I had the pleasure of recently getting to interview one of my favorite authors, Melinda Clayton (Appalacian Justice, Return to Crutcher Mountain, Entangled Thorns). Melinda recently terminated her contract with her publisher and republished her three books under her own imprint. Here’s what Melinda had to say about the endeavor:
Hi Melinda! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions today. Congrats on the new venture with your books. How are things going so far?
Thanks so much for having me, Shannon! I always love visiting with you. Things are going really well. There were a few minor glitches in the beginning, making sure the buy-links were live everywhere with the right covers and prices, but I think we’re there.
What was the toughest part of this transition for you?
My lack of patience, definitely. It was hard to know that my books were suddenly unavailable for several days as I transitioned away from my publisher and into publishing on my own. That “lag” time was tough as I watched sales and rankings plummet.
As you already know, I am in love with the new book covers! Tell us about them and how they came to be.
I’m so glad you like them! I actually started out looking for a cover artist for my upcoming book, Blessed Are the Wholly Broken. Even before I’d completely decided to terminate contracts with my publisher I had decided I’d go out on my own with this next book.
I found a graphic arts student whose work really impressed me, so I contacted her. She sent back a list of questions, like “Are there any significant locations or objects in the book?” And, “What is the mood of the book?” I sent back the answers and she sent me her first rough draft, which was absolutely perfect.
When I decided to leave my publisher I contacted her again, answered the same questions about each book, and again her very first rough draft was exactly what I wanted. She’s very talented, very responsive.
What have reactions been from your readers – new and old?
My readers have been amazing. Not only have they encouraged me throughout the journey, they’ve also helped to spread the word through Facebook posts and Tweets, and even reposted some reviews that disappeared during the transition.
You are one of the most brutally honest authors I’ve read from the South. In my reviews of your books, I even compared you to Flannery O’Connor, one of my all time favorite authors, which is much more than a compliment. How did Cedar Hollow and its inhabitants come to be?
I have to tell you, I can’t imagine a bigger compliment than that! Thank you! Cedar Hollow started growing in my imagination years and years ago, when we’d go to visit my maternal grandparents outside of Charleston. They lived in this little white house clinging to the side of a mountain. The back of the house was on huge stilts to level it. They had a creek that bordered their backyard, and my grandfather was always sitting on an upturned bucket fishing when we got there.
Writers are always encouraged to write what they know. Is there any truth in these stories based on your life or people you know?
Absolutely. I worked for years as a psychotherapist, both inpatient and outpatient, and sadly, the traumas my characters have to work through are all too often real. I hope my characters reflect the bravery and resiliency I witnessed in my clients. The strength of the human spirit is a beautiful thing to witness.
I love the way all the books and their characters are connected, even though Entangled Thorns is about a completely different family. Have we read all we will about Billy May Platte?
You know, I’m not sure. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book of short stories about the characters of Cedar Hollow. My family and I did that to some extent with a fundraiser book last year (which is now out of print). But I might like to take it further and explore my characters a little more in depth.
Tell us a bit more about Billy. Where did her voice come from?
The literal voice I heard in my head as Billy May told her story was my maternal grandmother’s voice. The inflection, the dialect, the figures of speech, all of it. Figuratively, I think Billy May was the blended voice of many of the women and children I worked with in the past. Damaged, but not broken, able to see the beauty in life in spite of the ugliness she’d experienced.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
I like character-driven books. I love books that explore the motivations behind the choices of the characters. A book that makes me question myself, what I would have done if faced with the challenge set before the protagonist, is my favorite type of book to read.
Any other hobbies or interesting attributes about yourself that you’d like to share?
I’m a homebody. I love being with family, and I love being outside, whether that’s hanging out in the pool all day, or at the soccer field.
My next book is really dark, a family tested beyond their limits. It’s set in Ripley, Tennessee, where I spent some of my teenage years. I hope to have it finished and through final edits within the next few weeks.
Lastly, any advice for new authors out there? What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I feel like there’s such a learning curve still ahead of me I’m probably not qualified to give much advice! The best advice I’ve been given emphasized that wanting to write and knowing how to write are two very different things. For several years I belonged to an online writing site that offered critiques, held contests, and rated your writing. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned from that experience. The majority of my early writings on that site embarrass me now. Like any skill, writing has to be developed and practiced. It’s a continuous growth process.