Meet the Author - Michelle Hazen

We cannot celebrate Bookstore Romance Day without highlighting one of our favorite local Romance authors, Michelle Hazen. Michelle is the author of Unbreak Me (2019), Breathe the Sky(2020), and So You Think You're a Match? (2021).  Her Romance books are complicated, multilayered, and so all encompassing.  Give one a read and you will see what I mean. She also makes a delicious cake AND plays a mean "Never Have I Ever."

How would you describe what you do? 

Michelle: I write love stories about heart-wrenching and down to earth issues…but in a cute and funny way, though.

What do you like best about what you do?

Michelle: The magic of it. The way characters show up in my head like they already exist out in the ether, somewhere. It’s not the kind of work like digging ditches, where you can just pick
up a shovel and DO it. It’s a lot more like magic, teasing out the nuances of a spell and trying to hold onto the flow of it without holding too hard so it slips away from you. My favorite moments in writing are when I’m typing along and I have no idea what happens next until I watch my fingers type it. I can’t explain how that works and I don’t want to.

Also, I wish somebody’d told me this when I started, but one of the best things about being an author is that you end up with a whole lot of books that are written precisely toyour own taste. Which can be pretty fun on the re-read.

What is the hardest thing about what you do?

Michelle: Trying to revise for an audience. Revision is, by definition, trying to adjust your story so it appeals to its readers. However, everyone has different tastes and with a book, you can never even know all the people who will read it, much less what their standards are.

Do you try to guess the taste of editors? Acquisitions boards? Book club readers?
Pleasure readers?

Michelle: It’s an impossible question and yet every author, for every book, has to find some way to balance that important equation with not enough information to inform their decision.

Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”?

Michelle: I’m a semi-reformed pantser. I wrote my entire first two books without even a sentence of a plan, at any time in the whole writing process. I would just sit down and…write whatever came to me. This has, as you might imagine, led to a whole lot of heavy lifting in revisions. But a story never feels as real to me if I just make it up, intellectually using my conscious brain. What I really like to do are wait for little flashes of inspiration, the “real” moments that I know happened in the story, and then try to build a well-structured narrative around those moments. It’s like there’s a whole film of the final book somewhere, and the director is just slipping me little gifs from the movie that I have to put together like puzzle pieces. It’s beautiful and nonlinear and frustrating as all get out, sometimes. I’ve never gotten a whole book put together in the right order on the first try, but when I GET the right order, all these other tiny little details come together and make sense in a supernaturally perfect way, and that’s pretty fun.

What does your writing process look like? Do you write with regularity or when the
inspiration strikes?

Michelle: I have my writing time every morning, after meditation, whether I’m drafting or planning or revising. Five days a week, with even more writing for fun on the weekends if I feel like it. And as my husband can attest, I will defend my writing time with tooth, claw, or chainsaw if necessary.

Do your characters come to you fully formed or do they evolve as you write? Do they ever surprise you?
Michelle: My favorite characters are the ones who surprise me. Who are just…completely their own thing and who I don’t have to “make up” so to speak. I notice a lot of my character won’t fully come to life until I find just the right name for them. Danny from Playing the Pauses and Bishop from So You Think You’re a Match are two of my characters who came FULLY formed and refused to be changed for any reasons regarding plot or audience preference or any other such thing.

When you write dialogue for your characters, do you hear your voice or theirs?

Michelle: I think when you read some of my voicey contemporary stuff, you can hear my sense of humor in the narration. But dialogue for characters can be creepily different from the way I would think or say things. For instance, I once wrote a character with an accent for a place I’d never been…and when I went there for research I found out the rhythms of his speech were exactly right from the first draft. My most “alive” characters have their own voices, and they make jokes and use specific terms that I would never use. And (sometimes against my will) I have to…let them.

What is the best piece of advice about writing that you ever received?

Michelle: When I was teaching Story Genius workshops, that method recommends that you find a character’s misbelief, or hottest emotional button, and then design the plot that best pushes all their buttons. Before, I would create these beautiful, nuanced characters and then be like, “Huh. What should they DO, though?” Story Genius taught me how to build a plot FROM character instead of character and plot being two separate things.

What is the biggest change that you have made in a piece that you were writing?

Michelle: I recently wrote a serial killer book where I changed it from YA Contemporary to adult psychological suspense, wrote four entirely different casts of supporting characters for it, two completely different plots, and two astoundingly different endings. The only things that remained the same were the main characters and the basic premise. That was a pretty big revision, haha. It was fascinating, though, once I changed it from YA to adult, all the parts of the plot that were boring to me just…disappeared. And all new stuff started offering itself up.

What authors most influenced your decision to become a writer? 

Michelle: None. I very sensibly, as an early-twenty-something Michelle, decided that being an author was a career that didn’t pay in actual money. Thus I figured I should probably get the kind of career that didn’t require a day job to support it. Then, in my late twenties, I started writing like a faucet turned on, and books started overflowing out into the streets, and I thought if I was going to have so very many books lying around, I should possibly try to sell one or two so other people could read them. However, in terms of writers who inspire me? Laini Taylor, because she can find a new, interesting way to describe the oldest feelings on earth. And because her plots are bursting with all the horrors and all the beauty that humans are capable of. That woman was lab-created to write brilliant books.

What book do you recommend that everyone read?

Michelle: The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez. Every scene in that book is so adorable and heart-expanding, I grinned through the whole thing. I love how unique and character-specific she makes every date and romantic gesture. Plus, there’s a rescued dog, a hot rock star who can also change your oil, and text-based epistolary flirting. Literally what more could you want?

What is a project that you haven’t done yet, but have always wanted to do?

Michelle: I always wanted to write fantasy! That genre has all my favorite things: beautiful sentences, epic love, and high-stakes fight scenes. When I was in New Orleans this year, I got an idea for a fantasy novel where the economy runs on creativity instead of money, and I’ve been trying to teach myself worldbuilding so I can maybe do it justice. 

What is currently on your bedside table?

Michelle: Book Lovers by Emily Henry, and it is brilliant. I love that it takes one of the oldest tropes in books and turns it on its head. It shows us a pair of people so perfectly matched for each other that we can’t help but love them, even when they are most of the things we’ve been taught to hate in romance-novel characters.