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SunLit Interviews

Colorado author Melissa Payne drew on her work experience to create a lost teen named Star

In "The Secrets of Lost Stones," elements of her work with abused and neglected kids coalesce around the story of one girl's search for family

Melissa Payne.

Melissa Payne is the bestselling author of ”The Secrets of Lost Stones.” For as long as she can remember, Melissa has been telling stories in one form or another—from high school newspaper articles to a graduate thesis to blogging about marriage and motherhood. But she first learned the real importance of storytelling when she worked for a residential and day treatment center for abused and neglected children. There she wrote speeches and letters to raise funds for the children. The truth in those stories was piercing and painful and written to invoke in the reader a call to action: to give, to help, to make a difference. Melissa’s love of writing and sharing stories in all forms has endured. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three children, a friendly mutt, a very loud cat, and the occasional bear. For more information, visit www.melissapayneauthor.com.

The following is an interview with Melissa Payne.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


What inspired you to write this book? 

At one point in my career, I worked for a day treatment and residential center for kids who’ve been abused and neglected. It was impactful and inspiring to get to know some of these children and to learn their heartbreaking stories, and then to see them work so hard to overcome unbelievable obstacles. My experiences there led to the development of a character like Star. A strong, brave girl who’s been let down repeatedly by people who should love and protect her and despite it all, is fueled by her resilience and desire to find a family. The story also touches on Jess, a woman who is trying to find her way through life again after the sudden death of her child. Her story is one of loss and grief that so many of us can relate to. Then there is Lucy. And in the midst of so much heartbreak, she is the person who has the ability to bring unlikely souls together for the purpose of healing and second chances. I wish there were more Lucys in the world, people like her who have a special capacity for seeing something that not everyone else can see, and using it to help others find healing and redemption.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?

Star is a fifteen-year-old runaway determined to make it on her own, even if it means surviving on the streets of Denver alone. But a chance encounter with the eccentric Lucy begins a series of events that take Star from homeless teen to the small town of Pine Lake where for the first time, Star finds what she’s wanted all along – a family. But to get that she must confront her past or lose everything. This scene is when Star is given a note from Lucy inviting her to Pine Lake. It’s a huge leap for Star, but one that brings her face to face with her own loneliness and her deep desire to belong. 

“The Secrets of Lost Stones” by Melissa Payne.

Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew? 

This book is set in a fictional mountain town that is based on a very real place, only I envisioned it much more rugged and remote than it is in reality. The characters are all fictional, however the struggles, challenges and tragedies they experience are a reality for many people, whether they be our friends, people we read about, those we walk past on the street, or ourselves. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?

In the first few drafts, I kept hearing from early readers that they didn’t like one of my main characters, Jess. She was unemotional, cruel, unlikeable. I could not understand how they were interpreting her in this way. In my mind, she was a woman overcome with grief, trying to live her life without her son in the only way she knew how, one day at a time. I struggled to get her right, to draw her on the page in a way that readers would relate to, and in a way that would help them to understand her motivation and emotional roadblocks, particularly when it came to her forming a bond with Star.

What I learned through the feedback was to take a step back and observe my character more closely. Her son had died eight years ago. In those eight years, she had grieved, but she had also lived and had experiences, even if they were in the shadow of her son’s absence. How had those experiences impacted her or changed her and how had it created the woman we meet when the story begins?

This process was challenging for me, but it was worth it to get her right. As a writer, my early readers encouraged me to go deeper with a character who I thought was defined by her pain. Through this process I learned that she was that and also a person who had experienced true love, moments of happiness and even joy. And that is the character we meet on page one. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet? 

Mornings are my most productive time. It’s something about the quiet and the idea that I have all day ahead of me. I prefer to write in my office nook or at a coffee shop. I like action around me when I’m creating. For some reason I can focus when there is noise and activity. Since times are different now, I don’t go to coffee shops as much, but I always write with music. And the music runs the gamut from indie to folk to country to electronic to anything that makes me focus only on the writing at hand. 

What’s your next project?

My next book is called “Memories in the Drift” and it comes out December 1, 2020. It’s set in a remote Alaskan town and is a story about healing, forgiveness, the power of memory and a woman’s will to reclaim her life. This book required a trip to Alaska, which was the most fun research trip ever. It is such a beautiful, raw and breathtaking state and this town made for a perfect backdrop to my main character, Claire. She has lost her short-term memory and her child following a heartrending tragedy and relies heavily on notebooks, calendars and to-do lists to make it through each day. Claire’s life changes when her mother, who abandoned her, and the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart return from the past. Claire must learn that what’s important might not be re-creating the person she was, but embracing the possibilities of being the person she is. I’m really excited about this book and hope my readers enjoy it too. 

Buy “The Secrets of Lost Stones” through BookBar.
Read an excerpt from the book.


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