Image of a heart with rainbows

Author Interview: Michelle Arnold Chats about Stay

Author Chat IHS Logo
Get ready to learn more about the book Stay in this discussion with sapphic author Michelle Arnold.

Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz Michelle Arnold about Stay, writing, reading, and more.

This book is part of the Nerdy/Geeky category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.

Why did you write Stay?

What felt most important to me was depicting the horrific aftermath of sexual assault and how destructive it can be to someone’s mental health to try to keep an event like that secret. I also wanted to show what a difference it can make to let in the support of someone you trust, someone who cares about you! I was also really moved by Grace’s side of the story, the feeling that she wasn’t good enough for Eva because she couldn’t keep this horrible thing from happening to her. And then there’s the fantasy trope of a child with monstrous parentage who nonetheless is born innocent and can become a force for good – Eva’s decision to have a baby conceived through trauma is sort of the real world equivalent of that. I used to know a couple who went through a similar experience and was really amazed at the way they managed to build a beautiful family after the worst possible experience. I don’t actually think I could do it, which is why I was so interested in exploring the idea through writing!

Who is your favorite character in the book?

I think I’d have to say Eva! She’s nerdy, introverted, bookish, keeps to herself and does her own thing, extremely loyal to those she loves…we have some things in common! One major difference though is that I wouldn’t even want a baby under the best of circumstances, but I admire her bravery. I can relate to her desire to protect loved ones from her own pain (and her figuring out you can’t always do that).

What was the biggest challenge writing this book?

I think the biggest challenge was trying to understand why someone would choose to have a baby conceived through sexual assault and depict her choice without making it sound like I think it’s the choice everyone should make in that situation. I very much do not think that, but so many people think in black and white these days that I was really worried some readers would think I was pushing an agenda. To me, the fact Eva had a choice is essential to her story. She made the choice she felt was right for her, and that’s what every woman should be able to do.

What part of Stay was the most fun to write?

Definitely the part where Eva and Grace finally admitted their feelings for each other! That breaking of the dam is always the best part in a friends to lovers story for me. I’d spent chapters showing what each woman was thinking, and it was very freeing to have them finally tell each other and move beyond friendship! As seems to be the theme of their romance, their feelings came out under unpleasant circumstances, but the moment when they just let go and didn’t care about anything but each other right then was so lovely to write.

How much research did you need to do for Stay?

I mainly researched what happens during pregnancy, since I have no experience with that!

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

I’ve actually already published the sequel to Stay! It’s called A Brighter Shade of Blue and shows Eva and Grace a few years down the road, facing new threats and challenges as they raise their little family but fighting through them just like they do in Stay.

What is your writing process like?

It really depends on the book! With Stay and its sequel, I had everything meticulously plotted out. I did the same with all my Detective Amy Sadler books – I had to, or I would have been really confused about the cases! But right now I’m writing my first urban fantasy, and I am pantsing the hell out of it! I have no idea what’s about to happen! I feel like I’m reading the book for the first time as I write it! I’m loving it with my WIP because it feels like having a magic pen, but that doesn’t mean pantsing is my new style. Some books need to be plotted, and others need you to just trust them. I’ll keep doing whatever each story demands.

Where do you usually write, and what do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

I have a little corner of my living room with a desk for my laptop. I’ve got everything set up to be as comfortable and ergonomic as possible. I have fibromyalgia and arthritis, so the biggest challenge is making sure writing doesn’t increase my pain, because then I can’t focus! But sometimes I actually write curled up on the couch with a pen and journal. I guess there’s something familiar about it! I used to carry a notebook with me everywhere and write whenever and wherever inspiration struck, so I’ve written in some pretty random places – on a bus, in a park. I actually write best when there are distractions in my environment. When it’s quiet and perfect, I feel like I have all the time in the world and end up wasting it. When there’s a lot going on, I write frantically!

Do you have a pet who helps/hinders your typing?

Yes! My cat Lily Belle is constantly trying to steal my chair! I spent the money on a nice office chair with lumbar support so I could sit comfortably while typing, but Lily likes it too! She’s a sweetheart though. She’s super loving and likes to be right next to me, so when I manage to get the chair first, she sits on her window perch right next to me. That way when I need a screen break, I can gaze into her big blue eyes and pet her long, silky fur! No wonder almost all my books have cats in them…

What has helped or hindered you most when writing a book?

The encouragement of friends helps me the most. I have a few friends who love my writing and will read everything as I write it. Hearing them talk about the characters like they’re real and constantly wonder what’s going to happen next pushes me onward when I’m struggling, because writing to me is communication. Knowing someone will read it and it will mean something to them -even if it’s just a few friends – gives me a reason to keep writing down all the weird stuff that’s in my head. The thing that hinders me is stress from real world problems. It’s hard to focus on my imaginary worlds when the real world keeps throwing things at me! I need to have my life at least someone under control to focus on writing.

When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?

Usually the mood sets itself, but I do often make playlists of songs I connect with my WIP and listen to them while writing. There will be a certain song that makes me think of a particularly emotional scene and puts me right in the mood!

What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?

By completely obsessing over them like some sort of stalker! No really, I go through my daily life imagining what my characters would be doing, what they would think of the TV show I’m watching, what sort of places they go to, what conversations they have. I imagine them going through ordinary life and what it’s like for them. If I know what they’re like when they’re at home and everything’s normal, then I can imagine how they’d react to everything I’m going to put them through. I’m pretty much always inside the heads of whatever characters I’m writing at the moment.

Do you feel bad putting your characters through the wringer?

I don’t! I know it sounds awful, but in books like Stay where something horrible happens, I always plan the event first and then the characters. Interestingly, in books where I think of the characters first, I am less willing to let anything really awful happen to them! I think the reason I don’t feel too bad about what I put my characters through is that I know I’m going to give them a really happy ending. Life is never going to be perfect, but they’ll get what they want most, and that’s never a guarantee for us real folks! So In the end, I feel like I’m treating them pretty well. There are moments when they tug at my heartstrings though. Eva finding out she was pregnant was devastating to write. In Arrival of the Birds, I felt terrible for Allie when she found out her mom was manipulating her and not really trying to get back into her life. So I’m not completely heartless!

Have you ever hated one of your characters?

I have, but only the ones I want everyone to hate. My least favorite people in real life are those who feel no compassion for others. There are two characters like that in Stay, and I despise them both. I feel no mercy for them. But they both have childhood trauma, as to Eva and Grace, so there’s certainly a theme of how your trauma can shape you and how you can choose whether it shapes you into a monster like the ones that hurt you, or into a more caring and compassionate person. Which I guess means that in the end, we all shape ourselves. If you asked Eva and Grace why they want to help others, they would point to their traumatic childhoods. If you asked their enemies why they want to hurt others, they would say the same thing. So trauma definitely impacts us, but ultimately I believe what we make of that impact is up to us.

Have you ever fallen in love with one of your characters?

Yes! I think I fell in love with Josie when I was writing Arrival of the Birds. She’s just such a bright spot in every scene. I’m also quite in love with a character in my work in progress, but you’ll have to wait to meet her! She’s a very loving person with lots of quirks, and unwavering commitment to the woman she loves. She’s also quite open-minded and imaginative. She’s the perfect companion for an otherworldly adventure!

What type of books do you enjoy reading the most?

I will read pretty much anything that sounds good, but my favorite genre is fantasy, or science fiction if it has a fantasy edge to it. I like books that really transport me out of this world! I have been this way since I was a kid. In a way, I think I’m still looking for Narnia, both in the wardrobe and in my bookcases! Books transport us into imaginary worlds, so why not make it as different from this world as possible? But I love anything with characters that feel real and lovable. I’m pretty fond of regular contemporary fiction when it can put me in the head of someone different from me, whether they’re battling an illness I don’t know much about or just living in a culture different from mine. As much as I like escaping the real world, I also want to learn more about it!

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

The most honest answer would be “all of them.” I started writing (very short) stories when I was only six for no reason other than that I loved to read. However, the biggest single influence had to be Beverly Cleary. I started reading her Ramona books when I was seven and was really drawn in by how relatable the characters were. I often felt like Ramona got me even when none of my family did! In fact, I went through a phase where I was prone to shouting at my family whenever I thought I was being treated unfairly, “no one understands me but Beverly Cleary!” It was while I was reading the Ramona books that I became really fixated on how to tell a story and started envisioning myself as being a writer someday. It’s still my hope that I can give some readers characters they will relate to even when they feel like no one understands them in real life!

What books did you grow up reading?

Aside from the Ramona books, other childhood favorites were Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Roald Dahl’s Matilda taught me that books can literally save you. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) taught me that weird girls make the best main characters. Between her books and Narnia, I became really fascinated by the idea of travel to other worlds. Metaphorically, I think this is what we do when we read books. The author opens a door to another world, and the reader steps through it. That easily sums up why I love reading AND writing! Less metaphorically, it *could* influence the plots of upcoming books…

Meet Michelle Arnold

Michelle Arnold is a middle-aged nerd and cat lover who lives in the Midwestern United States and has published 11 Sapphic books.

Visit Michelle’s Website

share on:

Author Interview