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Interview: September 10, 2014

Although Suzanne Brockmann’s latest novel, NIGHT SKY takes place in the same world as her adult book BORN TO DARKNESS --- a darkly futuristic one where girls are devalued --- it was a very unique writing experience. Not only was it Suzanne’s first foray into YA --- and she’s written 55 books! --- but it’s also the first book she wrote together her 15-year-old daughter, Melanie.

Below, Suzanne talks about what it was like to write as part of a mother-daughter team, the inspiration for some of the main characters and powers featured in NIGHT SKY, and what readers can expect from the sequel, WILD SKY. What prompted you to write a book with your daughter, Melanie? 

Suzanne Brockmann:  Melanie’s a born storyteller.  Right from the start, even before she could read and write, she loved telling stories. She’s got a unique and lively writing voice, and a real natural instinct for creating jump-off-the-page characters.  (And yes, I’m her mother, but after writing 55 books, I’ve come to recognize that special spark when I see it!)

So, I’d written BORN TO DARKNESS, the first book in an adult series set in a darkly futuristic world where girls are devalued --- yet some girls have amazing super powers.  I realized that the conflict and stories set in this world would really work well in a YA series, where the main character is one of these powerful and yet vulnerable, targeted teenage girls. 

But I also know that it’s not easy to write YA.  Not only did I want to get the voice right, I wanted to write a YA book that had the same mix of comedy, drama, romance and suspense as my adult novels.  So I approached Melanie.  I knew she could help me deliver the funny!

She said yes, and we went from there!

TRC:  What was it like writing this novel as a mother-daughter team? What was your writing process like? 

SB:  It’s been a really rewarding collaboration -- being able to create characters and a story arc with my daughter!  When Mel was a teen, we didn’t always get along, so it’s been particularly great to be able to work with her now, as an equal partner.

Our writing process is very similar to the process I’ve used on most of my books.  I’m an outliner, a planner, a plotter.  I spend quite a bit of time making notes and figuring out exactly what is going to happen --- not just in the first book, but two or three books out in the series. 

During our very first brainstorming session, Melanie and I sat down with a couple of legal pads out on my back deck.  I basically knew the general story I wanted us to tell (teenage girl gets thrown into a strange world when the little girl she babysits for gets kidnapped), but we needed to work out the details.  Who exactly is our main character, Skylar?  We spent quite a lot of time figuring out Sky’s backstory, and Mel wrote pages and pages from Sky’s point of view --- until we knew exactly who Sky was, and we knew we had her first-person voice exactly right. 

I have to admit that Mel’s eyes widened a bit during our first brainstorming session when I said something like, “And then, in book three...” 

But that’s how my brain works.  There’s this big, thick, dense story in our heads, and we’re only telling a part of it in book one, NIGHT SKY.  There’s definitely more to come!

So we brainstorm, we make back-story notes, we brainstorm more, we plot, we plan.  And only then do we start to write. 

I’m in charge of organizing our random collection of notes into a structured outline, and Mel’s in charge of writing the first draft.  We both revise and revise and revise, until the book is polished!

TRC:  Was it hard working with a family member? Did you ever get on each other's nerves? 

SB:  I think the hardest part of working with a family member lies in our tendency to cancel our meetings if something else comes up.  If I have “meeting with Mel” on my calendar for 2:00 p.m., I’m way more inclined to call her and beg off than I am if it had said, “meeting with _____” (fill in the blank with nearly any non-family member).

We’re still learning to fully respect our partnership!

TRC:  Calvin is physically challenged, but always manages to see the bright side. What drew you to want to include a challenged character and was he based on anyone in particular?

SB:  Calvin comes completely from Melanie’s creative brain!  His humor, his optimism, his upbeat personality!  Not only did Melanie have a good friend in grade school who was physically challenged (yet always upbeat!), but for a number of years, she worked as an in-home aide to physically challenged kids and adults. 

TRC: One of Sky's talents is smelling other people's emotions. Any special inspiration here?

SB:  Ha!  Yes!  Melanie and I are both, shall we say, blessed (cursed?) with extremely acute senses of smell.  Like, “Close the windows in the car!  Someone four cars in front of us just lit a cigarette!  Ew!” 

If we weren’t writers, we could have careers designing perfumes or maybe writing descriptions of cheeses! 

TRC:  Sky and Dana are superhuman Greater-Thans; if you could have one G-T power, what would you choose?

SB:  Being able to mind-control people the way Dana can!  That certainly has its appeal!

TRC:  Was the overprotective relationship between Sky and her mother anything like your relationship with Melanie --- or your own mother --- growing up?

SB:  Of course bits and pieces come from my own experience in both directions!  But Sky’s relationship with her mom is unique to their situation. Their world (set around 30 years in the future) is far more dangerous than ours.

TRC:  Is there a reason only girls can be Greater-Than?

SB:  Actually, in the world of the Night Sky series, there are some rare cases where boys have G-T powers -- Sky will find out about that in the sequel, WILD SKY.  But there are far more girls who are Greater-Thans, and yes, that absolutely was intentional.  We like showing that girls --- and women --- have great power!

Q:  There's going to be a sequel to NIGHT SKY --- can you give us a couple of hints about the next book?

SB:  The sequel’s called WILD SKY, and it starts just a few months after NIGHT SKY ends.  All four of our main characters are back --- Sky, Milo, Dana and Calvin --- with the same mix of drama, suspense, comedy and romance!

We really love writing scenes with Calvin, and in the next book, he’s going to be in some significant danger.

TRC:  Do you plan to work on any other projects with Melanie?

SB:  Oh, absolutely --- although I know she’s also aiming to write her own series of books in the not-too-distant future! 

Melanie’s also an accomplished actor.  She’s going to have a leading role in a thriller called Russian Doll that I’ll be co-producing in summer 2015.  And Mel narrated the audiobook edition of NIGHT SKY --- and the prequel short story, “Dangerous Destiny,” too (both are being released by Blackstone Audio on 10/7/14).  I can’t wait to hear her bring Sky and company to life in audio format!