An Interview with Melanie Denman – 2014 IPPY Award Winner

November 15, 2014

VTS Front Cover

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 http://www.melaniedenman.com.


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 ragig@aol.com 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 http://www.melaniedenman.com.


Halloween and Halloween Costumes

November 10, 2011

I like Halloween.  I think it’s because it’s an opportunity to become something or someone you are not any other day of the year.  Either that, or I enjoy flights into fantasy.

When I was a kid back in Orange, Texas during the 1950’s, I usually dressed in my dance recital costume from the previous May.  That is, unless I had grown four inches like I did one year.  My dance costumes attached the top to the ruffled bottom by a series of hooks.  If I could get the front hooks to connect, I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  If I miraculously got all of the hooks, my hinny cheeks popped out from under the panties – not a good look for a child.  If it rained or the weather turned cold, my dance recital costume became an automatic Mother reject.  Then, I dressed in long pants, a flannel shirt, and stuck the made-at-school brown paper bag scary mask onto my head and proceeded to trick-or-treat.  Or, I would wear one of Daddy’s old felt hats, put on a black eye mask, and hang a red kerchief stuffed with newspaper on the end of one of Mother’s yardsticks.  Instant hobo.

When I was in the second grade, our school gave a “Peter Rabbit” musical play.  Each class was a different vegetable in Mr. MacGregor’s garden.  My class was carrots, probably because I was the tallest second grader in school.  In my costume, I looked like an orange colored string bean with a green whiskbroom stuck on top of my head.  I hated the girls in the class next to mine.  They were lettuces with green, ruffled skirts and frilly tops with sequins.  When Halloween came around that year, there was no way I was stepping outdoors in that stupid, straight up and down carrot costume.

When we moved to Maracaibo, I only went trick-or-treating to the few Texas families that lived in our immediate neighborhood.  Venezuelans did not trick-or-treat at all.  Since there were no more dance recital costumes for me, and since Mother had given my sister’s square dance dress to the maid, it was up to me to concoct a costume for my American school’s Halloween celebration.  Once I was a gypsy.  I wore one of Mother’s skirts held up to my waist by several large safety pins overflowing with fabric, a scarf around my hair, and all the costume jewelry anyone would loan me.  Another time, Mother made a costume for me out of an old white sheet.  I was a flapper.

When I attended San Marcos Academy in San Marcos, Texas (where students were under Baptist scrutiny at every moment), we likewise did not go trick-or-treating.   There was a dance-less Halloween party or carnival in our gym.  Our cadet officers patrolled the SMA campus all Halloween night to prevent the townies and the local college students from pushing our canon off its hill.  Nothing’s worse than finding your school cannon has taken a nocturnal nosedive, barrel first, into the ground.  I peeked out my third floor window after lights-out and caught moonlight glimpses of cadets on tour in front of the girls’ dorm, in uniform, with lit cigarette in hand – the epitome of teen “machismo.”

Halloween 2011 brought clever and well thought out costumes to our door – except for the boys who came as soccer or football players.  One leggy high school girl arrived at our door with her friend.  She wore the shortest, smallest pair of cutoffs I have ever seen.  Not only cut high on the thigh, but low-cut on the waistband, front and back.  I paused as I reached to hand her treats.  The “mother” in me got the best of the situation.

“Honey, does your mother know you’re dressed like that?”  I asked.

Without batting an eye, she said, “No, she doesn’t.”

“I can see why,” I said.  Thank heaven our children are adults.

This year’s cutest costume came on a little boy about four years old.  He wore a head-to-toe fuzzy green dinosaur suit complete with spikes down the back and a long, forked tail.  When I opened the door, he looked at me with a gleeful smile, his hands posed in front of his chest like claws.  I waited for him to growl or pounce at me.  Instead, he looked at me with a devilish grin and said, “Roar, roar!”  I, naturally, collapsed in laughter.  That dinosaur kid got more treats from me than anyone that night.