Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine their spotlight on Melissa Crandall, one of the authors who will be at our 65 James Street bookstore on Saturday, April 28, from 1:00 – 4:00 PM for our Light it Up: Three on a Match event. Melissa, along with Kristi Petersen Schoonover and g. Elmer Munson, will share an aftenoon celebrating scary stories, dark humor, and their collection of novellas. The authors will talk about their work, read, sign—and possibly break into mad libs for this haunting event.
Melissa Crandall is the author of the Pushcart-nominated short stories “Dreams on Racks” and “The Cellar.” Comfortable writing fiction or nonfiction, her work has appeared in Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Allegory, Amoskeog: The Journal of Southern New Hampshire University, in the collection Darling Wendy and Other Stories, STRIDES (North American Riding for the Handicapped, now PATH International, and ASPCA’s Animal Watch. Online, she has contributed to Animal Bliss (animalbliss.com), The Drunken Odyssey (the drunkenodyssey.com), and her own blog The Wild Ride: Caretaking Mom Through Alzheimer’s (melissacrandall.wordpress.com). Crandall was one of twelve writers chosen to participate in Connecticut Humanities’ 2015 endeavor The Great Connecticut Caper. She is the author of the fantasy novel Weathercock, and media tie-in novels for Star Trek, Quantum Leap, and Earth 2.
Thank you so much for joining us, Melissa! For those not familiar with you, what can you tell us about yourself an your work?
I’ve been writing since I was about 7. I’ve always had a tendency to write where my interests lay, so my first stories were about animals. In later years, that morphed into collaborative works written with friends, many having their basis in old television shows (Here Come the Brides; Alias Smith and Jones; the original Star Trek) or favorite books (Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series; Elfquest). I cut my professional writing teeth on media tie-in books, but have since branched out into original fiction, as well as nonfiction. I don’t write in any particular genre, although I’m drawn to fantasy, horror, and the so-called “literary” niche. My nonfiction has dealt with subjects as diverse as personal dynamics in a blended family, my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, canine epilepsy, and elephants. I was born in Upstate New York.
What character have you loved or hated the most while writing? And why?
Up until recently, I’d never hated any of my characters, even the badly-behaved ones. But then I wrote a story for the collection TRICKS AND TREATS called “The Cellar.” There’s a character in there named Uncle Daddy who truly gives me the creeps.
An important lesson about villains came to me via my novel WEATHERCOCK. I learned that in order to write a three-dimensional “bad guy,” I needed to understand that they have their reasons for doing what they do, just like the hero/ine. In some cases, the villain is only a villain from the perspective of the hero/ine. In the villain’s own mind, they’re doing the right thing. That gave me a lot to think about, and it’s helped add breadth to my characters.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I don’t like the word “genre.” May as well use “pigeonhole,” they’re both limiting. When I first began reading—back before the last Ice Age—there was just a handful of genres (romance, mystery, science fiction, western) and “literary fiction” (uttered in a very lofty British accent, if possible). Now there are so many genres and sub-genres that it’s ridiculous. A writer can’t say they write fantasy, they have to parse it down even smaller into urban fantasy or high fantasy or whatever, not for the good of the writer or reader, but because the world loves its categories. So for me to say I’m drawn to fantasy doesn’t really tell a reader what to expect from me.
I never feel that I “choose” how to tell a story. Rather, the story tells me how it wants to be told, and if I’m smart, I take that advice. I don’t set out to tell a story with a hidden message, although readers often tell me that’s what they’ve gleaned from one of my tales. That’s part of the PFM (Pure F***ing Magic) of writing. Non-writers have asked, “How do you write?” as if there’s a simple explanation or formula I can offer. Truth is, I don’t know how it happens. It just does. It’s the way I’m wired. I’ve been both immensely grateful for it, and simultaneously driven mad by it. I’m not certain anyone sane really wants to be a writer.
As to what draws readers to particular books, fiction is all about escapism. In our wildest fantasies, how do we see ourselves? The adventurer? The sleuth? The captive princess? The roving scientist? The vengeful cowboy? Fiction satisfies our particular craving.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Lots of stuff I wish someone had told me back when I was starting out. Leave your ego at the door. Develop a thick skin. Don’t take rejection personally. Don’t be so wedded to your deathless prose that you miss opportunities to grow and learn as a writer. Take the Craft seriously, and don’t cut corners. Writing is hard work. Read, read, read all sorts of stuff, not only one genre. Edit, edit, edit (at least three times, preferably six … or more). Take critique graciously, even if you don’t agree, but bear in mind that if you get the same comment from three different people, you might want to take a long hard look at that section because they may be right.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
It has to be what’s occurred over the past three years as I researched, wrote, and now await editing notes on my nonfiction book, THE MAN WHO LOVED ELEPHANTS.
In a nutshell: Back in 1997, while living in Portland, OR, I spent an evening in the Washington Park Zoo elephant barn standing watch on the herd matriarch, Belle, who’d undergone life-saving surgery on her foot. It was my good fortune to be partnered with senior keeper Roger Henneous, who’d been with her for almost 30 years.
Fast forward 20 years. I’m long gone from Portland, but the memories of that night remain clear and have become incredibly insistent that they be written about. An innocent query to the zoo (now the Oregon Zoo) about elephant care put me in touch with a former keeper, who offered Roger’s contact info. Since January 2015, he and I have spoken long distance at least once a week, usually for 2-3 hours at a time. What I thought would be a short story, or perhaps an essay, became a full-length book which is now being considered by a publisher. (An essay—“Return of the Elephant Man”—recently appeared in JEMA, the Journal of the Elephant Managers Association.)
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
For me, it’s the stasis that occurs when one project is finished (and I use that term loosely) and in the hands of an editor. It’s difficult for me to move onto the next project when I know I’ll have to come back to the first one after the editor’s notes arrive. I’m still working on overcoming that, so if anyone has suggestions …
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
A good deal of my earlier stuff is out of print, so used bookstores like The Book Barn in Niantic or online at Abebooks.com is a good place to search. My recent stuff (Weathercock; Tricks and Treats; Three on a Match) can be purchased directly from me, or on Amazon.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
You can find me online at http://www.melissacrandall.com.
Thank you for the great interview, Melissa! We look forward to having you and your Three on a Match co-authors at our 65 James Street store on Saturday, April 28, from 1:00 – 4:00 PM!