Melissa Grey is the author of the fantasy epic The Girl at Midnight, which Kirkus Reviews called a “perfect blend of action and amour that should have readers eagerly seeking the sequel.” VOYA raved, “This book has it all—the series will likely take off with readers who are fans of fantasy and supernatural romance.”
Don’t miss your chance to ask Melissa all your burning questions during her Figment chat on July 27.
From Fan Fiction to Publication
One of the most common questions I’ve come across in interviews as a debut author is a pretty straightforward one: when did you start writing?
Should be easy to answer, right? But sometimes I still find myself hesitating over this one question, unsure of how much detail to go into. There’s nothing nefarious or shameful in my answer, but it’s not something I used to talk about in public. My writing used to be mine. Something I did just for me. Now it—or at least large chunks of it—belongs to other people. And that sharing is weird, even though I used to technically share it before. But back then it was different.
Because back then, I wrote fan fiction.
This statement isn’t met with the same derision as when I was in high school, writing Marauders-era Harry Potter fan fiction in the library between classes. But it still comes with its own history that relegated it to the shadowy corners of LiveJournal and Fiction Alley and Yahoo mail groups back in my day. (I feel so old right now.)
Fan fiction has existed longer than the Internet. People would share stories at Star Trek conventions or publish them in zines. Maybe your parents wrote fic. But somehow, more than fan art, it got a weird reputation. It takes a lot of dedication to write a story, and a heck of a lot to write a novel-length fan fic about life on theEnterprise or life after Hogwarts or life in Middle Earth. I think that’s what scared people outside of fandom. It’s hard to fathom that level of passion if you’re not experiencing it yourself. (And passion is especially frightening in young women, who receive the brunt of criticism for fan fiction—but that’s a whole other essay.) Even now, I have conversations with authors who question why someone would write fan fic when they could just create their own original worlds (as if that’s so easy).
My answer to that is simple: fan fiction is fun.
I’d written fic before Harry Potter came into my life, including an excruciatingly bad story about the lost Salvatore sister from The Vampire Diaries. (The books came out in the early ’90s, so I had some time to let that one marinate.) But it wasn’t until Sorcerer’s Stone that I started to live and breathe fic. It became part of my identity. It became part of me.
J. K. Rowling influenced a lot of writers my age to varying degrees, and it’s not hyperbole when I say she literally changed the course of my life. She gave me a world to play in, but also a world to learn in. By writing stories set in the world of Harry Potter, I discovered how to be a writer. I learned how to use dialogue tags, how to conduct characters through a space, how to nail down specific voices (you can’t write Draco’s dialogue the same way you’d write Harry’s, after all). With fan fiction, a lot of the world-building is done for you, so you can focus on characters and plot and emotional arcs. These were all the skills I’d need when I eventually started writing my own books.
The Girl at Midnight was the first book I really finished, but I’d had a few false starts under my belt before I got around to it. The first novel I ever attempted writing was a co-authored story I planned with my high school fic-writing buddy (who is still one of my most trusted critique partners). We were products of the Harry Potter generation, and it showed. There was a magic school and a kid who didn’t know she was magic and a gaggle of good friends and a few ill-advised romantic entanglements. We spent so much time world-building that we sort of forgot to turn it all into a novel. Alas.
I started and abandoned two other novels before The Girl at Midnight. It’s hard to put my finger on what wasn’t working with either of them, but I put them aside as soon as I realized they weren’t very good. I read a lot (that’s the secret to being a writer: being a reader first and foremost), and I knew that they weren’t up to snuff.
It’s hard to say how I knew The Girl at Midnight was the one, but I had a zeal for the project I’d never felt before when it came to my own original worlds. I’d felt it before when writing fan fiction—there are some stories that just speak to you in a way that makes them feel True and Right and Perfectly Timed—but the sensation had eluded me until then. I could see the totality of the story before I’d written it all down. I had a clarity of purpose that scared me a little. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And rewrote. And rewrote. And rewrote. And eventually, I finished it. (Another trick to being an effective writer: finishing what you start.)
While I was writing, I did my homework. I knew I wanted to try to publish this one, and I wanted to give myself the best chance I could. I read the acknowledgments in books I thought had the same audience as my book and wrote down the names of those authors’ agents. I pored over querying forums (Absolute Write is a godsend) and researched agents and agencies. I made spreadsheets. (A secret to getting published: spreadsheets.) I made a list of my dream agents and submitted to them, making sure I followed their submission guidelines to the letter. Within a month, I had signed with Catherine, my agent. She’s amazing, by the way.
Together, we polished my manuscript before sending it out on submission. We were only out for a few weeks before the book went to auction, but it was torturous. An auction is pretty much one of the best things to happen to a writer on submission. It means more than one person wants your book. It means they’re willing to fight for it. But even then, I still got rejected. A lot. Even when you’ve “made it,” you’re still going to get rejected. (That’s maybe the biggest secret to being a published writer: everyone deals with rejection. You have to learn to live with it.)
After a few rounds of revisions with my editor at Random House, the book was sent off to copyedits, and before I knew it, it was a bound and beautiful hardcover, staring at me from a shelf in Barnes and Noble. It’s strange. At this point, it still doesn’t seem real to me, but it is. And all of it happened because I was convinced Harry and Draco were in love when I was in high school and wrote thousands and thousands and thousands of words about how great and terrible and beautiful their love was. You know, in case you were curious about my OTP. I will go down with that ship, even now. I’m really glad that fan fiction made me who I am, not just as a writer, but as a person. Without it, The Girl at Midnight never would have happened.
Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. After earning a degree in fine arts at Yale University, she traveled the world, then returned to New York City where she currently works as a freelance journalist. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow @meligrey on Twitter.