I’m very pleased to welcome author and fellow Hoosier Mellanie Szereto to the blog today. When her fingers aren’t attached to her keyboard, Mellanie enjoys hiking, Pilates, cooking, gardening, and researching for her stories. Many times, the research partners with her other hobbies, taking her from the Hocking Hills region in Ohio to the Colorado Rockies or the Adirondacks of New York. Sometimes, the trip is no farther than her garden for ingredients and her kitchen to test recipes for her latest steamy tale. Mellanie makes her home in rural Indiana with her husband of thirty-four years and their son. So glad to get to sit down to chat with you, Mel.
N: What inspired you to start writing?
M: I’ve always been an avid reader, so storytelling and spending time with my imagination comes naturally. When I found the romance genre, I discovered I wanted to write happily-ever-after stories. Thirty-one books (and counting!) later, I still love the creative process and enjoy helping my characters grow and fall in love.
N: What comes first—the plot or the characters?
M: Yes! LOL Seriously, every book I write is different. I’ve started with a few plot points, ideas for characters, a title I love, a very general (or specific) idea for setting, and just about every other element of stories as the initial catalyst. My subconscious seems to know what it’s doing, so I trust the process and let everything develop in the most organic way possible. I tend to have a lot of “Aha” moments when I’m writing because details eventually connect themselves in ways I never see coming. If my characters see an outline, they have a tendency to run the other direction!
N: You’ve written many books across several genres—paranormal, contemporary romance, erotic—what is the most surprising thing you discovered about yourself while writing your books?
M: I’ve discovered that writing is a job I love and, while I definitely prefer making a living at it, I would do it for the pure enjoyment! Also, no single genre/sub-genre can satisfy my imagination. I have to write what it tells me to write!
N: Food plays a significant part in all your books. Are you a big foodie yourself?
M: I am! I’m not a huge fan of restaurants, but I love cooking, baking, gardening, canning, and eating. Homemade is so much better! To me, food means spending time and sharing experiences with family and friends. Gathering around a table gives me (and my characters) a place to support, commiserate, and inspire.
N: How hard was it to keep all the characters in straight in this new series?
M: The main characters each have their own personalities and temperaments in every series I’ve written, so I’ve had a pretty easy time keeping them straight in my head. They’re a lot like friends I’ve gotten to know as they get their own stories. Many have unexpected occupations and life experiences as well. In Makin’ Bacon, book 1 of The Homegrown Café Book Club series, Big Jim is a pig farmer and Tate is looking for a sperm donor. Riley, from The Farmer Takes a Husband, is 47 years old, menopausal, and has never been married before she ties the knot with single dad Deacon. And Petra and Auggie in The Butcher and the Baker have a gender reversal from the typical occupations, with Petra as the butcher.
I also start a document with the full list of characters, important details about the characters, plot points in the story, a timeline, etc. every time I begin a new book to help keep everything organized and easy to remember (look up). While I can’t follow an outline to save my skin, I’m the queen of lists!
N: When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc.) scene, how do you get in the mood?
M: I read the previous scene before I start writing each day, especially when it leads up to an emotional event. I immerse myself in the story, so quiet is very important to my writing process. Those kinds of scenes often affect my mood when I take breaks as well. Yes, that means I can be a bit grumpy if my characters have an argument or are dealing with unresolved issues.
N: Tell us about the process of coming up with the covers?
M: I think I challenge my cover artist’s sanity every time we’re working on a new book or series! I always have a general idea of the style cover I want (usually based on what fits that story’s genre/sub-genre) and I spend far too much time looking at stock photos to find pictures I like. I pass these ideas on to my cover artist and we discuss backgrounds, colors, fonts, and anything else that can help her develop some possible cover designs. For The Homegrown Café Book Club series, we also had to find five similar pictures to be sure all the covers have the same look. I’ve learned to add stock photos I like to my favorites folder so I can check there first for series cover options. It saves a lot of time!
N: Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
M: I’m currently finishing The Homegrown Café Book Club series, with When Harry Met Wally and And Baby Makes 2½ coming soon. Next up is the final book in the Love on the Menu series, Hot Tamale Nights. As long the characters are still speaking to me after shoving them to the back burner for almost a year, my nerd series will finally get my attention after that! I also have a paranormal trilogy in the works and long list of books to write. Ideas are clearly not my problem at the moment!
N: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
M: I spend A LOT of time gardening. Even though the growing season is over for most of my outdoor fruit and vegetable crops, I’m still taking care of my potted herbs. I also have some potted tomatoes and tomatillos that I’m hoping will last through much of fall and winter. A long hike in the woods is my favorite way to recharge and baking bread is very therapeutic!
N: What did you want to be when you grew up?
M: A few years ago, my mom found an essay I’d written in fourth grade on this topic. I wanted to be a teacher and a writer. I think I’ve put in enough time and energy homeschooling my adult ASD son to be called a teacher, and writing is where my heart is happiest!
N: Favorite book when you were a kid?
M: Only one??? I LOVED when the bookmobile came to my school! Little Women by Louisa may Alcott, the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley, and the Misty of Chincoteague series by Marguerite Henry were among my favorites.
H: If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?
M: Hmm… I would invite Betty White because she’s such a strong and vivacious person and she reminds me of some of characters. I’m sure she wouldn’t allow a dull moment—from the first appetizer to the last bite of dessert! Since I’m a bit of a nerd, Neil deGrasse Tyson would be seated beside me during dinner so we could chat about science. I think Greta Thunberg would be another amazing addition to the dinner party. She’s intelligent, insightful, and courageous, and she represents the hope I have for the young leaders of the world. Do you want to join us, Nan?
N: I’d love to! What fabulous dinner conversation that would be! Thanks so much for stopping by, Mel!
You can find Mellanie all over social media and on her website.
The Homegrown Café Book Club (best read in order)
The women of The Homegrown Café Book Club are over 40, single, and loving it. Fate, however, has a different plan with a younger man for every last one of them.
The Butcher and the Baker (The Homegrown Café Book Club 3)
Heroine is 43; hero is 37.
After six broken engagements, butcher Petra Lochsley wants nothing to do with men and romance. Her hobbies include throwing axes, discussing books, and having raunchy conversations with her middle-aged friends, and eating the occasional Boston cream doughnut—when the flirtatious baker doesn’t insist she prostitute herself for the decadent pleasure. One game of tongue hockey is enough with the guy she used to babysit. So what if he’s hot and is a good kisser?
Baker Auggie Hofmeier didn’t mean fall in love with or accidentally marry the butcher, but his heart seems to know what it’s doing. Besides, his new wife invited him home for a wedding night and more, that is, until the conniving interference by The Candlestick Maker, the old man who owns the shop he and Pet both want to buy, threatens their happily-ever-after. What’s a knave to do?