Debut Author Spotlight: Melissa Albert

Melissa Albert, credit Laura Etheredge

We love discovering new authors here at RT, and Melissa Albert's RT Top Pick! The Hazel Wood is an amazing RT Top Pick! The Young Adult novel, out this week, is a fractured, dark fairy tale that will thrill readers until the very last page. We of course wanted to know more about Melissa, and she was kind enough to answer all our burning questions.

Name: Melissa Albert

Book: The Hazel Wood

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy—or, as I’ve been pitching it, fairy-tale noir.

Current Home: Brooklyn

Childhood Home: Suburbs of Chicago

Author Icon: Catherynne Valente, a story-spinning genius with a fearsome work ethic and (I suspect) a passport to other planets, realms, and dimensions.

Favorite Word: Celery. It sounds like a place-name in a nostalgic ballad. 

Was this the first full-length novel you ever wrote? I’ve written pseudonymous novels in work-for-hire setups, which is very fun and excellent skill-building work for a writer, but involves lending words to someone else’s plots. As far as books that are my own, The Hazel Wood is the first—though I’ve got loads of half-written projects lurking around my hard drive trying to catch my attention.

We loved the fairy tales you included in The Hazel Wood. What was your inspiration for those dark tales? I grew up devouring fairy tales and fairy tale-and ballad-inspired fiction, including the Grimm Brothers’ tales, Andrew Lang’s fairy books, and the work of writers including Ellen Kushner and Diana Wynne Jones. I definitely played with tropes from my favorite tales in writing Althea’s Hinterland stories, and fellow fairy-tale nuts may catch allusions to classics including “The Juniper Tree," “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” and “Thousandfurs.”

How did you start writing? When I was very small, I dictated stories to my mom. My early oeuvre consists primarily of microfiction about scary animals I met in the woods, with a particular focus on peacocks. (I think I’d been taken to a frightening petting zoo.) This matured into a steady output of fanfic based on Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books, Choose Your Own Adventure novel knockoffs, and many stories centering on fairies and mermaids with jewel-toned eyes. Aside from taking breaks to give poetry and arts journalism a try, I’ve been writing fiction ever since.

What was it like when you got "The Call"? My wonderful agent Faye Bender called me not long after submitting the manuscript to let me know we had a preempt offer from dream editor Sarah Barley at dream imprint Flatiron Books, whose brilliantly curated YA list had me hooked from its very first releases, American Girls and If I Was Your Girl. I gasped aloud (but quietly, as I was at my desk at work) and headed straight to the nearest Korean buffet to celebrate. Well, first I called my parents, and had a brief cryfest with my mom as she reminisced about being my very first (and, thus far, only) writer’s assistant. I waited till that evening, when we each had a cocktail in hand, to tell my husband, “So…I buried the lede,” before revealing to him that the book had a home.

We're so excited that you're writing a follow up to The Hazel Wood, and Tales from the Hinterland! Can you give us any tidbits about these stories? Did you have Tales from the Hinterland written before you wrote The Hazel Wood, or just the choice tales you included? I’m so glad you’re excited—I am, too! When I wrote the Table of Contents for Tales from the Hinterland, I tried to make every title sound intriguing enough that a reader would want to flip straight to it—but, while I had images in mind for each, I started out only writing what appears in the book. I’ve since channeled Althea and written a handful of the tales, and it’s kind of an addicting, inspiring task to build a whole narrative around the kernel of a title.

To meet more debut authors, click here! And to pick up your copy of The Hazel Wood, go here: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play.

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