From the age of 6, the Syosset resident wanted to be an author. Now just 26 years old, she is an author in spades — releasing her fourth novel. She’ll give a reading at the Book Revue in Huntington on Aug. 14.
It all started with a contest, National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” to the cognoscenti, a nonprofit-run annual challenge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Sponsors donate various prizes, including free books, writing and publishing software, discounts on literary tools and more. There’s a Nassau group of “wrimos” as they call themselves, on Facebook.
Wolff first made the attempt at the age of 16, and has written a novel every November since. How do you write a novel in a month? “I wish I could say I have some awesome process but I don’t,” she says. “I have no process. I tried an outline once. It didn’t work.”
“When I was 17, 18, they just weren’t good stories,” she says. “They weren’t bad stories, but there just wasn’t enough time.”
That’s partly because much of her time has been spent in hospitals due to a rare medical situation. Wolff has been diagnosed with something called VACTERL association, a complex condition that typically includes birth defects in three or more major systems or areas, including spine, cardiovascular system, kidneys and limbs. Wolff has had 26 surgeries in her relatively short life so far.
“That’s what got me into writing, because I was in and out of hospitals my whole childhood,” she says. “It never stopped me.” During her senior year at Syosset High School she had surgery in February, did her schoolwork from the hospital bed, and was proud to walk with her class at graduation. She continued her fiction forays as she earned a BA in English from CW Post in Brookville. “I promised my mom I would always put school first,” she says.
Of course, her life experience has shaped her character. “I’m a very confrontational person,” she says, though it’s a surprise to hear it from this pert, petite young lady. “With all the people who were in control of my life — doctors, nurses, parents — I learned to speak for myself.”
And it also shapes her storytelling. “That’s why I made my character physically disabled,” she says. “I never read another book like that, with a disabled heroine.” Through an online support group she found an editor, who lives in Missouri and has the same medical condition, to work with.
Wolff’s books are suspenseful romances, or romantic mysteries, featuring young protagonists and dark tints. Her first book, Sharpie Messages: The Writing On The Wall, paired an high school outcast with a homeless kid, and her second novel, Fated, was a sequel to that story. She published these books, “just to get my name out there.” Her third, On The Shattered Path, was about an abusive relationship. Her latest, Three Little Lies, which she’ll be reading from at Book Revue, takes a troubled teen to an unfamiliar location, where she unmasks a serial killer.
“I try to make my romances kind of serious,” she says. “Not everything is all happily ever after.” Her own romance, however, couldn’t be sweeter. She met her fiance, Andy Iacona, on Craigslist, “before that whole thing with the killer,” Melissa notes. It took one date for the two to see the harmony in their pairing, and since then they they’ve “been through a lot.” They’ll be married this November — perhaps not coincidentally NaNoWriMo.