Meet Our Own Melanie Denman: Southern Author of Visiting the Sins

November 19, 2013


VTS Front Cover


 Bloggers Note:  Melanie Denman will be speaking on a panel on Top Ten Tips based on her indie publishing experience at the December holiday banquet meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be on December 13, 2014 at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations are required.  Contact Robin at or by phone 925 933-9670 by 12/10 to secure your seat.



1. In one paragraph, summarize your new book.

Set in the Bible Belt of Deep East Texas, Visiting the Sins is the story of three generations of women whose lofty social aspirations are exceeded only by their unfortunate taste in men and a seemingly boundless capacity for holding grudges. A legacy of feuding and scandal lurches from one generation to the next with tragic consequences that threaten to destroy everything these feisty but perennially dissatisfied women have sacrificed their souls to build.

2. Tell us about the signature drink that was developed for your book.

The “Pokeyteeny” is a drink named in honor of one of my main characters Pokey, the love-starved, pistol-packing matriarch of the Wheeler clan. Like its namesake character, the “Pokeyteeny” is nicely aged, a little dirty, and packing heat! It’s made with tequila and will liven up a book club discussion, for sure.

3. Who are your favorite authors?

William Faulkner, Larry McMurtry, Leon Uris, Paul Bowles, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. I like Katherine Anne Porter’s short stories. All of Mary Karr’s memoirs. And mysteries by James Lee Burke.

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

Learning to appreciate criticism.

5. Where did you come up with the idea about your devil painting?

I grew up with a big painting of the devil hanging on the wall in our living room.

6. If you were to describe yourself as a type of southern food, what would you be?

My favorite southern food is Mexican food, so maybe I would be an enchilada with mole sauce.

7. What did you think the major advantages to doing a professional program like the Stanford Writing Program as compared to being involved in a critique group?

Actually the writing program and my critique group were both instrumental in the development of my book, just in different ways. In the Stanford novel program, we dissected a lot of novels and worked on improving specific aspects of our own novels, such as character development, dialogue, point of view, setting, and plot arc. It sort of forces you through a process that refines all aspects of your novel. Within a critique group, the writer chooses what to submit for critique, so you can really drill down and work on whatever aspect of your novel you think needs the most work.

8. How did growing up in east Texas influence your writing?

It probably infused me with the joy of storytelling. Humor, suspense, cadence, irony, the element of surprise.

9. Since you are writing about an East Texas family, do you fear any repercussions? Will anyone write you out of their will? Will you ever be able to go “home” for Thanksgiving after your book is released without someone trying to poison your turkey?

No, all my characters are fictional. But I think all my female family and friends harbor a secret wish that I will write a book about them that gets turned into a movie so they can play themselves and have a kissing scene with George Clooney.

10. What have you done (will you do) to broaden the appeal of your book since it reflects a specific area in Texas? Are there common themes or threads with which people in other States can identify?

In my experience, people enjoy reading about settings and cultures different from their own. Most people can relate to personal struggles with ambition, forgiveness, and self-destruction. And some things about human nature are universal, such as the ability of mothers and daughters to make each other homicidal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Melanie Denman. Learn more about the book and purchase Visiting the Sins at

An Interview With Our Own Susan McClurg Berman

November 7, 2013

Susan Book Cover

In one paragraph, tell us about your new memoir, Maracaibo Oil Brat.

When Susan McClurg’s parents accept a job transfer in 1957, Susan is plucked out of her familiar and routine existence in Orange, Texas and plunked down in always-hot, oil-rich Maracaibo, Venezuela.  Too tall, preteen Susan struggles with making all new friends while she tries to learn Spanish.  (She secretly believes that everyone should just speak English.)  And Susan lives in a country peppered with revolutions, strikes, food shortages, and mandatory curfews.  All she wants to do is move back to Orange.

What have been the reactions of the people from your childhood who lived in Venezuela or Orange, Texas that are included in the book? 

Several have read the first chapter on Amazon and the feedback has been good.  I do talk about my peers in both in Orange and Maracaibo.  Since the book was just released on October 27, 2013, it is difficult to determine what reactions will be.

What have been the biggest challenges in getting the book published? Was it perhaps a Dragon that doesn’t understand Spanish?

My biggest problem has been trying to find an agent.  My book does not have broad appeal except for Army brats, kids whose parents were either nomads or missionaries, or families always doing the Midnight Flit to keep ahead of creditors.

Actually, I used my Dragon very little for this book as I wrote most of it over a period of several years, perhaps before Dragon had been invented.  For the few times I used Dragon for this book, it understood me better if I said Spanish words with a North American accent.   (Upon setup, Dragon asks if the user has an accent.  I chose Southern as Texan was not listed, let alone an East Texas choice.)

If you could go back in time, would you have chosen to remain in Texas?

If I were eleven again, I most assuredly would have chosen to stay in Orange.  I would have had a life of colorful, flowing formal dresses with Rainbow Girls (part of the Masons), gorgeous costumes for the ballet and toe dancing recitals (and a solo performance or two, for sure), high heels, football games, and both junior and senior proms with stunning, elegant gowns.

How did your experience living in Venezuela change you as a person?  In what ways do you think it made you different from people who grew up without an experience?

I came to see life in a more global manner.  I saw what real poverty was – people living in shacks made of cardboard and whatever they found on the street.  There were so many abysmally poor people with a small number of filthy rich.  The McClurgs, who qualified as middle class in the States, were seen as “rich” by the masses.  How could there be any poor, uneducated, sick people living in a nation filled with oil, not to mention gold, diamonds, pearls, copper, and semi-precious gemstones?  Daddy always said everyone in Maracaibo should own their own home and be driving a Cadillac.  Why weren’t they, I wondered.

What were you feeling at the time of the government revolt when troops and tanks roamed the streets?  Were you frightened?

Frightened?  Heck, yeah!  In Orange, I had never seen uniformed servicemen in the streets unless they participated in a parade.  The only police officer I saw was the crossing guard in front of Anderson Elementary.  Caracas experienced tanks and gunfire.   There were soldiers in jeeps that roamed the Maracaibo streets maintaining a strict curfew, machine guns at the ready.  The overthrow of any government was beyond anything I could have imagined.  All the more reason for me to return to Texas where it was safe.

Describe your journey to publication.

Painful.  I submitted to fourteen agents and have fourteen rejection letters to prove it.   I am too old to tolerate any more rejection, which pushed me to self publish.

Tell us about your techniques to get rid of that voice that tells you your writing is no good.  

I have a toy pistol in my penholder on my desk.  When “Bad Betty” shows up on my shoulder, I take the pistol and shoot her.  I also scare away the “meanie nay-sayers” by listening either to classical music (so I won’t sing along) or the music from “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.”  Failing that, I go outdoors and play with my roses and give up writing for the day.

What is your favorite clothing to wear while writing?

My twenty-five-year-old red bathrobe.  I cannot get rid of it.  The poor robe is embellished with an unexplained bleach stain and ventilated with a hole or two.  To wash it, I must take it to the laundromat because its wet weight makes my home washer dance and thump.  The comfort and coziness of my robe puts me into a cozy, creative mood.

Can you give us a sneak preview of Book Two when you were in your tween years? 

Susan’s life is enhanced by the installation of a home phone, an introduction to the Teen Club, and a long awaited family membership to the Creole Club, a place for swimming, movies and socialization.  She learns that not all boys are cootie-infested morons.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Susan McClurg Berman.  You can find her book at or on