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

Meet Emmy Award Winning Screenwriter and Historical Fiction Novelist Alan Brennert

September 28, 2013

In one paragraph, tell us about your new book, Palisades Park.

Like my novels Moloka’i and Honolulu, Palisades Park tells the “history behind the history” of this renowned amusement park, as seen by young Toni Stopka, daughter of concessionaires, who dreams of becoming a daredevil high diver. Performers, pitchmen, the civil rights demonstrators picketing the gates, the underworld bosses meeting in secret across the street…all their stories are intertwined in a narrative that spans the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, up to the park’s closure in 1971.

What was your favorite novel or screenplay to write?

I enjoyed writing Palisades Park, but the novel I enjoyed most was Moloka’i. I got up every day excited to begin work on that book, because I was writing about a place that I loved—Hawai’i—and a little-known part of history that no one else had approached in quite this way. I did my research in the morning, wrote in the afternoon until dinnertime, and often went back to my computer in the evening if I had a problem that still had to be resolved or a if a new idea had occurred to me that I wanted to get down.

What do you see as the biggest difference between writing a novel and a screenplay?

A screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and my job as a screenwriter is to tell the story through action, dialog, and minimal scene description. But when I’m writing a novel I’m not just the writer, I’m the director, the actors, the location scout, the set dresser, the wardrobe supervisor—I have to create the entire world of the story in words. Each medium has its own challenges and its own rewards.

Tell us about winning an Emmy for your work on the television show, L.A. Law, in 1991. Did you get more satisfaction for this achievement, for the People’s Choice Award, or for winning the Nebula Award for “Ma Qui”?

The Emmy was something I had dreamed about winning since I was a kid—literally. Growing up, my idols were writers like Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Ernest Kinoy, James Costigan—the men behind the “golden age of television” of the 1950s (most of which I didn’t experience firsthand, being a bit too young, but discovered through reruns and movies). So it was quite a rush being up on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium when L.A. Law won for Best Drama Series. But I’m very proud of my Nebula Award as well, since that was a validation of, and my first award for, my literary work.

What authors or people have most influenced your writing career?

It’s an eclectic mix: authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Jonathan Strong and Ray Bradbury; playwrights like Robert Anderson and Thornton Wilder; and the aforementioned Serling, Costigan, et al. I’ve gone on to write in all those media—books, a play, film—and I like to think I continue to be influenced by good work in each field. (Moloka’i, as I’ve said elsewhere, was inspired by a fine novel called Consider This, Señora by Harriet Doerr, Honolulu shows influences of the work of Arthur Golden and Lisa See, and Palisades Park owes something to Larry McMurtry’s The Desert Rose).

I understand that you are transforming one of your first novels, Time and Chance, into a screenplay. As you revisit this work, where do you see your biggest improvement as a writer over time? Is reworking this novel like visiting an old friend?

I had the opportunity to bring Time and Chance back into print a few years ago, and in the process I found myself doing a fairly heavy polish on it. I didn’t change anything in the story, just polished or simplified the prose where it seemed too flowery or where the syntax was a bit rococo. I performed what I like to call a “semi-colonectomy,” deleting vast numbers of unnecessary commas, semi-colons, dashes, and ellipses that I would not use when writing a novel today. It made me realize that my prose style has evolved since 1990 (when Time and Chance was published)—it’s cleaner, leaner, smoother.

Do you enjoy book tours or writing more?

I’m essentially an introvert who can be extroverted when the occasion demands (you have to be to work in Hollywood, where you collaborate daily with so many people). So although I do enjoy book tours and meeting readers, I’m at heart happiest when sitting in a room writing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Alan Brennert. To learn more, visit his website (