Interview with an Author: KIRBY HOWELL

I’ve got a special #InterviewWithAnAuthor for you today… from a writing team! Check out the interview below:



Dana Melton and Jessica Alexander, who write under the name Kirby Howell, have been writing together since 2000 when they met as freshman in their first script writing class at the University of Alabama.  Dana, a native Southerner, quickly showed Jessica the ropes and the joys of living below the Mason Dixon Line.  Having lived in nearly every other part of the country, it didn’t take Jessica long to acclimate to sweet tea, grits and football.  Four years later, with a couple of film degrees under their belts, they moved to Los Angeles to pursue their professional writing careers.

What got you into writing?

Dana: I always used to write stories to entertain myself and friends growing up.  And when I got to college, I started doing Role Playing Games and Fan Fiction.  It never occurred to me that I could make a living doing it, until one day after I’d moved to Hollywood and started assisting in a TV show writing room.  I went to Jessica after that and said, “You wanna do this together?”  That was in 2003.

Jessica: I wanted to be a novelist for as long as I can remember.  I was a major bookworm in elementary school.  I have a distinct memory from 5th grade when each student had a construction paper ice cream cone on the classroom bulletin board.  After finishing a book, we could cut out a construction paper scoop of ice cream, write the book’s title on it, and staple it on top of our cone.  All too soon, my ice cream cone started to look like Carl’s house in the Pixar movie Up, except the balloons were scoops of ice cream in my case, and began to take over the entire board.  I wanted to have the same effect on readers that my favorite books had on me.

What’s your favourite book and why?

Dana: I have two favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Pride & Prejudice.  I was given an old copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide by my father during an epic snowstorm in 1993, and immediately fell in love with Douglas Adams.  His wit and sharp satire about the absurdity of life have always amazed and entertained me. And Pride & Prejudice… I mean come on… Mr. Darcy.  Nuff said.

Jessica: That’s an unfair question – it’s impossible to narrow down, let alone name a single book to represent your entire reading history as your favorite!  There are different reasons books can be named as a favorite – the book that made the biggest impression on you (White Oleander by Janet Fitch), the book that you’re able to read over and over again (11/22/63 by Stephen King), the most entertaining, mainstream book that you wish they’d get on with making the movie version of (Ready Player One by Ernest Cline), or the childhood book that you associate with wonderful memories (The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder).  It’s just too hard to decide on just one.

What’s your writing routine?

We try and meet every Sunday, either physically or digitally, and start the morning with eggs over easy and toast… then spend the majority of the day either writing or breaking story.  There’s just something about a greasy breakfast with your best friend to put you in a good, creative place.  We also meet Wednesdays after work.

Tea, or Coffee?

Dana: Coffee.  Hands down.

Jessica: I enjoy coffee, but my caffeinated drink of choice is a chai tea latte (and has been for the past 15 years or so).  On a side note, people get confused when I say that I love going to get ‘coffee’ but I rarely drink actual drip coffee.  The word “coffee” (for me) has become synonymous with ordering any beverage from a coffee house menu.  Kind of like saying “Kleenex” when a “tissue” is all you need, or ordering a “Coke” in the South when you want a “soda.”

What got you into your particular genre of writing?

Dana: I’ve always been into Scifi.  One of the first novels that my Mother used to help me learn how to read was the novelization of Star Wars.  I remember being about five when I first sounded out Chewbacca.  I was very proud.

Sometime in college, I convinced Jessica to join one of my Star Wars Role Playing Games, which was her foray into scifi.  We had so much fun, that we just kept at it!

Why do you love writing?

Dana: I have a love/hate relationship with writing.  I love it when it’s done, or when I have no personal deadlines and I’m free to just be totally creative.  But when I know there are scenes that need to be written, I tend to get lazy.  That’s when I have to force myself to be creative on a schedule to get things done.  And that can be torturous.  But to not do the work?  That would be even worse to me.  Because at the end of the day, seeing the final product… that feeling of pride, knowing that you gave those characters, that story, life… it’s a high that you have to keep chasing.  So you write more and the cycle perpetuates.

Jessica: I love writing because it’s a release for me.  It helps me to get out all of the images, characters, and situations that flit through my mind all day.  When I get really focused (obsessed) with a story we’re working on, it’s all I think about, even when we’re not working on it.  Even when I’m working hard on something else, it’s there, bubbling away on the back burner like a good stew.  The actual writing is the valve that releases some of the heat on that stew so it doesn’t boil over!

As a first time authors, how are you guys finding the publishing process?

Well, we started down the traditional publishing path, and got about three quarters of the way until we realized that it wasn’t for us.  We wanted total freedom to tell our stories.  So we broke ties and put out the Autumn Series on our own.  It’s given us the freedom we craved, not just as writers but as marketers and publishers – which are areas we never thought about getting into before we had to.  And to be honest, Jessica and I really enjoy that process.  We both have an entrepreneurial spirit, and a knack for learning new skills.

How many books have you written and what are they?

We’ve nearly completed three Autumn Series books, and have a rough draft of the first book in our next series, called The Wayfarer.


The Autumn Series follows a teenage girl named Autumn as she navigates the post-apocalyptic world following a plague that decimated 99% of the world’s population.  She meets a mysterious young man who seems to have all answers but holds an unearthly secret.  The series begins in Los Angeles, with Autumn in the City of Angels and travels to Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam area in Autumn in the Dark Meadows.  Both are available on Amazon.  Autumn in the City of Lights will complete the trilogy and is due out this spring.

The Wayfarer is the next project that we’ll be working on and dives more into the fantasy realm.  The main character is a teenage girl running away from a bad foster situation.  She stumbles into another world and sets out to find the one person who was always there for her.

As a series authors, do you find it hard to keep the story fresh?

Sometimes.  We tend to move locations a lot in the Autumn Series, and that really helps, because we’re always meeting new characters and exploring new locales.

What tips can you give aspiring authors about writing a series?

Write, write… and write some more.  Don’t just call yourself a writer and actually put pen to paper a couple times a month.  Flex that muscle.  Develop a writing schedule and stick to it.  And make sure you focus your energy on one project at a time and FINISH them.  No one ever sold four or five half-finished projects.

Is there anything controversial or different about your writing?

The Autumn Series crosses a lot of genres, and because of that has a scifi twist in the middle.  That can be off putting for some who aren’t expecting that.  We sell it as a scifi-lite story, and try to support the twist in the middle… but some people forget that there’s a bunny in the hat waiting to be pulled out.

How do you manage your time? Is it hard balancing your writing lives with your working lives?

Managing our writing time has always been difficult because there are two of us – two work schedules, two husbands, two social lives, two houses that need cleaned, etc.  But writing has always been (and hopefully will always be) extremely important to us, so we MAKE time for it.  We set aside the majority of Sunday and Wednesday evenings after our day jobs to work together.  It helps that we’re good friends as well as writing partners so it (almost!) never feels like work when when we meet to write.

We also share a calendar and make (and try to keep) deadlines that we set for ourselves.  Because we’re self published, we’re our own publisher, manager, and agent.  While it’s difficult managing two personal schedules into one writing schedule, it’s also helpful that there are two of us because we keep each other motivated and accountable.  And one never wants to let the other down.

Are you guys self-published or with an agent? Was this an active choice?

We originally wanted to traditionally publish and had a contract with a literary agent and a publisher, but ended up cutting ties when we realized we weren’t going to be happy with what they were offering.  We’ve never regretted the choice to independently publish – it’s given us carte blanche to do what we believe is best for our product.  Granted, we have to act as our own publisher, agent, marketing department, IT department, and art director… but we love making all of the decisions ourselves.  The learning curve is steep, but we love it!

Do you have a writing space? Tell us what it’s like!

Our writing space changes, but for a long time we had a booth at our local Starbucks.  The majority of the first Autumn book was broken and written there!

How do you both keep motivated?

We keep each other motivated!  That, and friendly competition with our other author friends.

What did you two struggle with the most when writing your new book?

The first two books in the Autumn Series were written, beta read, edited, and published with almost no pause in the schedule.  The third book (that we’re currently doing rewrites for) has taken a bit longer due to various life events that have made it difficult to stick to our original schedule.  Our day jobs have always been a hurdle for us to deal with, but throw in having a baby and you’ve got some delays!  It’s been frustrating not being able to publish this final installment in a timely manner, but it’s always been important to us to continue working on it so we can complete the trilogy and start work on our next series.

How did you decide on cover art? Did you consult with a designer or is it all you?

We had some ideas for the cover art for Autumn, but needed help pulling it off.  After some research, we knew the cover needed to be eye catching from a thumbnail size due to it being an online purchase, and we also wanted the romance and apocalyptic elements to be present.  We hired a cover artist to help us and do the heavy lifting in Photoshop.  Jessica’s husband offered to photograph a couple friends of ours and we sent those pictures to the cover artist.  After a few variations, we finalized the art for all three books in the series and couldn’t be happier with the way they turned out.

Any links or websites you would like my readers to visit? (You can read excerpts from all three books on our website!)

Twitter: @KirbyHowell