Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books, several of them Christmas novellas from Revell, including her much-loved and bestselling book, THE CHRISTMAS BUS. She also writes many teen books, including JUST ANOTHER GIRL, the Diary of a Teenage Girl series, the TrueColors series and the Carter House Girls series. Melody was nominated for a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her books, including the Notes from a Spinning Planet series and Finding Alice, which is in production as a Lifetime Television movie. She and her husband serve on the Young Life adult committee in central Oregon. Visit Melody's website at www.melodycarlson.com.
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Amazingly, Melody Carlson has written close to 200 books for women, teens and children. She has won a number of awards (including the RITA and Gold Medallion), and some of her titles even have been optioned for film and TV. Her latest novel for adults, RIVER'S SONG, kicks off a brand new series called The Inn at Shining Waters. This generational series introduces Anna Larson, who, after her mother's death and on the verge of a midlife crisis, returns to the home of her youth. In this interview, Carlson speaks about the origins of Anna, who is a Siuslaw Indian, and how her interest in Siuslaw descendants --- and her own family heritage --- has developed into a series. She also offers inspirational advice for those, like Anna, who find themselves at a crossroads in life.
Question: Tell us a little bit about your new book RIVER'S SONG?
Melody Carlson: Following her mother's funeral, and on the verge of a mid-life crisis, Anna Larson returns to the home of her youth to sort out her parents' belongings, as well as her own life. Anna's unique family home is situated on a picturesque coastal estuary, and filled with an assortment of memories. Some lovely...some difficult. But Anna soon learns that more than just her past resides along the banks of the Siuslaw River, and she begins to find hope for her future as well. For the first time since childhood, Anna begins to embrace her Native American heritage and river roots. She finds healing and hope, restores some old relationships, initiates some new ones, explores romance, and begins to grow into the woman that God intended her to be. Finally, by transforming her old family home into Shining Waters Inn, Anna creates a place of healing --- a place where guests experience peace, grace, and new beginnings for themselves.
Q: Where did the character of Anna come from?
MC: We have a beach cabin not far from the Siuslaw and, consequently, we greatly appreciate this river. For years, I've enjoyed researching historical facts about this area and was particularly interested in the Siuslaw Indians (a peaceful matriarchal society that was nearly exterminated by white man intervention). I knew there were a few surviving descendents of the Siuslaw tribe, and I began to wonder what would happen if one of them, a woman who inadvertently inherits one of the old 40 acre parcels of river lands, was able to reconnect with her heritage and develop the property into a place of healing. Thus, Anna was born in my imagination. Ironically, she remained there for about a decade before I eventually got the opportunity to tell her story.
Q: This is the first of a series. How do you decide when a series is right for telling a story?
MC: At first I wanted this to be the story of three generations of women, all Siuslaw descendents, and all with some life challenges and healing experiences connected to the river. I thought I'd write each book from the perspective of the next generation. But I grew so attached to Anna's voice that I decided to tell the story from her point of view throughout. We still hear each woman's story, but it's from Anna's reference. As a result, these stories are still framed in grace and healing and hope.
Q: Anna is at a crossroads in RIVER'S SONG. What advice would you give someone who may be at the crossroads in their own life?
MC: Ironically, I had the opportunity to do this very thing last night as I visited with two women who are very much like Anna. After listening for an hour or more, I told them both that they need to allow themselves time to grieve over some painful losses (including empty nests and broken hearts). And then they need to take time to nurture themselves, reconnect with themselves, and to allow God back into their lives. Because ultimately, I believe that only God can heal their wounds. Only God can give them the grace to forgive those who have wounded them. Finally, I told them that I believed God had great things in store for both of them and that they were just embarking on an exciting journey. And then I gave them copies of RIVER'S SONG! It was a totally impromptu evening, but really wonderful.
Q: How much of your family heritage inspired RIVER'S SONG?
MC: My husband is actually one-eighth Cherokee, which might not sound like much, but he experienced some of the same things Anna did while growing up. His mother had grown up in a dysfunctional home (her mother was half Cherokee and in deep denial during the '30s). As a result, there were lots of generational problems. But there was also a lot of wisdom in the Native American side of this family. I'd see snippets of it in his mother's love and understanding of geology and plants and animals. I always wanted to understand the various members better, but most of the older generation is gone now.
Q: Describe the perfect writing environment.
MC: For me it's usually in my writing studio, which is housed in a building nearby but separate from our home. It looks out into a beautiful ponderosa pine forest. It's quiet and isolated and peaceful here. I also like writing at our beach cabin. For some reason, I'm very connected to, and energized by, nature. I always need to have a window nearby. I used to be able to write almost anywhere and with all kinds of distractions. But I find that over the years that's changed. I need more solitude and fewer interruptions to stay on track.
Q: How did you react to your very first book being published?
MC: I was over the moon! It's ironic because it was nonfiction (my goal had to been to write fiction) and the smallest advance I ever received. But that day is indelibly printed in my mind. And we celebrated! Now, all these contracts later, it still stands out as a red-letter-day.
Q: As a writer and a Christian, what do you hope readers will take away from RIVER'S SONG?
MC: Anna's gift is healing. And she wants her inn to reflect that. Usually, her path to healing is contained in some form of forgiveness and grace. I hope this story will convey that to the reader. It's impossible to pass through this life without experiencing some kind of hurt. Basically, everyone needs to forgive someone at some point in life. I just want to encourage people to embrace grace and, as a result, experience even more of it from the God of grace.
© Copyright 2011, Melody Carlson. All rights reserved.
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October 6, 2006
Melody Carlson has authored over 90 books for children, adolescents and adults, including the popular teen series Diary of a Teenage Girl and her latest work, THE CHRISTMAS BUS. In this interview, Carlson expresses her passion for writing --- especially the act of storytelling --- while revealing dislike for the process that follows.She also describes the slow evolution of the characters she creates and admits that they can even surprise her at times.
Question: When did you first start writing?
Melody Carlson: I got serious about writing in my mid-thirties. The desire to create with words was so strong that I just started writing without totally knowing what I was doing, except that I was having fun. I joined a critique group and before long I’d written several books, but didn’t know what to do with them. Eventually, I figured out how to get my books published.
Q: How did you come up with the storyline for THE CHRISTMAS BUS?
MC: I wanted to tell a story about hospitality and grace, something to encourage readers to open their hearts and homes during the holidays. I also wanted to remember the nativity and true meaning of Christmas, but I wanted to do it in a different sort of way. Suddenly I imagined these two “Mary and Joseph” sort of characters who were out on the road in a funky old hippie bus…and I simply began writing.
Q: How did you invent these characters?
MC: Sometimes it seems like characters invent themselves. I simply begin writing about them and they tend to slowly evolve. The character Myrtle was fun because she was so cantankerous, pushing everyone’s patience to the limits. And then, in the end, she surprised even me.
Q: What were your favorite and least favorite things about writing this book?
MC: My favorite part is simply the storytelling process. I don’t know exactly where I’m going when I write. It’s kind of a self-discovery experience, so I enjoy the journey as much as the reader. My least favorite part is probably the editing…fortunately I didn’t have much revisions to do on this book. And I know that editing is important, but for me, it’s just not as fun as creating.
Q: What inspires you to write?
MC: I simply love to write. I used to say that I would write whether anyone ever read my work or not. For me it’s just a creative expression that’s fun and enjoyable.
Q: What books are you reading right now?
MC: MARLEY & ME. It’s nonfiction about a couple in Florida who adopt a yellow Labrador retriever. It’s light and fun and well written.
Q: Tell us about your family.
MC: I have two grown sons who live nearby, one darling two-year-old granddaughter who visits me regularly. I have the best husband and we recently celebrated our 28th anniversary. Oh, yeah, I also have a chocolate Labrador retriever who is definitely a part of the family.
Q: If you could have one wish come true, what would it be?
MC: I would wish for both of my sons to totally dedicate their lives to God. They are both on their own spiritual journeys, which seem fraught with trials and tribulations that are difficult for a mother to witness. (All prayers are appreciated).
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