Q&A with Melissa Payne, Author of Memories in the Drift

by Heather Caliendo
Melissa Payne interview - book club chat
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Melissa Payne is the author of Memories in the Drift, which is out now.

Melissa Payne is the bestselling author of The Secrets of Lost Stones. For as long as she can remember, Melissa has been telling stories in one form or another—from high school newspaper articles to a graduate thesis to blogging about marriage and motherhood. But she first learned the real importance of storytelling when she worked for a residential and day treatment center for abused and neglected children. There she wrote speeches and letters to raise funds for the children. The truth in those stories was piercing and painful and written to invoke in the reader a call to action: to give, to help, to make a difference. Melissa’s love of writing and sharing stories in all forms has endured. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three children, a friendly mutt, a very loud cat, and the occasional bear.

Here’s the synopsis for Memories in the Drift:

My name is Claire. I’m thirty-six years old. It’s September. I know what I’m doing and why I am here…for now.

Ten years ago, Claire Hines lost her unborn child—and her short-term memory—following a heartrending tragedy. With notebooks, calendars, to-do lists, fractured pieces of the past, and her father’s support, Claire makes it through each day, hour by hour, with relative confidence. She also has a close-knit community of friends in the remote Alaskan town where she teaches guitar to the local children. It’s there, in the reminders.

As determined as Claire is to regain all that’s disappeared, she’d prefer to live without some memories of her before life—especially those of her mother, Alice, who abandoned her, and Tate, the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart.

But when Alice and Tate return from the past, there’ll be so much more for Claire to relive. And to discover for the very first time. Through healing, forgiveness, and second chances, Claire may realize that what’s most important might not be re-creating the person she was, but embracing the possibilities of being the person she is.

Get to know Melissa as she talks favorite novels, the inspiration behind the story, the importance of setting and much more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

I love books with rich imagery, vibrant characters and an atmospheric writing that pulls me into their surroundings and environment. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is one of my favorite books for this reason. I also enjoy fantasy settings with characters I want to root for and set in a world completely different from my own. Patrick Rothfuss delivers all of that in The Name of the Wind. Finally, I’m a sucker for humor (dark or light) and everyday characters with relatable challenges in ordinary lives that tug on my emotions. Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove is a powerful novel that stuck with me long after I closed the book and one I will read again.  

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

I’ve always loved the effort and pursuit of putting thoughts and ideas onto paper. Whether that was in a high school newspaper article, a bluebook in college, a fundraising letter for a nonprofit, or a blog about the laundry. Eventually, my love of writing grew into a desire to learn how to create worlds and characters where readers might lose themselves for a few hours. And so I wrote my first book with little knowledge of how, but with a driving desire to tell the story of the characters who had grown increasingly loud in my head. It is a lifetime pursuit that is a fulfilling challenge, and one I hope to be working on and improving even when I have more life to look back on than ahead.

What inspired you to write Memories in the Drift?

A few years ago, I came across a documentary about the town of Whittier, Alaska. It’s a stunning place carved from the shores of Prince William Sound, where nearly all of the two hundred or so year-round residents live in a fourteen-story high-rise that overlooks a harbor abounding with wildlife. As a writer, I was immediately drawn to this town, not because of the unrelenting rain and snow and heavy clouds that cling to the mountains for much of the year. And not because of the two-and-a-half-mile single lane tunnel that closes every night and is the only way in and out of town, unless you come by boat. Or the image of all of this set against a backdrop of glaciers and waterfalls and craggy mountain peaks.

It was the people who live in Whittier that sparked a deep interest in me. The folks who call this slice of wild beauty home. I was particularly struck by a comment from one of the town’s residents: “We don’t always love each other, we don’t always get along, but when something awful happens, everyone is going to be there to help you.”

And that’s how I began to develop a character like Claire. Anterograde amnesia is a heartbreaking condition where a person is unable to create new memories. It affects daily life, work and social activities, not to mention relationships with family and friends. To cope, people suffering from this type of amnesia must rely on familiar routines, supportive networks, and strategies that help to structure their days. Whittier was the perfect home for Claire, whose character grew up there, and so it was a familiar and safe place for her to continue to live somewhat independently while managing her condition. Claire is resilient and brave and determined to make the most out of her every day. And just like the residents from the real Whittier, everyone in Claire’s world pulls together to help one of their own.  

Why was small-town Alaska the right setting for this story?

This particular small-town was the perfect setting for a character like Claire, who needs familiar routines and faces in order to live somewhat independently. I also just happen to love mountains and wild landscapes in general and think that stories of everyday people in extraordinary circumstances reflects beautifully off of this kind of brutal and stunning environment. 

Is the story inspired by any real people and/or events?

It is inspired by a real town, Whittier, Alaska, but the people and events and even a few places within the town are fictional. 

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read)?

I’m currently reading Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman and The Poet Z by Elizabeth Acevedo. Two really good and different types of books, but they are both about young women overcoming fear to make their mark on the world. On my TBR list is A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Click here to order Memories in the Drift on Amazon.

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