Melodie has been a member of Widowed Friends for a couple of years and for about half that time was a regular attendee at our weekly group events, until Covid put our get togethers on temporary hold.
As an established writer, with 17 novels published and more in progress Melodie has used her Covid quarantine to good purpose by continuing writing and producing new books. In addition to novels, Melodie teaches writing at Sheridan College, Continuing Education. Her next course starts in late April, so if you’ve been thinking about developing your novel writing skills, why not sign up?
We were lucky to catch up with her despite her busy schedule and she shares some of her background and current work with us here.
Melodie’s been called the “Queen of Comedy” by the Toronto Sun, and the “Canadian literary heir to Donald Westlake” by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Melodie Campbell has connections in low places. Don’t dig too deep. You might find cement shoes. Melodie has shared a literary shortlist with Margaret Atwood, and was seen lurking on the Amazon Top 50 Bestseller list between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts. She’s won the Derringer, Arthur Ellis, Hamilton Reads, and eight more awards. She didn’t even steal them. Melodie’s publications include 16 novels and over 50 short stories, but she’s best known for the Goddaughter mob caper series.
1. Tell us about how you got started and if you have a process for writing or do you write only when inspired?
I’ve been making up stories since I was 4. My parents called it lying. I figure that was so short-sighted of them.
I got my start writing standup for comedians, and then had a syndicated humour column for five years. From there, I tried my hand at short stories, and when I had 24 of those published, a few misguided souls said, “Why the hell aren’t you writing novels?” So I wrote a novel. A wacky one of course. It hit the bestseller charts, which surprised everyone, especially my parents.
It takes about 1000 hours to write a full length 80,000 word book. That’s about a year, working almost every day. I have been a professional writer for over thirty years, which means I treat it like a job and write even when I don’t feel like it. That’s what happens when you have publisher deadlines .
2. With 17 books completed, how has your style, content and interests changed over all the books and over time?
Very simply, when you’re in a publisher’s ‘stable,’ you write what they want you to write. I’m primarily a crime writer, and have won 10 awards for crime fiction, but my publisher (Orca Books) asked me to write a romantic comedy (Worst Date Ever) and after that, a Young Adult book (Crime Club, out in 2020.) Since they pay me a nice advance (which means I get paid upfront before I write the book) I was happy to oblige. But my purpose in writing has not changed over the years. I write to entertain. The greatest compliment a reader can give me is to say I took them away to another world for a few hours, and they just loved being there.
3. What’s your favourite book you’ve written? Where can people find your books?
Oh no! This is like choosing between children! Of all my babies…well, I guess I would have to say The Goddaughter’s Revenge, because that won me the Derringer Award in the US, and the Crime Writers of Canada Award for Excellence in Canada. That was book 2 in The Goddaughter comedic mob caper series, which is available at all the usual suspects (Chapters, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Kobo, Amazon, independents, and many libraries. I am also particularly fond of the 4th in the series, The Goddaughter Caper, which I think holds some of my best comedy. But others would name the epic fantasy trilogy I wrote that was featured on USA today, starting with Rowena Through the Wall. It was my bestseller, and bought me a Corvette. Reviewers called it “Outlander meets Sex and the City,” or “Game of Thrones Lite.”
4. Did your grief journey change your writing or the substance of the books?
Yes. My latest work has more gravitas. The Merry Widow Murders is a mystery that takes place in 1928 on a transatlantic ocean liner. Yes, it is humorous, as are all of my books. But the protagonist is also a woman who was widowed too young, and the grief I experienced in the year it took to write this story spilled out onto the pages and gave the book much more depth, according to my agent.
5. What is the craziest memory you have from being a writer?
In 1993, I had a loopy comedic play produced in Toronto. A U.S. producer was in the audience; he came up to me after and said: “You are completely nuts. I want you to come to LA and write pilots for us.” I sadly declined, because I had two preschoolers and a husband – how could I move them to the US. Besides…it was 1993. Who had ever heard of HBO in 1993?? This has to be the worst mistake ever made by someone not legally insane.
6. You teach writing at Sheridan College and at the library. Where could members find your courses ( virtual of course!) if they are interested in exploring their writing talents?
I’ve been teaching writing courses at Sheridan since 1992. During Covid, I’m teaching Crafting a Novel, online, and giving lots of individual attention to aspiring authors. I don’t restrict the class to those wanting to write a novel; if it’s short stories you’re interested in writing, I’m happy to guide you in that direction. This course is what I like to call a ‘fiction boot camp’ for writers. We take you through all the important stuff: what is a plot, how to write dialogue, why you need motivation, what do we mean by character arc – the whole shebang. I also talk about markets and how to present your work to publishers.
You can find the course on the Sheridan College website. It will be running this spring, starting late April.
I’ve just finished a workshop series at the Brantford library, and am waiting to hear where I’m booked next.
Thank you Melodie!