A New Collection of Questions & Answers about recent publications
An interview with author: Melody Groves
by Joyce Hertzof (Hilandmum)
Melody Groves is the author of several western novels, including the Colton Brothers Saga series and the She Was Sheriff series, as well as non-fiction books and articles on western topics.
You write both fiction and nonfiction. Both have been successful for you, but which do you prefer? Which is harder and why?
Both certainly have their place. At times I enjoy the freedom of fiction (it’s fun creating characters), other times I like the restriction of non-fiction. Any writing is hard, no matter the type.
Your nonfiction includes book-length pieces as well as articles for magazines, which are shorter. Have you written any short fiction?
I started out writing short fiction (it’s still in my top drawer), but the second or third piece turned into a novel (which I bound and gave to a famous Country singer—I cringe whenever I think of that!). I haven’t written anything else short, except for an essay and anthology entry, since then. As an aside, I really want to send the singer one of my newer books—I write so much better now!!
Research plays a big part in putting together the nonfiction, whether long or shorter, but do you do as much research for your fiction? What is the most interesting or amazing fact that you uncovered doing research?
Truthfully, I probably do more research for fiction. I write in the West 1850-1880 period, so that means knowing speech patterns and vocabulary, horses, historical events, technology, westward expansion, immigration… the list goes on.
The facts I turn up are always interesting, I think. One I find truly interesting is that sheep were “driven” to California almost more often than cattle. One man even herded turkeys from Nevada to the west coast. Go figure. Oh, and the fact about the famous Donner Party who had to eat each other to stay alive? Turns out an Indian tribe knew all about them, kept watch, but the immigrants had been so rude to the Indians when they offered help, they simply watched the party starve.
What advice would you give to a new writer on research methods?
I’d suggest making plans to visit wherever you’re writing about, if possible. Take notes. Take pictures. Don’t rely on the Internet, although that’s a good place to start. Take pictures of places and food because you’ll forget. Keep brochures—they make great sidebars.
One of the most difficult things for a writer to do is to “kill his darlings”—particularly when they are well researched. How do you go about cutting, especially when you have a limited number of words?
I don’t mind killing my characters, generally. In fact, I recommend that if you’re ever backed into a corner, or have no idea where to go next, killing a character opens up all sorts of possibilities. I haven’t had to kill a favorite one yet, but that may come.
When writing a magazine article, there is always a word count. You can’t go over it. So, I write big, sometimes twice the limit, then go back and edit. If I’m still over, I stand back, look at the big picture. What am I really, truly trying to say? Sometimes, you just have to take out what isn’t 100% germane to the topic (some background information). It does hurt, but be sure to keep the discard for future use.
Which of your main characters is your favorite, and why? Who has become your least favorite?
I have two favorite characters and tons of almost-favorite. First has got to be James Colton. He’s been with me the longest appearing in my Colton Brothers Saga series. He’s got a lot of baggage to deal with and is just now becoming a bit more mature, even at almost 26. I feel sorry for him, but enjoy watching him try to overcome his tender heart. His feelings run deep and he tends to wear them on his sleeve.
The second favorite character has got to be Sheriff Maud Overstreet of my She Was Sheriff series. She’s a spunky 30-something spinster and is willing to learn. She’s got a wicked sense of humor and laughs at herself. She’s always doing something stupid but learns from it. She’s quite likable and not nearly as “deep” as James Colton.
What are you working on now?
I have many writing irons in the fire. I’ve got three magazine articles due soon, a book about When Outlaws Wore Badges (non-fiction) due in October, the sequel to She Was Sheriff is at the publisher, the 6th of the Colton Saga (Trail to Tin Town) being edited, a graphic novel I’m working on with an illustrator. I’ll be proposing another non-fiction book soon.
I also teach classes, so that keeps me busy. Oh, and I also play rhythm guitar in a band.
If you had to suggest one must –take writing course to the emerging writer, what would that be? A must-have book on the craft of writing?
I really enjoyed Loren Estleman’s book on writing, as I did Stephen King’s. I don’t think anyone book should be viewed at the gospel. They all have good ideas and tips. As for a writing course—take a Journalism class. How to write for newspapers, how to write headlines, etc. All—all—the writers I know who make their actual living from writing, were journalists first. They know how to take notes, figure out the story, write fast.
Finally, what book inspired you the most into becoming a writer?
There was no one book that inspired me. Sorry to say that, but it’s true. As a kid, I read tons of Nancy Drew and dinosaur non-fiction. Later, I read Tony Hillerman, Matt Braun, Larry McMurtry, Ken Follett, John Jakes. All of these writers influenced me.