Author Interview: A Sit-Down with Melissa de la Cruz

10814946Recently, the kind people at Hachette Canada offered me the chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Melissa during her promotions tour for Gates of Paradise – the final book in the Blue Bloods series. We meet one Sunday morning over coffee and a sushi brunch! Please note: As this is an author interview, there will be spoilers mentioned. If you have not yet read the final book in the series, please turn away now. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $100. You can come back after you’ve read it – promise. My review of the final book can be found here.

Congratulations on reaching the end of the series – I know that you finished the series a year, year and half ago, but still, how do you feel now that it’s officially over?

I feel really good! I’m pretty satisfied with the way things have worked out. It’s kind of nice and satisfying to know that it’s all done. I’m looking forward to actually talking to people about it once they’ve read it – it will be great to hear what they think!

I read somewhere a long time ago that you had originally planned on making this a nine book novel series. Did you get everything done?

That’s actually part of my spiel – I originally had envisioned three trilogies for the series, so nine books in total. There was to be the origins and ‘forward’ series to introduce everything trilogy, then a prequel trilogy, and then a wrap-up trilogy. It was all going well, until I got to Revelations, and I realized that it was too big. I had to put it into 2 books, and I suddenly had a 4-book trilogy – and that wasn’t going to work. Then I saw new Star Wars movies – the prequels – and they sucked, so I thought, “There goes that idea!” I decided to combine the last two trilogies and to create a seven book …something.

Kind of like a saga then?

Exactly! Then we created two companion books anyway, so it ended up being nine books – seven novels and two companions.

That’s right – Keys to the Repository is such a fascinating book because of all the background details.

Definitely! It fills in all the little gaps and gives you a bit more background for what’s going on, and allows us to see a little more from some people.

I was at a session recently with two Canadian authors who discussed their writing process, and one of them mentioned that she works off an absolute series ‘Bible’, with everything documented. Do you work the same way? You have such a complex world in your books!

I outline everything, but sometimes the book comes out differently. When the book comes out well, then it follows the outline and everything is easy. Sometimes, though, I found that things just weren’t working the way I wanted them to, and I had to keep re-writing. I would say that every other one of my books was an easy book. I always have a hard book, then an easy book. And I’m an outliner! I figure it out, but you have to decide whether the book is good. If it’s not, and it’s predictable, then you have to just face it and rewrite it.

That’s so hard for you, though!

It is! You have something in your head, but you can tell when it’s forced, and you can tell that the characters do not want to behave.

Like Kingsley? I can see him misbehaving.

(Laughs) No, Kingsley is pretty easy for me. Blue Bloods, as a whole is pretty easy for me. I’m thinking of my other series too, The Witches of East End. That one was pretty difficult for me. I had to re-write that one a lot to figure out the ending. I had one ending in mind, and I suddenly realized, “hey, that’s not working”. So, I had another one, and that wasn’t working either. I kept re-writing and re-writing, and the deadline kept coming and going and it was really stressful. Then I was out one evening with my husband, complaining about it, and saying, “These are the problems…” and when we were at the bar it hit me. I said, “Wait a minute, I think I can fix this!”

So is your husband a semi-neutral person to bounce things off of in situations such as that?

Kind of, but we work on the books together, it’s part of our process. I like to talk out what bothers me with my books, and I have to do it often.

Biggest surprise after writing? Anyone who wouldn’t do what they wanted to do, especially in Blue Bloods?

After a while I realized that I know these kids so well. They are the easiest characters to write because I know them so well. Especially by book seven – at this point, they are so real to me.

It’s funny that we are calling them “kids” – I mean, they are, but they are also so much more than that.

[SPOILER WITHIN] Yes, absolutely. I think, with Oliver, that ending was a bit of a surprise. I think subconsciously I knew where I wanted him to end up, but it wasn’t in the original plan. He actually started off as a vampire in my first draft, all the way back. Then I realized that it just wasn’t working for me, until I realized that, “Oh, he’s a Conduit!” I always had this idea that he was an outsider who wanted in, and honestly, why wouldn’t he want to be the big bad vampire? Of course he would!

Was he always destined for Seraphina/Finn?

That one only came out once I figured out … well, I felt sorry for him! He’s one of my favourites, and I wanted him to end up with someone too. He’s that kid – the geeky kid who buffs up, but still remains on the outside of everyone.

The brilliant kid who’s geeky but goes on to run Microsoft?

Exactly!

So … Kingsley and Mimi? That’s a GREAT pairing!

I know, right? It’s the push-pull. They’ve always been fun to write – the most fun to write. Mimi is the most fun of any of them to write. Everyone always says that she’s such a brat, but I counter with the fact that she never gets what she wants. I mean, she’s the most beautiful girl in the world, but her soul mate won’t have her. Think about that – the ultimate denial. How can you not feel sad for her?

One thing I really enjoyed was the music playlists (on the website) – how do you come up with those? I love Schuyler’s transformation from the Goth kid in the indie club to a more mature individual – how does her music change?

Confession time – I don’t put them together! My assistant does that for me, because I am not up on popular music. I listen to them though, and I really like her choices. I can’t listen to music when I work. I have to have complete silence. I did do the first playlist years ago, but now I’m not up on it, and since Katie is a huge music fan and she always sends them to me for approval.

They are a great hook, though, for a lot of the readers.

Oh, absolutely. We have a lot of positive feedback about them, and I’m glad that Katie is able to create them.

So the first time I met you was during the first Smart Chicks tour. One of my students loved this series, and her initial impression to me was that it was “Gossip Girl with angels and vampires, only better”. If you needed to describe it now, what would you say to people?

For me, it’s like Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter … it’s very quest-like…

True – there’s a lot of quest in there! There’s also the same blurring of the line between good and evil.

The shades of grey are so mixed up. The growth process of everyone over time was planned from the beginning – my husband and I were talking, and I remember that we were in the car. I was pregnant, and had just written Masquerade. I knew that something bad had happened but hadn’t figured it out. My husband was the one to say, “He’s the greatest angel of all time, but he failed her. What if his greatest failure was that he loved her too much?” It’s that kind of Casablanca thing – he couldn’t do what Rick did and let her go. He was selfish in love, and he should have let her die. “You could have rid the world of Lucifer, and instead you let me live, and I’ve been responsible for all this evil!” It was the secret we decided to keep from that point on.

That’s a pretty big secret to keep – any problems hiding it with all the books that followed?

It was actually kind of fun. I felt a little mean at times, but since no one knew it was okay.

You do drop clues throughout though – I re-read the series in preparation, and there are clues in there now that you know what you are looking for.

Absolutely. You don’t get it all the first time. That’s part of the journey.

Short Cuts:

What hurts more – to give up your one true love for the greater good, or to be the one given up?

[Laughs] it’s kind of like the idea of ‘would you want to die first’ because you can’t imagine life without your spouse – and I would definitely not want to live without mine. I couldn’t imagine it. If you are the decider, the one giving up, it’s easier because it’s your choice. If you are the one being given up, it’s harder because you have no say, and you will eventually resent them for making that call.

Why oh why did we lose the Repository? I was very glad to see it rebuilt at the end – it pleased my tidy little mind to no end.

I know, right? It’s so sad when it’s all destroyed! [I’m putting a note in here to mention that Melissa laughed at my pain at the loss of the Repository!! Heartless writer!]

Do you have a place like that – like the Repository?

There are some great places online now for inspiration, but I went to school at the Convent of Sacred Heart in San Francisco, and it was in the Flood mansion. It was this beautiful big white mansion in San Francisco at the top of Pacific Heights – it’s lovely. Actually, I did base Duchesne on it, because Duchesne was one of the founders, and all the Sacred Heart girls are pretty excited by that fact. I did base the Repository on the St. James library, which was the library that the Flood mansion library was based upon, with beautiful bay windows and shelves. I think I was always thinking of that library as I was writing the Repository. It was always there in my mind. When I think about the Repository, that’s what I think about, even now.

Bond mate or true love, considering the consequences?

Oh true love for sure. Always.

Even though bond mates could mean the best friendship you could ever want? Over the centuries?

That’s true, you know. Definitely, the bond mate connection is pretty deep. It’s a multi-lifetime thing.

Any other classic American families that you’ve woven into the story?

I did a bit of research beforehand. I had a great book called Mrs. Astor’s 400 [*the only social directory of the time worth having – see examples here]. I definitely wanted to write about the grand American family that had gone to ruin…

But genteel ruin, right?

Oh yes! Absolutely! The house is a little shabby, the whole wobbly WASP thing. It’s kind of like the English thing of Downton Abbey, where they had the title and no money to back it up.

What are you reading now?

I read Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and liked it a lot. I’ve been meaning to read the sequel … generally speaking; I don’t tend to read in my genre. I find it interesting that people do, because a lot of creators don’t. When you talk to the guy who wrote “the Wire” and he doesn’t watch “Homeland” – it’s like you need to create your own thing, and stay away from everything else. I’ve been reading a lot of realistic Teen fiction lately, because I don’t write it. I will read some Teen once in a while. I prefer to read things I don’t write.

I had never read John Green – gasp, I know – so I’ve been reading and enjoying a lot of his work. I had never read Perks of a Wallflower so I read that. I just feel that writers are like groups of artists who can be friends but who never talk about their work. I read Harry Potter and Diana Wynne-Jones, and those are my influences for my own work, but that’s about all I tend to do in my own genre.

Would you do another Smart Chicks Tour?

I would, but I don’t think they are doing them! Margie (Margaret) Stohl and I are trying to put together a Geek Girls Tour, so we will see what comes of that. I was like, “Oh, we have to plan it! Guess I better get on it!”

Thanks so much for sitting down with me, Melissa! I hope you enjoyed your time in Toronto, and congratulations as well for the amazing reception the book is getting all over North America!

The Blue Bloods series is published by HBG (Hachette) Canada. It can be purchased at Indigo, Amazon and your friendly independent bookstore. My thanks to Hachette and to Melissa de la Cruz for the opportunity to meet and chat!