Melissa Albert is the author of the Hazel Wood series of fantasy noir novels. Like that series her latest novel Our Crooked Hearts is eerie, dark, and extremely feminist as she delves into an intergenerational story filled with magic and menace in equal measure. I’m very happy to have Melissa here today to talk a bit about her latest novel.
Miss Print: Our Crooked Hearts is two stories in one as readers meet Ivy in the suburbs right now and also learn about her mother Dana’s story in the suburbs back then. Where did this story spark? Did you always know you would be following two different protagonists?
Melissa Albert: I did not know I’d be following two protagonists! This was Ivy’s story, growing out of my desire to write a “suburban fantasy” (as opposed to the urban fantasy of the Hazel Wood duology). One thing I absolutely love in speculative fiction is magic with consequences—in the case of Our Crooked Hearts, the consequences of teenaged Dana’s deep dive into magic, which reverberate throughout her life and come back to haunt her and her daughter.
Miss Print: Working off the last question, how did you go about balancing these two narratives? Who was easier to write: Ivy or Dana?
Melissa Albert: When I started writing Dana’s story it was meant to be one scene: I pictured it as a narrative she was telling her daughter, and wasn’t sure how exactly it would fit into the story. Then as I wrote I got more and more interested, and the story got longer and longer, and suddenly I realized it was meant to be half the book. So honestly Dana’s story came easier, because I was writing it with zero pressure attached, because I kinda thought I was working out backstory stuff I would ultimately cut. I’m so glad I was wrong about that.
Miss Print: This will be your second book release since the pandemic started. Has living and working through the pandemic changed your writing process? How do you think Ivy and Dana would have managed the pandemic?
Melissa Albert: I don’t think it changed my process in a longterm way, but it definitely changed how I wrote this book: for five months in 2020, when daycares were closed, I only had my son’s (blessedly long) naptimes to write. I’ve rarely felt more focused, happy, and grateful as a writer than I did during those stretches of hard-won work. Our Crooked Hearts was my escape from reality, a light in a dark time.
Miss Print: One of the things that always strikes me about your books is how you fold different genre elements into your fantasy worlds. Suspense (and even some horror) elements factor into a lot of Our Crooked Hearts. How do you go about bringing these pieces together while sustaining tension and keeping the plot moving?
Melissa Albert: I think I just write what I love. A big part of writing for me is stringing together an endless series of “what ifs” that get my brain ticking, trying to figure out how I can stuff all the fun uncanny speculative weirdness that I adore as a reader into my own books.
Miss Print: What are you reading and loving right now?
Melissa Albert: I just read and loved Emily Henry’s Book Lovers, and to keep the contemporary romance party going am now burning through Annabel Monaghan’s Nora Goes Off Script. In preparation for our event together, I’m reading Jeff Zentner’s luminous and deeply moving In the Wild Light. I’m also really enjoying J.M. Miro’s Ordinary Monsters, and next up I’ve got Isabel Ibañez’s Together We Burn and Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief!
Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re working on now?
Melissa Albert: It hasn’t been announced yet, but I’ve got a book coming soon that I cannot wait to shout about. Big suburban gothic vibes.
Thank you again to Melissa for these great answers!
You can also read my review of Our Crooked Hearts here on the blog.