Thursday, August 20, 2020

Michelle Hazen Interview - Breathe the Sky

Photo Content from Michelle Hazen

Michelle Hazen is a nomad with a writing problem. Years ago, she and her husband ducked out of the 9 to 5 world and moved into their truck. She found her voice with the support of the online fanfiction community, and once she started typing, she never looked back.

She has written most of her books in odd places, including a bus in Thailand, an off-the-grid cabin in the Sawtooth Mountains, a golf cart in a sandstorm, a rental car during a heat wave in the Mohave Desert and a beach in Honduras. Even when she’s climbing rocks, riding horses, or getting lost someplace wild and beautiful, there are stories spooling out inside her head, until she finally heeds their call and returns to her laptop and solar panels.

She’s currently addicted to The Walking Dead, hiking, and Tillamook cheese.


Tell us your latest news.
Actually, I do have a little news…Breathe the Sky just got its second starred review!

And let’s be honest, I’d be thrilled that my book scored a star even if the review only said something like, “Vaguely reminiscent of a cheese platter…” but this particular review just arrowed straight into the heart of WHY I wrote the book, and what, in my most daydreamy of moments, I might have hoped a reader could get from it.

They (ALA Booklist, that is) said, “Hazen’s latest heart-melting and intensely passionate contemporary romance is a balm for the soul for anyone who has suffered abuse and survived to love again.”

I ask you, what more could a writer want?

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I’m going to give an oddball answer to this, because it’s on my mind today. My agent.

I’ve been signed to the same agent since I was a little baby writer and she has always encouraged me to write what feels the most true to me, no matter how risky, no matter whether it was a topic that was popular for that particular five minutes, no matter WHAT. I think always feeling safe to stretch like that has taken my writing several levels past where I ever would have gotten if I was playing it conservative and being forced to color only inside existing lines. I also think it’s focused my stories more on emotional truth rather than any outside element.

She has, ironically, made my writing so much more ME than it would have been otherwise. I think, just all the time, about what a gift that is.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I had a reader tell me once that my books were the first time they really believed that sex could make a relationship stronger. That it was something beautiful and good and healthy, not a lustful temptation toward something evil or dirty.

It made me really get for the first time that it’s possible for fiction to literally manifest more good in the world, like literary alchemy.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I always want my writing to feel like a safe place to land for my readers. My books are realistic enough so they don’t feel like a lie with fairy wings, but every last thing I write is a love song to hope and to the often unexpected good inside other people.

Also for this particular book, Mari works through the various ways men have treated her in relationships, and realizes which are manipulative, abusive, and harmful. Abusive manipulation can look charming on the surface and some of their tactics are surprisingly hard to spot. If even one person reads this book and realizes that their partner should be treating them better, and demands better for themselves as a result, I will die happy.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
The story I have to tell all the time for people to understand me is that in 2010, I turned to my husband and said, “I hate everything about my life except you. Can we just…leave?” And he said, “Thank God you said it first.”

And so we saved up and quit our jobs, put our stuff in storage, found a home for our cat, and moved into our truck. We spent four years living full time on the road, and then six more years living part time on the road and part time in a very small apartment. We worked seasonally, but you don’t need as much money when you don’t pay rent, so you don’t have to work as many hours. It’s a bit of a drastic solution, but that gave us the time and space to figure out what we really wanted. It also gave us time to try and injure ourselves doing a truly egregious amount of outdoor sports.

A decade later, my life is completely different and 100% better. My husband and I are both working in careers we’re passionate about that we never would have even guessed were options for us back in 2010. I did sort of toss my entire life in a trash can, for a minute there, but I’m so thankful I did.

What part of Mari and Jack did you enjoy writing the most?
The animal rescue stories, when they’re working together to rescue adorable desert creatures. Also, their first date has indefensible amounts of cuteness! They’re both so awkward and uncertain as they get back into dating.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Work. I was working soooo many hours on a construction site when I wrote this book.

Can you tell us when you started BREATHE THE SKY, how that came about?
I wrote it on accident, actually! So my seasonal day job is as a biological monitor for construction sites, just like Mari. My task is to spot endangered species and keep them out of the way of construction in remote desert areas, often while they’re building power lines like in this book.

There’s a lot of waiting in this job. I don’t show it in the book, but sometimes you have to stay vigilant for thousands of hours before you spot a single animal to save. Because the thing about endangered species is, there’s not that many of them. So, I was bored, and thinking, “this would be a whole lot more interesting if one of these construction workers was hot, and you were falling in love.”

I had been working 13 hours a day, 6 days a week for months. I was exhausted, but when I don’t have time to write, it also feels like I’m holding my breath, and I can’t hold it forever. Finally, on my one day off, I sat down and just exhaled 13,000 words of this book onto the page. For reference, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo speed, trying to write an entire novel in a month, that’s EIGHT DAYS worth of work. I drafted most of this book when I was still on that job, semi-miraculously because I didn’t really even have time to sleep or do my laundry. I still have no idea how it was physically possible.

I wrote it for the sheer joy if it, to cheer myself up. And now that’s it’s being published, in 2020 with everything that’s going on and how exhausted we all are…I just think, nothing could be more perfect.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
Turns out lineman work (the hero’s job, building high-voltage power lines) is super dangerous and interesting. Those boys climb 200-foot towers and can’t rope in with a safety line until they get to where they’re headed and stop climbing. Which is a little sexy, to be honest.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Actually, I really did this. I got my start as a fanfic author, so I do what I want. There’s a novella called Love Heals that I’ll be sharing with my newsletter subscribers this Christmas, wherein the characters from Unbreak Me and Breathe the Sky meet each other.

Both books are similar, in that they’re about broken people finding love (and really hot sex, lol) again. But it struck me that the two couples would clash HORRIBLY. Andra from Unbreak Me is famously skittish around men, and Jack is all bark, no sign of his soft cinnamon roll heart when you first meet him. He’s also a grouchy white construction worker from the wrong side of the tracks in Alabama, and LJ from Unbreak Me is a Black musician from New Orleans. Jack is not at all a racist, but if they got caught in an elevator together, LJ might rightfully be tense about how it might go.

The contrast intrigued me, so I wrote this novella in which the characters run into each other at a gas station, of all places, and they end up (totally unplanned, actually) becoming a huge part of each other’s happily ever after. The meet cute idea snowballed until it became a longer-term epilogue for both books. I’m very excited to share it with my newsletter people!

  • 1. Perfect for fans of Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls or Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead
  • 2. Enemies to friends to lovers slow burn
  • 3. Includes a mini murder mystery…of a tortoise
  • 4. Heroine and hero who are *gasp* over the age of 40
  • 5. Solar oven hazelnut brownies
  • 6. Gorgeous Mojave Desert setting
  • 7. Funny supporting characters
  • 8. Quietly badass nomadic heroine who lives in a truck
  • 9. Tortured bad boy hero
  • 10. Adorable baby animals are rescued
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Proper name anomia. It’s the term for when you can’t remember a specific word and (fun fact!) I never forget this term, not once, not ever, even when I can’t remember the proper name for anything from toothbrush to floor to the name of my husband.

What according to you is your most treasured possession?
My couch! Which is going to sound like quite an out-of-character thing for a very active, outdoorsy nomad to say, but I’ve spent the better part of a decade sitting on rocks and the cactus-spine-infested ground, and my tailgate, and a flurry of terrible camp chairs. After all that, there’s nothing better than a super squishy recliner. I even have a terrifically soft love seat that is a rocking chair AND a recliner. *mind blown*

Best date you've ever had?
Okay, so this is not a technical date date, but one time I was flying back from a writer’s retreat, and leaving the next morning to the desert for MONTHS for my biologist job. I was very sad because my husband was gone in the mountains and I was not going to get to see him before I left.

When I got back to my car in the airport parking lot, there was a little care package of stuff on the seat for me to take to the desert with me. I thought, this is so insane, my husband conned one of our friends into driving to the airport, paying for parking and driving around to find my truck, then sneaking these surprises into it for me! I honestly felt a little bad for whatever friend got weaseled into doing this.

Then I drove home and my husband was THERE! Even though he was supposed to be many hours away somewhere else, and I was only home from like, 10pm until 5am the next morning, he drove all the way back just to see me for a few hours AND snuck into the airport parking lot for me.

I’d like to say I reacted to this development with a lot of dignity and flippant chill, but that was not the case.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
Now. I really, really love my life right now. I have my dream couch, dream career with my dream publisher, the best and fiercest agent on the planet, and a husband who makes just enough bad puns to make up for how otherwise endearing he is.

What is one unique thing you are afraid of?
Getting blown up by a natural gas pipeline.

Which sounds weird, except that I’ve worked many times as a biologist on natural gas pipelines as the old, decrepit ones got replaced, and one of them blew up. You don’t forget a mushroom cloud once you’ve seen one in person.

Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
Let’s put this in context, because I’ve travelled a LOT. Like basically that’s all I’ve done for the last ten years to the point that if I see a suitcase, I now spontaneously vomit.

After all that, hands down my favorite place is New Orleans, Louisiana. It has a mojo and a magic to it like no place else. Plus the best food, the prettiest houses, the best trees, and a culture so rich that it’s like visiting a foreign country without having to renew your passport.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
When I got my book deal and The Call came, I was out of cell phone service. Because I’m always out of cell service.

But I think the best part about it was that my agent sounded like she was coming unglued with happiness in the voicemail. When I called back and she told me they wanted my books, I just kept asking her ARE YOU SURE. HOW SURE. THAT CANNOT BE RIGHT. WHAT IF YOU ARE MISTAKEN. Which she took rather well, in retrospect.

Two strangers start out saving animals and end up rescuing each other in this heartwarming romance from the author of Unbreak Me.

Mari Tucker is a wildlife biologist who scoops bunnies and endangered tortoises out of harm’s way on construction sites. Still haunted by her past, she takes the most remote jobs in the Mojave Desert to avoid people and hide from her ex. It’s a simple, quiet life filled with sweet animals and solar-powered baking until she ends up assigned to Jack Wyatt’s crew.

Construction foreman Jack Wyatt’s loud, foul-mouthed temper keeps even the most rugged of men on his crew in line. No mistake is overlooked, because out in the desert it could mean life or death. In his opinion, the job site is no place for sensitive biologists, especially one as shy as Mari. But instead of wilting from the heat and hard work, Mari wins over Jack and his crew one homemade brownie at a time.

Jack and Mari find a comfortable rhythm, building a friendship that’s rare for both of them. After Jack’s rocky childhood, they have more in common than they’d imagined. But even the Mojave sun can’t chase away the shadows when the past is determined to track them down…

You can purchase Breathe the Sky at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MICHELLE HAZEN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Breathe the Sky by Michelle Hazen.


  1. I'm still with my first love. I thought I loved before, but I now know I didn't. He's so much fun and hardworking. We've been together for almost nine years and we're going to be together for the rest of our lives <3

  2. My first love was the boy across the street. He was 9 and 3. I used to write him love letters via another 9 yr old and she would deliver them for me. I wasn't allowed to cross the street. He passed away in a motorcycle accident at 19.

  3. My first love was a boy a grade or two older than me. I followed him around like a puppy dog. Embarrassing!

  4. I lost contact with mine. He would make fun of me being a Canadian lol