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Interview with Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg, non-profit ministry worker, My Book Therapy events coordinator, and author, has the handle on humor and romance. Her latest release, Made to Last, is the topic of conversation along with insights into Melissa’s writing life. Grab your favorite Christmas snack (may I suggest gingerbread cookies?) and find out a little bit more about Melissa Tagg.

Share with us a little bit of how you came up with the idea for Made to Last. Was it a sudden inspiration or did it come to you over time?
Well, the basic idea for the story came while I was watching an old Barbara Stanwyck classic, Christmas in Connecticut. It’s about a magazine columnist who has built this fake, Martha Stewart-ish life for herself in print. But in reality, she doesn’t have the house or baby or domestic bliss life she talks about…nor the husband. She ends up needing to find a stand-in husband. I loved that angle and “borrowed” it for my story.

The rest of the story came over time as I played with the whole pretend husband idea.

Being a woman author, what challenges did you face in creating your main character Matthew Knox, in Made to Last?
It’s kind of odd, really, but I didn’t find Matthew all that hard to write. Perhaps that’s because I watch a lot of movies and read a ton of books…so the male POV, while definitely different than writing a female POV, didn’t feel as massive of a stretch as it could’ve.

That said, probably the biggest challenge in writing Matthew’s character was keeping him, well, noble. For the first half of the book, he thinks the heroine is married. So I had to use a delicate touch with the romance. And now I see that’s your next question, so I’ll move on… haha!

In Made to Last, you tackle the difficult fact that your main character, Miranda Woodruff, pretends to be married—but isn’t. How did you go about handling that with the romantic element?
Yeah, that was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t want readers to be annoyed with my hero or feel like he was attempting to woo a married woman. Because, you know, that’s generally not a good idea. So I tried to be careful, to only let any romantic inklings come mainly from my heroine in the first half of the book. After all, she knows she’s not married. :)

The other challenge was what to do once Matthew knew Miranda’s secret. Because while he technically could give into his feelings at that point, she still has to maintain her marriage charade in public. So, it became a balancing act. But a fun one. I enjoyed getting the characters all tangled up in a complicated web of romance and secrets.

Tell us a little bit about how you went from being a reporter to writing novels. What did that look like for you?
I loved reporting. I’m convinced it’s the best-ever career for an aspiring novelist. You learn to hear how people talk—it gives you a jump-start on writing dialogue that’s for sure. And I had soooo many fun experiences while reporting.

But a few years ago, I suddenly found myself leaving reporting, picking up and moving to go work at a Christian nonprofit. It was such a quick life-change—which seems to be how things happen for me. But anyway, in my new job, I didn’t do nearly as much writing. So I finally felt mentally free to pursue the writing dream I’d had since…forever. I attended a My Book Therapy retreat in 2009, and that’s what really kicked off my writing.

What was one piece of advice/resource that has been most impactful to you on your path to publication?
As far as a resource, definitely getting involved in My Book Therapy was THE best thing I ever did for my writing. I met the coolest friends and learned from the best of the best—Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. They taught me about emotional layering and discovering characters from the inside out and crafting a plot and symbolism…

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received: writing is rewriting. It’s so true. First drafts can be fun, but the real magic happens in rewrites.

How does your faith play into your writing?
I honestly don’t know how I’d write a story without the faith aspect. My favorite piece of story, in general, is character change. I love watching a character develop…and while characters go through external changes in a story, it’s the internal and emotional change that tends to most impact a reader. And for me, those internal changes can’t help but grow out of a character’s faith journey.

That said, I love fiction in which the spiritual theme is weaved in organically, even subtly. Because so often, that’s real life. Yes, we have big moments—highs and lows and amazing experiences with God. But so often, at least for me, God working in my heart is a gradual thing, a collection of mini-realizations and moments that add up to, I hope, my own character change and deeper understanding of who He is. So I try to weave in the spiritual theme in that same subtle and gradual way.

I feel like I’m rambling now, but did that somewhat answer the question? 

What does the “perfect writing” day look like to you? (ie: location, snack, drink, music etc.?)
Ooh, my favorite place to write is at my mom and dad’s house. They live out in the country and have this great sunroom that overlooks a tree-filled ravine. It’s so peaceful there…and there’s no wi-fi. So…no distraction.

So when I can, I love to drive up there and write. Regardless of where I am, when I’m sitting down for a marathon writing session, I always have a glass of water, a can of pop and a cup of coffee…that way I have NO excuse for leaving to find something else to drink. And baby carrots and grapes are my brain food.

You are a busy woman! How do you find time to write amidst the various activities/jobs you are involved in?
Haha, yes, I am a wee bit busy. Between work and writing, I’m basically doing two full-time jobs while trying to keep up with some semblance of a social life.

I decided a few years ago to become a morning person. Naturally I’m more of a night owl, but I needed extra hours in the day and the only way to get them was to give up some sleep. So I trained myself to get up at 5 a.m. on weekdays. I usually get a little writing/blogging done each morning and then work a couple hours each evening on writing stuff, as well.

What is one of your favorite things about the Christmas season?
Christmas movies! But mainly only the classics. Especially It’s a Wonderful Life.

Any parting words?
Well, I just have to say how thankful I’ve been for readers, influencers and reviewers. Knowing people are reading something I’ve written is both nerve-wracking and fun. I’m so grateful for people who’ve taken time to hang out with my characters!

Thanks for sharing with us, Melissa!

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