Saturday, May 26, 2012

Author Interview: Melinda Clayton

"I hate saying that because it sounds so artsy and pretentious, but in all honesty, I felt as if she haunted me until she got her story told ..."

It seems like in most of these interviews I don’t get around to talking about the author’s books until somewhere in the middle. When I started thinking about the questions I had for you I realized that people have to know about your books to understand the questions, so let’s start with you telling us about your books, Appalachian Justice and Return to Crutcher Mountain.

Thanks, Al. Appalachian Justice is set in the tiny mining town of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia, and tells the story of a woman, Billy May Platte, who was brutally attacked as a young girl in the 1940s due to suspicions regarding her sexuality. The horrific attack led Billy May to live a life of seclusion in a small hunting cabin on top of Crutcher Mountain for many years, until she realized another young girl was in need of her help. 

Return to Crutcher Mountain is the story of that young girl, Jessie McIntosh, in her adult life as she finds her path to healing. I realize my topics can be controversial, but they’re also topics I take very seriously. I spent roughly fifteen years as a psychotherapist in some very rural areas before taking time off to raise my own children. Although the books are fiction, the people and places I write about are true to life. It can be uncomfortable to recognize the struggling and hurting people in our society, but they’re there, whether we want to recognize it or not.   

Return to Crutcher Mountain is a sequel to Appalachian Justice. In your opinion, could it be read as a stand-alone, or would you advise reading Appalachian Justice first?

I wrote it so that it could be read as a stand-alone, but I think it’s probably best read after reading Appalachian Justice. I think it might be hard to understand Jessie, the protagonist, and her struggles without reading some of what she went through as a child.

The first paragraph of your bio on Amazon says:

Melinda is odd mix of psychotherapist and writer who has always loved to read, and who loves to explore the motivations behind difficult choices and decisions. She likes to give her characters depth, and to demonstrate the thought processes behind the decisions they make.

For anyone who has read either of your books, this should be obvious, and it appears that you’ve drawn from your experiences, not just from your job, but also from your personal life, in creating your characters. Billy May Platte, the main character in Appalachian Justice is lesbian. In 1940s West Virginia, this was a sure way to draw unwanted attention. Where do you stand on the question of how someone “becomes” gay? Is someone born gay, become gay due to life experiences, or is it a lifestyle choice? Did Billy May have a choice?

I absolutely believe it’s a genetic/biological reality. One of my best friends is lesbian, and she’s not only hurt, but deeply frustrated with the debate on this topic. As she says, “Why in hell would I choose to be something that caused me to hide my true self when younger, led to me being discriminated against in my mature years, and ultimately made my family disown me?” How can anyone argue with that? I think we’re born the way we are:  green eyes, brown eyes, blonde hair, black hair, gay, straight, etc.

Tell us about the inspiration for the Billy May character. In putting together your story, did Billy May come first or did you start with the story and at some point realize Billy May was gay?

I’m an incredibly down to earth person, so I really hate clich├ęs or other artistic over-used expressions. Having said that, Billy May presented to me before I even started writing. I hate saying that because it sounds so artsy and pretentious, but in all honesty, I felt as if she haunted me until she got her story told, and she made sure I told it the way she needed it told. She came first, and her story came as she revealed it. I’m on my third novel now, and although all of the characters have felt real to me in some way as I wrote about them, Billy May is the only one who literally haunted me and kept me awake at night.

One of the biggest political controversies in the US the last several years, which is becoming an even hotter topic as we go into this election cycle is that of gay marriage. President Obama had remained quiet on the issue until recently when he came out in favor of allowing it. What are your thoughts on this?

I’m thrilled he finally came out and gave his thoughts on the topic, and bothered by the idea that the timing seems to be more than a little political.  As for my own personal beliefs, I think a strong, supportive, stable, loving home is the foundation for a strong, supportive, stable, loving kid. And that’s what makes for a strong, healthy society. I don’t think the gender or sexual orientation of the parent(s) matters in the least.

Although Billy May is the main character in Appalachian Justice, another major character is Jessie, who is the main character in Return to Crutcher Mountain. Can you tell us about the inspiration for Jessie?

Billy May needed to heal, and the only way she could do that was by coming out of her own pain and realizing the pain of someone else. Someone once remarked to me that Billy May saved Jessie’s life, but I really think Jessie also saved Billy May, in a very real sense. Jessie gave Billy May a purpose, and Billy May gave Jessie a future.

The last character I want to talk about is Robby. A large part of Return to Crutcher Mountain revolves around a wilderness retreat for children with developmental disabilities and Robby is one of the children at the retreat. What was your inspiration for Robby and for using this setting?

This question makes me smile, because my first obvious inspiration is my younger brother, Sam, who has Down Syndrome. Sam is now thirty-one years old, and at some point I will be blessed to have him live with me. Sam has inspired all of us siblings (there are five of us, altogether). My specialty area in my career has been working with people who have a developmental disability in conjunction with a mental health issue. I’m a fierce advocate for people with developmental disabilities. On a funny note, when my parents first read Return to Crutcher Mountain they called me on a nearly daily basis, with, “That sounds so much like Sam! I can hear Sam saying that!” I had to laugh. You think? 

Your books are published by Vanilla Heart Publishing, a small press. Tell us about your route to publication and your decision to publish through Vanilla Heart.

A few years ago my husband and I went through a down-sizing period. I had a baby and a toddler, and just couldn’t be on call twenty-four hours a day (at least, not while maintaining my sanity). So, we moved to Florida and I became a stay-at-home mom, which seemed the perfect opportunity for me to pursue career goal number two:  writing. I started out writing for several online writing sites, first for pennies-per-click, then eventually selling short stories and mental health-related articles to ezines and magazines such as, Successful Living Magazine, etc. 

When I got comfortable with that, I branched out and queried book publishers who had active calls for submissions for anthologies. I landed a couple, and that’s how I came in contact with Vanilla Heart Publishing.

When I completed the manuscript for Appalachian Justice, Vanilla Heart seemed the perfect choice. I queried, and was thrilled when, within a week, they requested the entire manuscript.     

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Always. I never envisioned it as a career, but always knew I wanted to write. My job included a lot of professional writing – reports, assessments, grant proposals, that sort of thing. Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed that type of writing, too, but branching out into fiction has been incredibly fun and rewarding.

Who are your favorite authors?

Steinbeck, first and foremost, and also Hemingway. I love Richard Bach, for my hippy side. As for contemporary, I like Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Berg, Jodi Picoult, Anne Tyler, and a recent favorite is Lionel Shriver. I also enjoy Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. I have pretty eclectic tastes.

What are your future writing plans?

That’s a great question, and I’m not sure I have an answer. I’m finishing up my third novel, which is the goal for now. I have an idea for a fourth, and I’ve also considered self-publishing a book of short stories, but who knows?

What do you like to do in your leisure time?

Cheer at my boys’ football and soccer games, find shells and shark’s teeth at the beach, browse flea markets, plant flowers, ’tube in Blue Springs with the manatees, read books. Most of all I love being with my family.

Tell us one thing about yourself that you think would come as a surprise to most people?

I’m very stubborn. I think that may come as a surprise because I’m also quiet and somewhat introverted. But once I’ve decided to do something, or take a stand on a particular issue, that’s it. I’m committed.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing an author in today’s publishing landscape?

That’s a tough one, but I think in some ways the best thing for publishing is also the biggest challenge. Self-publishing has exploded with the introduction of ebooks on Amazon, Smashwords, and other platforms. While that offers a lot of opportunities, I think the major drawback for small press as well as self-pubbed authors is that there are so many manuscripts flooding the market, without a marketing team it can be really hard to stand out in the crowd.

For More Melinda:

 Although she says she blogs too rarely, she does have two blogs, her main blog and another connected to her author page at Goodreads.


Appalachian Justice               Review Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords Paper

Return to Crutcher Mountain  Review Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords Paper


Passionate Hearts Anthology       Amazon US UK B&N Smashwords Paper


Linda McK said...

Awesome interview, Al! I think Appalachian Justice will be my next read. The sample really drew me in. Thanks for such an enlightening interview, Melinda.

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks, Linda. I can say that Appalachian Justice is one of the best books I've read in the last several years. I'm sure you'll like it.

Shirley Scozzaro said...

I completely enjoyed both of these books. Very well written and thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Al, Shirley, and Linda. Al, this was such a fun interview for me - I loved the questions. Shirley, thanks so much for your feedback regarding the books - I'm glad you liked them! And Linda, I hope you enjoy! :-)
Melinda (anonymous because Google is being weird today and doesn't recognize me).

Sun Singer said...

It's nice to hear novel number three is underway, Melinda.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Malcolm. :-) "Sarabande" is on my list - loved "The Sun Singer."
Melinda (still anonymous - trying not to take it personally ;-))

Vicki said...

I’m very stubborn. I think that may come as a surprise because I’m also quiet and somewhat introverted. But once I’ve decided to do something, or take a stand on a particular issue, that’s it. I’m committed.

Melinda, that doesn't surprise me at all. To be successful as you are, you need to be a bit like a dog with a bone. :)

Great interview. All the best with your third novel.