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Interview with Melissa Muldoon

Interview with Melissa Muldoon, author of Waking Isabella. Includes giveaway!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how long you have been writing?
I am the "Studentessa Matta" which means "crazy language student," and for the past seven years, I have been writing a dual language blog in Italian and English to promote the study of the Italian language and culture. I am an artist and art historian and own my own graphic design business. In fact, I designed and illustrated the artwork for the cover designs of both my novels "Dreaming Sophia" and "Waking Isabella." The blog posts I write are non-fiction articles, and about four years ago I got the idea to try my hand at fiction writing. My first novel "Dreaming Sophia," was published in 2016.

As I was working on my first book "Dreaming Sophia," trying my hand at fiction writing, I discovered that I enjoy the process of writing a novel and creating new worlds filled with interesting characters. Inventing a story and weaving in historical details is a bit of a departure from the kind of writing I do on the Studentessa Matta blog - where I blog about more exact things: language learning and cultural anecdotes. So about midway through the first book, I was already casting around for concepts for my second novel. Now I am embarking on the writing of my third novel.

Interview with Melissa Muldoon, author of Waking Isabella. Includes giveaway!
What sort of research did you do to write this book?
Researching my stories is one of the fascinating parts of my writing process. I live for part of the year in Italy and travel around the country extensively. In the process, I am always collecting fascinating stories about festivals and local traditions and things I have seen and experienced personally regarding Italian culture. I also am continually researching the articles I publish on my blog Studentessa Matta, so I am always learning about new things. As I begin spinning my fictional stories, I read up on all the historical figures that are of prime interest. As I do, I learn amazing little details and make the most exciting discoveries. I enjoy the little ah-ha moments and connections I make between historical figures.

For this particular book, "Waking Isabella," after thoroughly researching Isabella de’ Medici, I made a special trip — a pilgrimage of sorts — to Cerreto Guidi to visit her the hunting lodge where the princess was murdered. Standing in the room where she was killed by her husband was a truly unique and chilling experience.

Where do you get the inspiration and ideas for each of your books?

My journey to learn the language has brought me even closer to Italy, a country that I have now adopted. The friendships I have made and the experiences I have had of living and traveling in Italy have given me insight into so many stories, traditions, and cultural ambiguities that many foreigners have never even heard of. It has also given me opportunities I never thought imaginable, like zip lining in the Basilicata, taking part in the jousting festival in Arezzo and attending a friend’s wedding in Naples.

In my books, I strive to weave together a bit of the Italian language as well as art history. I want people to be inspired to learn the language and realize that art can "talk" to them if they listen. My novels are set in modern times, but they also take the reader back into the past to get a feeling for Italian personalities from previous eras. The stories weave together historical and contemporary information, as well as a bit fantasy and time travel as well.

Do you outline books ahead of time or are you more of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer?
I am a little of both. I begin with an outline and a pretty clear idea of how the story will start, what will happen along the way, and how it will end. But, sometimes the best ideas and the story takes off when I just sit down to write, with only a general idea of what is going to happen. It is as if the characters grab hold of my pen (or keyboard) and start taking control! For instance, Margherita's story in "Waking Isabella" just flowed and "happened" unconsciously one day, as did all the scenes that deal with Isabella that are set in the past.
Interview with Melissa Muldoon, author of Waking Isabella. Includes giveaway!
How long does it take you to write a book? Can you describe your process a bit more?
My first novel took me about a year and a half. My second took me about nine months. I learned a lot during the writing and publishing of my first that helped to streamline the publication of the second.

After thoroughly researching my topic and story, I start with a 50 page outline and a whole bunch of ideas and notes. I then begin to flush out my story outline some more and then after a while I dive in and start writing. Once I’m off and running I work for several hours each day. When the first draft is done, I begin the revisions and filling in more detail, more layers and layers of dialogue and colorful imagery. It is like painting in a way. I create a rough sketch and then continue going back over the story adding more and more layers and colors.

During my draft writing, which can take several months, I stop periodically to review my work with an informal editor. With her I read chapters out loud. She gives me feedback as well as a few reality checks. We have a wonderful collaborative work flow and it is very helpful to me to have someone who is keyed into my story at an very early stage with whom I can bounce ideas off and talk about the characters.

When I feel the manuscript is ready, I send it to my editor and then to the final proofreader. The tricky part is to know when you are done writing. I can still read sentences and want to make a change here or there, in word choice or stylistic phrases. I could hold onto my work forever, but really the end goal is to get my work into the hands of my readers to enjoy. I remind myself, the goal is to entertain and engage the reader. Only in that way does an author learn and continue growing and it frees them up to start their next project!

Do you have an agent or a publisher, and if you can share, who they are?
I am an Indie author and created my own Printing Press called "Matta Press." In addition to being an author, I am a professional book designer as well as a graphic designer and illustrator. I have run my own business for years, so I decided I would be up to the challenge of setting up my own publishing label and self-publish my books under my own label.
What were some of the challenges you faced with your writing and on the road to getting published?

With my first book initially, I was working with an independent publishing house. But then, my editor at the time encouraged me to break off and self-publish. In the beginning I was quite intimidated by the idea, but she said, "no one else is ever going to more than what you have already done for yourself…if anybody could do it, Melissa, you can!"

Self-publishing was all new to me, and I had to learn a lot about the process to finalize and produce my first book. I hired a consultant who helped tremendously. Still, with the first book, I think I did everything I possibly could do upside down and backward. Leave it to me to find the most complicated way to accomplish something! But still, I persisted.

I think the best thing for me is to find people who are as excited about my projects as I am. I love writing but love it, even more, when I have the collaboration of people who inspire me and fuel my creative process with the right kind of constructive feedback. So, finding the right editors is very important. Also, I can read a sentence a hundred times and never see the missing word or typo, so it was important to find an eagle-eyed proofreader, one who can see the typographical errors and knows how to place a comma with precision.

In the end, however, it was exhilarating to write and self-publish a novel. Afterward, I realized I couldn't let all that knowledge go to waste…so why not work on a second book? And now…a third!

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
When I was writing my first book "Dreaming Sophia," I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Miss Sophia Loren in person. I was researching at the time for my book, and when I learned she was giving a one-woman show in Las Vegas, I knew I had to find a way to meet her. Had I not been involved in writing the book I would never have had the courage to do so. After her show, in a private reception, I had the opportunity to speak with her in Italian, kiss her on both cheeks and tell her about my novel. We also had a photo taken together.

There were two things she said that resonated with me that evening. The first: "Believe in your dreams, dreams become reality." The second: "Be brave. Just do it." I would say this is also my advice to anyone who wants to write a book. You can second-guess yourself all you want, but it just comes down to hard work (lots and lots and lots of draft variations), believing in yourself and just doing it!
On the Studentessa Matta language learning site you can find lots of free ways to practice Italian. I write both in Italian and English so you can flex and improve your communication skills - for free. Each week I post about Italian language learning as well as fun and interesting stories about Italian culture. You can find all the videos from this channel on the blog as well, with transcripts and translations.

For those of you who want to dive in a little deeper into Italian language studies in Italy, I also organize small group language immersion programs. This year the programs will be held in Montepulciano and  Arezzo. I invite you to join me! Please visit the Studentessa Matta site for more details:


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