Monday, 17 December 2012

Author Spotlight - Q&A with Michelle Levigne

STEPH: I don't know much about "Invitation to a Wedding." What's it about?

MICHELLE: Drake Ashcroft, ex-Marine now in seminary, comes home for the wedding reception for his sister, who eloped with his best friend from the Marines. He finds a present on the back step, left there by Stacy Belmont, granddaughter of their former housekeeper. The problem is that Stacy grew up with Drake and his sister, Dinah, and he knows the two girls promised to be each other's maid of honor -- so why isn't Stacy helping with the preparations for the party?

As Drake investigates, he learns that the some people in town haven't outgrown their childhood rivalries and petty nastiness, and the "mean girls" still have it in for Stacy. It turns into a race against time to get Stacy to the party, but he's going to do it, even if he has to kidnap her.

STEPH: How long did it take you to write?

MICHELLE: The first draft took me a month. This year, I rough drafted six of the eight novels for Year Two, giving myself a month for each one. Then, after letting it sit for five months, I went back and revised it. I had to wait until all the books were roughed so I could put together my calendar of when and where things happened in Tabor Heights, because I needed to refer to that calendar when Stacy and Drake correspond for most of the year. I was starting to panic, because the deadline was approaching for turning the book in, and I hadn't started the revisions yet! But I made it. Somehow. And I'm pleased with the story. At least, I think so ...... Still too tired to be sure it turned out right!

STEPH: How much research did you have to do?

MICHELLE: Not much. I already had the setting, a good idea of the characters, their shared history -- and lots of experience with the problems caused by lies and social maneuvering and "mean girls" trying to rule the world. The biggest chore on my list was getting all the other books written so I knew what happened when in the different storylines, so Stacy could mention some of the events -- but definitely not all of them! -- when she emailed Drake through the year.

STEPH: How does the cover reflect the story within?

MICHELLE: I think it arouses some curiosity, from the moment someone realizes it's an invitation that's been tossed into the wastebasket before it even got mailed. It's not an accurate picture, because the evil Gretchen didn't actually throw away Stacy's invitation, she just made sure it never got mailed. But as it reflects the "heart" of the story, the conflict, and the problem to overcome, it's spot-on. Jenifer and her staff always do an incredible job with the artwork.

STEPH: Stacy is the heroine. What are her strengths? Weakness?

MICHELLE: She is smart, and she is generally an upbeat, caring, kind, generous person. Right now she's going through a rough time in her life -- she just had her first Christmas without her grandmother, who raised her, and the family that treated her like she was one of their own has basically left her out in the cold because of some crises of their own that they went through over the holidays. Plus, a year of silence between her and her best childhood friend has culminated in "Retchin' Gretchen" (yes, you'll find out where the nickname came from!) acting as maid of honor, when Stacy and Dinah promised to be each other's maid of honor. Stacy doesn't want to dwell on her hurt, but it's hard. She has some pride issues, although the people who love her would argue with that. She's trying so hard to be strong and not let the "mean girls" know they hurt her, that she's hurting herself even worse.
She needs a Prince Charming.

STEPH: What does Drake find appealing about her?

MICHELLE: There's no one specific characteristic in Stacy that smacks him between the eyes. She's the perfect minister's wife -- but Drake doesn't want to use that label, because Stacy herself is important to him, not just what she can offer. She has always been there, a key part of his life, but he doesn't realize it until she's gone, until there's silence when he expects some input from her. It's a situation of, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone." As he scrambles to make things right, to bring Stacy back into the family circle where she belongs, he realizes that she's no longer an adopted kid sister to him -- she's become someone very important, and he needs to take some time to analyze just how and why she is important, and figure out what he's going to do about it. One thing he knows for certain: He's not letting Stacy slip out of his life again.

STEPH: What is the theme of the novel?

Ugh. I hate these questions! I'm thinking about the people, not what I want to say through them. In theater class and playwriting class, we were always told, "If you want to leave a message, use Western Union."

But the overall concepts being explored deal with communication, with ideas of family that extend past blood bonds, with the subtle ways we hurt the people we love without even realizing it, and maybe how we are so busy we lose things and people who are precious to us, and don't even realize it until it's nearly too late.

STEPH: As a writer, where do you draw inspiration from?

MICHELLE: Is it a cop-out to say "Everywhere and everything"?

STEPH: Yes! (grin)

MICHELLE: Inspiration comes from things that catch my attention. Like a snippet of a story or situation in a TV show or book or movie that sticks in my mind. Case in point, the half-episode of "Northern Exposure" that I mention in another entry on this blog. It presented an unhappy situation for someone, and it stuck with me, so when I was looking for story ideas, that one was waiting to be used.

Inspiration comes from things that make me angry -- issues and situations and injustices that I want resolved. Or I want to totally humiliate bullies, or bring about justice for someone who in real life will never taste justice. Things that make me say, "Wow -- cool." Even things that make me shudder and take a step back and avert my eyes -- but the image is still there, lingering at the back of my imagination, to eventually come out of hiding and say, "Use me!" when I need a painful or terrifying or unbalancing situation.

Story ideas don't come to me in one piece. I put all sorts of pieces together and trim them to fit, or melt them, or add water or whack them really hard a couple thousand times until they change enough to slide into the opening available. Some stories need major surgery before they work. Others just slide together as if they were always meant to be. Sometimes I only do two or three drafts. Other times I write and rewrite and rewrite and put it away for a year or two and bring it out and rewrite again and put it away and bring it out again and ... put it away, in the hopes that someday, I'll figure out what's not working, so I can fix it.
Writing is craft and talent and inspiration and luck and stubbornness, all mixed together.

STEPH: Do you have an ebook reader? If so, which one?

MICHELLE: I have one of the first Nooks, plus I have an iPod Touch and iPad with Nook, iBooks, and Kindle loaded on them. I like the flexibility offered by the three different programs. For instance, I have all the PDFs of my own books in iBooks, so I can show them to other people, let them read a few paragraphs if the situation presents itself, and I can also go through the PDFs to refresh myself on different people's stories. Much easier than getting into my computer and digging up the PDF. I like the instant connection of reading on the iPad -- no need to wait for the system to boot up and the menu to appear, like I do on the Nook. However, there's something simple and easy about my Nook, and I enjoy being able to sit down and read and not be able to do anything but read while I'm using it.

STEPH: Fun question: Do you put a star or an angel on the top of your Christmas tree?

MICHELLE: I don't have a Christmas tree! (waaaaaaah!)

I do have a ceramic Christmas tree my Mom made years ago, with an electric light inside it and clear plastic colored bulbs.

This year is my first year in my new place, and I've pulled out Christmas ornaments I haven't seen or used in years. I bought a spool of wide ribbon -- white with red snowflakes -- with wire reinforcing on the edges, and put a length across the wooden mantle of my fireplace, and another across the wooden frame of my living room window. Then I hung my ornaments on these ribbons. It looks pretty cool.

Maybe at the end of the holiday season, when everything is on sale, I'll go shopping for a tree topper to use next year ...



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