Melanie Dickerson is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). She is the ACFW Book Club Coordinator and the ACFW Deep South Area Coordinator. Her blog, Melanie Writes, draws Christian fiction fans with her book reviews and book giveaways. Her novels have finaled seven times in RWA-sponsored contests in the past year, including winning the 2007 MARA Fiction from the Heartland Contest over all categories.
Melanie earned a bachelor’s degree in special education of the hearing impaired from The University of Alabama and has worked as a teacher and a missionary. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Huntsville, Alabama.
I met Melanie through a contest. We linked up and are now critique partners. I get the pleasure of reading her work and admiring her talent, and I get her insightful feedback as well. Yes, I’m blessed.
It’s my privilege to have Melanie as my guest. I invite you to read her interview, learn more about her and her writing, and find out which author is her favorite.
•Melanie, some writers have been creating stories since they were young while others began later in life. Which are you? When did you start writing stories with the goal of publication in mind?
I decided when I was about 12 or 13 that I was going to be a novelist. I grew up a few miles from the hometown of Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). I wanted to BE Harper Lee, until I read Gone With the Wind, and then I wanted to be Margaret Mitchell. I’d always loved to read, and I started making up stories and writing them for my friends. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and was submitting my work while in high school. But in my senior year I figured out I’d better go to college if I ever hoped to support myself. It was about this time I realized how difficult it was going to be to get published. I was eighteen, had written two novels, and had also given up writing. I didn’t pick it up again until I was thirty-three, five and a half years ago.
•Like me, you took a course through the Institute of Children’s Literature and are now writing romances. When did you decide this was the genre for you? What other instruction in craft have you received?
I fell in love with writing all over again when I took that course. I even sold a few stories to children’s magazines. When it came time to start a novel, I thought I would write middle-grade novels, but I just couldn’t seem to come up with any ideas for children’s novels. All my ideas were for romances with adult characters. I guess I’m just a hopeless romantic.
I felt like I’d found a new family when I joined ACFW in 2005. I took courses through the organization and attended my first ACFW conference in September of 2005. I knew so little back then, but learned so much from the generous and talented ACFW members. I knew I was destined to write for the adult Christian market.
•Sounds like you’re sold on ACFW. I learned you do more than simply participate in the loops as I do. I’ve seen your name listed as the ACFW Book Club’s Coordinator and the ACFW Deep South Area Coordinator. What are your duties and how do you balance the time required for them with your writing and family responsibilities?
I enjoy my job as the ACFW Book Club Coordinator. Our goals are to introduce Christian fiction readers to great novels and their authors, and to promote ACFW members’ books. The ACFW members submit their published novels, and I create a poll once a month for the Book Club members to vote on. I share the other duties with two assistant coordinators, Michelle Rodgers and Nora St. Laurent, as we promote the upcoming book of the month, lead online discussions of the book of the month, and host the live chat with the author. What could be more fun than promoting great fiction and interacting with readers and authors? I also love the feeling of giving back to the organization that has helped me grow and learn, and has been so supportive of me and a few hundred other people like me.
As for responsibilities, I have a husband and two daughters, ages 10 and 6, so of course, there has to be a balance between writing and family, but my family comes first. I only work outside the home four or five days a month. I try very hard to protect my writing time, which means I never watch television. I’m a real homebody who hates shopping. Sadly, my hobby, scrapbooking, has pretty much fallen by the wayside, and so has my housekeeping! I’m dedicating the holiday season to cleaning and getting my neglected house in order!
•Your manuscripts have fared very well in contests. The Beholder took first in the Silicon Valley RWA Gotcha!, second in Faith Hope and Love’s Touched by Love contest, and is a finalist in the Golden Pen. The Woodcutter’s Daughter won first place overall in the 2007 Fiction From the Heartland contest. Impressive! And these wins are but a sampling. What do you see as the greatest benefit of entering contests? Have your wins helped you gain the attention of publishers?
Well, finaling in contests has gotten my first chapters on the desks of a few editors and agents. I also mentioned these contest successes in my query letters to agents. I signed with my wonderful agent back in June. So, I would say my contest successes helped. They gave me hope in spite of all the rejections I was garnering.
But perhaps the most important way contests help a writer is by giving valuable feedback. Contests can be even better than taking a class, because if you get a really generous judge, she will let you know exactly what you did that isn’t working, exactly why, and suggest ways you can change it. Judges may explain a concept or “rule” that you’ve heard before but didn’t know how to apply to your own work. I’ve learned so much from entering contests.
•Your stories are Historicals, but you’ve chosen an era not often seen. What led you to write Medievals? How do you go about conducting your research? What has been the response to works set in your period from publishing professionals?
I never planned to write Medievals. I had a story idea that took hold of me, and it just happened to be in a medieval setting. But I always loved stories about knights and castles and lords and ladies. It’s such a romantic time, though there are many misconceptions about medieval times. For example, the myth that people didn’t take baths and were always dirty. In fact, taking baths was a social activity. The populace continued frequenting the public bathhouses after the Romans vacated England in the early middle ages. Ever heard of Bath, England? Private bathtubs also existed, although they were probably only used by the wealthy
As for research, I read a lot of books on the Middle Ages. I also did some research on the Internet, especially when I needed to know something specific. I believe the Middle Ages was a colorful, intensely romantic time in history. Betrothals, nobility, feasts and festivals, dances, traveling musicians and singers, knights, chivalry. The story possibilities are endless!
•Do you have plans to write more Medievals or are you considering other categories or time periods? What are you working on now?
I have written two Medievals and would love to write more. But I’m now working on an American story, set in Alabama and Tennessee in the late 1800’s. It’s a romance (of course) about a country doctor who becomes a sort of Zorro to thwart a corrupt sheriff. He falls in love with a woman who is forced to leave her ladies’ college in Nashville to help her family after her father dies. She hates the hero’s hometown and can’t wait to get enough money to go back to school and shake the dust of his town off her feet! I’m imagining all kinds of delightful conflicts and tension for the hero and heroine!
I figured I would have to get an agent if I ever hoped to get my books published, so I started sending out query letters to every reputable agent I could find information on, and who might be looking for the kind of stories I write. Mary Beth responded and asked me to send her the manuscript. I did, and a couple of months later, she called me. I did the happy dance with my daughters as soon as I got off the phone
Having a good agent is one of the greatest blessings a writer can have. You can spend hundreds of dollars entering contests and attending conferences and not reach one-tenth the publishers your agent can. That’s why I recommend seeking an agent first. Your chances as a new author of getting published in full-length fiction without one are slim. But until you’re fairly certain you’re ready to be published, I recommend entering contests, taking courses, and working with critique partners to hone your skills until your work is ready to be seen by the best agents out there.
•This blog is new, having been launched in May 2008. Your blog, Melanie Writes—Fiction and Book Reviews, has been going strong since May 2006. Wow! You’ve reviewed many novels during the past two and a half years. What do you look for when selecting a book to review? Which have stood out and why?
I started my blog because I was writing a lot of reviews and wanted somewhere to put them besides just Amazon.com. I pretty much only write reviews for books I love. And what I love is historical romance, particularly the more unusual settings like England and France. You won’t see a negative review on my blog simply because if I don’t like a book, I don’t write a review for it. But if you’re looking to find a great book, you can peruse the archives and find something to your taste.
•And now a question just for fun. Your Amazon reviewer profile lists you as “Jane Austen’s #1 fan.” If you could have a conversation with one of Jane’s heroines, which would it be and what would you ask her?
I love all of Jane’s heroines, but I would love to talk to Jane herself. That would be sheer bliss! I’d ask her all kinds of questions about herself, about her life, about her books and how she writes. We’d be best buds, I just know it!
It’s been great having you as my guest, Melanie. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
Here’s a question for everyone. What are your goals for the holidays? I’m a big believer in setting goals and usually have writing goals, like a goal to finish my WIP in the next six weeks. Right now my goal is not writing-related—it’s to get my house cleaned up! But do you have a goal? To revise your first three chapters to enter into a contest? To query fifteen agents in the next two weeks? To join a critique group? To write 1,000 words a day until New Year’s? Come on, let’s hear it!
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All those who left a comment for Melanie by 12/2 had a chance to win one of the three new Steeple Hill Love Inspired books below. I held the drawing and picked three winners. The first to get back to me received her choice of the three titles, the second two, and the last got the remaining book.
Congratulations to Christine Lindsay, Pat, and Robin Grant, the three winners of the drawing!