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Interview With Author Melissa R. Mendelson

Reading is a series of human emotions. Writing is the gift of sharing these emotions.

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1. Introduction

Horror & Science-Fiction.

I remember once as a child, I sat on the couch between my parents, and we watched The Twilight Zone. I wasn’t scared of what I saw, and I don’t remember which episodes we watched that night. What I do remember is loving every minute of it. Not the acting, or the dialogue, or the setting. It was the story that grabbed hold of me, spun my mind around, and at that time, I never thought of being a writer. I was too obsessed with becoming a singer, which never worked out, but I kept pulling at the ideas that sunk into my head, imagining different scenarios playing out like on a television screen.

Around the same time, my oldest brother, Eric loved Horror movies, but he couldn’t watch them alone. He made my brother, Brad and I sit with him, and we watched so many Horror movies. And they freaked my brothers out. Some of them even scared me like Hellraiser. Actually, I could have done without that movie, but again, I loved almost all of it. Freddy. Jason. Michael Myers. Now, they were villains, and my head’s spinning again. Could I create monsters like that, but what did I know? I wasn’t a writer. Not yet.

So at an early age, I would say eight years and up, I was introduced to the world of Horror & Science-Fiction, and I was hooked.

interview-with-author-melissa-r-mendelson

2. When did you first realize you want to be a writer?

I always had a wild imagination. I was a very wild kid, had all this energy, and nowhere to put it. But I got myself absorbed in books, so many books, and my parents’ records. I still remember as a kid dancing to Lionel Richie’s song, All Night Long. I also had no clue who Rocky was, but I loved playing the record with Survivor’s song, Eye of the Tiger. I played a lot of my parents’ records, and as I listened to the music, my imagination ran off, creating stories and characters. I even played with toys with my younger brothers, creating characters and storylines as if we were doing a play, but my parents put a stop to that, telling me to grow up.

3. What inspires you to keep writing?

I write for different reasons. In high school, junior and senior year, I was very depressed. I went through something traumatic that at the time, my mind could not process it. Instead, I took all those notebooks that you were supposed to use for school, and I disappeared in them, writing both Horror & Science-Fiction stories. I needed to escape my life, and that was my escape. And I still have some of them, what I call notebook stories, in my dresser drawer, stories like Porcelain and Lizardian, and nobody knew that I was drowning. Nobody except my grandmother, may she rest in peace, and she saved my life. So did my aunt.

There were times after high school when I didn’t write or I wrote sporadically. And I didn’t call myself a writer. I was writing a lot of poetry, and I did call myself a poet. But I didn’t know what I was doing with myself, and I had no support structure. I got lost too many times, and it took a long time to circle back to that kid with the wild imagination that just wanted to play. But even now, I wonder if she’s still there when I write.

4. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Even if I’m not physically writing, I’m mentally writing. I’m doing what I did all those years ago as a kid. I’m playing with ideas, imagining scenarios like movies in my head, thinking of characters that I would like to write. When I do write, I write the scene out inside my head first. It’s kind of like an oven bake thing. Cookies are done. Time to get my ass in that chair, and write the scene because I can’t move on to the next part until I do that.

5. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I get mad at myself for being lazy, getting lost on Twitter, but sometimes, I’m too tired to write. The job I have now leaves me drained, and it’s not always the work that does it. But I started to call Thursdays and Fridays my burn-out days, and I don’t push myself because I need to recharge. I need to be able to write on the weekends, which is when I do most of my writing now unless I’m off from work.

So, when I’m being lazy, I like to play on Twitter, but when I’m not on Twitter, I’m usually curled up on my bed, cruising through YouTube. I normally don’t watch stupid things, but I do like movie and tv show bloopers. When I’m not watching that, I’m tuning into my favorites like Film Courage, Big Think, Psych2Go, and TED Talks.

6. Have you experienced writer’s block? If yes, how did you overcome it?

Over the years, I’ve had my share of writer’s block. There was even a period of time, where I thought of not writing anymore, and maybe, the one thing that saved me was television. I loved watching television. There were so many great shows on, at least at that time, and one of them was Supernatural. I was so upset when that show got canceled after its first season. I wrote letters to Dawn Ostroff, who was President of the CW then, and Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural. I knew that my letters would be ignored, and writing them did not feel like enough. So, I turned to fan fiction, and I wrote a continuation from that first season finale. And I loved doing it, and I was hooked on writing fan fiction. I didn’t do it all the time, and I have deleted a lot of the older stories except for Supernatural. I keep that one and my other stories on fanfiction.net, and either cancellation or writer’s block drives me to write fan fiction. The last one that I wrote was based on the series, Torchwood.

7. At what point do you think someone should call him/herself a writer?

I don’t remember when I started to call myself a writer. I called myself a poet first. I wasn’t serious about the writing. At least, not until later on. I write. That’s what I would tell people, and I used to ask people to read my writing. It used to mean a lot to me for people to read it, and it still does. But I would chase after people, anyone that would take a look at those pages in my notebook. Not too many people did, or they did and would say, “It’s good.” They would also say, “It’s a little dark. Gory.” One of my favorite lines is, “I don’t know about that one.”

The internet changed all that. I was very nervous in the beginning about sharing my writing, my stories and poetry online, and I did get chewed out sometimes. I especially got chewed out on Project Greenlight when I thought I could write screenplays, and Triggerstreet eased a lot of those wounds. But I was still devastated, and somehow, I still pushed myself out there. Authors Den was another great place, but HitRecord was an amazing community to find. But I didn’t find them until later on, and that was after my open heart surgery in 2012. And I needed something, someone to connect with after what I went through, and they were there for me, inspiring me to go further. And I’ll always be grateful for that, and maybe then, I started to call myself a writer. I was finally able to recognize myself as a writer and realize the talent that I have because of that community and all the other writers and poets that were there for me.

8. What difference do you see between a writer and an author?

I always thought that an author was a writer published by a publisher, not self-published. I didn’t feel like an author when I was self-publishing short stories on Amazon Kindle. I didn’t feel like an author when my short stories were published on blogs and ezines. Only later on did I realize that yes, I was an author, whether it was online or not, or published or self-published. I was an author, even if I didn’t have my own novel published by a publisher, but it still feels funny to call myself an author. I haven’t become comfortable with that yet, and I don’t know if it's because it took me so long to recognize myself as a writer. Or maybe it’s that Imposter Syndrome, which I know I suffer from too, but I remind myself that I am a writer. I am an author.

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9. Are you a pantser, or a plotter?

I’m definitely a panster with a little bit of plotter. I have a lot of projects to work on. I’m just sometimes a little too lazy, or I get distracted by something else. I like looking at anthology calls, and there’s usually a prompt or a suggestion of what they want. I mull it over in my head, let it sink in, and sometimes, an idea forms. And then I play with the idea, let it grow in my mind, and then I get to work. I write one scene, let the next one unfold inside my head, write that part, and rinse and repeat.

Right now, I have a crowded head. There’s a Horror story I want to rewrite for another anthology call, which I hope to get working on soon, maybe this weekend. After that, my father came up with an interesting idea that I want to write, a little Sci-Fi story. After that, I want to finish my Dystopian story, and I also need to get to work on a Drama story. Maybe, I am a plotter, but I also do like writing from the seat of my pants.

10. What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Time. I wake up around six a.m. to go to work Monday through Friday, and I work seven and a half hours a day, doing secretarial tasks and data entry, sometimes a lot of data entry. And I come home tired, but I have a small window before dinner to try and do something. Lately, I have been good with that. Then, I make dinner for myself, my parents and brothers, and then I’m spent. I play on Twitter, maybe check email, watch something on YouTube, or I watch something with my family. And then the night is over. Rinse and Repeat. Until the weekend.

My father always has his morning errands on Saturdays and Sundays, and I go with him. Since Covid, I’m the one that will get out of the car and get whatever he needs, and we always get bagels and cupcakes and doughnuts over the weekend. Even now with the “new normal,” I’m still the one doing that, and then we return home. Once I’m home, I get my lazy butt in gear and get to work. I also try and read on the weekends. I don’t read as much as I used to, but I always have a Poets & Writers Magazine on my desk. I also read articles, poetry and short stories from the website, Medium, and then around four p.m., I’m done. Time for YouTube or a movie or series.

11. When did you first call yourself a writer?

In the seventh grade, I took a creative writing class. I had two teachers, Mrs. Zecher and Ms. Masonson. They asked the class to write something, and I didn’t want to. But I did. They grabbed the piece of paper off my desk when I was done, read it and read it again. I thought I was in trouble with the looks that they were giving me. Instead, they walked over to my desk, and they smiled at me. I was so confused. Was I in trouble, or not?

“This is amazing,” they said. “You’re meant to be a writer.”

“No, I want to be a singer,” I said. Yes, I was still clinging to that idea, and that idea would follow me into college. And then finally fade away. I was so good at singing that my brothers would take turns flushing the toilet on me while I sang in the shower. That’s how good I was, so maybe, that’s why it took me so long to call myself a writer.

12. Which of your characters can you most relate with and why?

I have created so many characters over the years. Sadly, a lot of those stories have faded away, but I think maybe that they helped me to create the new stories, the new characters. One in particular is Keeper. She’s got a few individual stories on Amazon Kindle, and I also grouped those stories into a small collection called, Name’s Keeper. One day, she just popped into my head, and she came with such a force. “Write my story,” she said. “Let’s go,” and the story, The Body In The Trunk was born. And Keeper is quite a character, one that I’ve never seen before. She’s got a hard exterior similar to mine, but she’s been through hell, literally. I’ve been through hell, not literally, and she’s dealing with what she has to. I feel the same.

One of my favorite X-men characters is Rogue. She can surround herself with people, maybe even connect with them, but she can’t touch them. Keeper is similar. She can’t touch people unless she risks damning them like that poor sheriff in The Body In The Trunk. I don’t touch people. I don’t like being touched. I’m sorry, but that’s how I am. I’m not sure why, and it’s just uncomfortable for me to hug someone or to touch them on their shoulder. Sure, I can be around people, maybe even connect with them, but I just don’t touch them.

13. How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?

I grew up watching Horror & Science-Fiction, and I guess Dystopian snuck in there somewhere. I have so many favorites. Dark City. Terminator. Aliens. The Thirteenth Floor. Dune. Enemy Mine. Dreamscape. Blade Runner. Powder (Yes, I like this movie). Flatliners (original). Lost Boys. Child’s Play. Nightmare on Elm Street 1, 3 and 4 only. Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (my favorite Friday The 13th movie). Fright Night I and II (originals). Inception. Solace. Clara. Stay. Before I Fall. The Show. Passengers with Anne Hathaway. Sixth Sense. Devil. Predestination. Frequency. I Robot. Dolls (inspiration for Porcelain). And I could go on.

I love writing Horror & Science-Fiction, and I write for anyone that loves it too. I write for anyone looking to escape their lives, visit worlds hopefully not yet explored, meet interesting characters like Keeper, and maybe even get a glimpse behind the curtain of what our world might’ve been like. I love the What If’s, alternate worlds, but some of them scare the shit out of me like with Sylvania Ave., a story in my short story collection, Better Off Here. Sometimes, I worry that we are heading in a Dystopian direction, but I hope that I am wrong.

14. What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

So, my singing career never happened. After the first year in college, that dream sailed off into the sunset. It doesn’t mean that I hate music. I occasionally write lyrics and song parodies too. Maybe, that’s why I love writing poetry because it reminds me of music sometimes, and I need to listen to music when I write. I could write in silence, and I do sometimes. But most of the time, I’m playing music, and my family knows that when they hear me playing music, I’m writing something. The music not only focuses me but fuels me, and I don’t limit myself to one kind of music. My playlist includes: Moby, Adele, The Goo Goo Dolls, Ships Have Sailed, The Black Keys, Sirsy, Miley Cyrus, Disturbed, State of Mine, Carrie Underwood, Marshmello, Imagine Dragons, Birdy, Kaleo, Poeticon, Jennifer Hudson, PVRIS, Matt Maeson, Rag’n’Bone Man, and NF. And I could on.

15. If you could spend a day with another author, who would it be and why?

Stephen King. I mentioned earlier in this interview about my depression in high school. If I wasn’t writing in one of my school notebooks, I was reading a Stephen King book, and his books like Firestarter, The Dead Zone, Nightmares & Dreamscapes just took me away from my life, giving me what I needed. I loved every moment of reading his work, and for the holidays, my parents bought me more of his books. I still remember one Christmas morning finding a wrapped gift on the fireplace for me. It was a hard cover book, maybe it was Insomnia. That was a good book. My favorite, though is Hearts in Atlantis, and I will not watch the movie because I do not need that movie to ruin the book for me.

I would love to spend the day with Stephen King. I would be tempted to ask him about his writing and where he gets his ideas from, but I think I would just want to know about him. I promise I won’t be his “Number One Fan,” but it would be nice to spend the day with him. He’s been a big inspiration to me, and reading his writing during that time in my life really saved me. That and comic books.

16. What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?

I don’t think I took a lot of risks with my writing until maybe after my open heart surgery in 2012. After that and being inspired by the community of HitRecord, I took on self-publishing. I self-published a lot of short stories, and a few were purchased and read. But I wanted to do more, so I invested a lot in writing contests. In the beginning, I wasn’t selective, and maybe that’s why I didn’t win any of them. Now, I’m selecting the ones that have prompts, which challenges me to create something for them, and I’m selecting the ones looking for Horror & Science-Fiction. Back then, I never took the time to read the magazine or ezine to see if my writing fit their stories, and I know that’s a mistake now. And sometimes, I repeat that mistake, still entering contests looking for just fiction when I have no idea what they are looking for, but no surprise, I don’t win. People are right when they say to do your research, and I’m getting there.

Right now, I’m taking a big financial risk on one writing project, which is actually coming to an end, probably in September. In the beginning, I was nervous about it. Should I be doing this? Do I have the money to fund this? What if I don’t like the outcome? I have read a lot of writing articles and watched many interviews with writers especially on YouTube talking about taking risks. It seems like it goes with the territory. You need to take risks. Sure, you might fail. I don’t want to think of how much money I have lost entering those writing contests because of some of them are not cheap, but I took the risk. I’m taking a big risk right now, but I actually feel hopeful about it. What if it works out? Is it a gamechanger, or just another notch forward? I’m excited to see what happens when it’s done, and then I’ll decide on what to do next.

My Review of Stories Written Along COVID Walls

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