Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
Today, I’m pleased to welcome Melanie Sumrow, whose book, The Prophet Calls, is out now from Yellow Jacket! Btw, I’ve already read and loved it, and insist you go get your copy now!
JR: Hi, Melanie and thanks for joining us today.
MS: Thank you for having me!
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about The Prophet Calls and the impetus behind writing it?
The Prophet Calls is the story of Gentry Forrester who lives in a polygamous community among God’s chosen people. But when the Prophet’s revelations put her family in danger, she must decide whether to adhere to his terrible demands or discover what it truly means to be free.
I received my undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and have maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. A couple of years ago, I was guest teaching a class on religious radicalism. For that class, I had updated my research on various religious sects, including the polygamous community known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Within that same time period, my agent called and indicated an editor had contacted him (sort of as a shot in the dark), saying she was interested in polygamous communities and wondered if he happened to know anyone who could write about that subject for a middle-grade audience. Of course, my agent was very excited because he knew I possessed the knowledge, even though I’d never written MG. I started from scratch on an entirely new story, and my editor fell in love with The Prophet Calls.
JR: That’s an amazing story. I read on your website, www.MelanieSumrow.com, that you were a lawyer for over sixteen years. How did you make the transition from that into Middle Grade Author, and what have you found the easiest and what was the most challenging?
MS: Guilty! I am a lawyer and really missed having a creative outlet when another lawyer had recommended a book to me: Twilight. I thought he (yes, a male colleague recommended it) was pulling my leg, but he kept going on and on about how awesome it was. Long story short, he lent it to me and I read it, and then I picked up the next one in the series and the next and impatiently waited for the last book. I thought they were so fun! And then I started to pick up more books written for teens and devoured them. When I heard Stephenie Meyer had written the first book while working outside the home full-time and being a mom like me, I thought why not? I had always loved to read and I’d always enjoyed writing, so the idea really energized me. As luck would have it, a flyer came through the mail advertising a series of creative writing classes that I could take at night through my local university, while still practicing law during the day. From my first class, I was hooked! Thanks to the support of my family, I now have the privilege of writing full-time.
The easiest part of being an author for me is that I love to tell stories. I get a huge rush from creating something out of nothing. The hardest part? The waiting. I’m not a patient person, and there is A LOT of waiting in publishing.
JR: I’m with you. That surprised me as well. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
MS: My writing journey has been long and winding.
I started taking creative writing classes in 2010. I shelved my first manuscript. I queried my second manuscript and received many requests. I read every rejection and, if I saw a common thread, I would go back and revise. After about a year of querying, which amounted to over 100 cold queries and many revisions, I received three offers of representation from agents.
I went on submission with my agent and, although that book was well received by publishing houses, it ultimately did not sell. I was working on another YA book when the call came in from my agent to ask if I would consider writing for the upper MG audience. I did and got my first book deal with The Prophet Calls. Over the summer, we announced a second book deal for another upper MG book, The Inside Battle.
In whole, the process from starting that first creative writing class to publishing my debut novel took more than 8 years.
JR: I think we were both around the same time frame. What’s your writing process like?
MS: My projects tend to be research-heavy, so I spend a good amount of time researching for a book (usually too much time since I really enjoy this part). Once I’ve completed the research stage, I have a pretty good idea of the story I want to tell. Then, I force myself to write a synopsis (force, because it’s PAINFUL). I do this at the early stages of writing to make sure there’s actually a story there and to find any holes, either in my research or the storyline. Then, I draft the first three chapters. At this point, I usually get feedback from critique partners.
Once I have feedback, I dive in to write the first draft. This is the most intense phase of the writing process for me, because I write every day (maybe taking a day or two off on the weekend for brain rest, as needed) until the draft is complete. After I finish the first draft (and crash from exhaustion), I usually try to take a previously scheduled vacation and don’t look at the draft for a few weeks.
After some time away, I’m always anxious to get back to the project. I LOVE editing, because this is where the story really comes to life. I go through a few rounds of edits (looking at voice, consistency in details, crutch words, etc.), get feedback from critique partners, as needed, and then turn my manuscript in to my agent and editor.
JR: What’s your favorite book and who’s your favorite author?
I like to read all kinds of books, so I don’t really have a favorite book or author. But it’s rare for me to read a book twice. A few children’s books I’ve read more than once include Monster by Walter Dean Myers, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. They are all pretty timeless for me.
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
MS: An older favorite is The Joy Luck Club, with a side of Kleenex. A newer favorite is Bohemian Rhapsody—WOW!
JR: That movie was incredible. What’s something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
MS: I briefly considered a career in opera. I had music scholarship offers from a few colleges, but ultimately turned them down in favor of a more academic course of study.
JR: Wow! Okay, now I’m going to pester you to post videos of you singing opera! What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
MS: Write your story. Only you can write it. Keep working on your craft. Connect with other writers, because the highs of publishing are few and far between for most of us. Listen to people who know the business. Be willing to change and adapt. And have fun!
JR: What are you working on next?
MS: I’m incredibly excited to share my second upper middle-grade novel, The Inside Battle, which is set to release in the fall of 2019. It is the story of a boy struggling to win his father’s approval, but when the boy follows his dad inside a racist, anti-government militia group, he has to choose what’s more important: his father’s approval or speaking up for what is right.
JR: That sounds great! I’ll be on the lookout for it. How can people follow you on social media?
JR: Melanie, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and hope you come back when The Inside Battle comes out!
Well, that does it for now. So, until next time, my Mixed-Up friends . . .