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Today I’m going to introduce you to Melanie P Smith. Melanie was born and raised in Utah and she loves it there. Why?
“That’s easy. It’s the scenery. We have five National Parks here in Utah; Zions, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. If you love the outdoors — which I do —it would be hard to find an area that has more beauty than the state I call home. We have mountainous hiking trails, desert backroads great for exploring, as well as lakes and reservoirs that are perfect for swimming and fishing. And, to top it all off, I’m extremely lucky to have an amazing view of the Wasatch Mountains (which are part of the Rockies) from my front yard.”
Melanie is a prolific writer who works in several genres. Her background is in law enforcement. How far does that experience feed into her stories?
“My knowledge and experience definitely play a large part in my writing. They say write what you know. Two of the genres I write in are Criminal Suspense and Police Procedurals. I believe my background helps to make my stories accurate, realistic and exciting. I have to admit, on occasion, a savvy cop or a background investigation also finds its way into my paranormal work as well.”
Of all the genres she has written in, which does she most enjoy writing and reading?
“I love to read, but I can’t say I have a favourite genre. Give me a good story and I’m lost for hours.
As far as writing goes, I could never pick just one genre. I guess that’s why I’m a multi-genre author. Criminal Suspense and Police Procedurals come natural for me. I like knowing I can use my knowledge and years of experience to entertain my readers. My paranormal and fantasy work provides an outlet for my more creative and imaginative side. I enjoy writing both, in different ways.”
She also works very hard on behalf of other independently published authors,producing promotional materials and videos. This requires skills not usually associated with her professional background but it transpires that she did acquire them in her job:
“I guess you never know how your education and experience will help you later in life. I have an associate degree in marketing which gives me a solid foundation to start with when it comes to layout, design, and promotional techniques. I also created a lot of promotional material for the Sheriff’s Office. When you think of law enforcement, you don’t typically think of marketing. However, during my time with the office I was tasked with developing programs and brochures for various events, as well as web design and maintenance, and public safety and education videos — especially for our volunteer Search & Rescue team. All of this combined has given me experience using various computer programs and marketing concepts that I now use to promote myself and others.”
Her book covers, the e-magazine and the promotional videos Melanie produces all look very slick. I think any traditional publisher would be proud of them. I asked if she thinks it is important for independent authors to present an image that matches that of ‘household name’ authors?
“Professionalism is important in any industry and publishing is no exception. Traditionally published authors have the backing of specialists to handle much of the work for them. But I strongly believe, if we want to get noticed, independent authors must find a way to compete in the same market. Eye-catching covers, attention grabbing videos, and interesting promos can help us get noticed. Unfortunately, that’s only the first step. In addition to having an interesting story, we also need to keep that professionalism going with top-notch editing, formatting and content.”
With so many books published, including several series, and all the other work we’ve just discussed, I wondered how she finds the time. How does a typical day in the Smith household look? When and how does she relax?
“When I started writing for fun again, I was juggling a full-time job and trying to write in my spare time. In 2016, I retired from law enforcement and I’m now blessed to do what makes me happy — write. I rarely go a day without writing and if I do, I miss it. Writing as an independent author can be a full-time job, but for me it’s a job that I love. I also enjoy relaxing and I’ve always been adventurous. My husband and I both ride Harley’s and living in Utah gives us a ton of options. There’s nothing like a relaxing ride on a rural back road or taking in all the sights and smells of a scenic forest as you cut through the air on top of a motorcycle. We also love to camp, and Utah offers a ton of places to get out in the wilderness to ride our ATV’s or relax in front of an open camp fire. My motto has always been work hard, then play hard.”
Which aspect of the publishing business does she most enjoy? Which does she wish she didn’t have to do?
“I enjoy writing and I enjoy the comradery I have found with fellow authors around the world. That is the one thing I missed when I retired from law enforcement. I also enjoy helping other authors. I truly believe it takes a village and the more we help those around us, the more satisfaction we get, and the more success we will enjoy.
I am terrible at selling myself and my work. I can do the writing and even create the promo stuff, but when it comes to creating that perfect tagline or selling my work as the next best thing that you just can’t live without… I’m terrible at that.”
I have already pointed out that Melanie is a prolific writer. Proof of this is in the fact that she has just published the third book in one of her series’ and plans to have one from another available by the end of January:
“I just published the third book in my Thin Blue Line Series – Subterfuge. Where it fits; well, that is a little tricky. Technically, it is the third book in the series,but chronologically it is actually the first. If you haven’t ready any of my work, there is no problem picking this one up and giving it a try.
Young girls are disappearing in groups of three, their bodies callously discarded by a killer whose methods stun even the most seasoned detectives. Agent Skeeter Perkins is a world-renowned profiler. He’s been with the FBI for over a decade and has made a name for himself catching the worst serial killers known to man. His current case, a man the media has dubbed the “Scientist” is no different. But,when Perkins and his team start to close in, the stakes become personal. Skeet must put everything on the line as he plunges headlong into the most desperate hunt of his life.
The third season of Paige Carter will be completed at the end of this month (December). I hope to have it available for purchase by the end of January. In the meantime, you can read the entire third season (9 episodes) on my website. If you’re new to Paige Carter, just subscribe to my blog and get the entire first season as my gift just for signing up. http://geni.us/Blogsignup
Paige Carter is a police procedural series. Each season contains 9 Episodes (or short stories) where Paige and her colleagues solve a local crime. It has been compared to Blue Bloods or Longmire.”
Is there an aspect of the publishing business that she wishes someone had warned her about before she started?
“I wish I had known just how much work it would entail. One of the benefits of self-publishing is that you control everything. One of the challenges… you control everything. The big publishing houses have a small army to assist with every aspect of publishing. As Indie-Authors we must manage it all ourselves. We do our own accounting, IT management, marketing, production, formatting, editing, and sales… or we find professionals to do it for us. It’s a lot to jump into without a little help along the way. Instead of wearing one hat in the process, we have to wear them all. This requires patience and an ability to know our strengths and weaknesses. No matter how amazing your first book, there is very little chance you will hit that publish button and become rich overnight. Our work must be professional and high-quality. Readers want to focus on content and the story, not get distracted by poor layout, sloppy grammar, and punctuation or spelling errors. Our work defines who we are as authors and generates our business reputation. Because of this, our novels must be as close to perfect as possible before we hit that publish button. Nobody can do this alone – we all need professionals to assist us.”
Talking of surprises, I wondered if she was prepared to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers?
“I’ve always been adventurous but if my readers have visited my website, they already know this from my about page. They might be surprised to know I can operate a backhoe and I know how to drive an M113 tank.”
Here‘s a brilliant idea for anyone who wants to get more eyes on their blog. Comes with a health warning, though, only works if your blog is interesting.
My latest ‘date’ is with Chris-Jean Clarke. Chris lives in South Staffordshire with her husband, Geoff, two teenagers and their adorable Papillion, Romey, who enjoys spending a few hours a week putting a smile on the faces of the patients at their local mental health hospital – Romey is a Pets as Therapy dog.
I asked first about her book Honesty in World War 2, originally published in 2016 and recently re-released.
“Honesty in World War 2 was inspired by an event that happened to my father following his National Service.
Prior to putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), I spent numerous hours researching and double-checking facts and stories told to me and my siblings by my mum about her experience of the war years. – She was only seven years old, when the war ended. – My mum inspired a number of events in my story. For example, my mum used to be a Tomboy and loved climbing trees. She bet the local boys that she could climb higher than them. On the positive side, she succeeded in her quest as she fell, bringing the branch down with her. However, on the negative side, she gashed her leg on a barbed wire fence. She often showed us her scar and was proud that she didn’t have any stitch marks, which she attributed to my granddad (her father) using a cobweb on the wound. In my story, twins Simon & Samuel (two of the evacuees) are playing by the brook when one of them has an accident. – Having been brought up in the city they not only struggle with living in the countryside, but would rather create mayhem than attempt to fit in. – Imagine their horror when Cyril’s mum starts to bandage a cobweb to the wound on Simon’s leg, especially as the villagers had already tied a pig’s lung to their younger sister’s feet to cure her of Pneumonia!
Although, Honesty in World War 2 was taken down from publication for a short while & has since been re-released, this was due to personal reasons. I promise the story has not been amended since 2016.”
Next I asked her about To Dye For and the Books4Kids programme for which it was written.
“PS Publishing and the Books 4 Kids program is a 501c3 non-profit corporation with a mission to “build children’s character through books.” The B4K brings authors to the classroom – in person or through electronic conferencing. The author reads from his or her book, answers student questions and then leads a discussion re. the moral of the book. – The moral behind To Dye For is self-esteem. – At the end of the discussion each child receives a free copy of the book.
To Dye For opens with Beth, a year-ten student daydreaming about fellow student, Mikolos (“Mike”) Samaras. However, thanks to the antics of Jenny Parker and Shelly Barnes, Beth truly believes that she doesn’t stand a chance with a guy like Mike – because she has red hair. Unwittingly, Mike also reinforces this notion by frequently teasing Beth about her hair. Beth becomes so despondent about her appearance that she decides the only way to solve her problems, is to emulate her younger sister’s beautiful locks and dye her hair the same shade as Grace’s. – After all, Grace is adored by everyone and has stunning strawberry blonde hair.”
Chris is a member of the Peacock Writers, a group of eighteen independent writers from around the world.
“Each of our anthologies are written around a given theme. 100% of the profits from the sale of these books are donated to aid various charities.
I have contributed to nine books, so far, but the book I would strongly recommend is: Springtime Bullies: Special Illustrated Edition (The Peacock Writers Present) (Volume 6)”
Before becoming a writer Chris had a long career working with people with disabilities. I asked her how that experience influenced her writing projects.
“Many of my stories have at least one secondary character who has a disability or special need.
For example, Beth’s sister, Grace in To Dye For has Down’s syndrome. Whilst, in Honesty in World War 2, Malcolm a veteran of the first world war, is slightly senile, and in a way childlike. Whereas, Graham is severely scarred and has walking difficulties – these injuries were incurred when his family home in London was bombed during the war.”
Chris doesn’t have “the luxury of having a quiet space to write, but that’s okay because I know deep down that if my family were to fly the nest, I would just waste the hours stressing about them, instead of writing.”
When it comes to editing, illustration and cover design, Chris uses a range of specialist services.
“To Dye For was edited by my publishing company, PS publishing and the Books 4 Kids program. They also commissioned an illustrator for my cover design.
Honesty in World War 2 was edited by Valerie Byron, author of No Ordinary Woman and other works. Trish Reeb, author of Death by Default and other works, proofread my manuscript. The online community at BookRix & LinkedIn encouraged me to work and rework my opening chapter to create the atmosphere and mood of the train station. (Initially, I had only intended the first chapter to be written in a couple of lines, as I wanted to swiftly move into Cyril’s story. Instead, Cyril’s story starts in chapter two.) Another member at BookRix created my cover for me, by manipulating Emily Roesly’s images. (NB Approval was sought from and granted by Ms. Roesly, author of Whispering Water and other works.) Sharon Brownlie, author of Betrayal and other works reformatted my cover, so that I have the option to have it published as a paperback or hardback copy, later this year.
My books for the Peacock Writers anthologies are edited as a group effort. – We read each other’s stories and offer each other tips. One of our members, Laszlo Kugler, author of Whisper and other works, creates most of our cover art.”
Chris promotes her books at BookRix, LinkedIn, FaceBook & Twitter.
“More of my books have sold since I have been active in FaceBook’s promotional groups, geared to drawing writers and authors together.
However, the other platforms have also been beneficial to me in their own right. In addition, to the support at BookRix community, their system converts our files so that our eBooks can be purchased from all of the major online stores. Trish Reeb, reached out to me via Twitter & offered her free time to proofread Honesty in World War 2. This story has also attracted interest at LinkedIn from a publishing company seeking autobiographies, and an indie film script writer.”
When I asked about writers whose work she admires, she nominated Doug Simpson, author of Soul Awakening.
“[He] is my inspiration. Although Simpson’s story is fictionalised, it is based on his belief that it is plausible for a person to have lived previous lives, whilst still holding fast to, and respecting, the religious belief that there is a heaven (or hell). It gave me great peace of mind to think that I may become acquainted again with family members who have passed on before me, and I don’t need to wait until I die before I will be able to chat to them again.”
As usual I wound up our discussion by asking Chris to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers.
“Approximately 65% of my employment, took me from mundane to far flung places. One day, I could be cleaning/tidying bedrooms & bathrooms, wiping bums or cleaning up vomit, and the next I could be shopping for clothes or Christmas/birthday presents, eating out/going to the pictures or going on day trips/holidays in England and overseas.”
I enjoyed my date with Chris Jean Clarke and, now that I have shared it with you, I hope you did to.
Natalie Meraki is a writer and illustrator of children’s books. She lives on the West Coast of the USA but has moved around quite a bit. What does she like about where she is now, and is there anything she misses about any of the other places she has lived in?
Yes, I have moved around quite a bit! My mom liked to move about every two years. I’ve lived all over the California Central Valley, and all over Montana!
When I was 12 we lived in a tent in Montana in the middle of the bitter-cold winter while we attempted to build a log home from our 20 acres.
We chopped the straightest trees, and hacked the still freshly sap-glued bark from their bodies, through a solid four months of miserable, blizzarding weather.
Eventually the neighbors came and informed us that trees need to dry and shrink and twist for a year before you can build a home with them, and that we’d basically wasted all of our efforts. We were about one-third of the way done, and scrapped the whole project. It’s ghost probably still sits there, in the Bull Mountains, near Roundup, MT. I wonder if it ever thinks of me…
And that is why I HATE snow!
So, yes, I would say that I like where I live in the Pacific Northwest now very much. It’s basically a rain forest. A green on, on green, on green, lush, woodland dream. It snows for only 1 week a year, and all of the businesses and schools close, so we can stay home, safe from the extremely minor winter peril. I LOVE rain.
My home is covered by complete tree-canopy, and stays shady and cool all summer. My wonderful cat, Myra, brings me the heads of any poor mice that dare trespass our boundary. She also guards the family from malevolent energy beings, and ushers in the fairies and Bigfoot for my 3 year old son, Maxwell, to enjoy tea parties with. The Pacific Northwest is home of the Bigfoot. They visit our place for the Cherpumple ( 3 pies; apple, cherry and pumpkin, stacked on each other and then baked inside a massive spice-cake.) Bigfoot love Cherpumple.
Maybe I’m being stubborn, but I do not miss anything about any place I’ve lived before, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the future. Not in this reality, at least.
On her Amazon author page, Natalie describes herself as a ‘weirdo’. What does she mean by that?
Many people may not like it, but a weirdo is true first to themselves. Now, I believe it is the responsibility of each human being, including a weirdo, to always be conscious of their relationship to the individuals one perceives around them, and to make some attempt to understand and empathize with these other positions, and our relationships to one another; but ultimately, everything in each of our lives begins and ends within each of us. I am the creator of my universe and I owe it to myself to live by my codes, and so do each of us, to form a healthy and well balanced collective around us. Change starts from within. It starts with pure authenticity and emanates outward. Weirdos change the world. I respect them for it, and I try to live in my own weirdness every day.
In my children’s book, The Shiny Bee, the main character isn’t sure what she is or where she belongs, until a kindred spirit shows her some cute micro-macro connections between herself and the universe, and she realizes that she is truly at home, wherever, as whatever she is. A weirdo is at home in themselves. I wanted to say they’re at home in their skin, but that makes it sound like a suit humans wear. A skin-suit. Weird.
I wondered what inspired her to write her latest book for children, ChehalemValley Children’s Play. Is it purely entertainment or does it carry an important message?
Chehalem Valley Children’s Play is a kid’s picture-book about kindness. I feel like kindness is almost a controversial issue these days. Kindness knows no gender, politics, religion, race, borders…it is a basic human trait within each of us. But you hear people saying “Cut these people out of your life.” And “They get what they deserve.” Pretty easy things to say when you’re “on top.”
I was considering the plot of The Little Red Hen. The hen does all the work, so she keeps all the profit. Sure, it’s a simple connection to make. Cause and effect, but what are the consequences of the consequences we impose? If the wheel is to reverse into a positive direction we should work towards acceptance of those around us, and the struggles we are all going through.
Chehalem Valley Children’s Play takes a classic story idea a step further. What can we accomplish together? When people aren’t pulling their weight, should we cut them off from the rest of the group, or hold them closer, setting an example of love and support?
In the book, the main character is a real “spoiled brat”. When she falls from glory, her victims definitely could have told her to get lost, but they show her how kindness is done, and what we can accomplish with it, together, as loving and supportive individuals.
It’s something to consider. The book also features; bright and beautiful, fall, watercolor art, giggle-worthy instances of tragedy, and strange looking people with non-definable hands and feet.
The book’s “N’ Hair” experience is a true story from high-school! I lost my eyebrows to a well-known-hair-removal cream incident. I drew them on every day, but I was on the swim team, so everyone always made fun of me with my swim cap head and no eye-brows. Haha!
Chehalem Valley is the beautiful Pacific Northwest Valley that I am very thankful to be living in. The book’s artwork is inspired by the valley’s vivid color and thick foliage.
Does she, like Emma Donohue, test her juvenile writing on her own children?
The test for any children’s book is if the child exclaims “Again!” after reading. All of my books must pass at least 9 out of 10 “Again” tests, bonus points for parental requests.
My son’s “Again!” books (besides mine) are:
Think a Thank, by Trisha DeGrave Fontaine
Rainbow Monsters by Sylva Fae, and
Night-Night Portland by Katherine Sully
My “Again!” book is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Skieszka
Natalie has illustrated at least one children’s book for another author. Was that something she enjoyed? Would she do it again?
Illustration is my favorite part of the children’s book creation process at the moment. I also just went digital. After 33 years of strictly pen and paint on paper, alas, the Apple Pencil and it’s pressure sensitivity was created, finally giving me what I needed to make the switch. Thanks to the combined forces of the iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate artist’s app I am now strictly a digital artist!
Digital art has really blown my artistic possibilities world wide open! Maybe a little too open with Chehalem Valley Children’s Play, but I’m honing that in for the next book, still perfecting my style. I’m completely self-taught, in true weirdo fashion.
That being said, I believe there are no certifications in creativity. It is a subjective, and life long growth process. If someone loved my work and requested that I work with them, I would be absolutely thrilled to do so!
I wondered if she has any plans to write for adults? Or maybe teens/young adults as her own children mature?
I absolutely plan to write for adults and young adults! Sci-fi is in my soul.
I wake up in the morning with full movies, complete with music score, playing in my dreams. I’ve recorded many of them in my journal and am brimming with ideas!
They’re sure to escape into our reality soon.
Asked where she sees herself in ten years time she says – with, I think, her tongue placed firmly in her cheek:
I see myself napping in front of a crackling fireplace, covered in my unsold books used as blankets. I’m fine with this. This is fine.
How does she fit her writing and illustrating into her daily routine?
Usually I do my writing and illustrating during my son’s nap time. That’s two hours of creativity therapy that keeps me sane.
She describes her favorite place for working, pictured here, and her work process:
During the summer I get out my artist’s tent in the backyard. I love working closer to nature, and the wind whispers her ideas to me through the trees, when she’s feeling opinionated. My cat lounges in the netting above, shedding a hair on my nose now and then.
In both my writing and illustration processes, I just start with whatever comes to mind. Then I go through and make notes about what I’ve created, and the micro-macro balance of my work. The big picture of it all, and then how that concept is represented in the details.
I will have more information on this method, and other creativity starters in my upcoming publication Life is Magic: A Metaphysical Activity Book for the Young at Heart, which gives a quick, fun overview of esoterica via lesson pages, journal prompts, coloring pages, quotes, tips and more. A taste of all the things that make life magical. Be sure to subscribe to my website if this interests you and I’ll let you know when the book is released!
Some of her young readers and their parents might be surprised to know that sometimes she performs rap songs at karaoke.
As authors outside of the ‘mainstream’, we all face the difficulty of getting knowledge of the very existence of our work out to the people we are doing it for – readers.
Fellow author Stevie Turner has captured the dilemma precisely in her blog:
That’s what makes a great writer, according to Rebecca Bryn and she should know, being one of the greatest. Her work deserves much wider recognition. “For Their Country’s Good” would make a TV series to rival “Poldark” and “The Dandelion Clock”, which I had the privilege of reading pre-publication, has echoes of Michael Morpurgo’s “War Horse”.
Writing that comes from the heart, with deep emotional overtones and well developed characters, will always captivate me as a reader. Ms. Bryn does that brilliantly.
At what? Offering to critique a 1000 words (max) submission from you for just $10. And there’s more! If he really likes your submission you’ll be in line to win $300.
Read more about it below