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Author Interview: Melanie Wells

Melanie Wells was gracious enough to allow me to interview her about her writing and her newly released book, My Soul to Keep. You can read the (spoiler-free!) review here.

  1. You and Dylan share some biographical information, including the study of psychology, theology, and teaching. How much of Dylan’s personality mirrors your own?

    Dylan has my voice and some of my background, but that’s about it. She’s my soapbox and shares my point of view on people – that they’re flawed and mostly doing the best they can. But I do not share her obsession with Pine Sol. I have many close friends and am a good girlfriend (I hope), whereas she’s a relational disaster zone. I hope I’m not as self-absorbed as she is. If I am, someone should send me to time out.

  2. Dylan has some very spiritual/religious experiences, as do the very special children in My Soul to Keep, but the experiences are not tied to one particular religion. What was your rationale behind that choice?

    I don’t really know much about religion, to tell you the truth. I wasn’t raised in a church-going environment and have never been part of a denomination. My entire experience with God has been from a non-denominational perspective and from studying the Bible directly. I think there’s a lot out there that we can’t explain. I get emails from all over the world about baffling spiritual events. And they don’t tend to fit into tidy categories. Not much of life does, I’ve noticed.

  3. Have you had any personal experiences with spiritual guides? If not, how did you decide to integrate them into the story?

    I have the radar, certainly. Some people have it and some don’t. I just discussed this in a blog I share with my best friend, Trish Murphy (www.ifeelawakelouise.blogspot.com). There are times when I feel something evil is lurking about and there are times when I feel a level of protection that can only be supernatural. Many times, I’ve almost done something…. Stepped off a curb, for example… and had a strange sense of doubt that caused me to stop. And then a truck would speed around the corner which would have flattened me if I’d been walking across the street. Things like that. But that’s about as specific as it gets. Interesting story, though. In My Soul to Keep, the character Joe Riley was actually a friend of a friend. The original Joe Riley died of AIDS years ago, and since then, my friend has continued to feel a strong spiritual connection to him and has had experiences similar to the one I just described with the curb and the truck. So I named the angel after him.

  4. “My Soul to Keep” focuses on a child’s kidnapping. You clearly did a lot of research about the facts of kidnapping. How did you decide how to write the emotional effects?

    That was tough. I have friends on the homicide squad at the Dallas Police Department. Kidnappings, strangely enough, are handled in Robbery. One of my homicide buddies once worked Robbery, so had worked some kidnappings. But they were all drug-related, where the kids were returned within a day or two for drug money. I thought about trying to talk to the parent of a kidnapped child – there have been several high profile stories in the DFW area in recent years. But I just couldn’t bring myself to disrupt their lives. So I opted to keep it soft. I didn’t want the emotional aspect of the story to be too wrenching since the topic is such a sensitive one. That’s why Maria reacts the way she does. She’s a tough girl – especially when you know how Nicholas was conceived. I figured it fit her character to square her shoulders and get down to the business of surviving this terrible thing and finding her son. I’ve gotten some criticism about that, but I’m standing by that decision. I think it was the right way to go.

  5. As a parent, I had a very hard time beginning “My Soul to Keep”, though I had an equally difficult time putting it down. Are there different risks in writing a book about a kidnapping than a mystery involving another crime?

    Sure – but I think that would apply to any terrible crime, honestly. I have two friends whose mothers were murdered – violently. (There’s an entry about this on the Thelma & Louise blog I mentioned earlier). Neither of them, quite understandably, finds murder entertaining. Especially when the violence is shown. I try to keep my books free of gratuitous violence and suffering. You never see it happening – you only hear about it in hindsight. If you’ll notice, you don’t find out what happened to Nicholas until the end. And even then, I just couldn’t bring myself to write about any of the horrible things that do happen to children out there. It’s a terrible world, really, when you think about these things. I don’t know how God stands it.

  6. It took me quite a bit of the book to get a handle on Peter Terry, whom other readers would remember from your earlier books. How would you describe him to a new reader?

    Peter Terry is a metaphor, really. As a character in the books, he’s a demonic, other-worldly figure. But he’s not like the Frank Peretti demons or any of the stereotypical things you read about. He’s more insidious than that. He’s more of a mental and spiritual stalker. Not unlike the people and events and obstacles we all have in our lives. There’s a great book called “The Gift of Fear” which every woman should read. The idea is that fear is good. It’s a signal you should listen to. When you feel it, something is wrong. Listen to yourself and do what you need to do. Run, scream, fight – whatever. This is one of the messages of my books. Listen to your fear and never go down without a fight.

    [ed. note – I completely agree – if you haven’t read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, go buy it. Now.]

  7. Dylan, Liz, and Maria are very strong women who pull together support each other while their male companions are unavailable in different ways. Is the theme of women’s support for each other also in your other books? Have you found a similar support group?

    Dylan is pretty isolated in the earlier books. She really has no social life. In fact, at the end of The Soul Hunter, which is the second book in the series, she sort of “targets” Maria to be the first recruit in her campaign to have a social life. But the theme is important to me. I have a group of close girlfriends who are indispensable to me. We meet Wednesday nights – we’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, in one form or another – and share our lives. We named ourselves the Waah Waah Sisterhood, because we’ve had so much to cry about in that span of time. Also, I could not live without my closest friend, Trish Murphy. She’s a writer also, so she gets that whole thing, but we are just necessary for one another in life. We buddy-breathe through the entire thing.

  8. Dylan has some OCD-type behaviors, about which she is very honest and amusing. How did you create such a realistic portrayal without going too far?

    That’s so fun to write about. There’s a scene in The Soul Hunter where Dylan cleans her water heater. Think about that. What a nut-job she can be! I think the key to the OCD thing is to make it funny and quirky. If she were agoraphobic, for example, or washed her hands or checked locks obsessively, that wouldn’t be funny. But she’s obsessed with order and germs in a messy, disorderly world. That’s what we call a fat pitch – fun to swing at and you can hit it out of the park.

  9. Authors with books in a series have to walk a line between giving enough information to new readers and alienating their existing fan base with too much back story. How do you decide what to include and exclude?

    That was tough. I wanted each book to be a stand-alone read, but when you get to the end, you realize it’s one long story. So as a writer, you have to be careful, obviously, about what you do and don’t give away. You need to set up the characters without over-explaining in the later books. And you have to be careful about giving away the big fat answers – the identity of the murderer in The Soul Hunter, for example, was very hard to keep out of My Soul to Keep. I lost a little sleep over that. And took a lot of Excedrin. I should invest in whatever company makes that stuff. I keep them in business.

Thank you Melanie! Mystery lovers, go pick up a copy of My Soul to Keep, you won’t regret it.