Welcome to the eighty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with short story, humour author and novelist Melodie Campbell. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Melodie. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Melodie: I got my start writing comedy – I wrote stand-up, and then had a regular humor column for five years. I made a really really bad decision several years ago, possibly the worst decision ever made by a human not officially insane. A producer from fledgling HBO saw my play ‘Burglar for Coffee’, labelled it completely insane, and offered me a spot writing pilots, which I stupidly turned down. Did I mention I was not officially insane? After that, I continued writing short stories and won 5 awards, so it was finally time to turn my hand to novels.
Morgen: I wish I’d kept my last house instead of selling it just before the boom but hey ho, spilled milk and all that. 🙂 Sometimes unwise decisions just lead you in a different direction. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Melodie: I love comic novels – what I like to call ‘high’ comedy – and paranormal fantasy/romance allows for wonderful comic opportunities. I like adventure novels for women. My short fiction is mainly crime, with a sharp twist ending. I like readers to get that ‘wow!’ at the end of the story. My next novel is a comic crime caper. Not sure I could write 80,000 words if it didn’t include comedy.
Morgen: I love writing comedy but was advised by an agent recently to write crime (which I do read) and she said to add black humour to it so that should be… well, fun. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Melodie: I’ve had over 200 publications, including 100 humor columns, 30 short stories, stand-up and one play. Rowena Through the Wall is my first novel.
Morgen: Wow. That’s good going. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Melodie: I’m learning that it takes a LOT of marketing! I have a website (http://www.melodiecampbell.com) and a blog (http://funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.com). I Twitter, I network on Facebook and in reader discussion forums, and I am the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada. The name of my blog, funnygirlmelodie, is taken from my humour column days. That was my moniker. Right now, I am running many of my published humour columns on the blog, so people can get an idea of my somewhat wacky style.
Morgen: It sounds like you’re doing all the right things (as Harper Collins Digital Product Development Director Scott Pack said to me February 2011)… and I think you just have to keep going – they do say it’s not what you know but who you know and getting to meet your potential audience for me can never been a bad thing (not yet anyway). 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Melodie: I’ve won five awards for short fiction, and they have spurred me to keep writing. Awards help to open doors for when you go to submit to new publishers.
Morgen: Oh wow, well done. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Melodie: Rowena Through the Wall is available in ebook as well as paperback. My publisher handled the mechanics of this, for which I am very grateful. I have a Kindle, and do read ebooks as well as paper. My ebook sales are definitely greater than paperback to-date, but it’s early days yet.
Morgen: I think that’s the way it’s going, especially if the eBooks are cheaper, which in most cases, they are – plus the reader doesn’t have to wait for it to be shipped. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Melodie: My first acceptance was a contest win, actually! And that opened the door to over 30 more short story publications. I think my biggest thrill was when Alfred Hitchcock took their first story from me. That’s when I felt I had made it as a short story writer.
Morgen: So would I. Mine was with Woman’s Weekly so I definitely started on a high too. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Melodie: I’m working on the sequel to Rowena, called Rowena and the Dark Lord. I’m also working on a comic mob caper. And there’s always a short story or two on the go.
Morgen: I love short stories. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Melodie: I’m the General Manager for Crime Writers of Canada, the national professional association for mystery and suspense writers, so my days are pretty busy. My goal is to write 500 words a day, but sometimes it’s more like 1000 one day and none the next. The most I’ve ever written in one day is 5000 words. I was a creature obsessed.
Morgen: Like me with http://nanowrimo.org. 1000 every other day sounds like you’re hitting your target so well done on that score. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Melodie: When writing mysteries, I don’t start writing until I have the ending. They require strict plotting. Things are more ‘adventuresome’ when I write fantasy, although I always have a climax in mind before I start.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Melodie: Here’s my trick: I always start with plot. I work out what I want the plot to be, and then I figure out what sort of people I need to make the plot work. For ‘Rowena Through the Wall’, I needed a female who would be spunky, and brave enough to venture through the wall. She also needed to be smart in order to survive on the other side, and she had to be the cause of a lot of hot passion among the guys on the other side of the wall. So…a smart, spunky, sexy girl becomes a veterinarian with a certain power over animals – an ‘animal whisperer’ on steroids. The name Rowena is a family name; my late cousin Tony was an English Viscount, and the name Rowland (female version Rowena) was well entrenched in the family. And – I’ve used the old family castle ruins as a setting for the novel. Rowena walks through the wall, and into her family’s past…
Morgen: My father spent 8 years researching his side of our family tree and whilst we don’t have a Viscount, we’re vaguely related to former US President Jimmy Carter. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Melodie: My good friend Mark. He was a student in the first writing class I taught way back in 1992, and we’ve been friends ever since. You could say he converted me over to the ‘dark side’ of fantasy, from mystery!
Morgen: It sounds like you didn’t need much persuasion. 🙂 They’re both incredibly popular genres. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Melodie: I’ve written professionally for 20 years, so my initial work is pretty clean. However, I always go back at least four times over the entire piece.
Morgen: Practice does make perfect (at least better) – I’m 17 years behind you so I have some catching up to do, although I do feel when I’m going off at a tangent and reign myself in when I need to. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Melodie: COFFEE! And alas, no cigarettes. Those days are over. But I remember a day (90s) when almost every writer I knew smoked.
Morgen: And were pictured doing it. Well done you though. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Melodie: Computer. I made the switch quickly in the 80s.
Morgen: 🙂 My handwriting’s pretty slow so I use a computer when I can then edit on paper, although if I first draft on paper I edit as I type it up. What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Melodie: With a name like ‘Melodie’ you would expect me to have a musical background, and I do. I trained for opera, and also sang torch. I actually learned to read music before I learned to read words. Because of that, when I hear music I ‘read’ the language in my head and it distracts me. So I listen to music for a blissful break, and not when I am writing.
Morgen: Sang ‘torch’? Wikipedia comes to the rescue again (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torch_song)… never heard of it so I’ve learned something new today. Thank you for that. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Melodie: I write novels in first person. I LOVE first person! Wish more authors would write in it.
Morgen: Apparently they did and agents are fed up with it. In the UK anyway.
Melodie: Yes, there are limitations (your protagonist must be in every scene) but good first person writing puts the reader right in the main character’s head. You become the main character. It’s the ultimate escape. I find second person annoying, to tell the truth. I never read it, just like I never read fiction written in present tense. If it’s happening now, who is writing it? My brain won’t buy it.
Morgen: Second person (like Marmite) is love it or hate it and I love second person (it’s my favourite in short doses)… not so keen on Marmite. 🙂 Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Melodie: I like to start with action and get right into the plot, so no, I don’t use prologues or epilogues.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Melodie: Actually – I’ve just realized – I’ve sold every short story I’ve written with the exception of the one I’ve just completed. Rowena Through the Wall is my first completed novel, and it has sold. My publisher wants the sequel. There is a bit of luck to this business. I wrote comedy for years (columns and stand-up) so I wasn’t a novice when I came to fiction, really. I was trained to ‘write to market,’ and even with fiction, I have a market in mind before I write the first page. However, I did have a few novels started, which never got beyond the 20,000 word mark. Which is probably a very good thing. 🙂
Morgen: But now you have the experience to go back and perhaps do something with them? 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Melodie: Favourite – without a doubt, the people I’ve met. The wonderful authors and readers, who generously share their thoughts and encouragement, and their joy when reading. Least favourite – probably the marketing. This is new to me. With comedy writing, you get a contract – they write you a cheque. I’m a shy Canadian, and self-promotion is really hard for me. Luckily, I have a terrific publisher.
Morgen: Most interviewees have said the marketing, and invariably the time it takes but yes, you’re lucky that you have a publisher to help. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Melodie: This is the advice I give all my writing students (and I’ve taught for over 9 years): Everyone wants to be a writer. Very few people want to do the hard work of writing. To be successful, you must love to write. All ‘real’ authors do.
Morgen: Absolutely – passion and determination. I have it in spades. 🙂 What do you like to read?
Melodie: I love first person adventure stories. Can be mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, romantic suspense – take me away from reality! I also love high comedy. Probably my favorite book of all time is The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Morgen: Ah Douglas “I love deadlines – I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Adams. You mentioned earlier being a “shy Canadian”, do you find this (being Canadian, not being shy!) a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Melodie: There really are not a lot of publishers of genre fiction in Canada. I have much more in common with American writers and readers.
Morgen: And the internet can connect you (and beyond – I’m in the UK). 🙂 Thank you Melodie, where can we find out about you and your work?
Melodie: My comic novel Rowena Through the Wall (Imajin Books) is available at Amazon.com and Smashwords. Follow my comic blog and find out more about me, view the trailer and read opening scene at http://www.melodiecampbell.com.
Morgen: I then invited Melodie to provide and extract of her writing:
Thane emerged from the crowd and stood before me. “Rowena, Norland’s men won’t obey you over him, and my men won’t take orders from you, even though you are their queen. A queen doesn’t command troops here. She is owed protection.”
Oh hell. He made it sound like a bloody beehive, where the queen was just guarded in some back honeycomb and had no life of her own.
I jabbed a finger into Thane’s chest. ‘I’ve read more battle strategy than the whole freaking lot of you. I can shoot a gun as well as any man. And I can do it from horseback. So don’t give me any chauvinist crap about being a woman.”
More mumbling again.
Maybe it was the word’ gun,’ or maybe I lost them all at ‘chauvinist,’ I don’t know. Get a dictionary, people.
“Perhaps these times haven’t happened yet in our world,” Thane said gently.
He reached out but I backed away.
“No!” I yelled. “This is too much. Where is the rule book here? I need to see a job description. What is the point of being queen in this piss-poor world, if it doesn’t come with any power?”
Morgen: Thank you Melodie. 🙂
Melodie Campbell has been a bank manager, marketing director, comedy writer, college instructor and possibly the worst runway model ever. Melodie got her start writing comedy, so it’s no surprise that editors have called her fiction “wacky” and “laugh out loud funny”. She has over 200 publications and has won five awards for fiction. She is currently the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada. In 1994, after several years as a humour columnist, Melodie was invited into the Toronto Press Club; there is no truth to the rumor that she once did a somersault off the Press Club billiard table.
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