Mylene Dressler speaks on how to write a trilogy

On March 21, in the Carnegie Room at Hege Library, author and Guilford College Professor Emerita Mylene Dressler returned to campus for a talk with Guilford students and staff about how to write a trilogy.

“M. Dressler is the critically acclaimed author of six novels, as well as short stories, memoir, and essays,” Dressler’s website reads. “Her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Literary Hub, the Washington Post and many other journals and magazines, and her literary awards include the Carson McCullers Fellowship, the Paisano Fellowship in Literature, the North Carolina Artists Fellowship and the Fulbright Award. She is a professor emerita at Guilford College, and lives and writes on the Oregon coast and in the Canyon Country of southern Utah.”

During her talk, Dressler discussed the process of turning her ghost novel, “The Last to See Me,” into a successful trilogy. Dressler was honest about the process and highlighted the fact that the book industry is ruthless. Most people who hope to make a successful trilogy usually don’t make it past the first book, she said. 

“The Last To See Me” took her about five years to finish, and after it was released, people liked it so much that they wanted more, which gave her a chance to start a trilogy, Dressler said.  This opportunity gave her more room to really get into the mechanisms of the story and give it more substance to continue the series. 

Dressler advised attendees to keep things fresh in order to entertain readers, as she does in her own writing. Another tip she offered was to never be afraid to imagine, because our own imagination is the greatest tool given to us. She added that it’s important to honor your story so that it does not seem silly to readers.

With her work, Dressler wants to attract readers “who are not afraid to imagine, people who are not afraid to be challenged by what they read. People who like a really good story, a page-turning story, but also want substance, want something to be able to think about and let their heart be moved… and people who love language, because I care about story and I care about meaning, but I also just love language and the beauty of language.”

If you were there for Dressler’s lecture, where she read parts of her new book, or if you have read the book yourself, you can tell she follows her own advice. Dressler’s novels are full of beautiful, powerful and articulate words that really grab the reader’s attention. Dressler honors her story and takes it seriously, especially when dealing with heavier themes in the novel, like othering, marginalization and environmental impacts on the earth. 

She hopes that when people read this series, they learn “that we might be afraid of the wrong things, because I think it’s really easy to get distracted and terrified by the wrong things and manipulated into being afraid of people who are characterized as others.” 

“What I really want people to notice is that the ghosts are not the thing to be afraid of in these books,” Dressler said. “There are other things to be afraid of, like income inequality or class inequality or the climate crisis.”

After the event, students who attended shared their thoughts about what they took away from Dressler’s talk.

“…Writing a book series is a long and…complicated road that you really have to approach with a sense of determination,” said junior and creative writing major Jonathan Campbell. “…A lot of it comes down to, you can have all the…passion you want, but if no one’s reading it, you’re not gonna get a sequel.” 

“I think what I took away from the meeting is that writing a novel or a series is difficult and…a long process,” said junior and English major Madelaine Bradley. “She said she wrote the first novel within five years. I think once you get (into) the flow of…writing a series and it gets popular, it gets easier because you have deadlines, but you also connect with those characters easier.” 

At the end of her talk, Dressler shared the exciting news that her trilogy might be turned into a movie. She can’t reveal much, but she said that she is talking with an ambitious director, Livia De Paolis, about the movie adaptation process.