Melissa Lenhardt shares with us the writing journey behind her brand new LGBT romance, The Secret of You and Me, as well as the reasons behind why she’s donating 10% of her royalties for the book to the It Gets Better Project.
I have been trying to write a modern-day version of Persuasion for over a decade. When I had a break between contracted books at the beginning of 2016, I decided to tackle the project again. I would set it in Texas, naturally, and went about staring at walls and the tree outside my office window for character inspiration. When Nora and Charlie walked into my head, I tried to imagine who would have the outsized influence on Nora that Lady Russell had on Anne Elliott? If I stuck with the Persuasion outline, it would be a mother figure. Nothing about writing that scenario appealed to me. (I decided early on not to do a faithful scene for scene, character for character retelling, but more of an homage to Persuasion, like Bridget Jones’s Diary is to Pride and Prejudice.) Then Sophie Russell knocked on the door of my imagination and said, “Hi, I’m about to take over your book. Hope you don’t mind.”
As Nora, Sophie, and Charlie coalesced, I realized something; Sophie was in love with Nora, and the feeling was mutual.
As someone who didn’t identify with the LGBTQ community, I needed to ask for help, do my research, listen to feedback from lesbians and bisexual women, and admit I’m ignorant; please help. I have a lovely friend, Kat, who encouraged me to write the story and offered to read it and help me with representation.
I expected this book to be challenging to write since it wasn’t my lived experience. But, falling in love is falling in love, and it was easy to imagine Nora and Sophie feeling the same as I did when I fell in love with my husband. I didn’t realise until I read the first draft that Sophie’s experiences and challenges mirrored the challenges I observed firsthand of a loved one of mine who’d been closeted in a small town. I thought about what they’d gone through and how it affected their happiness and success for years and determined to do what I could to help. Shutting up and listening and believing the experiences of marginalised communities is the first step to understanding. I wasn’t about to barrel my woke white lady way into a movement and try to take over or even ask the community to do the work for me by saying, I’m here to help. Tell me what to do. I decided the best way to support the community, at present, is to donate a portion of my royalties to an LGBTQ youth charity, and the It Gets Better Project fits perfectly.
From the It Gets Better Project website:
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe. Growing up isn’t easy, especially when you are trying to affirm and assert your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can be a challenging and isolating process – but, the good news is, no one has to do it alone.
I don’t want LGBTQ youth to have to go through the same struggles my loved one did, which is why I’m donating 10% of my royalties from The Secret of You and Me to the It Gets Better Project. Visit their website for more information or to donate directly.