She attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, on a musical scholarship as a violinist. After graduating with a degree in English, she went on to obtain graduate degrees in counseling psychology from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio and biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas. She has taught at the graduate level of both universities.
Since 1992, Wells has been in private practice as a counselor. She is the founder and director of LifeWorks Counseling Associates, a collaborative community of therapists, in Dallas and is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Growing up in a musical family where one’s identity was determined by the art they portrayed, Wells was constantly surrounded by creativity. She began her literary career because she wanted to funnel this creativity and her everyday observations into a good book. She believes that the natural creative rhythm of music can be extended to the natural rhythm of the written word. Her own musical background and life experience as a psychologist has prolifically impacted her writing throughout the years.
Her debut psychological thriller, When the Day of Evil Comes, released in 2005 and sold more than 25,000 copies in the first six months. The Soul Hunter, her subsequent book, followed in 2006. Her newest book, My Soul to Keep, releases Feb. 5, 2008, from Multnomah Books, a division of Random House.
Wells currently lives and writes in Dallas.
Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?
The third book in the Dylan Foster series, My Soul to Keep, just came out a couple of weeks ago. I’ll crow about that, if you don’t mind. I’m proud of this book. It’s the best of the three, I think, probably because I’m still a bit green as a writer and I’m improving with each book. The book is doing really well. Getting great reviews. And I really do love the story and characters. It’s the third of a series, so I’m not sure if there will be a fourth. I get asked about that a lot. That will be determined by the numbers and by the higher ups at Random House (hint).
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
In every story I write, I start with the opening scene or situation. The first two books, When the Day of Evil Comes and The Soul Hunter, naturally lead up to the beginning of My Soul to Keep. It’s become obvious by the end of The Soul Hunter that the evil Peter Terry wants the little boy, Nicholas. So it seemed natural to have Nicholas snatched away in the first scene of this book. Child abduction (and the often terrible things that follow) turns my stomach, so in that way, it was a difficult and emotional book to write. Since I don’t plot my stories out, my characters decide what happens. I was worried about little Nicholas the entire time. I choked myself up in several scenes. I should probably go back to therapy. After all, I did make these people UP. Why am I so emotional about them??
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? How did you find out and what went through your mind?
I started writing in January of 1996. I was living in Steamboat Springs, Co, and it snowed 15 feet in ONE MONTH. Read that sentence again. 15 feet. One month. Do the math.
I had also been battling a serious illness for a few months, so I was house-bound and was reading a lot – really terrible books. I kept thinking, “I could do better than this.” Which, of course, I couldn’t. But I started a story, which eventually became a novel called The Permian Game, and which has still to see the light of day. I’m re-writing it right now, as a matter of fact. But that manuscript found its way – through a series of odd events – to an editor at Multnomah named Rod Morris. Rod liked my voice. He encouraged me to keep writing. For Multnomah, he would need something with more overt spiritual themes. Would I be willing to write something like that? Sure. So one night, I had a surreal dream which became the first chapter of When the Day of Evil Comes. It took me years to finish that manuscript. Partially because of the difficulties I was experiencing in my life, which were genuinely apocalyptic at that point. So I just wasn’t motivated. I was working hard to rebuild my life, to build a practice and a business called LifeWorks counseling associates (http://www.wefixbrains.com/) and I didn’t have the time to goof around writing a novel on spec.
A friend read the partial manuscript, though, and sat me down and told me firmly that I should finish it. So I did. I sent it in the day before I was left for a vacation in Paris with that same friend.
And then I made myself forget about it. Entirely. Until one day, I checked my email – this was months later – and there was an email from Rod Morris (who is now with Harvest House and to whom I still feel indebted for his commitment to me and my work). The email said, “I like it. I want to publish it.” I started to cry. I called that same friend and read the email out loud and we both were just stunned. Those two sentences. Every writer lives for that moment. It’s something I’ll never forget. Never take for granted.
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I do. In earlier days, when I had no deadline, no contract, I’d just quit writing until I felt like it again. That could be months. But if you’re writing fiction on a deadline, you can’t indulge yourself that way. I usually get stuck around chapter 10, which is the turning point between Acts I and II, if you will. One trick I’ve learned is that, when I finish a chapter, I always make myself start the next few sentences of the next one. No matter how late it is or how badly I want to quit. I do the next few lines. And then I’ve got a start and I’ve obliterated the natural stopping point. That one trick alone has helped me immeasurably.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
I have a beautiful study at home. I mean… really beautiful. It’s funky and artsy and the colors are rich and there’s modern art on the walls and a big strange stained glass door I’ve got hung sideways over a daybed. It could not possibly be more groovy. It has great writing mojo. But I find that if I spend too much time alone, I don’t do well. I can’t write, and more importantly, I can’t function as a human being. So now I use that study mainly for business and do most of my writing at one particular Starbucks. I’m such an extrovert, I’m energized by the chaos of people around me. For some reason, I can tune all of it out and write like no-one’s business when I’m there. When I’m at home, I just get stuck and cranky and even more irritable than usual. No one needs that going on!
What does a typical day look like for you?
Depends on the day. I own a large counseling practice, which involves me running the practice (everything from writing payroll checks to finding disability insurance, to hiring a real estate agent to find space for our expansion office to … the list NEVER ends). And I have a full case load of my own. AND I’m the clinical director for the group, so I’m the supervisor of record for all the trainees and am thus responsible for their work. Three days a week, I’m there until about 8:00 in the evening. I come home whipped, have supper, and then go upstairs to the groovy study and keep working – usually on administrative tasks.
Two days a week, I take off to write. On those days, I try to sleep in to replenish myself (because I’m a night person, I often work until 1 or 2 a.m., then have to get up at 7 the next morning on LifeWorks days). I work out, I eat, I put out fires at LifeWorks, and then I head to Starbucks sometime in the afternoon and start writing. And I stay until I’ve gotten somewhere.
So my typical day involves work. And when I’m not working, I’m spending time with friends. I have a whole group of people who keep me breathing. I invest in those friendships. No TV at all in years and years. I can’t imagine where people find the time.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
Scenes flow freely for me. Especially if I’m at a place in the story where the characters are making the next step clear. Sometimes I get stuck, but mostly, I sit down, I get in touch with the characters and the situation, and it flies out. I edit obsessively as I write – trying to get rid of every extra word, honing the rhythm and the timbre of the words. But I keep moving. Always, I keep moving. It’s an extension of my life philosophy. Never go down without a fight.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
I start with a scene. One scene only. Nicholas gets kidnapped at a park. First scene of My Soul to Keep. So I ask myself – what are they doing at the park? I think backwards from that moment. Ah. Christine’s birthday. Dylan’s trying to improve her abysmal social life. She’s throwing a party for Christine’s birthday, and while they’re all at the park, Nicholas is snatched away.
And then, when it’s time to write again, I listen to the characters and they tell me what happens next. Which at times can be quite unnerving. Why is there a scream coming from behind the bedroom door? What is happening to Christine? Why can’t she breathe? These questions compel me forward. The story evolves from there, depending on how the characters respond to the situation at hand. My mind spins for the entire year or so it takes me to write a story. I’ve said before – it’s like being constipated for a YEAR. Brain constipation. Very uncomfortable, and unfortunately, no Ex-Lax!
When I’m finally done, I send the whole thing in and contemplate quitting my writing career RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
Then I hear from my editor and he or she says something encouraging, and my agent calls me and says, “Hey, do you realize what you have here?” or something like that. And then I re-enlist and hunker down for the editing process.
The whole thing is difficult for me, though. The story flows, but the time, the mental and emotional energy, the constant mind-spinning preoccupation. It’s not digging ditches in Alabama in the summertime, I realize. There are harder ways to make a living. But it is taxing. It takes every ounce of energy I have to do it and to keep the rest of my professional life moving along.
I’m lucky to have wonderful supportive people in my life. Including my best friend Trish Murphy, who is also a writer and who gets the whole crucible. And other close, dear friends, who willingly listen to me whine, often do my laundry, and the kick me in the rear and tell me to get back to it.
And then there are the fans. An email from somewhere – God knows where – Japan, Minnesota, Calgary – will come just in the nick of time. And I’ll think, oh, okay, one more chapter…
Coming in March…Part II of this fascinating interview with acclaimed author, Melanie Wells!