Spotlight Blog Interview 2020
Another year has slipped by and what a year it has been! I will forgo commenting on the COVID pandemic and political turmoil except to say that I have had my share of the disappointments and anxieties of this past year and am striving to keep my focus on what's most important, especially in this Advent Season: faith: family, and friends. While neglecting my blog, I have been working on some writing projects. Most recently, I was asked by my local writers' group, Capital Christian Writers Fellowship (CCWF) to participate in their "Author Spotlight" interview for their members' blog, and I thought I would share this "getting to know me" interview here with you.
What type of writing do you do? (Books, blogging, articles, genre, audience, etc.) And are you traditionally published or self/indie published?
My first published writings were local travel articles called “Backyard Getaways” for the former Journal newspaper (now The Examiner), which had a wide distribution in the DC suburbs. It was exciting to have a by-line and be paid for my writing, as well as for my photos. I also wrote the Chapter on Oxford for Rick Steves’ England guidebook (Avalon Travel 2006) and “Narnia and the North!” an article on C.S. Lewis and Northern Ireland, published in WORLD magazine (May 2008) and in Silver Leaves, a Tolkien periodical (Fall 2008). Because travel articles often focus on historical homes and sites, they made a logical transition to my true passion: historical romance. My first foray was Inklings, first edition published by Xulon Press (2002), a historical romance set in the Oxford of the writers known as the Inklings, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The success of this early print-on-demand novel eventually led to The Oxford Chronicles, a three-book contract with Harvest House Publishers: Inklings, Book One of The Oxford Chronicles, the original Inklings plus the sequel Intentions (2004), Expectations (2005), and Evasions, (2006). Because of my association with Lewis scholars and authors, Harvest House included my essay “A Glimpse of Heaven” in The Lion and the Land of Narnia (2008). Inspired by Debra White Smith’s contemporary adaptations of Jane Austen novels, I also wrote the romantic suspense novel Jillian Dare, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre (Revell, Baker House Publishers, 2009). I then embarked on an academic career, teaching English Literature as an adjunct professor, and regrettably have not been published in the last decade. I am on a search for an indie publisher for my most recently completed historical novel on Tolkien and am considering self-publishing in e-book format my now out-of-print books.
What inspired you to begin writing?
I have always been an avid reader. My parents encouraged that passion by providing a home full of books and frequent trips to the library. Since I was a child, I’ve had an active imagination, and I began writing romance stories in junior high, which I passed around to my friends. My 7th grade English teacher asked to read them and encouraged me in my writing, as did other teachers along the way. My name “Melanie” is from the Greek, meaning “dark” or “ink,” and so I thought I was destined to be a writer. I was a high school yearbook editor and later an English major at UVA. I taught high school English before staying home to raise my nine children, and during those years, my writing consisted only of occasional poems, laments in my prayer journal, and our annual Christmas letter. It wasn’t until my youngest was entering kindergarten that God miraculously opened the door for me to attend my first “Oxbridge” conference sponsored by the C. S. Lewis Foundation and clearly spoke to me that the season had finally come for me to write.
How often do you write? How do you find time to write? Do you schedule the time or write when the Spirit moves you?
How often and when I write has depended on my life circumstances. When I began writing for publication, my children were still young so I couldn’t write until after I had put them to bed. While I was doing mundane tasks like folding laundry, my mind was in Oxford, creating scenes. When I went for my daily walk, I would imagine the conversations my characters were having. Then as soon as the children were in bed, I would sit down at the computer and write up the scenes I had envisioned during the day. When I am teaching, I honestly find very little time to write. But during the summers or semesters when I do not have a class, my mornings--- after my quiet time and coffee--- have become the most productive time to write, now that I’m an empty-nester. It takes discipline, but when I’m working on a project, I have to set apart the time for it and not allow myself to be distracted by going on-line or looking at my phone until I break for lunch. I’ve also found soothing back-ground music like classical or orchestrated worship music helps me concentrate.
Are you a pantser or an outliner?
Probably both. I start with a general outline of the plot or chronology of the narrative, but once I place my characters in a scene, they may surprise me.
What are your favorite resources for writers and why?
I’ve been reading Writer’s Digest magazine for years. It always has inspiring and informative articles. Although I’m not a fan of horror and have never read a Stephen King novel, I do highly recommend his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft for practical tips from a master craftsman.
Using the Expertise of Others
When do you bring in outside help? Beta readers?
Do you have an agent and how did you find one? If you don’t use an agent, where do you find publishing opportunities?
Once I’ve finished the first draft of a manuscript, I invite Beta readers to give me feedback as I revise. Through some providential connections, I got the contract with Harvest House for The Oxford Chronicles on my own. I’ve had two agents, but a complicated history with them. One agent sold Jillian Dare to Revell for me. The other really helped me with extensive revisions of my Tolkien novel, but was unable to sell it to a Christian publisher. Regrettably, she was unwilling to look for an Indie publisher, so I’ve been sending out my own queries and am currently waiting and hoping and praying for the right publisher to respond.
About You, the Writer
Who are your favorite authors and why? [or] What are you reading now?
I admire many authors but would list writers of classics among my favorites: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Charlotte Brontë. My favorite book is probably Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which I’ve read several times, even aloud (in an abridged version) to my girls. My favorite 20th century writers are C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Daphne du Maurier. I admire the style and poignancy of Suite Française, a novel about the German occupation in France by Irène Némirovsky, who tragically died in a concentration camp before she could finish it. My favorite contemporary Christian writer is Bodie Thoene; I couldn’t put down her historical romance series and she has been incredibly generous in encouraging me and other writers. I greatly admire (and honestly, envy) how Patti Callahan Henry was able to capture convincingly the voice and intelligence of Joy Davidman Lewis in Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I belong to four book clubs and have way too many books on my reading list, but two book club favorites that come to mind are Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. I really enjoyed the entire Poldark historical series set in Cornwall by Winston Graham. For creative non-fiction, I found fascinating Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman: A tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I recommend anything by Laura Hillenbrand, Candace Millard, and Erik Larson. I am currently reading Lisa Wingate’s When We Were Yours. Last month, I read her newest novel, The Book of Lost Friends and loved it. I think she’s a remarkable writer, who tackles difficult and complex historical stories and issues with compassion and wisdom while conveying each unique voice of her diverse cast of characters. An inspirational author, she’s been blessed to be published by secular publishers and has had tremendous and well-deserved best-selling success.
What do you find most challenging about writing? What is your writing dream?
Like many writers, I find it most challenging to write consistently and not to become discouraged or question my abilities. I am something of a dinosaur and often find all the current marketing, technology, social media and self-promotion demands to be overwhelming. Also, like many of my writing friends, I’m an introvert and would just like to be left alone to write. I imagine my “writing dream” would be to have a devoted editor and publisher, who would nurture and encourage me, pay me generous advances, and promote and market me to best-selling status while I happily write away in an oceanfront beach house ;)
What are you working on now?
I most recently completed a new historical novel called Dancing in Hemlock: The Love Story of Edith and J.R.R. Tolkien, and am in the terrible wilderness of seeking a publisher and trying not to get discouraged by rejection letters. Meanwhile, my kids have me working on my memoirs through a program called Story Worth which sends questions or writing prompts to elicit memories and stories. For fun, I’ve begin working on a traditional Agatha Christie-style murder mystery set on the English country estate of one of my characters from The Oxford Chronicles. I love watching British murder mysteries, but honestly don’t know if I’m clever enough to pull one off.
What would you most like to share with other Christian writers?
Organizations like CCWF are very important to give us encouragement and practical knowledge in what often feels like a very solitary calling. When I began my first novel, nearly 20 years ago, I attended a novel writing seminar hosted by then Capital Christian Writers and taught by James Scott Bell. He said something like, “Everyone thinks they have a novel in them or wants to write a novel, or even better, to have written a novel and be on a best-selling book tour, but few are willing to sit down and actually write.” His challenge to be disciplined to sit down and write whether I “feel” like it or not has really stuck with me. Similarly, Jodi Picoult once said, “You can’t edit a blank page.” Writers must write, not just think about writing. We can always revise once we have something written on the page. We also must read widely so that we can learn to write well and improve our craft. I think the challenge for us as Christian writers is not only to write, but to write well, and that takes hard work and constant revision. We also really need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that we are using our writing gift for the Glory of God and to bring others to know Him. Our faith can be subtly woven into our writing. In an essay called “Christian Apologetics,” C. S. Lewis wrote: “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects---with their Christianity latent.” Lewis’s own entree to Christianity was through reading and literature. In a letter referring to his science fiction novel Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis observed, “Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.” I think as Christian writers we are called to write well and to weave our faith into every genre in a winsome, creative manner.
Melanie Jeschke is the author of The Oxford Chronicles, a historical romance series set in the Oxford of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, (Inklings, Intentions, Expectations, Evasions) and Jillian Dare a retelling of Jane Eyre. An honors’ graduate of UVA with a MA in English Literature from GMU, she is currently an adjunct professor of English. Melanie has studied at Oxford University and has traveled extensively in the UK where she sets her stories. Melanie lives in beautiful Belmont Bay with her husband Bill Jeschke, senior pastor of The King’s Chapel, and has nine children and a plethora of grandchildren.