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Melody Carlson Answers The Faithful Fifteen

September 2009

In this Faithful Fifteen interview, Melody Carlson --- author of over 200 novels for women, children and young adults --- discusses what inspired her latest book, THE CHRISTMAS DOG, and explains how her personal beliefs color her writing. She also recalls how she found her faith despite growing up in a non-religious household, details her organic approach to praying, and shares a touching story about meeting a fan.



Writing

FaithfulReader.com: Could you give a brief summary of your latest book?

Melody Carlson: Betty Kowalski isn’t her usual optimistic self this year. Christmas is coming and she not only has no good will left in her heart, but she’s seriously agitated at her strange young neighbor. Why would any sane person set a pink toilet in their backyard? Then, as her life is further disrupted by a stray dog and a runaway granddaughter, Betty is stirred into action. Her primary goal: to rid herself of an unwanted dog; avoid her obnoxious neighbor; and send her granddaughter home to her parents. But, of course, Betty’s plans go awry and a dog, who intruded into her world, will help to remind her of the true meaning of Christmas.

FR: What role does faith have in the book? What inspired you to write it?

MC: Christmas isn’t always a “feel-good” holiday for everyone. Whether it’s missing loved ones, depleted finances, or just plain loneliness, even Christians can forget the “reason for the season” sometimes. It’s easy to become jaded, jealous or depressed when it seems that everyone else is enjoying a very merry Christmas and you’re not. I wanted to write a Christmas story that addressed some of these feelings, and I decided to use a sweet little stray dog to remind my characters that God shows up in a myriad of ways. Often a “perfect” gift arrives in a less-than-perfect package --- we just need to be willing to receive it.

FR: What do you feel your calling is as a writer?

MC: I believe God gave me the gift to write, and that places a responsibility on me to put forth my best effort. But I’m aware that my writing is greatly impacted by my life view. How can it not be? And I tend to focus on some of the more serious aspects of our culture. And yet I want to write stories that lift peoples’ spirits and turn their eyes toward God. However, I try not to preach --- mostly I pray that God will speak to readers between the lines.

FR: Who are your favorite authors and mentors? How have they influenced your work?

MC: I read a wide variety of authors. Early on, before Christian fiction caught hold and before I took my own writing seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed George McDonald, the Thoenes and Francine Rivers. As far as mentoring goes, I still consider my original critique group to have had more influence/encouragement on my writing than anyone.

FR: Do you have any favorite stories of encounters with readers?

MC: I get some amazing letters from teen readers --- the kind of letters that motivate me to keep writing and writing. But one memorable encounter was while my husband and I were on vacation, just hanging by the pool at our hotel and somehow another guest figured out who I was and wanted to meet me. Well, the woman turned out to be a bookstore owner and a fan. That was fun.


Spirituality

FR: Tell us about your personal faith journey.

MC: I grew up in a non-church home and declared myself an atheist at 12. In high school, I met God in a big way and became a sold-out Jesus freak. At a very young age, I volunteered with Wycliffe Bible Translators as a short-term assistant in Papua New Guinea. I thought I wanted to be a full-time missionary in the foreign field, but thankfully God had other plans. I consider myself a “missionary” of sorts with my writing. And my personal faith journey continues.

FR: Who are your spiritual mentors?

MC: I’ve had a number of spiritual mentors over the years, but I honestly don’t feel like I have a specific mentor at this time. My husband is my best friend and we discuss a lot of spiritual things. Also, I’m getting a bit more involved in mentoring others. But maybe I need to find a new spiritual mentor...or else wait for God to bring one my way.

FR: What is your current church community involvement?

MC: Because we travel a lot and have homes in two places, our church involvement is somewhat sporadic. After years of teaching Bible studies, working in women’s ministry, volunteering for Young Life, I don’t mind being on this kind of “furlough” and consider my writing (particularly the teen books) to be my “ministry.”

FR: What are your Scripture reading habits? Prayer habits?

MC: After immersing myself (and memorizing) scripture for years, I reached a place where I felt almost saturated --- like someone who’d sat at the Thanksgiving table for too long. At that point in time I decided to focus mostly on the words of Jesus. It’s a habit I’ve clung to over the years and I must admit I still get more from reading His words than any other part of the Bible. I pray daily, but not in a scheduled way. Prayer is such a part of my life that it feels almost organic --- I’m always talking to God. Why wouldn’t I?

FR: If you had one message for Christians today, what would it be?

MC: Study Jesus. Imitate Him. His message was love and grace and forgiveness --- not judgment, criticism, or superiority. His ministry was inclusive, reaching beyond Jewish culture and limitations and inviting outsiders in. And yet some Christians seem exclusive and elite, pushing others away because they are “different.” Jesus had a really hard time with the religious leaders of His time because they were so often hypocritical, hardhearted and narrow-minded. And yet we, as Christians, often come across just like that to those outside of the church. Why?


Life

FR: Tell us about your family. Spouse? Kids?

MC: I’ve been married 31 years, have two grown sons, one granddaughter, and a yellow Labrador retriever.

FR: Do you and your family have any special traditions?

MC: Because my husband’s birthday is also Christmas Day, we let him decide (years ago) what we do on that day --- it’s usually lasagna and just hanging with family. Not terribly traditional, but fun.

FR: What are some of your favorite hobbies and activities?

MC: I like reading and being outdoors (hiking, biking…) I also like to garden a bit, and I like remodeling houses (my husband does the hard stuff while I focus on the décor) and I like to travel and camp in our motor home.

FR: What are your media habits? Television? Movies? Music? Etc?

MC: I don’t watch much regular TV, although I do like Turner Classic Movies and the old films. And we rent a fair amount of DVDs and try to keep up with current trends. I like a variety of music --- everything from blue grass to classic rock. It just depends on my mood.

FR: What excites you about life?

MC: I love getting to know people, hearing their stories, trying to figure out what makes us the way we are --- and how God can change us to be more like him. I love nature and just hanging on the beach or in the woods, walking my dog, being with my family. I like beating my husband at cards, like I did last night. J And I like not knowing what’s around the next corner. And, oh yeah, I love to write books.

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Melody Carlson Answers The Faithful Fifteen

November 2003

FR: What kind of testimony to your faith are you demonstrating in this book? If you are writing fiction, do you write fiction that is based upon your faith or that has a message for the reader? Is your goal to demonstrate your faith in your writing?

MC: Writing, to me, is very personal and always includes various elements of my life. And since faith is the cornerstone of my life, it's inevitably included in everything I write. Naturally, some stories contain more faith elements than others, but I don't think I've ever written anything void of faith. I probably include stronger faith messages in my YA books. I think that's because YA readers are faced with such tough issues and as a result want honest answers.

FR: When did you come to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Where are you today in your walk? Is your faith an important part of what you do?

MC: I accepted Christ at fifteen. Prior to that I'd considered myself an atheist and was something of a "wild child." Inviting Jesus into my life was a complete turnaround for me. I made this commitment wholeheartedly and have never turned back. All these years later, my walk with God is integrated into everything I do. Writing is no different. It's not that I want to preach at my readers, but I do hope that God is speaking to them and encouraging them between the lines.

FR: Tell us about your church experiences, how you grew up (or maybe didn't grow up) in the church, where you attend now, your involvement in your local assembly, etc.

MC: As a teen and young adult, I was blessed to be part of a phenomenal Foursquare church pastored by the late Roy Hicks Jr. It was during the Jesus Freak movement and our church was frequently visited by people like Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, and Amy Grant (before they were big names). For years I taught women's Bible studies and was very involved in women's ministries. I now fellowship at a nondenominational community church.

FR: Tell us about your current church family/fellowship. How does it influence your work? 

MC: Our pastor is a gifted and diligent preacher/teacher and I am always stretched and encouraged by his sermons. Our "fellowship" extends beyond the doors of our church as we enjoy spending time with a variety of friends from several of the local churches.

FR: Who are your spiritual mentors? Your professional mentors?

MC: I've been blessed with some incredible mentors. My favorite spiritual mentor, a dear woman friend, was recently ordained and just performed her first wedding ceremony. My most memorable "professional mentors" were probably the members of my first critique group.

FR: Discuss your calling/mission --- as a writer and as a Christian.

MC: I believe God wants me to "worship him in spirit and truth" by living a life that honors him. This doesn't mean I witness to, or preach at, everyone who crosses my path, but that I connect myself to God in such a way that he makes himself visible through me. This really takes the pressure off me --- in thinking I must perform --- since all I really need to do is abide. And writing is no different.

FR: What are your Scripture reading habits?

MC: For years I devoured the Bible, I taught women's Bible studies, and memorized large chunks of scripture. In some ways I think I was building a foundation. But now I feel led to read more sparingly and focus more on the direct teachings of Jesus. Of course, this might change next week since I have found that walking with God is never predictable.

FR: What books have most influenced your work?

MC: While I have enjoyed nonfiction books by C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Elizabeth Elliot and many other fine Christian writers, I think well-written fiction has influenced my actual writing the most. I have enjoyed classics by authors like Jane Austen and Jean Stratton-Porter, but I also read a wide variety of contemporary authors.

FR: Do you read secular fiction at all? If so, who are your favorite authors and why?

MC: Yes, I read a great deal of secular fiction. I mostly read women's contemporary fiction by authors like Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler, Maeve Binchy and Anne Lamott. And I'm always a sucker for any Oprah book club pick. My reason for gravitating to these books is twofold: these stories increase my understanding and empathy of different people with different problems, plus the excellent writing styles challenge me as a writer.

FR: What are your other media habits --- television, movies, music, etc.?

MC: I love both old and current movies and am fascinated by the ability to tell stories through film (although I can't handle violence or gratuitous sex). I try to stay up-to-date on television, but am disappointed in much of it, although I do enjoy an occasional family sitcom. I really like the new Joan of Arcadia show and think it's very creative. I listen to a wide variety of music --- everything from classical to jazz to Sheryl Crow.

FR: Do you and your family have any special faith-based traditions?

MC: Our family seems to be constantly in transition. Maybe our tradition is to stay open to changes. At least things don't get boring or stale, right?

FR: Tell us about your prayer life and habits.

MC: Prayer is like breathing to me. Whether I'm walking, driving, sitting in the hot tub, about to fall asleep, whatever … I often find myself almost unconsciously talking to God. Of course, I consciously talk to him too. But I don't limit these conversations to just certain times of day.

FR: Describe what you believe the role of writing in religion is.

MC: Writing, to me, is sharing "my life" with others. And "my life" is all about being connected to God (in other words, my religion). If God uses this to communicate with or change any of my readers, I am extremely pleased.

FR: Tell us about one or more of your favorite encounters with readers.

MC: The most fulfilling reaction to my writing has been with my YA books. Numerous girls have written to tell me that Diary of a Teenage Girl books have really changed their lives. Some have given their hearts to Jesus. Some have recommitted their lives to God. Some have made chastity pledges. It's been totally amazing!

FR: Would you share a story about someone you've brought to Christ or share how your writing has helped someone?

MC: As mentioned, lots and lots of teens have written, but this story of an older woman has stayed with me for years. The woman wrote to tell me she had purchased one of my early novels (HEARTLAND SKIES) at a supermarket simply because there was a horse on the front. She didn't know it was a Christian book at the time, and had fallen away from God several years earlier. But when she sat down to read the book, she felt God speaking directly to her heart, and as a result she broke down and cried and then recommitted her life to him. I guess if God could speak through a donkey (in the Old Testament), he could certainly speak through a horse at the supermarket.

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Bibliography

Adult Fiction Titles
THE WISE MAN'S HOUSE (1997) - RWA 1998 West Coast Reader's Choice Award finalist
HOMEWARD (1997) - RWA 1998 Rita Award Winner
HEARTLAND SKIES (1998)
AWAKENING HEART (1998) - RWA 1999 Rita Finalist
SHADES OF LIGHT (1998)
ISAAC'S ANGEL (1998)
BLOOD SISTERS (2001)
LOOKING FOR CASSANDRA JANE (2002)
ANGELS IN THE SNOW (2002)
FINDING ALICE (2003)
ARMANDO'S TREASURE (January 2004)
CRYSTAL LIES (October 2004)
THREE DAYS: A Mother's Story (February 2005)
COUNTING BABY'S BLESSINGS (February 2005)
ON THIS DAY (February 2006)

Adult Fiction Series
WHISPERING PINE Series 
1) A PLACE TO COME HOME TO (1999)
2) EVERYTHING I LONG FOR (2000)
3) LOOKING FOR YOU ALL MY LIFE (2000)
4) SOMEONE TO BELONG TO (2001)

Young Adult Titles
DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL Series
1) DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL: Becoming Me (2000)
2) IT'S MY LIFE (2001)
3) WHO I AM (2002)
4) ON MY OWN (2002)
5) MY NAME IS CHLOE (2003)
6) SOLD OUT (2003)
7) ROAD TRIP (January 2004)
8) I DO (January 2005)

ALLISON O'BRIAN CHRONICLES (teen historical series)
1) ON HOPE'S WINGS (1998)
2) CHERISHED WISH (1998)
3) AUTUMN SECRETS (1998)
4) DREAMS OF PROMISE (1999)

JESSICA (1996)
LETTERS FROM GOD FOR TEENS (2001)
MIRANDA'S STORY (2003)
TRUECOLORS: Dark Blue (January 2004)
TRUECOLORS: Burnt Orange: Color Me Wasted (January 2005)

Children's Titles
BENJAMIN'S BOX (1997) - picture book - #1 ECPA & CBA Children's Bestsellers List; 1998 Gold Medallion finalist; 1998 Children's Product Impact of the Year for the WoW Inspirational Award finalist; listed in CBA Kids Premier 100
TUPSU (1997) - picture book
THE SEA HAG'S TREASURE (1997) - picture book
THE ARK THAT NOAH BUILT (1997) - picture book with audio - listed in CBA's Premier 100 List
HIS FIRST BIBLE (1997) - baby Bible book
HER FIRST BIBLE (1997) - baby Bible book
THE GREATEST GIFT (1997) - Christmas book
GOLD & HONEY BIBLE (1997)
MY FIRST BIBLE BRAIN QUEST (1997)
FRUIT TROOPS (1997) - board books, nine titles - CBA Premier Children's Top 100 list, ECPA Bestsellers List 3/2000

THE LULLABY BIBLE (1998) - picture Bible board book
THE WAR OF THE WEEDS (1998) - picture book
A TALE OF TWO HOUSES (1998) - picture book
KING OF THE STABLE (1998) - 1999 Gold Medallion Winner
WHAT NICK & HOLLY FOUND IN GRANDPA'S ATTIC (1998) - picture book

GOD LIVES IN MY HOUSE (1999) - board book
I CAN COUNT ON GOD (1999) - board book
THE LOST LAMB (1999) - picture book
THE OTHER BROTHER (1999) - picture book
THE WONDER OF CHRISTMAS (1999) - family classic
THE WONDER OF CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY BOOK (1999)

FARMER BROWN'S FIELD TRIP (2000)
GOD GOES WITH ME (2000) - board book
GOD MADE THEM ALL (2000) - board book
IT'S NOT FUNNY, I LOST MY MONEY (2000)
THE DAY THE CIRCUS CAME TO TOWN (2000)
THE BEARY BEARS (2000) - board books - nine titles
FOREVER FRIENDS (2000-2001) - series with Joni Tada

O COME LET US ADORE HIM (2001)
MY HAPPY HEART (2001)
Prayer of Jabez children's books with Bruce Wilkinson (2001) - #1 Bestsellers in 2002
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TREE (2001)
TREASURE BEYOND MEASURE (2001)

DON'T WORRY ABOUT TOMORROW (2002)
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR (2002)
BABY'S FIRST BOOK OF PRAYERS (2002)
SECRETLY DO GOOD DEEDS (2002)
SHOW EACH OTHER FORGIVENESS (2002)
YES OR NO, WHO WILL GO? (2002)

WHEN THE CREEPY THINGS COME OUT (2003)

Nonfiction
HOW TO START A QUALITY CHILD CARE BUSINESS IN YOUR HOME (1995)
THE LOST BOYS (2002)
THE LOST BOYS JOURNAL edition (2002)

Gift Books
TAKE TIME (2000)
WOMEN ARE SISTERS AT HEART (2000)
DAILY BLESSINGS FOR MY SECRET PAL (2000)
DAILY BLESSINGS FOR MY HUSBAND (2001)
DAILY BLESSINGS FOR MY WIFE (2001)
LETTERS FROM GOD (2001)
AN APPLE FOR MY TEACHER (2001)

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