Since her Blue Bloods series with Disney-Hyperion debuted a decade ago, Melissa de la Cruz has published a steady stream of bestselling novels and become a luminary in the YA universe. Her expansive list of credits includes the Beach Lane, Ashley Project, and Heart of Dread series; the Witches of East End series for adults; and a number of standalone books, including the semiautobiographical Fresh off the Boat. The author’s star shines unusually brightly in 2016, which will bring a total of five new de la Cruz novels to bookstore shelves.
De la Cruz’s first releases this year were published in April. Golden (Putnam) concludes the Heart of Dread fantasy trilogy, written with her husband, Michael Johnston. The two have a well-oiled collaborative process that begins with discussing the story arc, after which Johnston takes “a first stab” at an outline and, de la Cruz says, “I go in and do my pass. The same thing happens with the writing of the book—we pass it back and forth. My husband does more of the beginning work, and I do most of the finishing work.”
De la Cruz has mixed feelings about wrapping up the Heart of Dread series. “It was a little hard to end it, but actually I was a bit glad that it was over,” she notes. “These were dark books, and I was ready to stop torturing my characters and give them a satisfying ending. It certainly wasn’t as hard to let go of this trilogy as it was to leave behind the Blue Bloods series, which was seven books and 10 years of my life.”
The author wrote her second April release, Surviving High School (Gallery), with teenager and social media megastar Lele Pons, who has millions of Vine, Instagram, and Twitter followers and two million Facebook fans. The novel was inspired by the teen’s real-life experiences and Vine videos.
“At first I was a bit hesitant to co-write the novel, but watching Lele’s videos online, I was entirely charmed by her,” recalls de la Cruz. “She was hilarious, and I said, ‘Okay, now I get it—and I do want to work with her.’ This generation has such a different take on being a teenager than we did in the 1980s, and that was really interesting to discover—and it’s definitely reflected in the book.”
This month, de la Cruz welcomes Return to the Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel (Disney), the sequel to The Isle of the Lost, which was a prequel to the 2015 Disney Channel original movie The Descendants. The first book has spent 37 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (15 weeks in the #1 spot) and has more than one million copies in print. “This has been kind of an interesting project,” reflects de la Cruz. “The first book, The Isle of the Lost, set up the movie story line, then the movie was released. Return to the Isle of the Lost takes the movie into consideration, but it’s a sequel to the first book as well.” And there is likely additional book/movie backing-and-forthing ahead, as de la Cruz reveals a second Descendants film is in the works.
Due in September, de la Cruz’s Something in Between is the launch title of Seventeen Fiction from Harlequin Teen, an imprint that will focus on empowered female characters and explore topics and situations that highlight the challenges and joys of being a teenager today. De la Cruz’s novel centers on the daughter of Filipino immigrants, who is living the American dream until she learns that her family is in the U.S. illegally and may be deported.
Inspired by her own experiences as a Filipino-American who, like her heroine, became entangled in immigration issues as a young woman, the novel, says de la Cruz, “is a story very close to my heart. Though it doesn’t tell my family’s exact story, it really opened all of those old wounds and memories of feeling that vulnerability, that sense of not quite belonging, in this country.” The author has a companion novel, Someone to Love, underway.
Rounding out de la Cruz’s 2016 lineup is Double Eclipse (Putnam), the second book, after Triple Moon, in the Summer on East End series, which the author describes as “a kind of teen spinoff of Witches of East End.”
The author, who quit her job as a computer programmer in 2000 to write full-time, says, in what seems an understatement, “I guess I haven’t really stopped since.” She’s happy to take a break from her computer to attend BEA, which she calls “a wonderful and fun celebration of our industry.”
Today, she’ll sign copies of The Isle of the Lost at a ticketed autographing at Table 2, 11 a.m.–noon, and will be at the Harlequin booth (2240, 2241), 1–2:30 p.m. (or as long as supplies last), signing ARCs of Something in Between.
Tomorrow, de la Cruz will be part of the “What’s New in YA?” panel on the Downtown Stage, 11–11:45 a.m., and will autograph Return to the Isle of the Lost chapter samplers at the Disney Publishing booth (2117), 1–2 p.m., before attending the ABC/CBC Tea with Children’s Authors and Illustrators, at 3:30 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.