Melody Carlson has published over ninety books for children, teens, and adults, many of which have appeared on ECPA bestseller lists. Several of her books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards, including the Romance Writers of America’s Rita Award, Romance Writers of America’s Readers’ Choice Award, and the ECPA Gold Medallion Award. She and her husband have two grown sons and live in Central Oregon.
What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?
On This Day is a novel about five very different women attending a destination wedding—all set within one day. With a focus on romance and relationship, the reader is exposed to a variety of situations and all the various emotions that can be found at a wedding.
Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the five central women, and the action flows naturally from woman to woman as each tells her story. From one woman’s pain of postpartum depression to another’s discovery of her husband’s affair to yet another woman who plans to end a 25-year marriage, On This Day relates to readers the events of not a perfect day, but a day that, like life, is filled with all the difficulties and discoveries the world has to offer.
Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.
I was one of the lucky ones who got published relatively quickly. Within my first year of writing I sold several short stories—I think the first one was with Ideals (a memoir about my grandma’s house). But entering the book publishing world was a bigger challenge. It took a couple of year’s worth of rejection letters. And, while I had lots of interest in a variety of my fiction books (primarily juvenile and YA) I finally had an editor ask me if I could write a nonfiction book (she thought she could get the publisher interested in nonfiction) so I wrote a proposal for How to Start a Quality Childcare Center in Your Home.
The editor was right, the publisher (Thomas Nelson) bought it. I was working at an international adoption agency at the time and the editor called me at work with the good news, and I was so excited I ran around and told some of my fellow “writing friends” and we all celebrated. Now, more than 100 contracts later, I have to chuckle about how thrilled I was over what turned out to be the smallest advance I ever got on anything. But it was my first.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
Of course! I usually have great, big doubts at the beginning of a book—and I’ll make up any excuse I can think of to procrastinate (including things like cleaning under the refrigerator). Then I force myself to sit down and get going on the book and I don’t allow myself to obsess over it. But then when I’m finished with the book, I’ll often think it was the worst thing I’ve ever written. Then some time passes and I get feedback from the publisher and I realize that it’s not so bad after all.
What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?
Early on I think I devalued my own abilities and consequently let some publishers take unfair advantage of me. I didn’t have an agent then and I probably agreed to some things that I shouldn’t have. But it was a good lesson and I don’t regret it.
What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?
It’s probably the old “write what you know” bit. I know it sounds trite, but it’s so true. You need to write about things you understand, have experienced, are passionate about…and then you’ll write something that others want to read.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?
“Why try? You’ll never get published.” It seems funny now, but I remember some well-meaning people saying various forms of that. It’s like they didn’t want me to get my hopes up because the possibility of actually publishing a book was so remote—like winning the lottery. Guess I proved them wrong.
What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
I think the biggest challenge that myself and most unpublished writers face is not being familiar with “the market.” I know this gets preached at writers’ conferences, but “understanding the market” is a hard concept to grasp. I actually went to work for a publisher just so that I could learn what this meant. The funny thing is that “the market” is constantly changing, and it differs between publishing houses. But do your best—and perhaps more important than knowing the market is to know yourself and what can you write the best.
Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?
I’ve been thinking about Proverbs 3:5-6 lately (an old favorite that’s always a comfort). Here’s my own paraphrase, “Don’t rely on your own limited knowledge, but trust God with your whole heart. Include God in all areas of your life and He’ll show you which way to go.”
Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?
I know that it doesn’t seem fair, but my writing career has gone pretty steadily upward and forward and I’m as amazed as anyone. If it makes other struggling writers feel any better, I’ve had some pretty tough challenges in my personal life (two grown sons who’ve gone through some extremely hard trials) and I would gladly trade some of my writing success to take away some of their pain. Of course, God doesn’t work like that.
What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you)
Most books by Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler, Jane Austin. I really like books written by women that focus on relationships.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
I really like how Finding Alice turned out (it’s a novel about schizophrenia). The book’s been optioned as a movie and is currently looking like it might possibly happen (although it’s still a long shot).
Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?
I’m not crazy about public speaking. I can do it (and know that I need to) but one of the reasons I was sold on fiction (when I first started writing) was that I heard that fiction authors didn’t have to do publicity. Well, that changed a few years ago and I’m dealing with it.
Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?
I head to my office (upstairs in the guesthouse about 30 feet from our house) at about nine in the morning. I do my email and office work for about an hour. Then I start writing. I always quickly review the last chapter I wrote and then head right into the next and go for it. I try to take a midday break to go workout or take a walk. Then I come back and write some more. I usually quit around four. Because my schedule is flexible, I can take a day off if needed, and sometimes I write on the road (when we take the motorhome out for a few days).
If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?
I really admire how Jane Kirkpatrick so thoroughly researches her historical novels. I know she enjoys the researching almost as much as the writing and she makes wonderful discoveries along the way. Sometimes I wish I could take the time to do this. Unfortunately my writing schedule doesn’t allow that. And, lucky for me, I don’t do historicals that require that kind of research.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
I’m still very interested in film and TV. I’ve written one screenplay and taken one class. But I don’t have a lot of time to explore this. I do have some Hollywood connections (a manager for optioning my books) and a couple of producers who are already involved with my work. But when/if time allows I’d like to pursue this a bit more. Still, it’s like the Proverbs verse above. I need to trust God for the timing of this. In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing what He puts before me.
Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
Not seriously. Sometimes I jokingly consider other careers that I might look into if I was unable to contract another book or just suddenly went blank. So far that’s not been a problem. But it could happen and if it did, I have no doubt that there’d be something exciting around the next corner. Although I suspect I’d keep writing just for the fun of it.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
My favorite part is that I love to write. I love to create. I love to explore characters, relationships, conflicts, etc.. Hmm, my least favorite part? Oh, yeah, the publicity. I wish I could clone part of myself to handle that and I’d tell my clone to go out and be funny and smart and clever, and just leave the writer part of me alone. Okay, maybe not. And the truth is, once I go out and start talking to people about my writing, I usually have a pretty good time. But I am a bit of a hermit too.
How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?
Right, weren’t we just talking about this and how I don’t enjoy it? Anyway, I try to be a responsible author and I do pretty much everything the publishers set up for me. But the truth is I don’t go out of my way to set things up for myself. My publishers understand that I am first of all a writer and that marketing and publicity are secondary. I do have a wonderful publicist (she works with several houses) and she understands me and does a great job of setting things up that aren’t too overwhelming. However, I know that publishers love to get their hands on an author who is good at self promotion. So if this is your gift and you can write too—well, you’ll be a hot commodity.
I didn’t start seriously writing until I was in my mid thirties. The reason I put it off was because I took my ability to write for granted. It came easily to me, causing me think it wasn’t very special. The reason I started writing seriously was because I felt like I was either going to write or burst, and writing seemed less painful. My point is that we often take our gifts for granted. We don’t see ourselves in the same way that others do. So, if you have a gift for writing, accept that it’s from God and put it to good use. Then develop thick skin and send your work out—and don’t despair when you’re rejected. It’s simply paying your dues. My reaction to rejections was to simply write more (eventually it all got published). So, write, write, write. And God bless!