In 2011, author Melissa Brayden burst on to the queer romance novel scene with her hit debut, Waiting in the Wings. Since then, Melissa has become one of the most popular novelists of the genre, writing hit after hit of funny, relatable, and very sexy stories for women who love women. Her newest book, Just Three Words, which is part of the Soho Loft Romance series, came out this April. Not unlike her novels, Melissa was a real gem, and offered up some excellent advice to all those aspiring writers out there.
AfterEllen: You are an actor, director and an MBA student, and a few years ago, you jumped on to the scene as one of the hottest lesbian romance novelists out there. How the heck did that happen?
Melissa Brayden: [laughs] How did it happen? That’s a great question. I’ve always kind of noticed that I’ve gravitated towards storytelling in one way or another, and you touched on it a bit there when you said that I have a background in theatre. Also, my undergrad degree is in film production, so everything I had my hand in was about telling stories in some way. At the same time, I’ve always been a really avid romance readers, really since I was 12 years old and probably too young to be reading them. So one day, I just happened to have this little voice in the back of my head that said, “Maybe I could do that.” I didn’t really have any writing experience, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
So I sat down one summer and I wrote Waiting in the Wings thinking that it probably wouldn’t go anywhere, but just for fun, why don’t I submit it to a publisher. And I did and the first publisher I submitted it to accepted the manuscript. I was really lucky. I had made a list of all that I would submit to, one after another, thinking I would probably get pretty far down my list, and maybe no one would even want it. But then my first choice said yes! So I was really lucky in that regard. I think that encouraged me further and I went an tried it again and wrote my second book, and here we are several books later and I’m having the time of my life.
AE: I’m an avid romance reader, and I know there are a lot of people like me out there, but it’s still kind of this guilty pleasure thing that people don’t really fess up to. Straight women have been loving romance novels for ages, why do you think queer romance is still kind of in the closet?
MB: I think people don’t know it exists! Like I said, I’ve been reading since I was a kid but they had all been straight romance novels. As a bisexual woman, there’s a whole other side of me that really didn’t get to explore that through literature, and one day, Amazon recommended a book to me—I believe it was Geri Hill‘s Behind the Pine Curtain and I read it and I think my mind kind of exploded because I didn’t know it existed. Then of course I gobbled up everything I could get my hands on. So I think to a certain extent, that it’s an awareness issue. I don’t think as many people realize these books exist in this specific format.
AE: You create these realistic worlds and your characters are often very relatable. Like they aren’t famous brain surgeons or FBI agents, they are real people. Your most recent book, Just Three Words stars a bisexual accountant and lesbian graphic designer, who are part of a tight nit foursome of friends. Did you always plan to explore all four characters love lives?
MB: Yes, when I set out to write the series I knew we’d delve into all of them. I wanted to write about a group of friends and I think so often in TV and in film there are so many stories about women being pitted against one another. I think the other side of that isn’t often explored in how powerful a friendship between women can be. So as much as I wanted to showcase each girl and her individual romance, I also wanted to showcase the group of friends and to explore that dynamic on the page. From the moment of its conception, I kind of ordered how I’d move thorough it, making sure that each girl got her own moments.
In terms of not having the fantastical characters, I think that’s a little bit having to do with how much I want them to be relatable, but at the same time, how much I can’t stand research. [laughs] The idea of writing an FBI agent feels like something so outside of anything I know from my actual life, that I think I would have to spend a year or two just researching that. I tend to stay closer to things that are in my wheelhouse and a little bit more accessible to me.