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Daily Inspiration: Meet Melissa W. Hunter

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa W. Hunter. 

Hi Melissa, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Writing has always been an essential part of my life. I first discovered my passion for writing when I was in the seventh grade and my English class was assigned the task of keeping a daily journal (Thank you, Mrs. Williams!). Putting pen to paper was a cathartic experience for me and helped me deal with the adolescent emotions I was feeling at the time. After a few “Dear Diary” entries, I decided to try my hand at a story idea that had been brewing in the back of my mind. It was a ghost story about a girl who speaks to her recently deceased sister and helps her family find peace. The words just seemed to flow! From that moment on, I was hooked. Over the years, I’ve written everything from science fiction and fantasy to historical fiction to romance, yet writing about my family and my personal experiences is now what I enjoy most. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Writing as a hobby is one thing, but writing as a career is a different story. For years, I felt like an imposter when I told people I was a writer. I went through dry spells where I lacked inspiration, and, especially when my children were younger, I just didn’t have the time to write. It wasn’t until the publication of my first novel, What She Lost, that I felt I had finally achieved my lifelong goal and felt comfortable calling myself an author. But I faced many obstacles before I reached that point. Not only was finding time to finish a full-length manuscript challenging but bringing that manuscript to life was another hurdle altogether. Rejection is a big part of being a writer, and when I sent my manuscript to editors and publishers, I braced myself for the onslaught of “No’s” I was sure to receive. My dream came true the day I received a “Yes” from my publisher, Cynren Press, a small traditional publisher of memoir, autobiography, and historical fiction. I was over the moon! Yet because my novel is about my family and is so close to my heart, I also worried about how it would be handled before going to print. I had told myself that I would self-publish if my manuscript was never acquired by a publisher, and in the back of my mind, I think that’s what I always expected to happen. That option would have allowed me total control over my story, and now it was in the hands of someone else. Happily, my partnership with Cynren Press was amazing! I had so much input in the publication process, from cover design to major edits to deciding who narrated the audiobook. I was truly fortunate when Cynren published What She Lost under their fiction imprint, Cennan Books, and am happy to say they will be publishing my follow-up novel as well. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My debut novel, What She Lost, is based on my grandmother’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Growing up, I was extremely close to my grandmother. I always knew she had survived the Holocaust, but it wasn’t until I was older that I truly understood what that meant. One afternoon when I was in my twenties, my grandmother first told me about her sister Esther. I was startled. “I didn’t know you had a sister, Bubbie,” I said. “Did she die in the war with the rest of your siblings?” My grandmother grew pensive, and it was then that she shared memories with me that she had never told anyone else. I was riveted by her account. After that, I sat down with my grandmother and recorded the story of her life before, during, and after her time in the concentration camps, as well as the fate of her family. The interview lasted an hour and a half, but I soon forgot about the time. I forgot where I was. I was transported to her home in Olkusz, Poland. I could hear the echo of laughter in her family’s home, could see the cobblestoned streets of the town square, and smell the freshly baked bread from her father’s bakery. The interview became the basis for the novel I would write. It was that afternoon that What She Lost was born. 

It took me years, however, to find the right voice for my narrative. I wanted to be as faithful to my grandmother’s account as possible, but every time I started writing, the words didn’t feel genuine. I began when I was newly married but didn’t finish the novel until I was in my forties and had children of my own. I often tell people it took me becoming a mother for me to be able to infuse the depth of emotion I hoped to capture in my narrative. 

Since the release of What She Lost in October of 2019, the novel has received a number of accolades. It won the 2021 Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal in the coming-of-age category and is even the subject of a documentary entitled Generation to Generation, the Story of Sarah Waldman Werthaiser. Filmed in Cincinnati during the summer of 2021 and released on October 30, 2021, the film won an Award of Merit at the February 2022 IndieFEST Film Festival. But perhaps most important to me is the fact that What She Lost is being read by older and younger readers alike. When I set out to write the novel, I didn’t have a particular audience in mind except for my own children and family, so when my publisher released the novel as both an adult and young-adult title, I was thrilled. This has opened doors I hadn’t expected because the book is now being read and used as an educational tool in many classrooms, and it has allowed me to speak to younger audiences not only about my novel and the writing process but about the importance of learning from history so it doesn’t repeat itself. Now more than ever, this is an important message. 

I am also a strong advocate of education. I currently sit on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council for Mason City Schools, and I am passionate about keeping these principles in education, especially when they are being threatened by proposed political legislation. My family came to America as immigrants in the 1950s and pursued the American dream. I grew up with a vision of America as a sanctuary for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, religion, skin color, or sexual orientation, and perhaps naively saw America as a place of equal opportunity for all. In today’s political climate, I feel this ideology is under attack. I also do a lot of volunteer work with the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center. This museum, located in the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, is a wonderful resource for the community, and I am proud of my partnership with them. Together, we released a virtual tour of their exhibit for teachers that focuses on my grandmother’s story and includes excerpts from What She Lost, as well as an interactive guide with discussion questions. I hope to continue supporting teachers and educators in the future and look forward to helping spread a message of tolerance and acceptance. 

Telling my family’s story made me realize that everyone has a story to share, so this year I launched a freelance venture called Your Story Matters. I plan to help those who either don’t have the time or the inclination to write about their experiences put their life into words. My goal is to either provide clients with a personal book for their own use, or help complete a professional, polished manuscript that can be submitted for publication. I have my first client and am truly excited to share her story as well! 

What matters most to you? Why?
Without a doubt, family is the most important thing to me in life. I am so blessed to have been raised by parents who loved me unconditionally and always supported my dreams for the future. They showed by example what it means to be a good parent, and I can only hope I provide that same love and support to my own children. My daughters make me proud every single day. They’ve grown into amazing, talented young women with bright futures ahead of them. My husband has also been there for me every step of the way as I have pursued my dream of becoming a professional writer and author. It is because of my family that I do what I do, and my life is complete. 

Pricing:

  • Freelance services: $30-$40/hour or by project

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