Thursday, February 18, 2016 | By: The Write Way Cafe

An Interview with Malena Crockett

The Write Way Café welcomes Malena Crockett. Author of Fool Me Once, Crockett explores what a family does when the wheels to their good life come off.

When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book? Was that first thought related to writing romance?
  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least one untamed story running around loose in my head, and of course when that happens, your most urgent desire is to tame that story and turn it into a book!
     All of my stories have happy endings (it may take a volume or two or three to get there), so in that sense at least they are romances, but a lot can happen between the first paragraph and the last and it’s not all roses and lollipops!  I guess I didn’t really focus so much on the romance aspect as on the knowledge that I had stories I wanted to tell and giving them happily-ever-after endings just made them all the more satisfying.

What was your path to getting this book written and published? What type of research did you do?
     This book (Fool Me Once) and its two sequels (Love Me Twice and Kiss Me One Last Time) form a trilogy – Melody Joy’s Personal Mystery – which is a memoir novel in three parts. The story follows a combination of real life and fictional characters and events, set in the time period immediately after the 9/11 attacks. That historical event informs the story, but does not drive it – Melody Joy and her family find themselves responding to an altered external reality at the same time their private lives are shifting dramatically as well.  The path to getting written and published was a rocky one – three major moves, two major career changes, and multiple personal losses all served to get me to hunker down and really focus on my writing. The repeated message I took away from all the turmoil in my personal life was the one we tend to forget: LIFE IS SHORT. If you want to do something, do it now, because you are running out of time whether you think you are or not. So…this story that was wandering around in my head for several years finally pushed its way to the front and demanded to be written NOW. It took two solid years to get it done from start to finish.
     I ended up doing much more research than I originally expected to, actually!  Even though 2001 seems like it was very recent, a lot of things have changed since then. The internet wasn’t nearly as well established then as it is now. Google was relatively new and still growing its legs; Facebook hadn’t been created yet; Wi-Fi was taking off but was certainly not ubiquitous as it is now; mobile GPS was a wonderful idea, and cell phones – although very popular – still had relatively limited reach compared to what we are used to now.  I-Tunes was brand new, and the i-Pod wasn’t released until October of that year.  As I wrote, I realized I couldn’t rely on my memory to be sure of what technology became available when, so I did a lot of backtracking. Remember those cute little candy bar cell phones with the stumpy antennas? Yeah. This level of authenticity became especially important in terms of locations, and businesses, and roads, and other things that change over time. Things like bus routes, restaurants, and road construction come and go, neighborhoods are built where landfills used to be, and buildings change their names when ownership changes.  Not everyone will notice those details, but some people will and you don’t want to disappoint them!

Where did the idea for your story come from?
     It’s a pretty balanced mix of inspiration from experiences in my own and my family’s life, plus observations of friends and relatives and other humans occupying the planet at the same time.  We’ve all seen marriages that seemed to be rolling along splendidly and then suddenly the wheels came off.
     This is the story of one family where the wheels came off. This story answers the question that nobody wants to ask directly because it’s too indelicate. But everyone wants to know the answer, if only to try to avoid the same fate. So, I wrote it to answer that question. Fool Me Once is the answer to “You were getting along so well. What in the hell happened?”

Why did you pick the setting you did?
  Lesson number one of writing: write what you know about.  I don’t know if it’s easier or harder to write about a place that really exists, especially if you’re going to write about it in the past tense (because things change so quickly), but for this trilogy it was important to place the characters on their home turf. Since the action was going on mostly in their home and in their hearts and heads, it would have been too many conflicts at once to have my characters trying to function in alien territory as well.
     Lesson number two: if you don’t know what you need to know, learn about it before you write, unless you’re writing fantasy, and then you can make stuff up wholesale, but you still have to be internally consistent and that’s a lot of work, too (so make sure you take good notes, in case you have to check them later)!  Even working in a setting that was very familiar to me, I found I still had to do plenty of research and fact-checking to make sure I got the details right.  I’m glad – at least for this project – that I didn’t increase my work load by trying to write about a place I had never even visited!

Are your main characters completely imaginary or do they have some basis in real people? Do they reflect aspects of yourself?
     Like the other elements of the story, the characters in Melody Joy’s Personal Mystery are a combination of real personalities and fictional ones. For example, the protagonist, Melody Joy (MJ), is both smarter and more emotionally volatile than I am, so she responds to the events and people in her life with more wit and power than I might.  You know those conversations you have where later you think “Oh – I should have said x or y” only you didn’t think of it in time?  MJ usually thinks of it, and says it, at the perfect moment.  Walter – the antagonist – is a combination of different actual personalities plus some artistic license. Since his behavior is the catalyst for the whole story, the focus is more on his actions than it is on him as an individual, but you still get to see a person who is trying to figure out his own path while also trying to minimize the negative consequences of forcing change on other people.
     I think it’s pretty difficult to write any story, even if it’s pure fiction, without incorporating aspects of one’s own personality or life experience. A lot of times, I suspect it happens unintentionally. Precisely because we can’t really effectively write about what we don’t know, and that knowledge base helps to form who we are, everything an author writes is going to be reflective of who she or he is, even if it’s only to a small degree.

Did you face any blocks while writing the book, and if so, how did you handle them? If not, what's your secret?
     Absolutely I faced blocks, some of them mental, some emotional, some physical/temporal/fiscal. The biggest one, of course, was fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of sending your “baby” (your book) out into the big wide world all by itself, fear of being lost in the masses. Figuring out where to start and stop a story that runs for decades was also not an easy thing to decide. I rewrote the beginning of this book more times than any other project I’ve ever worked on.  And there were the everyday obstacles: writing during non-existent free time, maintaining a good writing space, keeping up daily life when all you really want to do is go hide in your cave and write down the chapter that revealed itself to you fully-formed in your last dream before the alarm clock went off, before you forget all of it!
     The biggest block was letting the story tell itself the way it wanted to be told. It required me to quit worrying about what the neighbors or my family or other people might think, and just lay it out there. For various reasons, that was a very difficult thing for me to do. Ultimately, I managed to take Play to your strengths – go with what you know – don’t minimize the value of your own essential self – and recognize that which is weird about you IS your strength. That which makes you unique is the thing you can build on and leverage to the greatest benefit. You can say it a dozen different ways, but it comes down to the same thing: Your weirdness is your strength. Put it to work.

What have been surprises you've encountered while writing the book and after?
     Probably the biggest one while I was writing is that the story didn’t come together in a strictly chronological fashion.
     Well – no – I take that back. The biggest surprise was the dead body in the hotel room.  I didn’t know it was coming and neither did anyone else.  It is still impacting the story and we still don’t know much more than we did!
     Ok – back to the time line thing. The story has a timeline, yes, but the past plays as big a role in the action as the present does, and I had to identify key moments in the early story line and match them up with key moments in the “present” story line so they could work to propel the plot along and keep the characters on task.
     After Fool Me Once was released, there was a big initial marketing push, and then I had to get back to finishing up episodes two and three.  It is very gratifying to see that episode one has been so well received and is gaining a following on its own, by word of mouth, I think, mostly. That’s so validating as a writer, to know that what you wrote is actually ringing true for your readers.  I have new messages every day asking when Love Me Twice will be ready.  Unfortunately, it was delayed a bit from its 2015 year-end release by an unexpected death in my family. That kind of took the wind out of my sails, and I needed a few weeks to regroup. There was nothing to do except soldier on and hope my readers would understand.  The writing on LMT is done now, and I just sent it out to beta readers, and to my magician of a cover design artist, so it won’t be long before Love Me Twice is on the market with its sibling (unless the beta readers hate it, in which case there will be howling and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and all bets on release dates will be off)!

What did you learn? For instance, what did you learn about yourself, your process, the writing world; about preserving knowledge, and about the Mormon religion?
I love this question! I figure if I get through any day without learning at least one new thing, then I’m not paying attention. When I’m writing, this is even more true. I’m constantly researching to make sure I’m not inserting assumptions where actual facts should be and this always leads me off into wonderful educational tangents. So…in general, I learned that you can draft b.s. all day long, but if you want your readers to willingly suspend their disbelief, you have to tell them the truth whenever the truth is out there.
     About myself, I learned that I really truly can finish something this huge! It seemed like it was taking forever to get episode one ready for public consumption, but I had to keep working with it until it was ready. I must have learned something from that process, because episode two took about half as long from start to finish, and three will probably take even less time (I hope).  Of course there was a fair amount of drafting going on with two and three as I built one (because you have to keep things organized), but still, I think overall I may be getting better at this as I go along.
     My process, I learned, is probably unique to me. I’m not really a plotter (although I’m working to get better at that), but I’m not really a pantser, either. I tend to outline in pretty extended detail and then fill in the story as I go along. I wish I had psychically linked clones of myself so one could outline, one could write and polish, one could do all the book design and graphics, and social media / marketing stuff, and one could SLEEP!
     As for what I learned about the writing world…probably the biggest lesson there is that even when you’re alone in your writing cave, hammering away on your keyboard, there are thousands of other writers all over the world doing the same thing at the same time – so none of us is truly alone, even when we’re all by ourselves.
     Re: Preserving knowledge – I’m a big one for learning, and for hanging onto information that might come in handy later. Writing my own books has reminded me that those who have specific knowledge that isn’t commonly shared have an obligation (in my opinion) to preserve what they know, if not for use now, at least preserve it for future generations. Think how much this world would have lost if Leonardo da Vinci hadn’t made notes on all his studies and inventions. What if the Dead Sea Scrolls had all been destroyed? The Library at Alexandria, the archives at the Smithsonian, and the Library of Congress are every bit as important, and the information contained in those places was preserved by ordinary humans who were passionate enough about their work to write it down. But for those people, I would have a very difficult time finding answers doing my own research!
     There is always something new to learn about the Mormon religion. Even (maybe especially) for those who are raised LDS, and even though the church is only barely officially not quite two hundred years old, the history of its establishment, its evolution, and its people is rich and intriguing. Much has changed about the church since it was first organized, but some things (some important and some not so much) haven’t changed much at all.  It’s this contrast between tradition and progress, between dogma and mythology, that captures my attention. You don’t have to share Mormon beliefs to learn from them and appreciate the fervor of its adherents. As a study of human behavior and the influence of religion on broader culture, Mormonism is fascinating.

What are you working on now?
     I just completed work on Love Me Twice, episode two in the Melody Joy’s Personal Mystery Trilogy. I’m pretty excited about this one, because it took a couple of turns I hadn’t planned on and the story is going to be better for it.  It’s in the hands of the finishing crew (for lack of a better descriptor) – editing, cover design, formatting, beta readers, etc., so while that’s happening I’ve jumped right into episode three – Kiss Me One Last Time – the final installment in the trilogy.  I have to make sure I write down all the new twists and entanglements before they get away from me! I thought episode three was going to be the last book directly dealing with Melody Joy, but now I’m starting to wonder. She may be back at some future moment, doing something entirely unexpected.

Would you like to try your hand at writing a different genre?  Which one and why?
     Actually, next up after I finish Kiss Me One Last Time is a multi-part historical series set in the American Frontier west of the Rockies. It will involve some of Melody Joy’s ancestors – in particular her great grandmothers and their various supernatural and spiritual gifts. I’ve been researching this storyline for a while –it’s going to be complicated and surprising and, I hope, very entertaining.
     I have a fantasy series simmering away on the back burner – it’s one that has been bouncing around in my brain for years now. Melody Joy insisted that her story had to be told first, so she got moved to the front of the line, but these other magical folks and their elf and dragon friends will get their turn, too.

What aspect of writing gives you the most trouble?
  I wish this question weren’t so easy to answer! My biggest challenge, day in and day out, is keeping all the other gotta-do items on my list at bay. That’s why I need all those clones. When it comes right down to it, it doesn’t really matter who cleans the house or pays the bills or shops for groceries, as long as those things get done. But they have to be done, and I don’t have the budget to hire that work out, so it’s a lot of time spent doing things that don’t directly add to my writing productivity. I’d be happy to delegate them to someone who actually enjoys doing them. It doesn’t have to be a clone. It could be a house elf who’s happy to trade work for room, board, and a tea cozy for a hat. I’d be fine with that.

If you were not a writer, what would your dream job be?
     Being a writer has always been my dream job.  I’m so happy to be able to be doing this! I’ve done a lot of other things to put food on the table but writing is the thing that my heart insists I do for myself and for everybody else.  Second choice: probably a scuba-diving whale psychologist. Whales need someone to talk to, too.

     On the surface, MJ appeared to be an ordinary Mormon wife with an ordinary Mormon life. But looks can be deceiving. 
     When MJ married Walter, he said “I Do” and she thought he meant it. After all, when Mormons get married in the temple, it’s for keeps: happily-ever-after lasts forever. 
     Then Lacey - six feet tall and built like a Barbie Doll - came along and snagged Walter's attention. 
     When MJ discovered that the one person she had trusted with her heart and her eternal soul was actually a treacherous, lying cheat, she had to decide what to do. The church discouraged divorce, she didn't want to do jail time, and she couldn't afford a hit-man. What other options are left when your fairy-tale marriage is in serious trouble? 

Follow MJ's adventures as she sorts out her priorities, learns how to protect her heart, and discovers things about herself and her LDS family she never knew she needed to know. 


About Malena:
     When I was a tiny child, I had great big Cinderella character cutouts on the wall in my bedroom (if you grew up in the 50s and 60s, you'll know what I'm talking about - those heavy cardboard cutouts with Disney movie characters on them). We had the princess, and the glass slipper, and the pumpkin/carriage, and a couple of mice...but no prince. Of course I grew up thinking that the ultimate objective was to find that handsome prince and marry him, throw a big party with a white dress and a cake, and live happily ever after.
     Fast forward a few years, and now I am a recovering fairy tale princess and a factual story keeper. I collect records of women's life experiences from personal and family histories, journals, and other private and public sources, and weave them into fictional narratives that introduce characters whose lives are a combination of fantasy and hope mixed with adventure and reality.  Since my family background is pioneer Mormon, I have a treasure trove of information and lots of stories of ancestors to work with. Who were these people? Why did they make the choices they made? Where did they end up? What did it cost them and what were the rewards? What made them tick?
     This project should keep me busy for a while (at least for a couple dozen books or so), and I'm very happy to be able to share these sagas with you! I get my inspiration from records of Mormon women’s experiences I have found in family histories, pioneer journals, and private and public sources. I take those stories and weave them into fictional narratives about the messy, complex and humorous human entanglements that can result from living a Latter-day Saint life. My characters, like most humans, can be naïve, vulnerable and flawed, but they are more often strong, smart, and courageous, and have to rely on inspiration and heart to work through the challenges life presents.
     I weave a few adventures and mysteries into my stories – because everyone has them, even in real life. We all have to do something while we're waiting around to get into heaven, don't we?
     Speaking of real life, I've done time in both the Mormon corridor and the Bible belt, and now live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with my beloved human, canine, and feline family.

For more about Malena Crockett and her writing adventures, go to:
Website      Blog      Twitter       Facebook


HiDee said...

I like your cover! Thanks for being with us today, Malena!

Malena Crockett said...

Thanks, HiDee! I'm very happy to be here!
That beautiful cover on Fool Me Once was designed by the uber-talented Lori Lasswell of Seattle. I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with for Love Me Twice. We should have a cover reveal here any day now!

Ellen Vance said...

Great post, Malena. I appreciate your process, especially dealing with blocks. We all have them, but I try to embrace the Russell Wilson philosophy - "If not ME, who? If not NOW, when? Your time now. My time now. Gotta get it done!

Malena Crockett said...

Thanks, Ellen, and thanks for stopping by. I definitely agree with you: the time is now and the who is you/me! Nobody else can write the stories you will write (so if you don't write them, they will never be written). Gosh, we wax philosophical sometimes, don't we? :-)

azviatx said...

I can't wait to see what happens to MJ! I'm barely into the story but after reading your interview I know I need to get a move on. Loved reading about your process for writing. Thanks for sharing Malena.

Judith said...

This was a very interesting and thoughtful post, Malena. Your series sounds fascinating!

Malena Crockett said...

Thanks, Judith! One of the things that stopped me (those barriers, again) was that I didn't think anybody would want to read about Mormons and how they see the world and how they live. I couldn't have been more wrong. Apparently a lot of people are curious!