Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic writer who turns her hand to any story that inspires her, be it fantasy, action, romance, satire or biography, and has found success with many genres. Her romance novel, Remember Me, was chosen as a finalist in Foreword Magazine’s Best of the Year Awards for 2005, and her fantasy novel, The Blue Crystal, made the semi-finals in Amazon’s 2009 Breakthru Novel Award contest. More recently, the Military Writers Society of America awarded her book Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan a medal for biography at their book awards conference in 2012. The book was subsequently featured in a documentary on Wisconsin military history produced by WKOW-TV in Madison, titled Our Wisconsin: The Military History of America’s Dairyland. To date, Melissa has nine novels and the one non-fiction to her credit with, of course, more to come. She lives in a small desert community in southern Arizona.
Her very first steps in setting up her author platform was to set up her web page and make business cards. “I joined LinkedIn, Goodreads and Indies Unlimited (!) and soaked up a lot of good advice there about promoting my books. I created Facebook pages for myself as an author and one for each of my books. It’s a lot to manage, but the whole point is to be out there for the world to see. I started blogging, which turns out to be a lot of fun, and I’m enjoying trading blog spots and doing/hosting interviews. I believe the blog and the Goodreads interactions have brought the best results, although sometimes it’s hard to say. All these things work together and it’s not always easy to separate out what leads to a sale.”
Melissa says her favorite part of writing is when she loses control. “Writing starts out as a very left-brained process, plotting out the arc of the story, peeling away the layers of the characters, guiding the action toward the conclusion, but at some point (if we’re lucky) it’s as if a switch is flipped and suddenly it’s all right-brained and has a life of its own. I love that, because then I know it’s no longer mechanical; it becomes magical.”
By way of example, her current work in progress is a ghost story about a female ghost who haunts the London Bridge and got transported with it to Arizona. She had originally envisioned a light comedy, something like The Canterville Ghost, but as she wrote it, her main living character developed a dark and moody side that she hadn’t planned. “Instead of the comedy I thought I was writing, I’ve now got an edgy drama with much more texture to it. It’s great when the stories write themselves!”
She says one of the hardest things about writing is figuring out how much to reveal and how much to imply to our readers. “We don’t want to hit people over the head with too-obvious clues about where the story is going; it’s much more satisfying for readers to figure it out as they go. But walking that fine line between giving too little information and giving too much can be difficult. The greatest compliment a reader can give me is appreciating the pacing and subtleties of the story, enjoying the ride as it unfolds, being surprised (and satisfied) by the ending. That’s when I know I’ve done my job.”
From the micro-level, she says she finds transitions to make for the most difficult part of writing. “They seem like such inconsequential things, but if not done right they can be clunky and disrupt the flow of the story. It’s one of those things that, if done well, you don’t even notice them, but if done badly, they stick out like a sore thumb.”
Melissa describes herself as a grammar Nazi. “I know there is a lot of flexibility in style, but I also know that there are rules for grammar and spelling that usually should be followed, not just because they are rules but because they make sense. As a writer, I view my words as a vehicle on which the reader rides to the story’s end. If I’m doing my job well, the words will become almost transparent as the reader races on, the story unfolding like a movie in his or her head. Bad grammar and punctuation act like spikes in the roadway, stopping the reader in their tracks and completely destroying the momentum of the story. Nobody wants to stop and change a flat tire when they’re barreling down the road of a good book. It certainly makes me cranky if a writer has not taken enough care to make sure their meaning is clear, so I do my level best to make sure my readers don’t have to wonder what I’m talking about.”
We asked Melissa to gaze into her crystal ball and tell us what she sees coming in the future for the writng, publishing and bookselling business. “Well, I’ve never professed to be a good prognosticator, but it seems to me that traditional publishing is going to have to evolve or die out. The huge bloom of indie writers and the wonderful new avenues for self-publishing are changing the landscape rapidly, and I’m afraid the traditional publishers are either having trouble keeping up or are still in denial that this is the new normal. Either way, I believe they are going to be left in the dust. I would hope there will always be B&M bookstores, although I can see them morphing into more of a dual physical/digital environment where readers can buy real books or e-books at the same time. As for agents, I haven’t had one in over 20 years and don’t see a need for one now. I sold more of my own books than my agent ever did, and now that I self-publish, there is certainly no need for one.”
Marcia L. Gates was an Army nurse and prisoner of war during WWII. As an “Angel of Bataan,” she spent three years in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines.
This is her award-winning story, told through her letters and the newspaper clippings, photos and letters collected by her mother.