With a lifelong love of reading, especially fantasy stories, Melissa de la Cruz has dreamed of being a professional writer since she was eight. As an adult De la Cruz has gone on to write or co-write a few dozen books in various genres. In addition to writing critically acclaimed novels about au pairs in the Hamptons (The Au Pairs) and vampires (Blue Bloods), she has also written the Isle of the Lost series which is part of Disney’s Descendants franchise. Wanting to learn more about her career and her latest Descendants novel, I was able to interview De la Cruz for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Melissa de la Cruz: I was a huge fantasy reader – my favorite books of all time are the Lord of the Rings and the Dune series. I re-read them every couple of years. I can quote from both books.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a writer? Was there a specific moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
De la Cruz: I just loved reading. I liked to escape into books, reading is my earliest happy memory. Around eight years old I started writing my own books. I never gave up on it, I held on to that ambition – that somehow I would write books for a living – ever since I was a kid. I sold my first novel at 27, and when I did I felt like I had been waiting 20 years for this moment.
Yanes: While studying your background I was blown away by just how much you’ve written. How do you structure your writing time? Any suggestions for how to avoid distractions?
De la Cruz: It’s just the way I’m wired. I like to work, and my work also doesn’t feel like work. Also there’s a lot of adrenaline in meeting deadlines. You have to give in to the stress and the pressure, I find that tends to eliminate distractions. I also either am “on” or “off.” When I am working, I am solidly, completely immersed and can write a draft in a short period of time. Then I take time off and don’t do any writing for the same time period. I’m not the kind of person with a regular schedule. I’m either working all the time or slacking off all the time. I find the slacking off period is just as important as the creative period. You need to take breaks and re-fill the well and let your mind wander and be curious.
I think it’s really important to have a support system of family and friends who understand that sometimes I’m totally available to hang out and sometimes I disappear from their lives for months. I don’t disappear from my kid or my husband, but months will go by and they will be the only people I see. It’s important to have priorities.
Yanes: One of your latest books is Escape from the Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel. What was the inspiration for this story?
De la Cruz: As always, the Descendants novels are inspired by the classic Disney movies, in this volume our heroes are graduating from high school. I wanted to celebrate a traditional American graduation experience – the senior pranks, the fancy baccalaureate events.
Yanes: The backbone of the Descendants franchise are the television-movies. How do you tell a unique story with character growth while keeping the characters in line with the television-movies?
De la Cruz: They’re the same characters whether they are on the page or on screen. The books and the movies work well together, as the books round out the characters a bit more and show their inner lives. I picture the characters as the actors in the movies. It feels seamless.
Yanes: In the process of writing Escape from the Isle of the Lost did any of the characters take on a life of their own?
De la Cruz: They need to come alive on the page for the books to have that spark, I would say they all have a life of their own for sure.
Yanes: It is clear from your Descendants novels that you have a deep love for Disney characters. How did it feel to be able to play with these Disney characters? On this note, are there any other Disney characters and worlds that you really want to explore?
De la Cruz: It was really fun, I didn’t realize how much of a Disney kid I was until I started writing the first book and it all came so naturally as they were a huge part of my childhood. I was given the entire Disney universe to play with, so I feel pretty satisfied in that front, there’s nothing that was taboo. I was even able to work in Moana references in the series – my daughter’s favorite, so that was super fun.
Yanes: While the Descendants is made for children and teens, it also has a large number of grownup fans. How do you approach writing for multiple age groups?
De la Cruz: I mostly write for myself. I don’t think of the audience. I entertain myself, and I’m glad other people enjoy it.
Yanes: When people finish reading Escape from the Isle of the Lost, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
De la Cruz: I hope they had fun visiting with our beloved characters again and are excited for the movie!
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
De la Cruz: I have an adult thriller The Birthday Girl out in August, and next year I have a graphic novel Gotham High about Batman, the Joker and Catwoman in high school, and a new YA fantasy romance The Queen’s Assassin. And more Disney books in the works!