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Melissa Eskue Ousley

Melissa Eskue Ousley

We continue our interview with Melissa Eskue Ousley, author of the forthcoming Young Adult novel, Sign of the Throne.

Melissa Eskue Ousley is the author of The Solas Beir Trilogy. Sign of the Throne, the first book of this young adult fantasy series, will be released this September by Castle Garden Publications, the young adult division of Gazebo Gardens Publishing. She is currently working on the second and third novels in the trilogy, The Rabbit and the Raven and The Sower Comes.

Melissa has also published numerous academic articles in peer-reviewed journals such as The Journal of College and Character and The College Student Affairs Journal. Having received her Ph.D. in Higher Education from The University of Arizona, she has taught psychology courses and worked within higher education on diversity issues, serving underrepresented students and conducting research. She has presented her research at professional conferences throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association. Her expertise in psychology and interest in culture and mythology have heavily influenced the themes and character development in Sign of the Throne. Melissa lives in Oregon.

Large Q Queen Eulalia and her sister Lucia seem to be polar opposites. Why do you think that is?
Large A Lucia is the dominant sibling-she’s older and has taken charge throughout Eulalia’s life. Eulalia admires Lucia’s spirit and strength, and as the more introverted and empathic sibling, was content to let Lucia have her way. Lucia and Eulalia come from a noble family. Lucia distinguished herself from other women by taking a leadership role and serving on the Solas Beir’s court council, while Eulalia preferred a quieter life, remaining at her family’s estate. Everyone thought Lucia would be chosen as queen. When Eulalia was chosen instead, it was a surprise, and caused a rift between the sisters.
Large Q Lucia appears as someone else through most of the story. How did this come to be?
Large A Lucia and Eulalia were born to magic, but Lucia’s powers were enhanced when she aligned with the Kruorumbrae. She gained the power to steal a human body and disguise herself as that person, a skill which involves the darkest of magic.
Large Q Abby is befriended by Cassandra and Riordan Buchan. What can you tell us about them and how often do you think Riordan wears his kilt(s)?
Large A I’m fairly certain Riordan wears his kilt as often as he can get away with it. Some people wear cowboy boots; Riordan wears a kilt. It lends him swagger, and he thinks of it as his lucky charm to help him write. Riordan reminds me a bit of my own dad (who is more of a cowboy boot kind of guy). Riordan is a good father, adores Cassandra, is passionate about his interests, and has a great sense of humor. He and Cassandra are unconventional in the way they approach the world, but that works for their relationship. They become mentors and parental figures for Abby, helping her bridge Newcastle Beach culture.
Large Q We don’t hear very much from Abby’s parents and as the story develops, one gets the feeling that they are going to be in a very vulnerable position. Will her parents – and indeed, Jon’s mother – figure elsewhere in the triolgy?
Large A You’re right-they are in a vulnerable position, and will make an appearance in the second book. However, just as Cassandra and Riordan become mentors to Abby, other people in Cai Terenmare will become mentors for her, David, and Jon as they navigate their new world. It’s a lot like what a first generation college student experiences. When you are the first in your family to attend college, your parents may be supportive, but academic culture is new to them as well, and they can only help you so much. You need someone familiar with the culture to mentor you.
Large Q Why Newcastle Beach, CA as a locale?
Large A Newcastle Beach was inspired primarily by Santa Barbara, California, after a memorable trip with my professor friend. The Newcastle Beach Inn is modeled after the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara and the Arizona Inn in Tucson, Arizona. My husband and I used to live near the Arizona Inn in a neighborhood where the houses had a lot of character. Our apartment was located at the end of a cul-de-sac that was almost hidden from the main street. At the start of our winding road, across from the Arizona Inn, was a mysterious, seemingly abandoned house hidden by trees and a large fence. I always wanted to explore the property, but it was off limits. It became the inspiration for the ruined mansion in the book.
Large Q How did you divise the plot for SOTT?
Large A In On Writing, Stephen King compares writing to unearthing a fossil. As you carefully excavate your find, you learn more about what lies underneath the soil, the size and shape of the story. I didn’t know it at the time, but that is what I was doing in writing Sign of the Throne. There wasn’t a plot. Different, unrelated ideas began to gel, and the more I learned about my characters, the more the story took shape.
Large Q What part of the creative and writing process did you enjoy the most?
Large A The best part of writing is when the story takes on a life of its own, and I’m watching it unfold, scrambling to transcribe what I hear and see. The characters find their own voices. I know that sounds strange, but I’m not the first writer to describe it this way. It’s exhilarating to see a story take shape, and to be the first reader, surprised by the twists and turns. Because this book is part of a trilogy, there has been some plotting to keep the series cohesive, but I don’t like to force plot because the writing starts to feel stale and contrived. I’m more of a “pantser” in watching things unfold, and allowing the characters to develop, adjusting things to stay true to what the story wants. I’m still writing the third book in the series, and although I have an idea of the basic shape of the story, I continue to “listen” to the characters, staying open to what they need. I’ve enjoyed being surprised.
Large Q Sign of the Throne is an amazing bit of writing and some folks have a hard time believing that this is your debut novel. What is your secret?
Large A Although I’m new to writing fiction, I’m not new to writing. For many years, I worked with an outstanding research team at the University of Arizona conducting social science research. Although we were writing about research findings, we were still telling a story, and the basic elements of writing were the same. You still need to communicate your thoughts clearly through a framework and good grammar.Still, fiction is much different from an academic article. The playfulness of it was a nice reprieve from the rigors of writing about statistics. My fellow researchers are close friends, and one of the things I loved about working with them is that we had enough of a rapport to be able to offer each other critical suggestions for revisions on our research papers. This proved to be a huge advantage in writing fiction, because my friends felt comfortable offering me critical feedback, asking intelligent questions that helped develop the characters.I also have to give credit to Jessica Morrell, a writing coach who offered very helpful advice. Her feedback led me to work with Laura Meehan, an editor from Indigo Editing and Publishing who specializes in the young adult genre. Like my friends in academics, Laura has a knack for asking brilliant developmental questions. She was a tremendous help in revising this book. I also have to thank the team at Castle Garden Publications for their additional suggestions for revisions. All of these people have made the book much stronger than it was originally.
Large Q How has Sign of the Throne been received thus far by the reviewers?
Large A So far, so good. I’ve been fortunate to receive strong praise from a number of people. I know at some point someone will hate the book, but I’ll try to view the criticism in a positive light, using it to strengthen future writing. I will, however, reserve the right to a chocolate binge to ease the sting.
Large Q Once the last word on the last page of the last installment in your series has been written, what do you plan next? More YA fantasies?
Large A I believe so. I have a few ideas percolating in my head, but for now I’m focusing on writing the final book in The Solas Beir Trilogy
Large Q Is there anything else before you go?
Large A Thank you again for your amazing review and for the opportunity to share more about Sign of the Throne. I hope your readers have enjoyed hanging out behind the scenes with me.

Read Part I of our Interview with Melissa.

Read the review of Sign of the Throne.

 

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