As the holidays come to a close, we start to prepare for the next big thing…Valentine’s Day. Whether we are in a relationship or in search of Mr. /Ms. Right, this special celebration warrants our full attention. Plain and simple, we all want to be loved. Being able to find one person and commit to a long-term relationship filled with love and respect can seem like an overwhelming proposition. Yet when the stars align, the feeling of pure contentment is priceless.
This month’s Jen’s Jewels Melody Carlson addresses this very topic in her latest release, Once Upon a Winter’s Heart. When Emma Burcelli’s grandfather, a true romantic, passes away, she moves back home to help her grandmother grieve. Upon her arrival, she is surprised to discover her parents’ relationship is at a crossroads. As she tries to play matchmaker, she soon realizes that perhaps it’s her own heart that needs to be mended.
Jen: As a bestselling author with over 200 books in print, your path to publication is a story in itself. So that my readers may catch a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please briefly share with us your educational and professional background.
Melody: Although I’ve always loved writing and got encouragement from teachers throughout school, I never took it seriously. I think it’s because the writing process came so easily to me. I graduated from high school a year early and when it came time to pick a college, despite a couple of full ride scholarships at private schools, I decided to attend the local community college. And a year later, at the ripe old age of eighteen, with an associate’s degree in early childhood education in hand, I went overseas to teach preschool in Papua New Guinea for a year. After that I traveled around the world and when I got home I couldn’t get motivated to return to college. I taught preschool, got married, had children, and worked at a diverse variety of other jobs. But nothing ever challenged me enough to make me want to stick with it. Except for writing. 200 plus books later, I’m still taking it seriously. And I still love it.
Jen: Please describe for us your “Aha!” moment when you decided to pursue a career as an author.
Melody: In my early thirties, I decided to take writing seriously. I’d been writing in various capacities prior to this (newspaper, PTA newsletters, job-related...). But it was a funny incident with my twelve year old son that gave me the “push” I needed. My son was an avid reader who had devoured all the “good” books we could find and wanted to read Stephen King. I was concerned he wasn’t ready for King and took him to a bookstore to peruse the young adult shelves. What I found there (in the early 90’s) seemed dark and twisted and poorly written. I held up a book to my son and said, “I could write this badly.” Of course, it seemed silly, but I thought if the bar to get published was that low, I might be able to get over it.
Jen: Your prolific writing career includes titles in more than just one genre. Which category is your most favorite to write and why?
Melody: I know my writing diversity is a frustration to some of my publishers. I would make their lives easier if I could just pigeonhole myself into one genre and stay there. However, that is not how my mind works. I love having the freedom to write some serious issues-based novels (like Finding Alice or my TrueColors series). But I’m sure I’d get depressed if that was all I wrote. I also enjoy creating feel-good stories that simply take the reader away. I heard a quote that people read for two reasons: 1) to forget and 2) to remember. And I suppose my books are like that too. Some of my books will transport a reader to a happier place by helping them to forget about their daily stresses. Other books will remind a reader that there is pain out there and they are not alone. In answer to my “favorite” genre—it is always whichever book I’m writing at the time.
Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, approximately how long does it take for you to write a novel? And, what is the most challenging part of the writing process?
Melody: I write extremely fast. Most writers probably think I’m crazy, but it’s simply how I work. When I try to slow the writing process down, I get bored and frustrated and I drop threads out of the story. I usually complete a novel in less than two months. The most challenging part of writing is accepting and respecting that the way I work is unique to me—and that’s okay. I can admire and respect how other writers work, but I need to remain true to who I am as a writer—I am a storyteller and that’s enough.
Jen: Once Upon a Winter’s Heart is a heartwarming novel about a young woman in search of true love. How did you arrive at the premise?
Melody: To be honest, I can’t remember the initial impetus behind the storyline, but in retrospect, I can see that there’s some Dickens’ influence. My protagonist, Emma Burcelli, is a bit of a Valentine’s Day Scrooge. She’s cynical and disillusioned and when her beloved grandfather dies (the last true romantic) Emma concludes that “love is dead” as well. Naturally, it takes a wonderful guy and some Valentine’s Day “magic” (along with Dean Martin, chocolate and wine) to restore her faith in love.
Jen: When Emma Burcelli arrives home for her grandfather’s funeral, she discovers her parents’ marriage is in shambles. How does this crisis alter the dynamics of her relationship with her mother?
Melody: For starters, it helps to confirm her belief that ‘love is dead.’ But because Emma has a stronger relationship with her father, her first response is to blame her mother for their marital problems. It doesn’t help matters that her mother intrudes into Emma’s world by parking herself at Nona’s house or by taking sides with Emma’s younger sister Anne. Like many families, Emma’s has its own forms of dysfunction.
Jen: At first sight, Emma is smitten with the handsome bachelor Lane Forester. When she discovers her sister Anne has already staked her claim, Emma is deflated. Why does she allow her sister to call the shots when clearly Emma is attracted to him?
Melody: A big part of the sibling back story (that might not all show up) is that Emma has been catering to her slightly spoiled baby sister for most of her life. Emma’s personality type is more quiet and serious, the kind of person who doesn’t mind being backstage and who will sacrifice her own happiness to maintain peace. Meanwhile her gregarious younger sister loves the limelight and thrives on drama and attention. It’s a combination that’s ripe for disaster.
Jen: How does Lane’s sudden interest in Emma change her perception of the present situation?
Melody: Sweetly blindsided by love, Emma is forced to develop a bit more backbone in dealing with her baby sister. And yet Emma must remain true to herself. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk, but fun.
Jen: How does Emma’s eagerness to reach out to her nephew Tristan serve as a way in which to connect with her beloved grandfather who recently passed away?
Melody: I love how Tristan and Emma connect so naturally—and how they serendipitously help each other through their grief. I’m sure it’s because they’ve both been loved by Poppi, they’re both similar to Poppi, and they both miss Poppi.
Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Please take us on a brief tour of your website highlighting points of interest.
Melody: My website melodycarlson.com (designed by my son) is not terribly fancy. My son and I are both still learning as we go and we hope to add a blog to it this year. I tend to be so caught up with writing books that I neglect the website. But readers can contact me through it or sign up for monthly newsletter (I give away prizes every month!). Also, I’m available on Facebook and am trying to improve my social network skills.
Jen: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with my readers. I absolutely loved Once Upon a Winter’s Heart. Best of luck in 2014!
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