Known for their compelling medical dramas, Hannah Alexander is the pen name for the writing team of Cheryl and Melvin Hodde. Mel and Cheryl live in the Missouri Ozarks, where they like to set the majority of their books.
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FaithfulReader.com's contributing writer Bethanne Kelly Patrick spoke with Cheryl and Melvin Hodde, who write under the pen name "Hannah Alexander," about their Hideaway series. They talk about the challenges of being collaborators, writers and spouses, and the struggle to balance these roles with Melvin's busy medical practice. Cheryl also discusses how her past as a teenage runaway influenced her life and work, which has led her to cherish her teenage characters above all others.
FaithfulReader.com: What is the theme of the Hideaway series? When did you conceptualize it? Have you plotted out a number of the books?
Cheryl Hodde: Hideaway originally became a concept when I discovered a hidden peninsula on the lake near Branson that seemed to be a world unto itself. I combined this "set apart" feeling with our experiences of small town life in the Ozarks, the way everyone knew the business of everyone else, and struggled to come to grips with the pros and cons of such an existence. Each book in the Hideaway series has its own set of interesting (we hope) characters with their own problems, but we attempt to portray the power of support in an Ozark community when the going gets rough. So far we have written three Hideaway books and are working on the fourth. Numbers five and six are plotted, but need a lot more fleshing out.
FR: SAFE HAVEN features a teenage runaway who has been a prostitute, con artist and thief. How did Fawn's story evolve?
Cheryl: Once upon a time, long, long ago, I was a teenage runaway. I was not, however, a prostitute, con artist or thief, and I had no wicked stepfather --- I was just a rebellious teenager. The concept of Fawn was an attempt to show the tender heart beneath the oftentimes tough exterior we see in the faces of strangers. There are lost people out there who need our kindness, our help, our prayers, and God wants us to love them, not condemn them. They can often be prickly and hard to love, but God never promised the tasks He gave us would always be easy --- just rewarding in the end.
FR: In the first two Hideaway novels you have troubled teens as major characters. Can you share with us why you chose to do this?
Cheryl: I love teenagers. They fascinate me. Perhaps it's a case of my own arrested development, or perhaps it's an attempt to reconcile my own rebellious teenage years, but I love to write what I know. I know about being a rebellious teen. These characters come naturally, and they usually become my favorites.
FR: You've been collaborating for five years now, and have said that your different strengths complement each other and keep you going. What is the most difficult thing about working together? The easiest?
Cheryl: Five years? Wow. I think it's been ten years now, which means I really need to update the website. The most difficult thing about working together is finding the time to work together. Mel has a busy profession, and sometimes it's difficult for him to slow down long enough to share it with me so I can get the feel of the physician's life onto paper. Also difficult is the fact that, when I'm first developing a story concept, Mel can't crawl inside my mind and see the story. In the beginning, I'm on my own. He brainstorms very well with other writers when we have a brainstorm session for other stories, but with me he's pretty much in the dark. After the first draft, or even after he's read the first half of the first draft, he catches on and he gives me good ideas. He can always write a medical scene if I tell him what I want in it, but he's lost in the beginning.
The easiest and most wonderful thing about writing together is that Mel can take a scene I've been struggling with, and he can read it back to me with great dramatic emphasis, and let me hear the flow of the words I've written. He's the most wonderful encourager in the world, and I thrive on that encouragement.
FR: What is a typical writing day like when you're collaborators both as writers and as spouses?
Cheryl: There's nothing typical about our lives. We have no children. Mel's schedule at the hospital is different from day to day, or even night to night, and I try to fit my life to his schedule so we can spend as much quality time together as possible. However, if you want to know one of my favorite kinds of days, we go hiking with a voice-activated recorder, and while we hike in the Ozark woods we're inspired to plot fun stories and scenes. We act them out, often doing dialogue that I'll transcribe when we're back home. The one thing that we can depend on, besides Mel's day job, is the fact that, several times a month, I'm going to need a good hike. And my favorite hiking buddy is Mel, and when we're together for very long I'll start talking about the latest story. When we get home, ideally, I'll shower and then hit the computer for some downloading. For me, that's the perfect day.
FR: In your Website Q&A you note, "There are no perfect Christians. There is, however, a perfect answer to all the questions. That answer is Jesus Christ." Many of your characters are anything but perfect Christians, especially as their stories begin. How do you develop your characters?
Cheryl: By looking inside myself. I'll never be perfect, but all my flaws, and the flaws of others, can be woven into interesting tapestries that might strike a chord with other imperfect people. There are no perfect people, and it is those very imperfections that make for fascinating stories --- if they're told well enough, and with enough compassion.
FR: For Mel -- you've said you would have loved to have been an old-time country doctor, and it seems that in writing the Hideaway series you've managed to put part of your dream into your writing work. How do you see the role of today's small-town physician?
Melvin Hodde: People want physicians to get back to the basics. There's a strong trend toward cash-only docs, cutting out the insurance middleman and HMO until and unless there's a catastrophic illness. People want simple medicine, with physicians who care for the whole person, not just the symptoms. We even recently had a blue moon, in which a local physician made a house call. It nearly floored us. People all over the country, not just in the country, want humanized care. People want to receive care as a real person. Also, there is a trend toward alternative medicine, because so many patients dislike the "drug them and kick them out the door" mentality.
My role in a small-town hospital emergency department is to see the patients as quickly as possible --- so no emergency is kept waiting --- but to use a lot of TLC as I treat, so the patients won't feel dehumanized.
FR: You recently won a Christy Fiction Award for Best Christian Romance title. Can you share your thoughts on winning this award --- especially as you are debut authors who were up against some seasoned competition?
Cheryl and Melvin: We feel honored to win the award. Our "competition," two good friends, both deserved to win. We need to be more interested in being Christlike, in which the character of Christ would be portrayed in our work. We don't think competition enters into the equation with Christ. Deb Raney and Susie Warren both applauded us when we won, just as we will applaud them when they win in the coming years. We're all in this to serve Him, not to stroke our own egos.
FR: What are your faith lives like? Do experiences you have in worship and in service come into play as you write?
Cheryl and Melvin: We hope our faith enters into every avenue of our lives, not only in church-related activities, but in our writing, and in Mel's doctoring, and in our interaction with the lady in the pharmacy and the nurse in the hospital who is having family problems, and the patient who can't figure out why she's having stomachaches. Christianity is a lifestyle that we hope permeates everything we do, and if it doesn't, then we're doing something wrong.
FR: What can you tell us about LAST RESORT, the Hideaway novel that will be released in June 2005?
Cheryl and Melvin: LAST RESORT deals with the dark problems of a family deep in the woods who have tried for years to cover up the heartbreak of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But does someone in the family have a compulsion to murder? Or has someone resorted to murder to hide the disorder from the world? Meet Noelle Cooper and Nathan Trask, who unite to unravel this old family mystery as they rediscover the strength of an old friendship forged in the hills beyond Hideaway.
FR: What else can you share about future projects with our readers?
Cheryl and Melvin: Also scheduled for release next year is NOTE OF PERIL, a shorter romantic suspense set in Branson, MO. Beyond that, we plan to have another Hideaway novel in 2006, tentatively titled EVERY WAKING MOMENT.
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