Melody: I’d always loved writing, but felt that becoming an “author of published books” was probably, like, the impossible dream. However, about the time my boys were entering their teens, I got this burning desire to write. I had no idea if my writing was publishable or not, but I didn’t even care. I just wanted to write. I joined a critique group and after a year or so had managed to write a number of books. Then I had to learn how to “market” them to publishers. Writing came easy, but selling my books (at first) was difficult.
Betsy: You're most recognized in the world of YA, though you have several contemporary romances, as well. What is your favorite genre to write?
Melody: Whatever I’m working on at the time. Mostly I love telling stories about characters that I can relate to, characters who are believable and facing big challenges. Sometimes I enjoy digging into a serious tale like my grownup novel Finding Alice (which is about schizophrenia and will be a Lifetime movie this year). And sometimes, like right now, I enjoy writing something much lighter and funnier like chick lit. Although I do worry that I might “confuse” my readers – like who is this writer really? I guess I’m just diverse.
Betsy: Whatever works! We'll keep reading either way ::grin:: So, who are a few of your favorite authors? And books?
Melody: I like reading women’s contemporary fiction—stories about women’s lives and issues and daily living. I like Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler, Francine Rivers, Lisa Samson, Anne Rivers Siddons.
Betsy: What inspired you to start writing?
Melody: Like I said, it was a deep inner urge. I felt like I couldn’t “not write.” Also, shortly before this, I remember shopping for books with my older son, who was a voracious reader, but only thirteen and wanting to read Stephen King. I wanted to find some decent young adult books, but there was a huge gap in the Christian market, and the only fiction available in the general trade YA seemed extremely dark, violent, and frightening. I remember being in the bookstore and reading a chapter of one of these objectionable books and thinking, “Man, I think I can write that badly.” Okay, that’s not very flattering to me or the other author, but in a twisted way it was inspiring to me.
Betsy: Haha! Well, Melody, tell us about your own personal spiritual journey.
Melody: I didn’t grow up in “church-going” home. And I didn’t really know what made a person a Christian. But at the age of twelve I decided that God did not exist and proclaimed myself an atheist. For the next few years I went through a pretty rebellious era (although I maintained good grades and was considered a “leader” type of student) I was questioning everything and, I think, wishing someone would show me the Truth. Then one summer, just before starting my sophomore year, several classmates were killed in a car wreck and I was obsessed with wanting to know what happened after we died. For the first time I became very aware of mortality and I didn’t think I wanted to cease to exist (like my God-less theology). That night I “prayed” that if God was real, he would reveal himself to me. About a month later, he did. I was kidnapped to a Young Life meeting where, for the first time, the gospel was presented to me—and resonated. After a few more meetings, lots of questions, it gelled and I invited Jesus into my heart. My life did a total 180 and I was sold out for God.
Betsy: Wow, that's so awesome! Tell us, what's a typical writing day in the life of Melody Carlson?
Melody: I head to my office around eight-ish, do my email while getting caught up on the morning news then usually start into “serious” writing around nine—ten if it’s a busy email day. Sometime around noon, I take a lunch break, often with my hubby. Then return to work for the remainder of the afternoon, although I do take a break to walk with a friend for about an hour three days a week. I usually write until five, unless I’m crunching a deadline. And I try not to work weekends.
Betsy: Your series, "The Secret Life of Samantha McGregor" is so fun to read! And so different, in that the main character has visions. What inspired you to compose these books? Have you received any negative feedback on this series because of its slightly edgy plot line?
Melody: Teen girls seem to have a strong interest in the “supernatural.” Statistically, the vast majority of teens (even Christians) dabble in something. And I remember being curious at that age too. But it occurred to me that God is the most supernatural force in the universe. Why not give him some attention in this regard? So, using the form of fiction, I created Samantha—but I made sure that this girl was firmly grounded in God—and I “gifted” her with the ability to receive dreams and visions from God. She uses her gift to help others, including solving crimes. The main intent of the premise is to encourage readers to see God in a bigger, more powerful way. We included lots of scripture, disclaimers, instruction to ensure that readers don’t assume that God might gift them in the same way. And I try to point out, through story, that there are lots of gifts from God. I haven’t gotten any negative feedback yet, but lots of interest and question. And this is, after all, fiction, so hopefully no one will take it too seriously.
Betsy: Your series "Diary of a Teenage Girl" was and continues to be a huge hit! Did the success take you off guard? How do you handle it?
Melody: I was totally surprised. Actually, when I did the “first” book, I thought that would be it. A stand alone book. I never dreamed it would go on and on like this. Good thing I’m a fast and prolific writer...because those readers can’t seem to get them quickly enough. There are thirteen books written and we just decided to bring out a fourth character, who is really interesting and introduced in the Kim series. But I think it’ll end there.
Betsy: Have you received positive feedback from teenagers sharing how your books have touched them or helped them? If so, can you share a few anonymous messages?
Melody: The most amazing feedback I get and (I have received a LOT of these letters) is when girls write, saying specifically that “when Caitlin (or Chloe or Kim) gave her heart to the Lord, I did the same thing, I got down on my knees and invited Jesus into my heart...”. That just blows me away and I have to give God the credit.
Betsy: How inspiring! Wow. Any words of advice to aspiring authors? Any do's or don'ts of the business?
Melody: First of all, I encourage them to write-write-write – even if it doesn’t get published at first or ever. You learn so much by doing that...and then by doing it again and again. Also, join a good critique group and/or take writing classes and attend writers’ conferences. And make sure you’re reading a lot of excellent books, the kind you aspire to write. And, if your goal is to publish, develop thick skin and be willing to enter smaller markets (like newspapers, magazines...) to start with because it will build up your bio.
Betsy: Great advice, Melody. What can readers look forward to seeing from you next?
Melody: As usual, I have something for everyone. Well, almost. I have a new chick lit book called These Boots aren’t Made for Walking releasing from WaterBrook next month. I also have a Christmas novella coming soon (An Irish Christmas from Baker) and a new teen series called The Carter House Girls from Zondervan releases next year (edgy and funny) and a new juvenile series (a first for me) called The Girls of 622 Harbor View (also from Zondervan) and right now I’m working on a fun new series for 20-something readers called 86 Bloomberg Place.