaking the news at the wrong time -- but what IS the right time?
Things get complicated when Joel's sister, Rose, shows up, and essentially moves in with him. And Max has a production of "Taming of the Shrew" to stage. And a book that is going to miss its deadline. And a temperamental actor to deal with. And the big problem of a film fellowship that she won -- that will take her to California, right into the path of her birth father, who doesn't even know Max exists. Thanks to Max placing in the fellowship, using her mother's maiden name as her pen name, and the sudden media attention from the accident, Max's natural father knows she exists now. And that, along with someone trying to steal her writing identity, might destroy her career before it can get started.
How's Tony going to convince Max that they belong together, as more than writing partners, when she has so many distractions?
STEPH: What was in the inspiration for the story?
MICHELLE: I honestly can't remember the exact germ of the idea, but it originally started as a series of half-hour scripts for a TV series I proposed to the Family Channel, back when CBN owned it. And the original story began after Joel was killed in that traffic accident, leaving Max and her two brothers running the theater. In the original story, Emily had been dead several years. And Rose showed up for Joel's funeral, having been kicked out of the house by their tyranical father. So she moves in with Max and her brothers because she has nowhere else to go.
So you can see, I changed a LOT of things when I turned it into a book!
As for the TV series ... the production company chose "Big Brother Jake" instead of my series. Does anybody remember "Big Brother Jake"? Nope! Their loss....
STEPH: How long have you been writing?
MICHELLE: Seriously, aiming toward publication ... my sophomore year of high school. I'd been scribbling story ideas, sometimes tending toward fan fiction, since junior high. I remember a Star Trek-type story I tried to write. I had one of those 3-prong folders, that you put reports in. I filled it with notebook paper, and wrote the opening couple of scenes -- stranding the captain's daughter on an alien planet. Then I couldn't figure out what came next, so I flipped to about halfway through the stack of papers -- maybe 50 pages, and started writing the scenes where the ship comes back to the planet.
STEPH: How do you create your characters? Do you cast them? If so, who are the leads?
MICHELLE: Sometimes I cast characters. For BEHIND, I cast Jim Burnes (Joe Dawson, from the Highlander TV show) as Joel Randolph. And Ricardo Montalban was Carlo Vincente, Max's natural father, right from the TV series writing days. Emily was kind of nebulous, as were Joe and Jeremy. I was Max, of course. I always make myself a character in lots of my books -- at least, at the beginning. Then as it grows and solidifies, I take off the mask, so to speak, and step back and let the characters do what they want.
STEPH: How did the story find a home with Desert Breeze?
MICHELLE: I had my Mafia cousin, Guido, make Gail an offer she couldn't refuse.
Actually, I just pitched the first story, "The Second Time Around," and wrote on the cover page, "A Tabor Heights, Ohio Novel." Gail asked if I had any other Tabor Heights books, and if so, what were they about .... and from there it was history. It's kind of intimidating, the responsibility of trying to make sure each subsequent book is just as good as the one before.
STEPH: What's your favorite place to go to vacation?
MICHELLE: Y'know, I don't really go on vacations. Because that kind of means doing things other than writing, and I'm kind of addicted to this thing, y'know? When I was working, and I had paid vacations, I usually used my vacation time to go to conferences. I'd do the sightseeing thing sometimes, but there's always this guilty feeling of "Why aren't you writing?" that kind of ruins any goofing off time.
That's awful, isn't it?
I like the Lake Erie islands. Just for a day. And there was this canoeing trip we took to Canada when I was in high school -- just the quiet and cleanness and scenery. And I liked the inland passage in Florida - we traveled it by water taxi/ferry.
If I went away for a week, you know I'd have my computer open and writing at least four hours every day, and what kind of vacation is that?
STEPH: Fun question: If you were a NASCAR driver, who would you want to sponsor your car?
MICHELLE: Hmmmm, they usually have a few sponsors, don't they?
How about .... TJ Maxx, Target, Fictionwise/B&N, and Hershey's!