by C.J. Darlington
Melanie Wells Interview
haven’t watched TV in seven years. People usually look at me
like I’ve just coughed up a live frog when I tell them that.
But I don’t miss it and don’t know where I found the time."
-- Melanie Wells
Melanie Wells is a native of the Texas panhandle. After graduating from Southern Methodist University with a degree in English, she earned a masters degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, where she later taught in the counseling department.
Wells also holds a Master of Science in counseling psychology from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, where she taught as a member of the adjunct faculty. She is a licensed professional counselor as well as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. A private practice counselor since 1992, Wells is the founder and director of LifeWorks, a collaborative community of therapists in Dallas, Texas.
Her extensive background in psychology and biblical studies, as well as her lengthy and varied counseling experience, sparked a fascination with spiritual warfare. She brings intriguing insight to the connection between the spiritual realm and the empirical world. These themes are predominant in her fiction novels.
Melanie lives in Dallas with her dog, Gunner, who wishes she wouldn’t spend so much time at the computer.
C.J.: Have you always wanted to write, or did you discover your desire later in life?
Melanie: I tried writing stories when I was a kid. I submitted them to our elementary school “magazine”, a little stapled-together situation with students’ stories and poems in it. My stories always got rejected. 100% of the time. All the kids in my stories were orphans. That might have something to do with it. We should ask my parents what was going on during those years…
What books influenced you most as a child, and why?
I had the full collection of Grimms’s and Anderson’s Fairy Tales, which I read over and over again. These were some wicked stories. People were always getting cursed and turned into crones or frogs, and children were often abandoned in the woods or locked up in castles. Hmmm … see answer to question #1.
Your parents are musicians, correct? What is the number one thing your parents taught you that you transferred to your writing?
My parents, my father in particular, taught me to be fearless and creative. When you’re learning to play an instrument or to improvise, which is something my father and I have in common (he’s a jazz musician as well as a classical percussionist) you have to be willing to be bad out loud. You can’t afford to be tentative. You have to PLAY. It’s the same with writing. You have to put it out there. Creativity is not for cowards.
And I hear you play a mean fiddle yourself?
I went to college on a music scholarship. I gladly shoved my fiddle under the bed and abandoned Mozart the day I graduated. A few years later, I dusted it off and learned to improvise. Since then, it’s been bluegrass, country, and whatever else I can manage, depending on who I can con into letting me sit in with their band.
Let’s talk about your Day of Evil series. Where did you originally get the idea to write a novel with so many supernatural elements?
I had a dream one night at my best friend Trish Murphy’s house. She’s a singer/songwriter and we take these writing trips so we can suffer together while we work on our respective projects. Then at the end of the day we fry chicken and drink wine. Great fun. I was at her house on a writing trip and had one of those IN YOUR HEAD dreams – where the dream it’s actually happening and you can feel it viscerally. It was about this creepy white guy with a slash in his back. There was a ring and a necklace and some white wrapped gifts and the whole thing happened at Barton Springs. I got up the next morning and wrote the first chapter of When the Day of Evil Comes. We went to Barton Springs that afternoon and named Peter Terry after two ex-boyfriends we don’t like. Art is great revenge.
I love your character Dylan Foster. She’s so real. How much of you is in Dylan Foster? You’re both psychologists and live in Texas . . .
That’s about the extent of it. Dylan is legendarily grouchy (you’d have to check with my friends on that one) and has a bad case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. My closet is sort of a train-wreck, whereas her clothes are organized by type, color and date of purchase. She’s a loner, I have many friends. Things like that. But she speaks with my voice much of the time. She’s my soapbox. She’s on my side.
How much research has gone into the books?
As little as possible, since I’m phobic of libraries (another difference – Dylan thinks all answers can be found in the library). The fun research is sitting down with someone and asking them questions about their job. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the last year or so with the DPD homicide squad. We go to happy hour on Wednesday nights and I pepper them with questions and they tell me their stories. That’s what I call research!
Anything startling or surprising you discovered in your research?
How hard the cops work and what utter gentlemen they are. They are just some of the finest people I know. They do impossible work, yet maintain their honor and decency. We should all be grateful. They’re my heroes.
What’s been the hardest part about writing the series?
The usual suspects, I guess. Writing on deadline. Squeezing in writing time among the other things I do for a living. I own a counseling practice in Dallas – LifeWorks counseling associates (www.wefixbrains.com). Since it’s my baby, I’m involved, to some degree, in everything from finding insurance for the group to hiring new employees to finding office space, to … blah blah blah. The list never ends. That and a case load of my own – it all keeps me twitching. I’m the one who needs therapy, really.
Ever had any unusual or embarrassing moments writing, at a book signing, or while performing research?
Not yet, knock on wood. I’m very clumsy, though, so it’s just a matter of time before I trip on a microphone cord and land in someone’s coffee.
How do you balance your day job and your writing?
Who said anything about balance?
Back to music. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what are some of your favorite bands/artists?
I’m all about Texas music. Trish Murphy, of course, is always in my CD changer. Also Bruce Robison, Robert Earl Keene, Lucinda Williams, and genius of geniuses – Lyle Lovett. I’d quit my whole life if Lyle asked me to play fiddle in his band. I do listen while I write. Good writing inspires me. And music makes me feel less lonely. Writing is far too solitary for me.
Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
I have a couple of tricks. When I finish a chapter, for instance, I always write the first few lines of the next one. That way I feel as though I’ve already rounded the corner. When I get stuck, though, it helps to talk about the story. I have a couple of friends I bounce things off of.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I spend a lot of time at the Starbucks in Highland Park Village here in Dallas. It’s got four fantastic leather chairs. I park myself in one, get myself some iced tea, and get to work. It’s an extremely busy Starbucks, which is a bit of a problem. It gets sort of loud in there and sometimes I have to stare down an interloper who is occupying my favorite chair. But it works for me, somehow. I was there today.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
My first novel (called The Permian Game and still unpublished) found its way to a big NY agent who liked the book but asked me to cut it by 1/3. This exercise, while excruciating, taught me to value economy and parsimony in my writing. It’s one of the reasons my novels clip along at such a fast pace – which is what you want in suspense fiction.
Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?
I tend to pay more attention to songwriters than anyone. I listen to a lot of music, so I guess that’s just more available to me. I find listening to live music extremely inspiring. I always grab a napkin and start writing ideas down.
Why do you write fiction rather than say . . . psychology textbooks?
Um, can you say “boring?” I’d rather set my face on fire.
Would you call yourself a Christian fiction writer or a fiction writer who happens to be a Christian? Why?
Definitely the latter. I don’t like the idea AT ALL (soapbox alert) of “Christian” fiction. I don’t like that set-aside separatist culture mindset. I find it very off-putting, as do my non-Christian friends. Fiction should be thought-provoking and entertaining. Period.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
We all want to write the Great American Novel. It’s in there somewhere, I think, but I’m not old enough to write it yet.
Who is Melanie Wells?
If you find out, let me know. It’ll save me the therapy money.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I haven’t watched TV in seven years. People usually look at me like I’ve just coughed up a live frog when I tell them that. But I don’t miss it and don’t know where I found the time. I’m the only living human who has never seen a reality show or watched American Idol. I’m extremely uncool.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Sadly, I don’t have much free time at all. What I do have, I spend cooking and hanging out with friends. I also travel a fair amount, which is grand. My next trip is to a little inn in the redwood country in northern California.
What have you eaten in the last 24 hours? (Come on, be honest!)
Okay, last night I went to supper with friends. I served pistachio nuts, artichoke dip and French bread, cheese and apples for appetizers at my house. I had a bite or two of everything. We all had a glass of wine also. At the restaurant, I had a corn and apple fritter (it was about the size of a hush puppy), a beet and goat cheese salad (about half of it), and a crab cake entrée (one crab cake and some greens). A couple of bites of chocolate cake for dessert. Another glass of wine with supper. For breakfast, I had half an “everything” bagel with a tiny bit of butter and a fair amount of whipped cream cheese with scallions, and a little single serving yogurt thingy. And a cup of tea with milk and sugar.
Lunch was pathetic. Canned chicken soup and saltines. I had a cold and felt like chicken soup, but I hate canned soup. You can taste all the preservatives. So I only ate a few bites and then threw it out. Supper was turkey meatloaf, roasted potatoes with rosemary, and peas. I usually have cookies and milk before bed, but I’m on a yogurt kick right now, so I had that instead. Throw in a couple of cups of green tea and you’re good. No snacks. I’m not a snack chick.
I’m quite the foodie. I love to cook and love to entertain, but since I don’t overeat, don’t snack, don’t eat junk food, and exercise every day, I never have a weight problem. I work with a lot of women with food and body images. They always ask me what my secret is. That’s it entirely. Great food in moderate amounts, no pre-fab food or fast food, and daily exercise. The secret to my success…
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Butter, milk (couldn’t possibly live without either one) and cherry tomatoes. I make this great tuna pasta that has cherry tomatoes in it. It’s one of those things you can throw together on the spur of the moment, so I always have the ingredients on hand.
2 cans of tuna packed in oil
About 20 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2-3 scallions, chopped
A handful of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped
zest and juice from one lemon
1 pkg. cooked bow tie pasta
About ¼- 1/3 c olive oil
¼ c parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop the scallions and the parsley, cut the tomatoes, and zest the lemon while the pasta is cooking. Drain and rinse the pasta, then return it to the pot and dump the vegetables in. Drain and flake the tuna and put it into the pot. Pour the olive oil over the whole thing, squeeze the lemon and toss in the zest, throw in the parmesan cheese and toss it all gently like a salad. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve it warm but not hot. It keeps well in the fridge also – you can serve it cold or hot the next day. :)
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Always tea, never coffee. Lately, I’ve been doing a venti shaken green iced tea, unsweetened.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
Tons of things. I want to live overseas, I want to re-learn French and learn Italian and Spanish (at least passably). I want to see Africa. I want to learn all the Bach unaccompanied sonatas and partitas for violin. And the Dvorak Romance in F. And I want to learn to jump horses. That’s just for starters…
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
Let’s do CD changer – it’s
a shorter list!
Lucinda Williams , Sweet Old World
Trish Murphy, Girls Get In Free
Bruce Robison, Wrapped
Patty Griffin, 1000 Kisses
Stan Getz & João Gilberto, Girl from Ipanema
What’s next for you?
No idea, really. My contract with Multnomah is over with Book 3 of the Day of Evil series, My Soul to Keep, which is due out March of ‘08. Multnomah was purchased by Random House and merged with WaterBrook (a division of Random House).
Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?
Keep reading! Readers make the literary world go ‘round! Some hot edgy suspense writers to watch: Eric Wilson, Brandilyn Collins, Katherine Mackel, Chris Well, Robert Liparulo, T.L. Hines, Tim Downs. Their books will knock your socks off.
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. -- Scott Adams
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.