Does breaking free require breaking the rules?
Cassie Gilbert lives every day in the shadows of her deceased mom’s rebellion. But now that she’s seventeen, she finds herself longing to break away from her grandmother’s suffocating rules, experience what it’s like to be a regular teenager, and fulfill her songwriting dreams.
James Russo, former American Spotlight contestant, escapes to small town Willow Creek, SC hoping to flee from his tarnished past. When a school project pairs him with the shy principal’s granddaughter, he’s determined to get to know this Emily-Dickinson-obsessed and typewriter-using girl. His plan? Convince Cassie to co-write songs for his demo album.
As Cassie gets to know James over “project meetings” (more like opportunities to match her lyrics with his melodies), she becomes intrigued by his sense of adventure and contagious passion for music. But soon, his past becomes exposed. Cassie’s left to wonder—did she make the same mistake Mom did by falling for the bad boy?
Then, Grandma’s control pushes her over the edge. Cassie must choose between remaining in the chains of yesterday, or delving into her own freedom by completing the melody her mom left behind.
What was the inspiration behind Unwritten Melody? I loved the idea of having a songwriter (Cassie) mesh her lyrics together with a musician (James), and for the pieces to fit together like a puzzle—almost as though the lyrics and songs were created for each another. I also knew that I wanted to somehow incorporate the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson into the novel. I first learned about this poet in my 8th grade English class. I remember becoming fascinated – not only with her works, but also with the unique story of her life. After I brainstormed the premise to Unwritten Melody, I knew Cassie’s own life would shadow perfectly that of Dickinson’s and highlight the book’s theme in the process.
What is the message you hope readers will grasp after reading Unwritten Melody? It’s my hope that, through any book that I write, readers will realize they are not alone in their life’s journey – in the questions they wrestle with, emotions they deal with, situations they experience, etc. And hopefully, through following the journey that my characters take, readers can find a solution for their own problems as well. I specifically hope readers will come away with Unwritten Melody with newfound hope for their current circumstances and a deeper revelation of the power of God’s unending love.
Could you give a brief overview of the writing and publication process behind Unwritten Melody? I brainstormed the plot when I was seventeen-years-old—the spring of 2011. I was working on my debut novel, Purple Moon at the time, so I filed the idea away until I could have dedicated time to focus on it. Finally, I wrote the first draft when I was eighteen and working on the edits to Purple Moon. That draft continued to develop and transform as I went through the editing/revision process for over a year. When I was twenty-one, my agent sent me a long edit letter, detailing the major areas that needed to be fixed in the plot. I was extremely grateful for the feedback—yet at the same time, a part of me was discouraged, because it would require a great deal of “book surgery” to fix the errors in the plot. That was a lot to take on, especially after I’d already spent over a year in edits. So, I stepped away from the book and poured my energy into another project. Yet the story didn’t let me avoid it for long. I knew that the book didn’t exactly match the original story that was first laid on my heart several years before, and I was determined to make that happen. To make a long story short—I spent the fall of 2015 applying my agent’s suggestions and rewriting the entire book from scratch. It still has the same characters, premise, and setting, but now the novel matches the original novel I had first brainstormed when I was seventeen. The book went on submission to publishers winter 2016. One day in May, while I was packing to leave for a writer’s conference, I received a phone call from my literary agent with the great news—Clean Reads had offered a contract. J (I knew they were considering it because they had requested the manuscript about a month before.) The moral of the story? Never give up on the story of your heart!
What’s next in your writing journey? I’m currently working on the sequel to Purple Moon (which has been another lengthy project) and hope to finish it by winter 2016. I’ve also been working on a teen devotional that I’m really excited about! After that? Well, I hope to continue writing inspirational and authentic novels for teens and possibly write another installment in the Purple Moon series. I don’t see myself switching genres any time soon! But I do hope to delve more into non-fiction as well. Although God is the Ultimate Author of my future, I always ask Him to give me the desires He wants me to have. Right now, my burning desire is this: To write books that transform lives—stories that portray the power of God’s steadfast love and His unending grace.
What advice would you like to give aspiring authors? First of all, stay fueled with a passion for writing. Build your writing journey on a foundation that consists of a love for both reading and writing. Write because you can’t not write, because honestly, if you don’t begin with this kind of passion, then it’s going to be far too tempting to quit when the discouragement comes. (Notice that I said when, not if!) It’s important to also find the time to write and stay disciplined with your writing time because perseverance is the only way you’ll produce an actual book. Then, learn as much about the craft and industry as you can through blogs, books, workshops, and conferences. Apply what you learn to your manuscript. Network with other writers on blogs, social media, critique groups, and at writing conferences. Keep a teachable spirit. Remember that, no matter how naturally gifted you may be in writing, every writer could use improvement to grow. Finally, create long-term and short-term goals for your writing journey. I’ve met so many writers who never pursued their writing dreams because, A) They didn’t push themselves to finish a book, B) They gave up too soon, C) They didn’t learn how a book is published, therefore never pursued publication and believed that “being an author” was an impossible achievement. I love to mentor young writers through my course, Write Now. You can find more info about this 3-month program at this link: http://www.tessaemilyhall.com/teen-creative-writing-mentorship