It’s time for another author interview. Today on Paws 4 Thought we welcome Melinda Cordell. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Melinda.
I’m a former city horticulturist who now works as a full-time proofreader. I love working in air conditioning in the summer, but I still miss working in the city rose garden. Mainly, though, I’m an author. I’d been sending out novels since 1995, and during those 20 years I’d published a lot of magazine articles in national publications, but had only one book published. I finally quit traditional publishing, and between September 2016 and December 2017 I self-published 22 books. I had a huge backlog of finished, polished novels that were ready to publish. So I published them!
I’ve been going like a rocket sled on rails ever since I got into self-publishing, because I’m 46 right now, and heaven knows I’m not getting any younger. Now I’m working on some novels involving Vikings, dragons, and war, the first of which will be out this May. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty intense, but I love it.
Outside of that, I live in northwest Missouri, have lived here all my life, and I have the best family that ever walked. If any of you have read Those Black Wings, then you’ll be pleased to know that Wyatt, in real life, is actually my husband. We’ve been together since 1990, married since 1995, and he’s the best thing that ever happened to me. We have two crazy kids and it’s really a great setup. I couldn’t have asked for better.
(Melinda also shared with us a picture of her family’s silky, Maximum Floof)
2) When did you first start writing?
When I was four. I was reading pretty well and writing my name in all my books in this semi-cursive script. All through school I wrote stories. I always had teachers encouraging me, all through elementary school and junior high and high school and college. They’re the salt of the earth, all of them. These teachers were often the only people who saw my stories, now that I think of it, because I had absolutely no social life. I just wanted to stay home and write, and walk in the woods, and read. I was lonely, but people in general were terrible to me in junior high and I just didn’t want any part of that, thank you very much. Also I was terrible at conversations. It was like I had a wire between my brain and my mouth that constantly shorted out, so I’d have all this cool stuff in my head that I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t spit it out.
So all my conversations were in my journals, in my novels, in my stories. I did my living on the page. My writing was my letter to the world that nobody got to read.
But it was also life to me.
3) Who are your favorite authors?
In the past, I’d say E.B. White and Ursula K. LeGuin. Right now Nnedi Okorafor is my favorite author. She writes these amazing fantasy novels. Of course, the entire faculty at the Hamline University MFAC program are my favorite authors, hands down. I spent five wonderful summers up there in their residency program, and I love ‘em so much.
4) What inspires you to write?
Well, that’s kind of like saying “What inspires me to breathe?”
It’s not like I sit down and write, and roses flow out of my pen. Sometimes writing a novel is like more like wrestling a squid. But if I can’t write, I start getting really cranky and emo. That act of creation is something I need in my life.
I mentioned that I was trying to get traditionally published for 20 years – i.e. I was trying to get an agent or an editor. For all my novels, I think my accumulated rejections number in the high hundreds, or low thousands. I am perfectly serious. I was pretty thick-skinned, but after 20 years of coming very close in a number of places but still ending at “no” … it does something to you. You know in your heart that you have talent and worth, but every industry professional ends up telling you, “This story is very well written, but it just doesn’t have that spark,” then you start wondering if you’re really that much of a hotshot after all. I lost a lot of faith in myself, and I couldn’t even write anything, and I was miserable.
That’s another reason why I took off like a rocket when I went into self-publishing. There weren’t any gatekeepers saying, “No.” It was just me. Whether I succeed or fail, it’s all on me. Nobody else. And I can work with that. Now I’m controlling my own destiny – I have my own power – and I have a truckload of books already finished and published, which really helps.
5) Tell us a little bit about Butterfly Chaos.
Butterfly is actually my creative thesis for my master of fine arts for writing for children from Hamline University, and I worked on it with Gary Schmidt and Mary Logue, both of whom are wonderful teachers and all-around good folks. I wrote the first draft of the story while my dad was dying of early-onset dementia. And the story came together as a big constellation of all these other deaths in my life, two of which I mention in the Dedication. There’s been a bus accident when I was in junior high that affected the whole community at large. And there were some deaths in the family that were very hard for all of us. And I have a close-knit family that is like Cassie’s in the book, and I wanted to write something about them. So this book seemed to grow out of all that.
Jake is based on a guy who I had a crush on when I was a freshman in high school. He was a sarcastic kid, super-smart, and he loved to argue with pretty much anyone about anything. I’m kind of laughing, writing this, because some of my friends hated his guts. But I’ll tell you this: He knew I was very badly afflicted. I stared at him all the time, and then I stopped staring and couldn’t even look at him. But he was always so kind to me. He could have used his sarcasm and completely crushed me. But, unlike the whole rest of the school, he didn’t, and he would even talk to me a little. He moved away the next year and I never knew what became of him. But I still appreciate that little act of mercy from him, even after all these years.
6) What attracts you to writing YA?
I like writing for high schoolers. They’re on the edge of childhood, getting ready to leap into adulthood, and there’s a lot of conflict in this, in moving out and letting go. Also, high school kids are kind of nuts and funny and smart. And they’re never boring. Adults are boring. They’re so settled in all these pre-conceived notions. High schoolers are still figuring things out and it’s all new and shiny, but also there’s all these hormones so there’s EMOTIONS.
Of course I have a high schooler living in my house who I have to kick out of bed every morning, and all the trauma that comes of having to wake up! But I learn a lot about the world from her, and vice versa, I hope. And she’s a cool kid. But of course I’m biased.
7) I see you also write gardening books. How did you get started with this?
When I first dived into self-publishing, I had a bunch of gardening articles and columns I’d written over the years. So I started using those to write gardening books. My undergrad degree had been in horticulture, and I’d worked in horticulture for half my life at that point, as city horticulturist, rose garden potentate, greenhouse manager, landscape designer, independent contractor, and perennials boss at a garden center. So I grouped my gardening articles together by content, and used the first group to write a book about vegetable gardening, then roses, adding a bunch of new content and filling in new chapters. Those two books are my best sellers right now. I have nine gardening books out right now, and I’ll be adding to them through 2018.
8) Do you have a favorite plant?
I have a *lot* of favorite plants lol. I used to go into the woods in May and hunt for showy orchis. Yes, that’s how it’s spelled. I also like apple trees, daffodils, calla lilies, larkspur and delphiniums (there’s this little larkspur native to Missouri that used to grow around Nodaway that was this delicious dark purple), roses of course, orchids. Dutchmen’s breeches, which is a little small Dicentra species that grows wild in early April. White oak trees. Dayflowers, just because they have this pretty cadmium blue flower. The list is endless. Plants are cool.
9) What are you currently working on?
VIKINGS AND DRAGONS.
I’m writing a Viking series to market – writing again after those late years of frustration – and I love this story because I’m cramming it full of swordfights and dragons and storms at sea and looooooooove, and I have a sea battle coming up that I’ll be writing about this weekend. It drives me nuts that I have to work full-time. Leave me alone, full-time employment! I want to write this!
Also I need to pull together a little butterfly gardening book, and a couple more gardening books on the side. I have nine gardening books out and I really want to make it ten, a nice round number.
10) If you could have any superpower what would you choose?
I really want to fly, but I’m also scared of heights, so I’d be flying around like five feet off the ground. I kind of want to be able to morph into animals, and then I could turn into a barn swallow and dive-bomb everybody. Those guys really know how to have fun when they’re flying.
But then again, I always write about characters that fight evil spirits with song magic, so they’re having battles with song. This song magic is like all the things you want to do when you’re singing, only cranked up to 50. Now that would be glorious.
11) How can readers connect with you?
Through bird calls or semaphore signals (aka “wig-wag”).
An easier way is through Twitter at @rosefiend, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’ll try to get back with you in a reasonable amount of time. If you don’t hear from me after a week, ding me again because I’ve probably lost your message, and I really try to reply to every message I get. I do like hearing from readers – I never get tired of it.