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Interview with Becky Melby

To meet Becky Melby is to immediately see her heart is wherever her family is. Relationships are what define this author, wife, mother of 4 and grandmother of 12 fabulous kids. This love and passion and her faith is what she pours into her stories.

Becky, you share on your website that you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a little girl. Was writing something you pursued from that point on? Give us a glimpse of your journey to where you are now.

I started writing stories when I was about eight, but my big break didn’t come until fifth grade. When my bunny poem (complete with cotton tail) appeared on the bulletin board with a big red A+ on it, I knew writing was my destiny. In high school I had a color-outside-the-lines creative writing teacher who used techniques like putting on blindfolds before describing a raw egg. These “touchy-feelies” (It was the sixties!) taught me unique ways of incorporating all senses in writing. Because of that class, several of my poems and short stories appeared in the Walnetto (It was the sixties!), a school publication very generously called a “literary” magazine. In college, I set a goal of having my first novel in print by the time I reached twenty-five. I missed it by only eighteen years.

Life and kids suspended my goal, but one day in 1992 I received a call from my good friend Cathy Wienke. She’d just thrown a book at the wall because of its predictable plot and unrealistic dialogue. “We should write our own,” she said. So we began right there on the phone to pray and brainstorm. As homeschooling moms of a combined total of seven kids, it took us nine months to give birth to our contemporary romance. We mailed proposals, mourned together over rejections, and then received word from Barbour Publishing that they were interested in our story for their Heartsong Presents line.

We were ecstatic—until we got to the part about needing to cut twenty-five thousand words to fit their word limit. But what we thought would feel like amputation sans anesthesia turned out to be fun and freeing—one of the best editing lessons I’ve ever had. Holding our first book was a surreal experience. Cathy and I went on to co-author nine books for Heartsong.

My most recent project is the Lost Sanctuary series—three contemporaries, each containing historical “parallel” stories going back to 1852, 1912, and the Roaring Twenties. Tomorrow’s Sun released in January, Yesterday’s Stardust in June, and Today’s Shadows will be out in December. I’ve also had the joy of working with three brilliant ACFW members—Rachael Phillips, Eileen Key, and Cynthia Ruchti—on two novella collections. A Door County Christmas released in 2010 and Cedar Creek Seasons will be out in September.

When I look back to the day when I wrote, and dreamed of publication, at a desk in our unfinished attic on an electric typewriter using carbon paper while my husband corralled the kids downstairs, I have to pinch myself. I am so blessed.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
While great teachers, books, classes, and conferences have been vital, I could not have achieved any of my goals without a husband who believed in my dream. Bill encourages, puts up with the people in my head, reads every manuscript with red pen in hand, and lives on peanut butter and hotdogs when I’m on a deadline—all without complaining.

With twelve grandchildren, what’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your coveted time with family as well as other things like marketing, housecleaning (I promise I’m not laughing—wink.)?
Housecleaning? I thought writers were exempt from such mundane tasks!

My biggest challenge is needing to prevent my passion for writing from commanding all of my time. Rather than family and household responsibilities eating into writing time, I struggle with the opposite. Setting word count goals helps me remember to come up for air and enjoy life, feed the hubby, water the plants, and start the dishwasher.

As I write this, we have one of our sons and his wife and four children living with us for a few months. My three-year-old granddaughter Lilly keeps me from being holed up with my laptop for too long. A tap on the door and “Dramma? Can I come in?” is all I need to take a break from story world.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
If I were not writing with the hope of honoring God and touching lives with the gifts He’s given me, I would not be writing novels. This calling is hard work, but as I write I pray for that one person who needs to hear something I’m writing. Jesus communicated with story and I believe those of us who have the gift of words need to use it for God’s purposes. I love writing stories that show God is the author of second chances and it’s never too late to let Him take over.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
Holding a published “baby” is a miraculous thing, but I’d have to go way back to about 1984 to find my moment. We lived in Davenport, Iowa at the time and I belonged to the Quad City Writers’ Studio. I entered several poems in a local poetry contest. Winners were to be announced at a program at the Butterworth Center, a stately Victorian manor. For a young stay-at-home mom, just attending was a big deal, but that night I received first place in the religious category and won the overall Grand Prize! It was that night I first believed my dream of becoming a “real” writer might someday be realized. The next day I wrote a poem I called “Cinderella Spell”—about returning to mop and broom while my gown hung “blue and lifeless” on the closet door and one glass slipper still lingered, catching moonlight, on the mansion steps.

Oh, wow, sounds captivatingly vivid! Who/What spurs you to write then? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
I’m a professional eavesdropper. I love restaurants and airports where I can dip in and out of conversations. I’ve always kept notebooks (and now a smart phone) close at hand to write down snippets of plot or dialogue.

Three years ago, Bill and I sat at a historic restaurant in Rochester, Wisconsin, not far from where we live. As we waited for our order, I read the history of the building on the menu. Built in 1843, Chances Restaurant had once housed runaway slaves escaping to freedom. That triggered “What if?” questions that evolved into a story idea that eventually became Tomorrow’s Sun.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I believe humor is an essential element, even if I’m dealing with serious issues. I’d label my brand of humor as snarky—probably stemming from a bent toward sarcasm the Lord and I are working on.

I strive for realistic dialogue and introspection. I’m constantly reading out loud, asking myself if real people actually talk and think like that.

After more than four decades, those “touchy-feely” lessons still help. Sometimes I get a bit too involved in intricate details and have to dial it back a bit, but I want my readers to see, feel, hear, and taste everything my characters experience.

Finish this question. My favorite stories are the ones that...
Illustrate how God doesn’t waste anything, including our mistakes. My tagline is “Stories of tarnished dreams refinished by grace.” I want to write and read stories of life change that could only be realized by God’s intervention.

Any parting words?
Thank you for this opportunity! I’m so grateful for all ACFW has done for me and thousands of other writers at all different stages.

For those hoping to be published, my advice is: Let God set the timing. I could have given up when my “publication date” came and went, but looking back I see clearly how desperately I needed those years of life experience. Watch and pray and keep on writing.

Thanks for sharing with us, Becky!

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