by C.J. Darlington
Melanie Wells Interview
- or learning any creative art - necessitates the willingness to be
bad out loud.."
-- Melanie Wells
A native Texan, Melanie Wells is the author of When the Day of Evil Comes, The Soul Hunter and My Soul to Keep. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Melanie holds masters degrees from Our Lady of the Lake University and Dallas Theological Seminary. She has taught at the graduate level at both institutions, has been in private practice as a counselor since 1992, and is the founder and director of LifeWorks counseling associates in Dallas, Texas. Melanie lives in Dallas with her dog, Gunner, who wishes she wouldn’t spend so much time at her computer.
C.J.: Let’s start right off talking about My Soul to Keep. This is Book #3 in the Dylan Foster series, and a child kidnapping plays a huge part in the novel. What made you decide to write a book dealing with a parent’s worst nightmare?
Melanie: The previous book, The Soul Hunter, makes it clear that Peter Terry is after little Nicholas, so once again, the characters decided the plot and I just followed along. I became very sensitive to crimes against children while I was writing this book. That anyone could intentionally harm a child – it’s so awful, I can barely think about it. It was an emotional book to write, for that reason. Even though the characters are obviously fictional, they’ve become very real to me and to so many readers. And of course, this sort of thing happens every day.
Where do you draw the line in portraying violent or disturbing situations in your books? Or isn’t that an issue for you?
I never show the violence. I don’t find violence entertaining, though I obviously am intrigued by these very dark situations. In each of my books, the actual murder, the suicide, Nicholas’s experiences while he was with the kidnapper – these things are always told in hindsight. I have two friends whose mothers were murdered. When I think of writing a graphic scene, I think of how it would feel to me if someone were turning the suffering of someone I love – or of either of these two women - into entertainment. I’m not into it.
I prefer to focus on the psychological aspects of violence. Peter Terry - the manifestation of evil in my books - is a metaphor, really, for the fears that keep us up at night and invade our serenity---the worries that keep us from feeling safe in a fallen world.
I think the psychological focus is important. My books have been presented in media as being about "spiritual warfare," which I guess is true - but really, they're about fear. And standing up to the things that scare you.
You’ve said that you find out what happens in your novels about fifteen minutes before the reader does! I’m sure this can be both a blessing and a curse as a writer. Did you have a lot of surprises in the writing of My Soul to Keep? (i.e. characters taking over, plot twists you never saw coming, etc.)
I did. And they were unsettling. The scream behind the bedroom door when Liz and Christine are staying with Dylan – came totally out of the blue. Christine’s words at the end of the third chapter about the kidnapper’s explanation of why he was taking Nicholas. Christine’s illness. The unconscious rabbits. Even the identity of the kidnapper. It all just unfolded a scene at a time. As a writer on a deadline, it’s unsettling not to know what’s going to happen, of course, but it’s also unsettling because you’re sitting there at your computer and you go, “What?? Christine isn’t breathing???? Why????” And then, of course, you have to keep writing to find out.
What is the number one thing you hope readers take away from reading My Soul to Keep?
I don’t have lofty aspirations for my books. I want people to have a great read. I want to keep them turning the pages and to provoke thought about points of view they might not have considered previously. That’s the big thing. I do that and I’ve kicked it through the uprights.
In a recent interview you said, “Creativity is about a willingness to be brave.” Could you expound on that thought a little bit?
Creativity – or learning any creative art – necessitates the willingness to be bad out loud. My father, who was a professional musician his entire career, retired a few years ago and promptly decided he wanted to learn to paint. He bought the gear. He bought some videos about painting. And he did one terrible painting after another. But they got better. And he didn’t mind that they were terrible. He’d be really proud of the aspen trees in one, even though the river looked a little like a parking lot. That sort of thing. Now, years later, he’s had gallery showings. He sold one recently for a couple of thousand dollars. He learned from his mistakes and kept at it. In fact, he always said to me, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it a loud one.”
When did you decide not to bow down to fear in your life, and how did it change you?
That would be the summer of 2000. I won’t go into details, but it was a globally catastrophic time in my life and I was afraid every day. For years, really. Just clawing my way through it all and trying to keep moving. And one day, I went out to a ROPES course (you can find it at my website www.wefixbrains.com) and stood on the ground looking 30 feet up a pole, thinking, there’s NO WAY. But I did it. I climbed that blasted pole, managed to stand on the top, and then jumped off. That was the day I decided to leave the fear behind. I still feel fear, of course. I’m an anxious person, in many ways. But I’m determined to climb and to jump. Always.(Photos of me and the pole are at www.melaniewells.com and on my MySpace page.)
What would you say is your biggest struggle as a writer?
Finding the time. I have a lot going on – as most people do. I own and run a large counseling practice (www.wefixbrains.com) and I have a caseload of my own. I also am clinical director, which means that, since we’re a training facility, I’m responsible for the caseloads of the people who are training there. With all that knocking around in my head, it can be difficult to switch gears, clear my head, and sit down to make up stories. Especially when payroll is stacked up on my desk and everyone needs to get paid or a case is going south on us. Major brain scramble.
What do you do when you hit a brick wall in the process of creating a book?
That usually happens to me around chapter 10. In songwriting terms, that’s the start of the middle eight. The middle eight is that little snippet in the song that’s not like the verses or chorus, but adds something necessary. John Lennon was GREAT at the middle eight. (In We Can Work it Out: Life is very short, and there’s no time…I have always thought that it’s a crime… so I will ask you once again…- then it goes back to the verse - Try to see it my way…) All songwriters hate the middle eight. I’m the same way. The only solution is to push through it. At that point in the story, it’s usually time to let the characters talk to each other for a while and not worry too much about the plot. Something interesting will happen. It always does.
From your years of observing and counseling as a psychologist, what is something you find yourself sharing with people over and over again that you wish the general population could hear?
Ooh, good question, C.J. I do mostly marital work now, and I find that most of the marriages I deal with are dying of neglect. Curiosity is often the cure to that problem. Curiosity leads to connection. Once you’ve made up your mind about someone, you’re toast.
How many times have you been in the middle of a session and thought, “I’ve gotta use that in my book!” :)
Never. I have too much respect for their stories (and the state of Texas frowns on that sort of thing). Sometimes, someone uses a funny phrase or something and I’ll ask them if I can borrow it. But I’m very clear that the things they’re telling me are their stories and not mine. None of my books have any remote resemblance to my clients or my cases.
As someone who writes novels from a Christian worldview, I’m curious, how did you come to know the Lord?
When I was 14, a friend and I noticed that our churchy friends seemed to be happier than we were. So we thought we’d give it a shot. She was 16 and had a car, So we went to all the different denominations. Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian – everything we could find in Amarillo, TX. We knocked ‘em all out. I think we even went to a synagogue. We ended up at a non-denom church, which is now called Hillside and has about 5000 members. But at the time, it was smaller. We got to know the youth minister, whose name was Scott Greer and who I’m still in touch with, and became believers. It was a trip. Changed my life forever.
Writing is often a sedentary profession. Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep in shape?
I’m a pilates girl. And yoga when I can find the time. I used to walk every day, but the pollution in Dallas can get really bad in the summertime. And I also have a rowing machine in the workout room at my house. If you’ve never been on one, let me just say, it is the bomb. It’s great for women b/c it works all the areas you’re worried about. Trust me. They’ll all hurt the next day and you’ll know what I mean.
As someone who’s a huge music fan, what song would you pick to be the soundtrack of your life? Why?
Trish Murphy’s “Relentless”. It’s the song on my MySpace page. The words are all about throwing yourself at life and keeping at it. And the words are just so perfect: “I’ve got this handbag full of sins. Something I carry my hell around in…” Lines like that. Trish is an amazing writer.
Okay, I must ask you about a photo on your MySpace page. How did you come to get your picture taken with Willie Nelson on his bus? :)
Trish and I were at
one of her gigs at the Smirnoff Center in Dallas and Willie was the headliner.
we all had back stage “all access” passes – which
is the coolest thing, like, ever. It’s one of the perks of having
a rock star for a best friend. After the gig, we got to visit with Willie
on his bus. Let me tell you – the cloud of pot smoke that wafted
out when they opened the bus doors – unbelievable. Willie’s
great, though. He’s like a little stoned grandfather. Very sweet
and gentlemanly. And he really dug my hat and braids.
What’s next for you book-wise? Do you think that first novel you wrote years ago will ever see the light of day?
You’re talking about The Permian Game. I was working on it on the plane today. I’m not sure, actually. I write so differently now – I’m trying to find the right voice for this story. But I’m going to polish up the first few chapters and send them to my agent this week. We’ll see if anyone bites.
If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?
Write write write. And let people read your work. Toughen up and listen to what they have to say. They’re your readers, for crying out loud. You work for them.
Where can we find you on a Friday night?
By Friday, I’m exhausted from my week. I usually limp home and cook some supper and crack open a bottle of wine, light some candles, put on some music, and unwind with a friend. That’s the best. Saturday night, though – different story…
What will your epitaph read?
She gave it her best shot
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I was at a hotel in Mexico this morning, believe it or not. I ordered room service. Oatmeal, yogurt with fresh berries, wheat toast with butter, and hot tea with a slice of lime (they look at you like you’re nuts when you ask for a lemon in Mexico).
When was the last time you cried?
Just a few days ago, as a matter of fact. I’d gotten some bad news and on my way home, I almost had to pull over because I couldn’t see through the tears. I’m not a crier, so I was taken aback by how sad and scared I was. I had Bible study that night with my girlfriends and I still couldn’t stop crying. They just kept handing me Kleenexes and pouring me wine (we’re not your usual Bible study). We named ourselves the Waah Waah Sisterhood years ago because we’d all been through so much. But it was my turn to whine this time and they took great care of me. Can’t beat great girlfriends. Absolutely necessary in life.
Three words that best describe you:
Confused but trying…
You’re stranded on a desert island and can only bring three items. What are you packing?
My Ipod, my cell phone, and a generator. I’ll just call for help and listen to the Beatles until the boat comes.
I hope everyone likes
My Soul to Keep. I really love this book. It’s
like wanting your kid to make friends the first day of kindergarten. You
want everyone to realize what’s special about them and appreciate
Watch Melanie talk about her books:
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.