My first article for Novel Blogs was a review of the excellent book by Melinda Clayton, Blessed Are the Wholly Broken. I got the book straight from her and so I subsequently asked some interview questions of her. Here goes!
What methods did you use to take the POV of a tragic male character?
As for the male point of view, my husband helped, but mainly the attorney I thank in the front of the book. He’s an old friend of mine who also went to University of Memphis at that time, and lived in that dorm (come to think of it, he’s also the reason I was single that Valentine’s Day – ha!). He continues to believe the character of Brian was based on him (he wasn’t). He beta-read it to make sure I had my legal stuff right, but also to make sure I bad my point of view right as well as my memories of that place and time.
Why the setting of Tennessee?
I grew up in that area of TN. The dorm they lived in (Richardson Towers) was my dorm at University of Memphis. I actually also remember that “most rainy day of the year” on Valentine’s Day – it was awful. I was wet, cold, miserable, and yes – even single. Later, I worked in the community mental health centers in that area before moving to Holland, then Colorado, and now Florida. I still go back to TN every summer for our family reunion.
You have a career in special education. How did you also get involved in writing?
My career has actually been in mental health, but I’ve taken sort of a roundabout way with it. I’ve worked just about every aspect of it, but my specialty was in working with individuals who have both a mental health diagnosis and a developmental disability of some sort. I spent a lot of time in meetings with schools, in court, etc., and the doctorate in Special Education Administration was crucial in giving me the knowledge needed to advocate for my clients. As for writing, I first began writing articles on mental health issues for newsletters and magazines. Around that time, we had a family move, I had two young kids, and I needed to be able to spend more time with them. It was the perfect time to move from working directly with clients to writing grant proposals, articles, and workshops. Eventually that led to the publication of my first novel.
When I read your book, I could sense that you were from the south or Midwest just by the writing style and the way you presented your characters – even before I got to the setting of Tennessee or read your biography. How has where you’ve grown up inform your writing?
The south is a special place. Cedar Hollow, the tiny mining town in my Cedar Hollow Series, shares characteristics with many of the small southern towns in which I grew up. My dad is from Tennessee and my mom is from West Virginia. I grew up in Tennessee in and around the setting for Blessed Are the Wholly Broken, and spent time during summers in West Virginia. The south is a part of who I am.
Do your prefer your day job or writing?
Over the years, writing has become my day job. There are times I miss the hustle and bustle of working in the mental health field, but writing has always been a passion of mine and it’s the perfect way to work from home so I can be more available to my family. No more emergency calls in the middle of the night.
You’ve written several books – which is your favorite and why?
As for my favorite of my books, that’s a tough one. Appalachian Justice seems to resonate with the most people, and Billy May, the protagonist, will always be close to my heart because I felt haunted by her as I was writing it. It was also my first book, so given that, probably isn’t as technically sound as my later books. Still, I think I’ll have to go with it.
What particularly was the impetus for the plot of “Blessed Are The Wholly Broken?”
“Blessed Are the Wholly Broken” came about as I ruminated on a couple of different incidents. Years ago, when I worked inpatient with adolescents, there was a fifteen-year-old resident who was on suicide watch. It was nearly impossible to keep her safe; she had all sorts of creative ways for trying to hurt herself. One day, she told me and my staff that while we could keep her safe there, within the unit, we couldn’t watch her forever. Over time she began to participate in the program. After nearly a year, she was discharged. A week after discharge, she jumped in front of a train and was killed. You can imagine how traumatic that was for everyone involved, including staff who’d worked so closely with her. It’s an incident that’s stayed with me, of course, and led to my writing about someone who was determined to no longer be here.
As for postpartum psychosis, at the time I began writing Blessed there were a couple of different stories in the news about women who, clearly in a psychotic state, had killed their own children. There’s always a massive public outcry when one of these incidents happens, but unfortunately the illness behind the actions often goes unaddressed. I wanted to portray a multifaceted woman who, contrary to her history and to what anyone believed to be true about her, could find herself on that slippery slope, sadly unable to get the help she needed.