At an age when many women throw themselves back into their careers after raising their children, Melanie Lynne Hauser looked around and realized she never had one in the first place. After deciding she wasn’t creative enough to start her own business (like all those women on Oprah), she turned to the one thing she did know: Books. A bookworm from the time she was able to form words, Melanie realized that what she really wanted to do was write books. So she wrote one. It stank. She buried it out in her backyard, next to the compost heap. She wrote another book. It didn’t stink quite so much; in fact it got her not one, but two literary agents. Still, nobody wanted to publish it. She wrote another book. It stank the least of all, and led her to her current, wonderful literary agent, but still it went unpublished. Then she wrote CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM. So far, nobody has said that it stinks and someone optioned the story for film. The sequel, SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD was published by NAL in 2007. And finally, at long last, Melanie has a career. (And old men in nursing homes everywhere breathe a huge sigh of relief.)
** Melanie is giving away Jumble Pie in e-book form. Click on the book cover and you’ll find out what you need to do to get it on your hot little computer.
What is your current project? Tell us about it.
I just settled on a new idea. I’d started a couple of different manuscripts, just playing with them, but nothing had really captured my imagination. Then I got a great idea – courtesy of a dear friend – and now I’m seized. But I can’t talk about it! It’s still too early.
Share a bit about your unique writing journey.
Unlike a lot of writers, I didn’t grow up wanting to be one. I wanted to be an actress, actually, and had a little success with that prior to marriage. But I did grow up reading, always. When my children were of a certain age – fully in grade school – I decided I should finally get around to figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up! Books seemed to be the one constant in my life, so like a lot of people, I decided to write a novel. And like a lot of people’s, it was terrible! But I learned a lot – primarily, I learned when to say good-bye to a project that isn’t going to work, and I learned to have the courage to start something new. Eventually I got an agent, wrote a couple more books that were much better and came close to selling but didn’t, then I wrote CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM and got a two-book deal (including the sequel, SUPER MOM SAVES THE WORLD.)
What has been your biggest writing challenge and how have you overcome it?
For me, it’s been what’s happened AFTER publication. I thought – and I think a lot of writers believe this to be true – that once published, always published. And I think it used to be that way; writers started out small, and were given the time and support to stay at one house, and build an audience through subsequent books. It’s not that way anymore; writing is more like freelancing. Once one contract is over, there’s no guarantee when – or if – you’ll get another one. You constantly have to be able to reinvent yourself; only a very few fortunate authors, these days, seem to have the kind of career that allows them to plan ahead, book after book after book, and know who their audience will be.
Being able to understand this reality, and understanding that it takes a lot of flexibility and creativity and just plain ol’ stubborn determination to succeed as an author these days – well, I hope I have these qualities!
How has life prepared you to be a writer? How has it not?
Life experience is so key, but an author has to be able to learn from experience. I think I have the kind of personality that is constantly observing, wondering, questioning, imagining; I can overhear snippets of a conversation and suddenly I have the idea for an entire novel. That ability to hold back a bit and watch, rather than totally living in the moment is very important to writing – I’m not sure, though, that it’s always the best way to live life! But that seems to be the way I’ve most prepared myself for writing.
With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?
Oh, that’s hard! I don’t really know. I think I’ve learned a lot of hard truths but I’m not sure I’d have wanted to know about all of them before I started writing – I might have been scared off! I think I’d just tell myself to hold on to the dreamy, idealistic part that allows me to create, while honing the more rational, realistic part that has to deal with the business part. Did that make any sense?? But I do think an author has to have both parts – a tough part and a soft, idealistic part – in order to succeed.
What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?
I’m not sure I have an answer to that. I don’t think any one event/person can have that kind of an impact. Life experience, as I said, is so important, and I think it’s so true that every time you write “Chapter One,” you’re a better writer than the person who just wrote “The End” only a few days (or weeks) before. So every event, every experience, every person you meet shapes you as a writer, and it’s all, in the end, for the better.
Do you still struggle with any aspect of writing or the writing business? What are you doing to conquer it?
Mainly I struggle with the fact that fewer people are reading and buying fiction. There’s nothing I can do about that, except personally preach the gospel of BUY BOOKS! But it’s the reality today, and it affects every author I know, in some way. I think that as a society we really don’t value writers and writing, at least not the way other countries do, and the way we used to. There are so many more demands on our time and we seem to gravitate toward the whole reality TV version of everything – including the few books that people make the time to buy.
Have you discovered any surefire marketing ideas that you’d like to share with us? Or have you encountered any that our readers should avoid?
There is nothing surefire. And the quicker you get that in your head, the more you’ll be able to relax. Because I think there’s such enormous pressure on authors today; we feel that we are responsible for personally selling each and every copy of our books. Publishers put this pressure on us, other authors do, too. It can get terrifying.
But having said all that, I do know that every author today HAS to be able to think in terms of marketing and publicity (more publicity, though, since for the most part, marketing is out of our hands). We have to educate ourselves on the realities of the business. We have to understand the importance of websites, of some kind of an Internet presence, of not hiding behind some mysterious “author” curtain, high up in our ivory tower of creativity….that’s not part of our “job description” any longer (if it ever was).
The most important thing? Write a great book with a unique hook or concept that will allow you to talk about it in terms other than “great prose.” People need a compelling reason, these days, to pick up a book. So give it to them.
Parting words…anything you wish I’d asked because you have the perfect answer?
These are all great questions! I don’t really know what else I can add. Love the writing, love the reading (and please, read contemporary fiction!! You’d be surprised how many aspiring authors don’t, and I think it’s tragic), and grow a tough skin. Know that there’s no secret handshake to being published; it’s just a combination of plain ol’ hard work and determination and luck. And know that there’s never going to be a place where you can relax and say, “Ahh. At last, I have arrived.”
If you know that, and still can’t stop yourself from writing because it’s the only thing you really know how to do (which is certainly my case!), then – welcome aboard!