Lesfic Book Club: Strawberry Summer

For our June meeting of the Lesfic Book Club, we discussed Melissa Brayden’s novel, Strawberry Summer. If you weren’t able to make it, check out the transcript below.

A couple of notes on the transcript:

If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels every month at http://lesficlove.com (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading next). Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see that everyone has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc

I saw @Melissa Brayden sign up a little while ago, not sure if she’s back yet but just in case… hi, Melissa, we’re over here

Melissa Brayden

Hi, guys! I’m here!

Super excited to chat with you.

Reader 1

hey @Melissa Brayden good to have you!

Reader 2

Hi

Reader 3

Hi

Reader 4

Hi!

Melissa Brayden

Just finished a birthday party for my sister and snuck away to my childhood bedroom for book club!

Reader 5

Welcome Melissa.Everyone has been so excited to have you here.

Reader 6

Welcome, thanks for joining us!

Reader 7

Welcome @Melissa Brayden !!!!

Reader 1

Awesome lol

Reader 8

Hello and welcome!!

Reader 9

Hey @Melissa Brayden

Reader 5

You have the honour of Strawberry Summer being my first ever lesfic book.

Reader 10

Hello!

Reader 3

Melissa, how hard was it to kill off a popular character in SS?

Reader 11

@Reader 5 wow

Melissa Brayden

Oh yeah? That’s very cool. I still remember my first lesfic book VERY fondly. I was so amazed to have found int.

it*

Reader 3 – great question!

Reader 3

I’m having trouble getting mine to argue

Reader 5

Clay was the lovable big brother everyone wants!

Melissa Brayden

It was a tough decision. I’d been known as an author who was fairly light and fun in her work. So the concept of a death in SS felt like territory I wasn’t allowed to cross into. However, I knew it was the right thing for the story, despite the fact that I was stepping outside of my own comfort zone. I think it was the right decision.

Reader 12

I’m curious as to what inspired you to go with the strawberry theme.

Reader 1

I cried so much when Clay died. It broke me

Reader 6

Which book was it?

Reader 9

Right he was great

Melissa Brayden

Reader 6, the book was Behind the Pine Curtain by Gerri Hill.

Reader 1

I love Gerri Hill

Reader 12

Oooh… that’s a good book.

Melissa Brayden

Reader 12, the strawberry theme was inspired by a convo with my friend, Georgia (Beers). Shall I tell you the convo?

Reader 12

Sure.

Reader 3

Ooh I read that Pine Curtain recently – good book

Reader 9

Yes please

Reader 1

Of course it was haha that’s great ! I love Georgia she’s great!

Melissa Brayden

Georgia was writing a beer book at the time, and needed a title. She asked if we could bounce ideas. So I just started riffing. I do that without thinking, just off the top of my head. I knew that in sampling beer you encounter a lot of different flavors so I was tossing out titles with cinnamon and lemon and strawberry and offered up Strawberry Summer. She didn’t snatch it up by I fell in love with it. From that title, the whole strawberry concept came to life. She wound up calling her book A Little Bit of Spice (twisting my suggestion of A Little Bit of Cinnamon)

Reader 3

We’ve all done Georgia 2 months ago

Melissa Brayden

Oh, good!

Reader 12

Phrasing!

Reader 6

Not sure we should talk about her like that without her here to defend herself

Reader 11

I love it.

Reader 1

That’s awesome! It was a really good book!

Reader 2

That was a wonderful book too!

Reader 13

That’s such a fantastic title inspiration hahaha

Reader 8

That’s so cool!

Melissa Brayden

It was really fortuitous for me.

Reader 6

Do you often start with a title and go from there?

Reader 3

Just read Spice one too (sorry 9pm here can’t type)

Reader 9

That’s great title inspiration

Reader 5

I actually worked on a strawberry farm for 3 consecutive summers when I was at university. It was a much smaller operation than the Beringer farm though!

Melissa Brayden

Not generally, but this one really worked nicely. Titles are generally second to the story for me.

Reader 11

I love how so much of the community is so positive and supportive of each other

Melissa Brayden

But I take inspiration wherever I can get it.

Peri, I love a happy small town!

Reader 8

Yes! Agreed @Reader 11 – I liked that the stereotypical high school popular guy turned into one of the nicest characters

Reader 9

And the mean girl turned into a pretty nice woman

Melissa Brayden

NortherGirl – that’s awesome!!!

Reader 1

Yes loved that too! Even Melanie was spot on

Melissa Brayden

Lilly Craig – I think it’s important to me that my characters feel three dimensional and no one is all good or all bad.

Reader 2

As hard as Clay’s death was, I feel like it was the only way I’d believe them breaking up.

Melissa Brayden

Reader 2, agreed. It was necessary.

Reader 10

I grew up in a small town of 7,000 (though moved away before I came out)… and I felt that your town reminded me of growing up in my hometown. Do you (or have you ever) live(d) in a small town yourself?

Reader 3

I liked how you started the book. Lots of tense drama. Then suddenly we’re into sweet times and you’re thinking eh?

Reader 8

Can ask about your influences as a writer? I think your dialogue feels a lot like Buffy dialogue to me – I love it!

Reader 6

Agreed, the dialog was so fun in this book!

Reader 1

Bully’s are bully’s for underlying problems they themselves internalize so it was great.

Reader 9

I loved the way it was set in the past to reach the present had me on the edge of my seat the whole ride

Reader 1

I caught that too Reader 8

Melissa Brayden

Reader 10, I have’t and maybe that’s one of the reasons I romanticize them so much in my head and love to write them. I just finished a book with a small town and each time I go there with the setting, I just long for that slower paced life a little bit. Where everyone knows everyone .

Reader 4

Since I think I’m the only high schooler here, I’ll have to agree that all the descriptions of high school hierarchies are still spot on. Completely relateable.

Reader 5

Where did you get the idea of the department store? Here in the UK department stores and high streets in general are dying a death.

Reader 3

Does small town = village?

Melissa Brayden

Lilly – My influences are mainly rooted in romance novels themselves. I’ve never seen Buffy but I hear great things! Judith McNaught, Danielle Steele, Reader 10 Higgins, Jill Shalvis, Nora Roberts (specially Nora)

Reader 4, I’m thrilled to hear that!

Reader 1

Love Nora Roberts!

Good influences!

Melissa Brayden

Northergirl – I just love malls and the crisp air you encounter in the pristine department stores. Also one of my favorite romances, Paradise by Judith McNaught, has two feuding department stores so it stuck in my head.

Reader 3 – I think so (village)

Reader 3

My village has 1220 and I know a handful only

Reader 6

Hehe by choice or because everyone just keeps to themselves?

Reader 1

Where’d you get the idea for the House that was built over the lake? That was so cool

Reader 9

Right I was like I need that house hahah

Melissa Brayden

I think mainly I just wanted to live in one like that. I researched what was possible and went with it!

Reader 1

Same!

Reader 9

It was great

Reader 1

That’s awesome!

Reader 3

Although more people know me- are you that fruitloop with the 3 dogs? Er yep

Reader 6

Haha that’s a fun thing to be known for tho

Melissa Brayden

That’s awesome.

Reader 1

Reader 6 is the Bunny Whisper I’m sure!

Reader 10

That is a small town danger: I was a musician, so even if I didn’t know somebody in town, there was a distinct chance they knew who I was!

Reader 1

I feel like everyone knows me for they know my mom (she’s bartended for like 20yrs lol)

Reader 2

Yeah, a lot of people knew me, from all my extracurriculars, but I didn’t know that many people. Now I’ve been gone so long who knows?

Waiting in the Wings was my first lesfic, and also a second chance romance. Do you have a favorite trope, or sets of tropes?

Melissa Brayden

I’m a big fan of friends to lovers and enemies to lovers – and of course, reunion romances. I just finished one of those as well.

Reader 12

Have you ever thought of writing a romance set in a fantasy setting?

Melissa Brayden

I haven’t. I worry I’d be bad at it!

I’m always soooo impressed with those that do. Barbara Ann Wright comes to mind!

Reader 4

Reader 3 – Did you grow up there? If you grow up in a small town, everybody knows everybody. If you move there later, it’s actually pretty easy to remain “the stranger” for quite a while. Little opportunity for social interaction like clubs, etc.

Reader 3

I read the soho lift backwards would you recommend reading them in order. I guess there were spoilers from page 1 of book 3

Melissa Brayden

While I think you can read them in any order, you’ll get more out of the progression and character growth if you read them 1-3.

Reader 1

Which Is why I also read series in order even if they can be standalone lol

Reader 3

I did that with 7 shores. Only just read KTG today then immediately started on JTW because I wanted to follow on properly

Reader 1

Lol

Melissa Brayden

Reader 3, perfect!

Reader 5

I ask this at every book club Melissa but if it was made into a film who would play Courtney and Maggie?

Melissa Brayden

Hmmm….that’s really hard. I think a Reader 16ie Holmes type (but the younger version, maybe Dawsons Creek time period) for young Maggie. There’s sooooo many choices for Courtney, would be hard to pin down a favorite. A young Amanda Peterson, Reader 16e Hudson….Reese Witherspoon…..on and on and on.

Reader 1

I saw Reader 16ie Holmes and Reese Witherspoon for sure lol glad I pegged them right

Reader 13

Wow I would love to see this happen

Melissa, do you think we might see Maggie and Courtney pop up in any of your future work?

Melissa Brayden

I would like for them to! I really do miss those characters. They are on a short list of favorite characters Ive ever written.

Reader 1

I would love a sequel that would be great!

Reader 3

Do you have a dog and which out of the ones in your books is it? If any?

Melissa Brayden

I have two Jack Russell terriers. Apple, a girl, and Ryder, a boy. I don’t think I’ve written them in yet. Someday…..

Reader 5

I loved that you made Maggie’s mum a bodice ripping writer of romance!

Reader 9

Right that was epic

Reader 8

Agreed! And that Maggie cringed about it so much haha

Reader 6

Seconded – her little asides about what her characters were doing were fantastic

Melissa Brayden

Those were such fun scenes to write. It was important to me that she be warm and kind as a mom, but a total romance fanatic about her job. I like the dichotomy.

Reader 1

Loved that! It brought her mom to life for sure!

Reader 5

The characters all felt so rounded with their own quirks, such as Maggie’s Beatles obsession. Are you a Beatles fan?

Melissa Brayden

I am! I love the play, John Lennon and Me, and directed it once. It inspired that little piece of SS.

Reader 6

What’s your favorite part of the romance story to write?

Melissa Brayden

I really love writing the middle 2/3 section because the characters generally already know each other well and are HAPPY. The happy, playful, in love scenes are the reason I get out of a bed. They come to me fast and I end the day with a smile.

Reader 1

Loved those scenes! Makes me want to make out in the strawberry fields

Reader 2

Do you then struggle to write the conflicts, since happy is easy and fun?

Reader 6

You definitely excel at it – Maggie and Courtney’s chemistry was so immediate and intriguing

Reader 1

All because of Abraham Lincoln

Melissa Brayden

Reader 2, I think more so when I was a new writer. I wanted everyone to be happy all of the time. I’ve learned that’s now always the best thing for a romance arc, along with gentle prodding from the editor who worked on my first three books.

Reader 13

You’re sooo good at writing those happy scenes, they always feel warm & fuzzy but also like meaningful moments, beyond just fluffy filler (which is nice sometimes too!)

Reader 12

What were the easiest and the hardest things to research for the book?

Melissa Brayden

The hardest was definitely learning how a strawberry farm worked, because it can work a lot of different ways! The easiest was the department store, because those facts are soooo interesting. The shopping from left to right? Yeah…..

Reader 3

Yeah mollydollys went past me on the soho series but now I’ve read the sweet one I get it

Melissa Brayden

Aha, you caught that, huh? There was another secret How Sweet it Is reference in this book as well, but not many people caught it.

Reader 3

Give me a mo, I remember seeing something. Then of course there was Mal and Hunter (H mentioned) in7 shores.

Reader 2

Where do you fit on the scale of pantsing and plotting?

Melissa Brayden

I know the big plot points only and pants the other 80%. So I would say panther for sure.

For example, I knew Maggie was going to suffer a loss, but as I wrote it, I thought it would probably be Travis. But I pants my way to Clay, because that’s where the story took me.

Reader 2

impressive! I will remember that every time I wish I plotted more. haha

Reader 9

Wow interesting and impressive

Reader 2

Wait, so did you write the back story first and come back with the opening, or start with the present day and fill in the back story?

Melissa Brayden

I wrote this one entirely in order, so I started with the present day scene, then jumped backward – still not totally knowing how we got to that present day anger/angst.

Reader 6

Ooh interesting. That makes me wonder when you knew what Louis was going to do because I was on the edge of my seat about him for a while.

Melissa Brayden

I knew about Louis only as I went!

I didn’t have him planned in advance.

Reader 2

This is so much more impressive now!

Reader 5

Louis kinda made me feel uncomfortable.

Reader 3

It would have been so easy to kill him off instead

Reader 4

aw. Poor nerd.

Reader 2

He was a challenge, but I also liked that arc.

Reader 8

Holy, that’s so impressive!

Reader 6

I agree, @Reader 5 – an unpredictable, unstable person

Reader 1

I got that from Louis too. He was obsessive with Berta something bad had to happen because of him

Melissa Brayden

And killing him off wouldn’t have had the punch packing that a beloved character did. I really needed to upset the balance in place.

Reader 1

I got that too Clay was the right choice for the story.

Reader 2

Wait, so did you write the back story first and come back with the opening, or start with the present day and fill in the back story?

Reader 12

Who would be your favorite authors, both for lesfic and for non-lesfic?

Melissa Brayden

Lesfic would be Ann McMan, Georgia Beers, Robin Alexander. Non lesfic: Chevy Stevens, Nora Roberts, Reader 10 Higgins, Jill Shalvis

Reader 6

Did you befriend Georgia through lesfic or know her from elsewhere?

Reader 1

Robin is my new favorite right now. Working my way through her books about to start Scaredy Cat

Reader 5

Ooh I’m just on with the Jericho books. More small town charm.

Melissa Brayden

We met in 2010 at the GCLS conference. We wound up sitting next to each other for the keynote address and struck up a conversation. Then I saw her at each event that year and we really hit it off as friends. Now she’s my best friend.

Reader 1

That’s awesome!

Melissa Brayden

Northergirl – I love Jericho.

Reader 6

That’s awesome

Reader 12

That’s really awesome.

Reader 2

Now I’m even more curious about your writing process. Do you have anyone reading along or working with you during the process, like your editor? Or do you wait until you have a completed first draft?

Melissa Brayden

I do not let anyone read my manuscripts – only my editor. No beta readers or family or friends. Just me and her.

no one reads it until it’s in proofing.

Reader 8

Can you tell us a little about upcoming projects?

Melissa Brayden

Sure! My next release is another small town romance – Beautiful Dreamer. Similar to Strawberry in some ways and then not at all in others. After that in November, I have Back to September which is a small book shop owner and a famous romance novelist.

Reader 6

Ooh, fun!

Reader 8

Suuuper excited for Back to September

Reader 13

Pre-ordered on Amazon! Counting down the days until July 16th!!

Reader 3

I wondered if the cousin ballerina from KTG is mentioned in your ballet one. That’s one of the only ones I’ve not read yet

Melissa Brayden

Yes. She is.

Reader 3

Ha ha, I love how they all tie up

Reader 5

Could you ever see yourself doing a collaborative book?

Melissa Brayden

I think that might be hard for me. Never say never, but that concept makes me a little nervous. Im a bit of a control freak when it comes to creative endeavors.

I know Kris Bryant, Maggie Cummings, and M Ullrich had success with theirs.

Reader 2

I suspect it’s a lot harder when pantsing too.

Reader 14

I enjoyed the inclusion of the book club scene. Are you, yourself, part of a book club?

Melissa Brayden

No, but I DESPERATELY WANT TO BE. Another thing I romanticize. Sitting around and talking about books with wine. I would join their book club in a heartbeat.

Reader 1

Same

Reader 9

Most definitely seemed like a great book club

Reader 3

I’m in, come to the U.K.?

Reader 6

Agreed, sounds like heaven

Reader 12

Do online book clubs count?

Melissa Brayden

A little! But I do want to sit on the floor, in the evening, and drink wine.

Reader 2

probably wouldn’t hurt to get some adult conversation that doesn’t revolve around a little one too.

Melissa Brayden

EXACTLY

Reader 6

Which one of your books was your favorite to write?

Melissa Brayden

Waiting in the Wings, Kiss the Girl, and Strawberry Summer are tied.

Reader 6

Anything in particular about them that made them faves?

Melissa Brayden

Waiting in the Wings because I’d never written anything and it was so exciting to jump back into a STORY each day. Kiss the Girls because I loved the friends and it was my first time meeting the four of them. And Strawberry because the romance and it’s unravel pulled me in. I liked developing it.

Kiss the Girl***

Can’t typo my own book!

Reader 3

I love the books on the sets of friends. They seem such cool people to know

I even felt like learning to surf

Even my dog can surf

Reader 6

That is adorable!

Melissa Brayden

Yes, writing friends is so much fun. I have a new three book series coming up set on a vineyard.

Reader 3

Ooh if you need someone to taste test brands….

Melissa Brayden

Right? Planning on this being the best research ever? Maybe a wine trip is called for.

Reader 3

I gave you the idea therefore I should be in on this

Reader 15

Did I miss everything?

Reader 3

How hard do you find it to write with a toddler?

Melissa Brayden

It’s impossible! I only write in the first half of the day when he’s at daycare. The afternoons and evenings are reserved for him. If I have any loose ends, I tied them up after he goes to bed for the night. Writing with him present will just not work I’ve learned.

Reader 2

It won’t get better for a while either. But then he’ll go to school.

Has your writing approach or schedule changed since becoming a mom?

(on the same page @Reader 3! lol)

Melissa Brayden

Yes, I used to be able to take all day to hit my word count. I have to be more structured now and have my count hit before 1pm.

Reader 5

Of the other couples you’ve written which is your favourite? I loved Hunter and Samantha.

Melissa Brayden

That tends to change. I do adore Sam and Hunter. Brooklyn and Jessica rank high for me too. As do Maggie and Country and Jenna and Adrienne.

Courtney*

Reader 6

Do you have any particular process for choosing character names?

I liked the Maggie/Margaret duality depending on who she was talking to (and how she felt about them)

Reader 3

Just finished Sam & Hunter, on p203.

Yeah she gets Hunter an awesome name and her siblings are Claire and Kevin ???? WTH

Melissa Brayden

I think they need to fit the character. For example, Courtney. I wanted to find a name that felt softer, and girlish because that’s how the character felt. I have to LIKE the name or I can’t work with it.

HAHA. Yes, Hunter was COOLER than her siblings. That’s why.

Reader 6

Haha sometimes it just works out that way

Meant to be from the time she was named

Reader 5

Hunter was effortlessly cool!

Reader 1

I find it extremely hard to write with a toddler lol

Melissa Brayden

It’s near impossible.

Reader 1

It is. Mine thinks she needs to help with everything I do so… It’s nearly impossible. (I also own my own business and I’ve slacked a bit because of her lol)

Reader 3

Good news, as they grow they bring new challenges. Terrible twos, they seem bliss compared to the answering back, rebellion, slamming doors etc etc and that’s just me

Reader 2

All ages were easier than 4 and a quarter. This one might break us.

Reader 3

Yup, you survive… then hit the next hurdle that flattens you again … and repeat

Reader 1

Pretty much! Potty training is hell

Reader 5

Do you get much of a chance to interact with readers like this? Do you enjoy it?

Melissa Brayden

I do! I do a book club about once a month, it seems. Sometimes in person, sometimes on Skype, or sometimes typing like this. I love it! Beyond that, I do about 4-5 author/reader in person events each year (my favorites being the Golden Crown Literary Conference and Women’s Week in Provincetown each year. I did Clexacon this year, which was new, but. loved it!)

Reader 6

That sounds kind of scary haha Would you consider yourself an extrovert?

Reader 3

Do you do worldwide tours?

Reader 16

Courtney seemed so cosmopolitan and sophisticated and Maggie was always in awe of how our together she was. What was the inspiration behind her character?

Melissa Brayden

I think we always look to the popular girl in high school and wish she noticed us more (Whether romantic or not. I think straight girls do that too). And I wondered, what if she did? What if she were popular, and kind, and NOTICED the other MC who’d never really been noticed before? That got me excited to write.

Reader 1

That’s what I loved the most she was able to be in both worlds and bring them to the other side. And then Melanie became one of Maggie’s best friends it was nice to see. Which is what happens after high school.

Reader 16

*put

Reader 3

Ooh just remembered a question. Back to soho on the KTG cover its Brooks, but which of the two is it meant to be on JTW? I’m thinking Sam but then the tan?

Melissa Brayden

I think you can choose, but for me, it’s Sam.

Reader 3

Yeah Hunter has black hair. I find her the hardest one to imagine. Is she based on anyone I can google

Melissa Brayden

She is not based on anyone in real life, no.

Reader 3

Shame I like to picture everything in my head as I read and I hate not getting a visual of an mc

Reader 2

What got you started with writing?

Melissa Brayden

I’ve always been a storyteller. I worked in educational theatre (directing shows), I ran a small production company (editing stories), and I was a TV news reporter (also constructing stories) – so this was just another extension of that skill. I had a summer off and had never written anything before in my life. I gave it shot with Waiting in the Wings and submitted just for fun. I never thought it would get accepted. After that, I thought it might be some nice vacation money. When my full time job’s salary was overtaken and then doubled, I knew it was my new full time gig.

Reader 2

Impressive debut!

Melissa Brayden

I was very lucky.

I think it’s harder now.

Reader 2

Because of how many books are available? I still think that book would have stood out no matter what.

Melissa Brayden

Yes, even if you write a fantastic book now, the self publishing model Amazon offers has allowed so many titles to flood the genre, that my fear is that good authors are having trouble being seen

Reader 3

I’ll let you know, I’m working on my debut

Reader 2

To some extent. It also is easier to find readers, thanks to twitter and fb groups

Reader 6

Coming up on close to an hour, Melissa I don’t want to keep you too long if you have to get back to the party? Does anyone have any unasked questions?

Reader 5

Thanks for joining us Melissa.

Reader 1

Thanks for talking to us Melissa!!

Reader 13

Thank you so much Melissa!!

Reader 3

Thanks Melissa. I am a true fan and this has made my month/year

Reader 16

Thank you so much Melissa!

Reader 4

ess, Thank you!

Reader 10

Thank you!

Reader 8

Thank you for joining in and answering questions!

Melissa Brayden

I had the BEST TIME!!!

I love talking about books!

Reader 2

Thanks for sharing and giving us panters someone to idolize.

Melissa Brayden

(they say some of the best characterization comes from pantsing)

Reader 2

I shall use this forever hahahaha

Reader 12

Thanks for writing all these awesome books.

Reader 6

Thanks for joining us, Melissa – it was great having you and feel free to pop by the Slack channel if you ever want to chat or promo a new release

Melissa Brayden

I think I will, now that I know where to find it. Have a great Sunday everyone!

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