Grand Haven

Local author’s latest novel is flashback to simpler times: the summer of 2017

Growing up in the Grand Haven area, Melanie Hooyenga’s love of writing began early. She penned short stories, poems, and songs. She has since moved onto books. In the last decade, Hooyenga has become an award-winning author with seven published novels.

In the past decade, Hooyenga has published seven books. Her latest is Chasing the Sun, a young adult contemporary romance set around the August 2017 “Great American Eclipse.” The first book in the Campfire Series, Chasing the Sun, is a lighthearted romance with space puns, Portland shenanigans, and enough feels to totally eclipse your heart.

Chasing the Sun takes place in the days surrounding the 2017 solar eclipse; the energy and excitement that gripped the country sparked an idea for a novel,” says Hooyenga. “I thought it would be fun to have a group of kids road trip to a place that was in the ‘path of totality’ and have a romance between two of them.”

Hooyenga started writing her novel before the pandemic hit. Like those in nearly every other sector, writers are trying to figure out how to adapt to the COVID-19 world.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with authors of contemporary novels who are unsure what this means for the future of our genre,” says Hooyenga. “Do we include references to the pandemic, and the way it’s changed our lives? It’s still too early to know when we can say it’s over, so it may be really hard to ignore. That said, I’m glad I bought myself a little time before deciding how
to address it by setting my novel three years ago.”

Weaving in heavier issues

As readers have come to expect from Hooyenga, she slips heavier issues in between the moments of butterflies and furtive glances. Chasing the Sun is also about accepting the loss of the past and searching for a better future.

The story is told from two points of view: Sage, who recently got out of an emotionally abusive relationship, and Neb, who moved in with his mother after his father died suddenly.

“Both of their pasts are based on my personal experiences, and I enjoyed weaving together the darkness that comes with heartbreak and uncertainty about the future with a lot of space jokes and teens getting to know each other,” says Hooyenga.

A decade of YA

Chasing the Sun debuted last week at all online booksellers and is available in Grand Haven at The Bookman, at 715 Washington Ave.
Chasing the Sun, a young adult contemporary romance set around the August 2017 “Great American Eclipse.”

Hooyenga has been writing young adult novels since 2010. Her award-winning YA sports romance series, The Rules Series, is about girls from Colorado falling in love and learning to stand up on their own. Her YA time-travel trilogy, The Flicker Effect, is about a teen who uses sunlight to travel back to yesterday.

The first book, Flicker, won first place for Middle Grade/Young Adult in the Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Published eBook awards, and The Rules Series has won 10 awards, including Finalist for MG/YA in the BookLife Prize.

Meaningful work

When not at her day job as the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, you can find Hooyenga wrangling her miniature schnauzer, Owen, and playing every sport imaginable with her husband, Jeremy Swiftney, the city’s Downtown Development Authority Executive Director.

Hooyenga, who briefly considered careers in education and journalism before deciding on communication and design, says her role at the foundation keeps her challenged doing meaningful work.

“My job at the foundation now is the first one where I really have a strong balance between writing and graphic design,” Hooyenga says.

Memoir first

It was her own novel-like journey that started her on a path to writing books. In 2007, she moved to the seaside community Zihuatanejo, Mexico, with her previous husband to live with his family.

“I wasn't working, so I threw myself into studying the publishing industry, reading agent blogs, and researching. I joined a writing forum, where some of my best friends to this day are the people that I met there. I wrote a memoir first, which is how a lot of people start a manuscript, and it just kind of went from there,” Hooyenga says.

After the memoir about her experiences living in Mexico, she wrote a novel about a teenage Mexican boy trying to sneak into the United States. These were never published, but the projects taught her a lot about writing books. When she moved back to Grand Haven in 2010, she began writing her third novel, the first book in The Flicker Effect trilogy.

She self-published her books, which have all been part of series. Fortunately, beyond her writing talent, she also had the skill set to design the book covers and launch social media campaigns to promote them. Her books have garnered good reviews in addition to awards.

Writing routine

Hooyenga writes when she rolls out of bed, for the first hour of the day.

“I am happiest when I'm writing, but it's as I say a lot, it's a very solitary endeavor. I write really clean first drafts, but I outline heavily, so I usually know what's going into it. I've learned a lot about myself as a writer; that has helped me. If I have my outline, I can write 1,000 words in about an hour but, after that hour, I need to stop,” she says.

She has also completed a novel set in Grand Haven and is looking for an agent who can help her find a traditional publisher.

Hooyenga is drawn to the young adult romance genre because youth is a special time in life.

“I just love the whole idea of learning who you are and exploring, when you know you're still kind of figuring out where you fit in the world. Love is a lot different when you are 17 than in your 30s. It’s all-encompassing when you have a crush on somebody at that age, like that's your whole world,” she says.

Learn more about Hooyenga at melaniehoo.com.
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