Articles


The Bravest Thing Melissa Has Ever Done

by Melissa St. Hilaire
Feminine Power Circle
August 13, 2015

Melissa, what’s the bravest thing you've ever done? 

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, but I had big dreams.

When I was little, I’d run through the cornfield between my house and my grandmother’s house to climb her apple tree and concoct stories about fairies who lived in moss and used mushrooms as umbrellas on rainy days.

I loved storytelling and listening to my grandmother’s tall tales. 

I’d walk the lane with her behind her house deep into the woods listening to her accounts of the Indian spirits who lived in an ancient rock there. She’d say, “If you listen closely, you can hear them whisper.” And I did.

Their whispers told me to go West to chase my dreams, but I was afraid.

When it came time to apply for college, I considered a school in California, but changed my mind and settled on Boston. I figured going from a graduating class of 40 to around 2,000 would be challenging enough, never mind being 3,000 miles away from home.

Yet the call to the West Coast lingered all throughout my college years. I’d read Kerouac’s On the Road over and over, daydreaming I was with him driving cross country on wild adventures.

Shortly after I graduated, I took a job on a road movie called Nowhere Tomorrow—a pack of indie filmmakers in an RV traveling from Boston to California and back. I loved every moment. Shooting a scene on a beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, I knew California was my true home. I never wanted to leave, but I did.

I juggled a budding film career, writing, and working torturous temp jobs in Boston for months after the road movie, though the road never left me. The palm trees swaying in the Santa Anas beckoned to me. Could I do it? Could I drop everything and move West? Could I leave my friends and family?


Your Religion Does Not Give You The Right To Dictate How Others Live

by Melissa St. Hilaire
Feminine Power Circle
July 2, 2015

Someone recently sent me a friend request on Facebook. His profile picture had a red and white cross overlaid on his face, and all his posts were scripture from Leviticus, Corinthians, Revelations and more. Real fire and brimstone stuff.

Meanwhile, my avatar has a rainbow, and my religion is listed as Jedi.  

My only thought as to why this person wanted to friend me was to argue with me about how my beliefs differ from his. I have no desire to do that.

I figured that his cross avatar was a reaction to the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, as was my own avatar. Mine, of course, was a celebratory expression of my pro-gay marriage stance. The cross, according to a Google search, was anti-gay marriage.

I have noticed across all social media platforms that many religious people have been losing their minds over the ruling and using such avatars to let the world know their views. However, I don’t really understand why they care so much.

I get that some of their doctrine implies that being gay is a sin and that their definition of marriage is between a man and woman, but that’s just the thing—that’s their belief system, their definition. That is not my definition, nor is it the government’s definition.

What I don’t understand is why they feel the need to impose their beliefs on an entire country, many of whose people don’t share their beliefs. What gives them the right to tell others how to live? I don’t tell people how they should live. Frankly, I don’t care what other people believe so long as it does not affect me in any way.

You could believe that magical fairy unicorns exist so long as you don’t tell me I have to believe they exist as well. Moreover, my not believing in magical fairy unicorns does not affect your life at all.

So why do they feel the need to control others? 

After the ruling, I’ve watched as some friends, relatives, and strangers have seemed to grapple with their faith and/or pronounce their renewed faith despite it all. Since I don’t share their beliefs, their struggle confuses me. Why would a SCOTUS ruling shake their foundations so profoundly?

Could it be that deep down they are beginning to have doubts? Could it be that in our social media lives they are seeing people they love and respect stand up for gay rights, thus forcing them to question their own stance? I can only hope.

In an attempt to better understand their views, I searched Google with the words “religious people losing their minds over gay marriage.” The results were enlightening…


Overmedicated and Undernourished

by Melissa St. Hilaire
Feminine Power Circle
June 8, 2015

At the turn of the century, I found myself in my 20s, living 3,000 miles away from home and working at a top graphic design firm as an assistant graphic designer. We worked extensive, difficult hours creating commercials and opening credit sequences for giant companies like AT&T and NBC. For the first time in my life I was living far away from family and friends, pursuing a fast-paced career with a mountain of responsibility.

I soon found myself embroiled in uncomfortable office politics that would lead me to HR in tears, cause me insomnia every night and give me anxiety attacks on the way to work every morning. I woke up exhausted and unable to eat, only drinking coffee for breakfast as I ran out the door to make it to the office on time.

My only friend at the firm was the receptionist — a feisty African-American woman who loved punk rock. We bonded at the job over 5pm margaritas and our shared musical tastes.

She hated the producers, a clique of “mean girls,” who constantly ridiculed her and treated her differently. At the time, I could only nod because I had little interaction with the producers. They kept all us “creatives” in a back room far from them.

Until one day when my friend asked for my help. She knew I was a whiz with computers and asked me if I could help fix a problem with getting hers back onto the network after it had been inexplicably dropped. She informed me that I needed to access the head producer’s computer to fix the glitch and that she was out on lunch, so I’d have to work fast before she returned and caught me sitting at her desk.

I felt like I was in a spy movie. The clocked ticked loudly as I clicked through the settings on the ancient iMac until I was able to find the security settings and allow the receptionist’s computer back into the network minutes before lunch ended.

Unfortunately, though, the head producer somehow figured out that we “hacked in,” as she put it. She became outraged, screaming at the receptionist for asking me to help instead of calling in their IT guy, and accusing me of being a dumb creative who could have ruined everything and couldn’t possibly know how to fix their network problem — even though I did fix it.

Another time, I was asked to stay late after all the main graphic designers left. The clients were coming in and they wanted someone there who knew illustrator. Of course the clients had changes. I was plunked down in front of the computer with five different people standing behind me, telling me to tweak copy and alter graphical elements. I was there until 10pm and I wasn’t paid a penny in overtime. Instead I was asked to run out and get coffee and snacks before I went home.

The only highlight of my brief job there was when NBC chose my design for a new game show’s opening credits. The senior designers had asked me to come up with a “throwaway” design to add to theirs for the presentation. No one ever suspected mine would be chosen. I was ecstatic.

However, I was told that because I was only an assistant, I would not be the lead designer on the project, nor would I get a promotion or a bonus, but I could help out during my free time. I was heartbroken. My anxiety worsened.

Finally, I went to my doctor and explained my sleeplessness and frequent panic attacks, hoping for some kind of relief. She told me only underlying depression caused those symptoms. So to treat the anxiety, she had to treat the depression. I didn’t feel depressed, but I was young and trusted her authority.

Thus began an eight-year nightmare wherein I was a guinea pig, trying various “meds” from Paxil and Wellbutrin to Celexa and Lexapro, which culminated in me absolutely losing my mind on Cymbalta in 2008.


Finding Your Creative Process

by Melissa St. Hilaire and Scarlett Amaris
Savvy Authors
November 30, 2014

Finding your creative process is a crucial step in writing a novel. Writing takes time, energy and lots of concentration. You need to ask yourself if you work better in the morning, afternoon or evening, then you need to get everything outside of writing done for the day so you can sit down to your task without disruption. Maybe you prefer silence or music, but either way, shut out the world, turn off your phone, and forget the internet exists. Allow yourself to daydream, to conjure up new ideas for your characters, but don’t daydream too long, because you’ve got to get some words down on the page.

Maybe you’ll write in chronological order or maybe you’ll write scenes all over the place and need to stitch them together. Either way will work. When Scarlett and I wrote the first Saurimonde book, we sketched out all the major plot points in an outline, then she tackled the first half while I wrote the second half. When we were finished, we traded halves and made whatever changes we felt necessary. However, the second book was quite different. We’d discuss a scene over Skype, Scarlett would pound out a few pages, then send them to me for changes. For the most part we wrote chronologically, but sometimes we’d skip a scene here or there if we weren’t feeling it, then go back to fill it in later. We changed up our process to suit the material. We didn’t hold ourselves to any one way in which to create. There are myriad ways to approach writing a book. Find the one that works for you and the story and go for it, but don’t be afraid of change and don’t worry if the way you chose doesn’t work. Find another way. Find what works specifically for you. I had a friend, a fellow writer, who often worried that I had too much on my plate because I’d be balancing so many different writing projects simultaneously. She often told me I should pick one and stick with it through to the end. I tried her way and found myself becoming less productive, so I went back to my chaotic way of juggling multiple stories and was instantly productive again.

Speaking of juggling, while working on the Saurimonde books, Scarlett and I have also been working on solo projects. She’s been delving more into the esoteric mysteries and mythologies of France, while I’ve been writing a science fiction epic called Xodus. I’ve found that my approach to writing Xodus differs vastly from writing with Scarlett. The Saurimonde stories seemed to reveal themselves to us seamlessly from all the characters’ perspectives. Whereas Xodus seemed to speak to me in huge chunks from different points of view. I wrote the first 50 pages all from one character’s perspective, then hit a wall. I wondered what happened next and found no answers. I grew increasingly impatient with myself. So, I put the book down for awhile, turned my attention to other projects, then returned to it. I reread the first 50 pages and it hit me – I needed to show what the other characters were going through, what they were thinking, and how they were reacting to the events that unfolded. I scribbled more scenes down in my journal, typed them up, and added them where they fit. Finally, Xodus became a whole story, not too one-sided, and then the rest of the plot fell into place like magic. Don’t fight your natural tendencies. Go with the flow.


The Pros and Cons of Co-Writing

by Scarlett Amaris and Melissa St. Hilaire
SF Signal
November 6, 2014

The Pros

Scarlett: Collaborating is a tricky beast. Especially on a writing project.

Melissa and I were in a pretty unique situation when working on SAURIMONDE because we had worked together many times before building websites, making images, and roughing out script ideas. In some of these projects we’d get that weird ESP thing going where we would literally finish each other’s sentences at times. I also knew we had very similar tastes in fantasy literature, and I knew she had the writing chops for the job and that she’d remain upbeat throughout the process, but also would interject if things were taking a left turn to nowhere. I appreciate her brutal honesty which is always said in the nicest possible way. I like having someone to bounce ideas off of. Writing is a very solitary business and all of us get a little crazy if we’re locked inside our thoughts for extended periods of time. Having people that you trust to be a fresh pair of eyes and ears is crucial for any kind of creative endeavour. And there’s something so fulfilling about when those ideas come together and the story takes form and the characters start walking and talking. I guess it’s a little like literary birth. For me personally, and I know this sounds childish, but I need deadlines and just knowing there is someone out there waiting on you to get those pages in is motivation enough for me to get my ass in gear and get down to business. This is especially true of a first book as I really had no idea of the ride I was in for. There’s also a certain camaraderie which builds when you are working on a project with someone else. I know when Melissa first sent me the snake sex scene from the first SAURIMONDE book she was a little tentative about it, but I about died when I first read it and I absolutely loved it as it was so creative and over-the-top. I think we were really good at encouraging each other to really ‘go there’ as writers and to not hold back.

The second book was a different situation and I was staying in this lavish 50 room 500 year-old village ch√Ęteau in the south of France and it was like literally being dropped into Gormenghast. Since we were on different time zones, I would spend the morning sketching out ideas in the garden and then write everything down after lunch until it got dark and then I would send the material off to Melissa who was just waking up in LA. We’d have a short Skype conversation about it, and she would then add or delete what she felt was needed and continue on from there. Then I’d wake up to her material and start the process all over again. We were able to work very quickly this way and within a month and a half we had about three-quarters of the first draft finished. It was fabulous and it was flowing. Some of our conversations on Skype should have been recorded because they were downright hilarious as we had created this demonic priest character, Bazak, who kept stealing the show and we would have these discussions about what to do about him. How do we rein him? How do we get him to behave? He became like a troublesome boyfriend or badly behaving family member that you gossip about around the dinner table.

Melissa: I am frequently asked about what it’s like to collaborate with other writers, as writing is so often seen as a solo occupation. I have written both alone and with others numerous times – some worked out, many did not.

For me, writing is like breathing – I couldn’t live without doing it. However, for years I was crippled by fear and insecurity that kept me from sharing much of my writing with others, but then I experienced a traumatic, life-changing event that made me realize life is short and only you can make your dreams come true. So, I decided to revisit a book called, IN THE NOW, that I had begun writing over a decade ago. I shared it first with my friend, Lloyd Kaufman, who, upon reading it, encouraged me to self-publish. I then asked another good friend, the late Amy Wallace, to help me clean it up a little bit. Without Lloyd’s encouragement and Amy’s collaboration, my first book never would have seen the light of day. They were my foundation.

After publishing that book, which was a deeply personal and candid memoir, I wanted to write something fun and fictional, but my confidence was still too low to go it alone. That’s when Scarlett entered the picture. She read my book and immediately realized I’d be the perfect person to help tell Saurimonde’s story. As she stated above, we had collaborated on other projects and both noticed that we were on a similar wavelength. I found the act of co-writing with her to be extremely gratifying. We bolstered each other’s confidence and kept each other in check if we strayed too far. She also exceedingly helped me to let go often, as I’m a perfectionist and will nitpick for an eternity if allowed.

However, not all collaborations run quite as smoothly as ours did…


Inspirations for the Conjuring of the SAURIMONDE Books

by Scarlett Amaris and Melissa St. Hilaire
The Qwillery
November 3, 2014

"The solitary Saurimonde, the inspired prophetess of the Mazamet district, who went naked as in the days when the world was born, because her soul was as bright as the sun she invoked." –Maurice Magre (RETURN OF THE MAGI - 1931)

My name is Scarlett Amaris and I've co-written a couple of dark fantasy books entitled SAURIMONDE I and SAURIMONDE II with Melissa St. Hilaire. For the last many long years I've been tracking down and decoding little know legends in the French Pyrenees. It's a land of mysteries where the past and the present walk hand in hand and magic still survives. The legends of Saurimonde actually come from the Middle Ages, even though we've created a wholly fictional universe for her in our book series. We thought it might be entertaining to share some of the legends and inspirations here which went into our twisted tales. The legends of Saurimonde (or Solimonde as she is sometimes known) originate from the Mountain Noir (the Black Mountain) in the south of France. In the first of these medieval legends Saurimonde was a powerful witch who lived in a cave under the castle of Quentinheux in Lastours and the people in the village below would leave sacrifices to placate her. On Imbolc, or February 2, they would gather at the base of the mountain and, if she was blowing her flute, then spring was just around the corner, but if she was wailing and lamenting, then winter would continue. Supposedly she had hair that went to the ground and she wore the skin of a black ram. In the second legend she is a beautiful golden-haired fairy who lived in the river Arnette with her daughter and she possessed a golden comb that was fashioned by the devil himself. A royal archer from the nearby village of Hautpool became obsessed with her and the golden comb, but no matter how hard he tried to steal it, he couldn’t do so and each time she would laugh at him. Slowly he went mad and finally, with the aid of the local priest, he was able to gain access to her. But instead of killing Saurimonde, he killed her daughter. She cursed him to be penniless and insane for all his days; the river dried up and the magic left the land. There is a third legend which tells of a Saurimonde who was married to a brutal lord. He spied her and her lover one day so he hunted the man down and killed him. Then he fed Saurimonde’s lover’s heart to her in a sumptuous dinner. When he told her what she was eating and asked her what she thought of it she replied that it was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted and she would savour it for all her days. Then she jumped out the window to her death. There is also a fourth legend which connects Saurimonde to the crieurs, which is kind of the French version of the lorelei. They are creatures who seduce people by day and then cry so mournfully at night that these same people come to find them and then the crieurs kill them. So for the first book, SAURIMONDE I, we used elements of all these scenarios and bits of mythology and wove them together into a new story mixed with a unhealthy dose of sex and violence.

While writing SAURIMONDE I, I was living in the village of Montsegur high in the French Pyrenees in the shadow of an ancient castle. When the sun was shining I'd take the notebook out to the high meadows, which were full of wild flowers, and write and sunbath and then come back later and transcribe. I took long walks up the Lasset (which is the river that snakes down from the Lake of the Devil and on through Montsegur) and sat on the river banks surrounded by lush foliage, staring at the water to get a feel for the character of Saurimonde and imagine what life would be like if it were boiled down to just the sensations of sex and death. Butterflies would land on my pen while I was writing and never leave. Often I would lose track of time and become pink all over with sunburn. I rode on horseback through the forests pretending I was the handsome hero, Sordel. Sometimes I would climb up to the ruins of the castle of Montsegur and sit on the edge of the dungeon keep and write by hand until I lost the light. Then I would sleep in the old encampments under the stars and dream of the characters. I was steeped in this magical medieval ambience and it was indeed a charmed existence. I think some of that magic lended itself to the Saurimonde universe.

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