Another Summerside Press novel. This one from the state where my brother lives. Welcome, Melanie. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
That’s a great question but a tough one to answer because it’s often hard for me to know where I stop and my characters begin. Even though most of my characters don’t have my personality or a similar background, I strive to understand how they think and would respond in different situations. On the best writing days, with characters I’ve gotten to know well, I feel like I’m scribbling down the dialogue they dictate instead of creating it for them.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I’ve been a bit obsessive (some would say a lot obsessive) about writing since I was a child. I started journaling when I was seven and loved writing poetry and creating stories. In high school and college, I wrote articles and essays for the yearbook, school newspaper, and local newspaper (basically anyone that would publish my work). When I graduated, I pursued public relations as a career and spent almost a decade writing press releases in lieu of creative writing. I had always dreamed about writing fiction but intended to start when I was “older.”
Months before my thirtieth birthday it hit me that I was, in fact, “older,” and if I was going to pursue this dream, I had been better start soon. It took me years, and three completed manuscripts, to learn how to write fiction. Eight years after I started writing fiction, Together for Good was published.
It took me eight years for my first novel to sell, too. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I’ll read pretty much anything that isn’t dark or depressing—especially when I’m writing a darker novel like The Black Cloister. I like suspenseful and compelling stories, and I love to learn new things as I read and be inspired to grow in my journey with Christ. Jan Karon’s Mitford series tops my list of favorite books because whenever I read one of her books, it makes me smile. Even though I’ve read this series four or five times, I still love the characters and want to keep turning the pages quickly to see what happens next.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
The first novel I wrote was a historical novel called Remembering Rose. That one wasn’t published nor was my next one. It was my third novel, Together for Good, that found a home with a publisher, and I was elated because this was a story about adoption, a subject close to my heart. Together for Good was published in 2006 followed by Going for Broke the next year and then The Black Cloister in 2008. Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana, comes out this year, and my next romantic suspense novel Crescent Hill (working title) is scheduled to be released in 2010.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
When things get crazy around our house, one of our favorite sayings is, “Stop and breathe!” We all freeze and collectively breathe in and out until calm is restored. When I write, I try to block out the insanity a bit by not answering my phone or checking my email so I can focus on the story, but I have to say that not checking my email or Facebook is a hard habit for me to break. Some days email is a WHOLE lot more fun than writing a tough portion of my WIP (for that matter, scrubbing toilets is a lot more fun on those days…).
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Sometimes character names seem to find me. Other times I have to search for a name and change the name over and over again through the writing process until it seems to fit my character. In The Black Cloister, my main character Elise Friedman had a special name because she had been born into an abusive religious cult and her mother renamed her Elise to demonstrate that she had been dedicated to God. With the encouragement of my editor, we chose the last name of my main character in Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana, to be “Brent” specifically to honor a runaway slave named Linda Brent who wrote the phenomenal book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
What is your favorite food?
That’s not a tough question for me. :-) Cheese fondue.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Making myself focus! I outline my books now so I know exactly where I am going in case I’m interrupted (like right now!) by a child pounding on my door or I’m not able to write for several days. I also chew way too much gum and drink mug after mug of decaf coffee and tea which for some strange reason helps me stay on task.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
A bestselling author once said she was a horrible writer but a fabulous re-writer. When I watched her interview, I was thinking and talking about writing all the time but not actually DOING much writing because I was terrified I would fail. And if I failed, I would be devastated…
Once I realized that my first draft would stink, I let go of my fears and began spewing random thoughts onto my computer. After I had my first draft on paper, I polished and reworked and rewrote until I had a coherent draft that I liked. Even though I get anxious each time I start a new book, I’m no longer scared of the process, and I would encourage new writers not to be scared of the process either. Write what’s in your heart and worry about editing (and publishing) it later.
What would you like to tell us about the featured book?
Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana, is a part of Summerside Press’s wonderful new line featuring the stories of small towns across the country, and this novel is about a Quaker woman who runs a station on the secretive Underground Railroad in 1850. When her work is threatened by a slave hunter searching for a runaway girl, she turns to an outspoken abolitionist named Daniel Stanton for help. The two of them risk everything to harbor runaways and aid them in their flight to liberty.
I’ve had a blast writing this book, but even more fun than writing it was going to Liberty and meeting the delightful people of this town. Several of them welcomed me into their home and let me crawl around in the secret spaces of their attics and cellars where the runaway slaves once hid.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website and blog is at http://www.melaniedobson.com/, and I’d love to have the readers visit me at Facebook or Shoutlife.com.
Thank you, Melanie, for spending this time with us.
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