Melanie Howard is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in major national magazines including Self, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Seventeen. She was awarded a gold medal in the 2011 Eddie Award competition for a SELF feature on the brain and has been a National Magazine Award finalist. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, two children and Rocky the Airedale. Queen of the Court is her first novel.
What inspires you to write?
People! I find human behavior endlessly fascinating. I used to be a crime reporter for a local newspaper (I have seen two serial killers – in a courtroom, thank God – and reported live from the scene of a mass shooting.) Seeing people who’d stepped over the ultimate line and hearing their rationalizations for that behavior was horrible, but fascinating. Flash forward years later and I’m playing recreational ladies’ tennis and I notice that, while no one committing murder, some of the behavior is eerily familiar. Whether your world is crime or politics, or tennis or tennis, church or the local PTA, there are passions, power struggles and folks who step over the line. Also, I have a wicked sense of humor. I find life, even at its darkest, has laugh-out-loud moments. I live for writing about those.
Tell us about your writing process.
I wrote Queen of the Court with my writing partner, Andrea Leidolf. So we have individual writing processes as well as our partner writing process. Individually I am erratic as in all things. I wish I did write to schedule, but I don’t. Although I frequently write at home, I like to write at coffee shops, the library and other venues where I often find more incidents, characters or settings for my books. I did some of what I think is my best work on Queen of the Court at Gaulladet University for the deaf in Washington D.C. I also have a great story involved getting locked in, a TTY I couldn’t work, a gate I shouldn’t have used and a prostitute. This will turn up on my blog, but if you can’t wait to find out what happened, email me at email@example.com
As for the partner process. Andrea and I meet, usually over lunch, talk about the book and where it is going next, divide up the next few scenes, then when they are written trade copy and edit each other’s work. It’s how we arrive at a uniform style and coherent voice.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
We are trying to be more comprehensive outliners for our sequel (actually a prequel), a suspense novel titled “Merrywood”. I predict we will go horribly off our outlining course and end up freelancing again. I don’t think fancy software or a whiteboard is necessary for an outline. We just use our laptops or legal pads. I did do a posterboard story board of Queen of the Court at one point.
We definitely are doing character sketches for “Merrywood”. Queen of the Court started as a television pilot, so we had sketches done. However, this time we are adding details like car makes and models, neighborhoods, style of house and so on. Otherwise, particularly if you write with a partner, someone may arrive at a scene in a Toyota and leave in a BMW. I know that’ s everyone’s dream in reality, but in a novel going back and fixing all those little glitches is murderous.
I am kind of speculative about writers who say “I didn’t know my character was going to do x! They tell me the story.” I do believe, however, if you create a good character with a good deep background it will guide you in writing their actions and reactions. They do start to seem real (I described our character Enrique as the perfect boyfriend for one of my daughter’s friends once. My daughter said, quite appropriately, “Mom, you’re getting weird about the book.”). But they aren’t. I wish they would talk to me and tell me what was coming. It would save me a lot of work, and since they are fictional I’d still be the one getting paid.
What advice would you give other writers?
Inspiration is great, but writing is a job. I know this because I’ve been a professional writer for 25 years. Even if you can’t think of a damned thing to write, sit down with your laptop or whatever and write something. Do a few emails for warm up if you have to. Even if everything you write that day is terrible, there will be something in there you can use. (And if it is terrible, don’t feel obligated to keep it.)
Be ready to sacrifice scenes, details and characters you love. It won’t all fit, it won’t all work, it won’t all make sense. Keep them for a later time. We had to cut a great character, Trish Peabody, from Queen of the Court. But she is going to feature prominently in a sequel.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Both Andrea and I had worked with agents and conventional publishing houses on previous projects. After reviewing the current market, we decided the old “query and wait” system was not for us at this point. We hope a publishing house will pick up our book because there are so many indie novels out there, but if it doesn’t happen we’re happy direct-marketing to readers.
I would recommend APE, Author, Publisher Entrepreneur for anyone considering this route. Lots of good advice, although we didn’t follow all of it.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I believe the major publishing houses will get over their fear of the self publishing revolution and figure out a way to make it work to their advantage. You can already see this; major publishers are using independently published books as their new “slush pile”.
I also predict that Createspace will create a division that picks up the cream of the self-published books and republishes and markets them under another imprint. Createspace Indie?
What do you use?
Co-writer, Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
fiction, women’s fiction, mystery, suspense
What formats are your books in?
eBook, Both eBook and Print
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