Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Author Interview: Melanie Jacobson

Today I get to interview fellow Covenant author and friend Melanie Jacobson, whose first novel, The List, just came out. I got to read a tiny bit of it a couple years ago at the LDStorymakers conference when she was at my Boot Camp table, and I loved it. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it. She's funny, kind, and has an envy-inspiring collection of shoes.

More about her: Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. After meeting her husband online, she is now living happily married in Southern California with her growing family and a series of doomed houseplants. Melanie is a former English teacher and a popular speaker who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog, Write Stuff.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started? (When did the bug bite you?)
I've always liked writing. I did a lot more creative writing and poetry as a child. I used to entertain my 8th grade earth science class by writing a epic tale of an old haunted house. My spiral notebook got passed around every day so they could read it during Mr. Murrell's lectures. The other kids constantly hounded me for new installments because that was such a boring class. By college, writing was all about essays and papers for my English major. Then I taught 8th grade creative writing for five years and I would complete the assignments along with my students, but I never felt like I had any time to tackle novel-length fiction. I always knew I would write a book one day; it wasn't until I quit teaching to stay home that I started noodling around on a story "just because" and my first novel was born .

Where did the idea for The List come from?
My husband, actually. One day he said, "You know what would be a cool story? A girl with a bucket list, only it's stuff she wants to do before she gets married." I loved it so I took it and ran with it. Setting it in Huntington Beach, CA seemed like a no-brainer. I was living there at the time and I know it's a hot spot for young single Mormons looking for an alternative to the Utah dating scene.

What research did you have to do for the book? What was the most interesting thing you learned?
Surfing figures prominently and I don't surf. However, my husband does and so do a lot of my friends. I asked a lot of questions, and my husband and I took a lot of walks down to the Huntington Beach pier. We would sit and watch the surfers and he would explain different techniques and vocabulary to me. It was surfing by osmosis. I'm not a confident swimmer so I was too chicken to try it myself. Besides, the Pacific is COLD. However, I'm a lot more interested in it as a sport now that I understand more about it.

What is your writing style? Are you an outliner or a by-the-seat-of-your-pantser? Somewhere in between?
I started as a pantser, but each manuscript was getting longer and longer, requiring more editing after the first draft. After my third manuscript when I had to cut over 20,000 words, (yes, twenty THOUSAND), I thought, "This is too painful and it takes too much time to overwrite and then revise." So on my most recent manuscript, I used the hero's journey approach and it was far more efficient. I didn't adhere totally to what I outlined because my characters are stubborn, but it definitely helped control the overwriting. So I guess that means that now I'm somewhere in-between.

What is your typical writing schedule like?
I write when my baby naps. If I can resist surfing the Internet, then I can knock out 1,500 words a day without much trouble. Of course, I rarely can resist the Internet, so I'm not always as efficient as I'd like. I never walk away from a writing session until I've hit at least 1,000 words, but that's my minimum. Stupid Internet. I'd have twice as many novels done by now if I weren't so easily distracted.

What is one big thing you've learned through the process of publishing your first novel?
That I'm a better writer than I thought. I'm learning to be okay with that instead of shrugging it off. It's a big deal and I'm giving myself permission to feel good about it.

What's been the biggest surprise about the publishing process?
How LONG it takes, for one. And I was also surprised by some of the elements I don't have any control over, like the cover or the title. So far, I've been blessed with a great first cover. I've had one title changed on me and I'm learning to like it. Either way, I've learned you have to make your peace with whatever it is because your publisher is in business to make money and they have people who know the market and what sells, so it's not a bad idea to trust their experience.

Which authors are your biggest literary influences in the national market?
Janette Rallison, easily. That's a career arc I'd love to follow, and our styles are pretty similar, although I'm not writing YA. She's one of my favorite writers. Meg Cabot is another but I'm pretty sure my stuff is less . . . edgy? I hope people find my stuff as fun to read, though.

Any in the LDS market?
Aubrey Mace and I both write in the "chick lit" genre, and I love her stuff. I was excited to read Julie Wright's Cross My Heart because that's definitely the same groove I write in.

Any advice for aspiring authors?
Write as often as you can, and that is definitely more than however much you think you can right now. The more you write, the more you'll find time to write. But secondly, and I think more importantly, when you do write, ignore your internal editor. Just get the words down and worry about fixing them later. If you can resist the urge to tinker with your stuff every day and just move the story forward instead, you'll find you've got something great even with the mistakes. Editing gets in the way of creativity because it's critical by nature. You can go after your story with a hacksaw at the end if you like, but at least by then you'll have something to go after, instead of the same three chapters you can't move past due to an obsession with polishing them. Above all, just do it. Find a story that speaks to you and WRITE it.

GREAT advice!

Be sure to drop by Melanie's blog.


Lara Neves said...

Great interview, Annette! And Melanie!

It's always so fun and interesting for me to see what goes on behind the scenes of a good book. I will never write one, but I love reading them, and so I do enjoy finding out about the process anyway.

Josi said...

Great interview. Not many people can be confident in their ability in a way that isn't arrogant but instead inspires other people to take confidence too.

Kristina P. said...

Love Melanie. The Internet is very enchanting.

Anonymous said...

I love that Melanie is both confident and humble all in one. (And if I had her fashion-sense or talent for humor, I might not be so humble.)

I just picked up her book on my Kindle and I'm loving it!

Jessica G. said...

I think I might have a crush on Melanie. After reading a chapter that was cut from her book, it's exciting to get to read the finished product!

Susan Anderson said...

Fun interview with a young woman who is easy to like.


TheOneTrueSue said...

Great interview Annette. Melanie has a huge internet fan club and we're all really excited about her book! :>

Karen M. Peterson said...

I love Melanie and I'm so excited for her.

I also need to do a better job of following her advice.

Stephanie Black said...

Great interview. And I can relate to getting distracted by the internet when you're supposed to be writing :)

LisAway said...

I love that Kenny gave her the idea and that she's not a confident swimmer!! ???

Neither am I. But Greg's never given me an amazing idea for a novel yet.

Go Melanie!!

Stephanie said...

So happy for Melanie and her new book and her new adventure. I'm totally going to ride on the coat-tails of her success, because, you know, we've exchanged emails before and stuff. Great interview.

Scott said...

Looks like I should pick up and move to Huntington Beach then!
Nice interview. I was answering some of these questions for myself along the way. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Hey Everyone :) So I work at Seagull Book and when I read The List, I just Freaked Out! (in a good way) :) I read from 12:00 to 5:00 am and I just laughed and Laughed and LAUGHED :D The banter and dialogue between Ashley and the totally amazing and cute BOARDRYDER :) is just the BEST! Ive been telling just about every customer about The List and how Amazing it is. Great job and Keep up the Great Work :):):)

Phil the essay tutor said...

I am definitely an OUTLINER. This is my personality. If I don't plan ahead, I won't even take the first step. Just the way I am...


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