"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.
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
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 clichés 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
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
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
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 Tango.com,
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