Welcome to the two hundred and twenty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, publishers, agents and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author and certified professional coach Rochelle Melander. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Rochelle. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Rochelle: I have been writing my whole life. After my book launch for Write-A-Thon, my mom told me that as a toddler I could never get enough time with books! She read to me and, by the time I was three, I had begun to read to myself. I started writing shortly after that. Writing supported and sustained me throughout my childhood and teenage years. During college and graduate school, I continued to journal and write poems, but did not write professionally. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I decided to become a professional writer. It’s taken many years to be able to do this mostly full time—but I am glad that I kept at it. I love my work!
Morgen: That’s what it takes, passion. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Rochelle: I have written several nonfiction books. I have also written and published some fiction for children and teens. I like writing nonfiction but more and more, I am appreciating the freedom and stretch that writing fiction gives me.
Morgen: The only non-fiction I write (so far, anyway) is about writing so I can relate to that… and for me there’s nothing quite like coming out with something new. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?
Rochelle: I have published ten books of nonfiction. I have also written an unpublished memoir and several unpublished picture books and chapter books for children. Most of my early nonfiction writing came out of my first career as a minister. I wrote many books that are designed to help people lead a better life. I am also a personal coach, so I wrote a couple of books on coaching for spiritual leaders, The Spiritual Leaders Guide to Self Care and A Generous Presence: Spiritual Leadership and the Art of Coaching. My newest book, Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) comes out of my work as a writing coach and writer. I do not remember the first time, but I do remember the most exciting time! Just last week, I found out that my new book is one of the top 25 best selling books in my local bookstore. I stopped by to see it on the shelf with the other best sellers. That was quite exciting! (Much better than seeing your book for sale at a church book sale for hunger, something I have also seen!)
Morgen: Yay on the top 25. I work in a charity shop and I know some authors wouldn’t want their books to come in but I wouldn’t mind as it means someone bought it in the first place but then I’m at the beginning of my career (effectively) so I may feel different. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Rochelle: Most of my marketing I have done up to this point has to do with speaking to people in person (at writing workshops) and social media (blogging, tweeting, and visiting groups on LinkedIn). I have been doing that for more than ten years in service of my books and brand. This year I hired a publicist for the first time, and she has been essential for helping me get the word out about this book. Currently, I am speaking a lot in person, doing a blog tour, and blogging every day.
Morgen: Ah yes, it was your publicist I spoke to initially (hi, Dindy) so it’s clearly working. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Rochelle: My book A Generous Presence was named one of the top 50 spiritual books of 2006. I think that the award gave me some credibility with the audience I write for. As a reader, though, awards do not mean that much to me. I choose books based on the writing and the topic, not what awards they have won.
Morgen: That’s good to hear, especially given how long you’ve been writing. I’ve heard numerous authors say that their writing isn’t their own which I think is precious to most authors these days. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Rochelle: No, I do not. I think that writing under a pseudonym can be helpful if a writer writes for several genres.
Morgen: I think you’re right, a few top authors do write under different names (Ruth Rendell = Barbara Vine etc). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Rochelle: I do have an agent. He has been hugely helpful to me in getting my work in front of the right people and then negotiating the contract. But, I wrote and published nine books and hundreds of articles before I ever had an agent. My husband just got a contract for his novel from a small publishing house, and he does not have an agent. I think we are in changing times with the advent of indie publishers and epublishing. I do not know what will happen to agents in the future.
Morgen: It’s definitely a very interesting time especially for authors given the advent of eBooks. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Rochelle: My latest book is available for all ereading formats. The publisher took care of that. I do read books on my iPad. I can buy books from my local independent bookstore with the GoogleBooks application. Although I have quite a few books on the iPad, I tend read regular books more. It is probably because I am online most of the day or writing with my computer. I like to take a break from the screen and read on real paper! But the iPad is perfect for travelling. I no longer have to bring my whole library!
Morgen: That’s generally the response I get from other authors and it’s great having both options. I’m more of a book reader but I don’t travel much. 🙂 Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?
Rochelle: All of my books have dedications. The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self Care was dedicated to my youngest, my daughter Elly, who was born in the middle of writing the book! My current book, Write-A-Thon, is dedicated to my parents, for teaching me the value of hard work, and to my husband, Harold, for reminding me to take time to play!
Morgen: Who designed your books’ covers?
Rochelle: The publishers have designed all of my book covers—and this one (for Write-A-Thon) is one of the best!
Morgen: It is very smart. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Rochelle: My first acceptance was for an article in a small but well-respected academic journal called Liturgy. I was thrilled. But, I am still thrilled by every small acceptance today—be it a blog post or a book!
Morgen: 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Rochelle: I have boxes filled with rejection letters. They remind me I am working and submitting—so I do not mind them so much. The best rejection letters offer a glimmer of hope or advice—those help me become a better writer. The most frustrating rejection letters are the form letters, because I never know if the agent or editor has read the submission. I deal with rejection by revising and resubmitting to another venue.
Morgen: The best way to deal with them – accept them and move on, but yes, bog standard rejects are annoying although I think most editors are stupidly pushed for time these days. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Rochelle: I am working on a series of chapter books for children. It’s my NaNo project, and I am having a blast!
Morgen: Ah, the beloved NaNo. I did my fourth this year, and loved it (despite doing it in 9 days). Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Rochelle: I do write nearly every day. I always try to take Saturday and Sunday off—so that I can do the laundry, read a book, and spend time with my family. I think that the most I have written in a day is 6,000 or 7,000 words.
Morgen: That sounds like a NaNo day… good discipline (and the best way to get me writing in chunks) but not to do too often as it’s very draining but it sounds like you have a very good work / life balance, and it sounds like you also don’t consider writing ‘work’. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Rochelle: Yes, I have suffered from writer’s block—but now that I have been doing this for so many years, I usually know how to cure it. For me, writer’s block usually means I am tired or something in the project is not working. I can often cure writer’s block by finding the problem and fixing it. If I cannot fix it immediately, taking a break or a nap helps a ton. Also, I find that I have hours of the day where I am simply not that productive. I try to write during my most productive writing hours.
Morgen: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Rochelle: Everywhere—as long as I am looking for it! I get a lot of inspiration from books and magazines. I also find that attending other art productions can inspire me. But, I can also get inspired overhearing conversations at the airport or the local coffee shop. I think that inspiration is out there—we just need to pay attention!
Morgen: We do, and have plenty of notebooks dotted around the place. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Rochelle: I do a little of each. I create a list of characters and have an idea of what will happen before I start writing. I usually write all of that in my projecnt notebook or Story Bible. Then, I plot the scenes about a day before I write them. That way, they still are fresh and interesting to me!
Morgen: And therefore fresh and interesting to your readers. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Rochelle: I jot down ideas in what I call a “story bible”. It takes me a long time to get everything down—lots of thinking time while walking or doing the dishes. I spend a lot of time with baby name books when I am choosing names, paying attention to name meanings. I try to give them peculiarities and flaws to make them more believable. Sometimes, I cut out pictures of people or clothes in a magazine, so that I can visualize them better.
Morgen: We do that in our writing workshops and they’re great tools. You write mainly non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Rochelle: I try to write about topics I am most curious or passionate about. Sometimes a curiosity or passion will lead to a book. Often it will be a blog topic or newsletter article. But, I love having the freedom to read and research new ideas and subjects.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Rochelle: I also work as a writing coach, editor, and writing teacher. In my first years as a writer, I also worked as an editor for a publishing house. I still edit a periodical for them and have also edited many books. About ten years ago, I completed a coach training program and became a certified professional coach. I support writers in writing books fast, developing their brand, and publishing and marketing their work. Finally, I started a writing program for at-risk teens in 2006. I trained with the National Writing Project. Teaching writing to young people has exposed me to different ways of thinking about life and writing. I learn something every time I teach!
Morgen: My goodness, you are busy. No wonder you need strict time out. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Rochelle: I usually show my first drafts to my husband, who is also a writer. I also have three very good friends who are also writers. We’ve known each other for many years, and I trust them to give me good feedback.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Rochelle: I edit everything I write, even my blog posts. Over the years, my writing has become better, so I am not editing out my poor grammar (or not as much), but I still have to revise and edit. The writing becomes better with each reading and revision.
Morgen: It’s very easy to miss things and where a second opinion is especially useful. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Rochelle: I did a lot of research for my newest book, Write-A-Thon. I have been reading writing books for years and have many notebooks filled with quotes about writing. Since about 2006, I have been keeping a project notebook for this book. In it, I put all of my ideas and any research I have come across. As I was writing the book, I spent a lot of time going through the project notebook for inspiration and ideas as well as information.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Rochelle: The process starts the day before. At the end of each writing session, I have an idea about what I will write the next day. I carry that idea with me as I eat dinner, play with the kids, read, and sleep. In the morning, I look at the idea again right after breakfast. I take my daughter to school, work out at the YMCA, and then come home to write. I usually write for 2-3 hours before lunch. Again, before I finish for the day, I find the next day’s topic. If I am stuck, I will sometimes carry the topic with me on an index card and jot down notes while I am out and about.
Morgen: You’re very thorough. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Rochelle: I write on the computer. But I like to journal on paper.
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Rochelle: I can write anywhere, even in a crowded airport, but I prefer writing in a silent home. But, I have (many times) had to write while my children are screaming or the band next door is practicing!
Morgen: 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Rochelle: I have written in second person in some speeches and nonfiction. For fiction, I prefer third person limited omniscient.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues?
Rochelle: I have not used prologues—because I know many readers skip them.
Morgen: They do. I do, although the book I’m reading at the moment (Trisha Ashley’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ – I’ve promised her I’d read it by Thursday when she’s guest blogging for me, I’m a bit behind schedule! – has a great prologue so I’m glad I didn’t). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Rochelle: Oh yeah. And that is a good thing!
Morgen: 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Rochelle: My favourite part of the writing life is writing every day. I love the opportunity to think and write about interesting ideas. I also love meeting readers and hearing what was helpful to them about my work. My least favourite aspect is that I spend way too much time alone! I try to have coffee with friends every week and stop in at my local bookstore as often as possible. If I did not do this, I would go bonkers!
Morgen: I love being alone but I think most people prefer company at some stage, although I cheat – I have a dog. 🙂 If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Rochelle: That there are so many ways to build a successful career. Most writers know about and dream of becoming the next Stephen King. But plenty of writers make a six-figure income doing corporate writing, ghost writing, or copywriting. There will always be work for writers.
Morgen: As someone on the cusp of a freelance career, I’m so glad to hear that. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rochelle: Don’t give up. Keep honing your craft and submitting and sooner or later you will get published. Consider rejection to be a valuable source of information. Rejection happens to all of us. The successful writers have simply kept trying until they got accepted!
Morgen: Absolutely, and they still get rejected. What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Rochelle: I love to read literary mysteries—Colin Cotterill, Louise Penny, Elizabeth George, and P.D. James. I also read a lot of positive psychology—right now I have the new book Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff on my stack.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Rochelle: “When we commit ourselves to writing for some part of each day we are happier, more enlightened, alive, lighthearted and generous to everyone else. Even our health improves.” –Brenda Ueland
Morgen: Absolutely; happy mind, happy body. Apart from everything you’ve listed, which makes me tired just thinking about it, what do you do when you’re not writing?
Rochelle: I exercise, read, hang out with the kids. I also do some teaching—usually in libraries and schools, which I enjoy a lot.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Rochelle: My favourite book is Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write.
Morgen: She does sound like a wise woman. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Rochelle: I’m in the US, which is a great help in some ways because there is a lot going on. (OF course that also means that there is more competition.)
Morgen: Proportionate, I guess. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Rochelle: I am on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I think the groups on LinkedIn are extremely valuable. I also have found that meeting and chatting with folks on Twitter has been helpful to me. Last year when I did NaNo, I talked a lot with a woman who was also doing NaNo. She really inspired me to keep writing!
Morgen: Same for me this year (I was very new to Twitter last year). I’ve found the writing ‘industry’ to be surprisingly supportive. I really don’t think there’s another like it, perhaps because we all know how hard it can be… like learner drivers; we were all one of those once. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Rochelle: Readers can visit my website, http://www.writenowcoach.com. I blog there several times a week.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Rochelle: I think there will always be work for writers, though it might not be as book writers. Things are changing every day—and that will change the publishing landscape. But, good writing always floats to the top. I am confident that people who write well will find an audience.
Morgen: I totally agree. I maintain that reviews (and equivalents) will lead readers to them. An author can only have so many friends. 🙂 If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Rochelle: I would have started writing what I wanted to write sooner.
Morgen: So many people have said that. Well, writing earlier generally – I started ‘pottering’ with creative writing c. six years ago and it’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve taken it more seriously but I now feel I have more experience of life and can write better stories than if I’d started earlier, although of course I’d have had a few more years’ writing under my belt but hey, we’re here now, and that’s what counts. 🙂
Rochelle: Before becoming a coach and writer, I was a minister. This was tremendously helpful because I learned so much about people and how we behave.
Morgen: Which makes great characters. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Rochelle: Thank you for having me!
Morgen: You’re so welcome. Well done on NaNoWriMo and all your achievements. 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Rochelle: What are your favourite books?
Morgen: I’ve been listening to a few of the Desert Island Discs podcasts recently and it’s made me think about which book I’d take to a desert island and have whittled it down to Roald Dahl’s Completely Unexpected Tales. I love quirky and dark. Kate Atkinson is my favourite contemporary author but I’m yet to read all of hers (although I own them all, some more than once). An enjoyable project for next year. Thank you Rochelle.
Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011).She teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. You can visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com.
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