Melody Winter’s debut novel Sachael Dream was just released. I was lucky enough to score a bit of her time to ask a few questions about her writing process, critique partners, and new projects.
Are you a panster or a plotter? How do you approach a new idea?
I’m more a plotter. I tend to have an idea and run with it from start to finish. I even outline each chapter of a book with what needs to happen. Having said that, I tend to be a panster while writing within my outline. Many times my writing wavers from the original outline, and I love it when it happens, it usually means my characters are leading the way. It’s a wonderful feeling.
For example, with Sachael Dreams, I had a quite detailed outline of the story, but as I planned the chapters it became apparent that there was too much material for one book. So it became two books. And, as I wrote the words, more and more ideas came into my head. I got to know my characters even more than I originally did, and realised that the full story was going to take even more than 2 books. Hence I ended with a rough outline of chapters and events for 4 books. I like knowing where I’m aiming with a book. It keeps me focused even though my characters like to lead me astray at times.
So, even though I plan, I wander from the outline many times.
I approach a new idea by letting my mind wander. I listen to music, look at images and write copious amounts of notes around my idea. Gradually a clearer outline emerges and it’s only then that I start to plot. I’m currently pulling together ideas and information for a new book, The Ascent, after the Sachael books. It has a pinterest board and I already have a chapter breakdown—28 chapters, but it’s looking as if this could turn into more than one book. I’m still exploring ideas within the main thrust of the story and they could have a dramatic effect on what’s already there.
Do you have the same critique partners for all your work or do you have different sets? And why?
I have a small group of people who I can really rely on. I’m not one of these people who send my MS out to loads of people for feedback—I keep my manuscripts very close to me. I have a pre-reader who also doubles as a ‘google junky’, a friend who does the first edit—she’s very blunt! And then I have a CP whose advice is incredibly valuable to me. I have two other great people who read for me, but my initial three are the ones who really dig deep and give me so much of their time. So I sort of have a little Melody Winter team who love my work but aren’t afraid to tell me when it’s no good or a really bad idea! I’m hoping to have the same team working with me on The Ascent which is a dark romantic fantasy. My pre-reader and first edit person are very excited about it. But again, I’ll keep things pretty quiet until I need to start shouting about it.
I suppose the reason I keep the same team is because I trust them and their advice. I’m very lucky to have found people who love my writing and feel as attached to my characters as much as I do.
What is the most difficult aspect about being a writer?
For me, without a doubt, it’s time. I work, have two teenage boys, and a husband to split my time between. Life can get pretty hectic and at times I want to just shut myself away from them all and forget what’s outside the door and concentrate on writing. It’s been hard, as my writing has always been seen as a hobby and not to be taken seriously by my family. That is gradually changing now I’m published. I’ve seen the looks passing between the three males in the house, and the willingness to cook tea so I can write. But I’m not sure how long it will last.
Do you have any suggestions for editing drafts?
I don’t necessarily think there is a right or a wrong way to edit drafts. Some people write a very clean first draft, other just want to get the story down. But I can tell you the way I work:
My first draft is usually pretty much how I’d like my final version to be in terms of plot and story. My pre-reader see’s each chapter as it’s written so I’m alerted to anything major while writing. My first edit person tightens things up. We go through each chapter and she tells me what works, what doesn’t, where my characters aren’t reacting strongly enough or where things get boring (Yes I’ve deleted whole pages due to her critique) After this I go through a full 2nd edit by myself. I tweak the original MS with the feedback and suggestions from the edit. I remove ‘dead words’ and then send the whole document to my kindle. It reads very differently to on the screen on my laptop. I tweak sentences, see areas to expand/alter and I read straight through marking what needs to change. I’ll then do all the alterations back in my word document. Then I leave it alone for about a month. I write something else, do meme’s, or plan another book. But I leave my current MS alone. After that magic month I give the whole MS another read through and tweak before sending it to my CP. Once back from my CP, I attack it again taking into account her comments. After that it’s another full read, then it’s as ready as it can be. It’s a long process getting from that first draft to the version I’m eventually happy with, but I see each step as getting nearer that published version.
For me, I also have the expertise of Kisa Whipkey, my editor with Reuts, but if I didn’t have her and was looking to self-publish, I would definitely have my MS professionally edited. I want my words to shine as much as possible.
Do you have other stories in the works?
As mentioned earlier, I have a dark romantic fantasy planned—‘The Ascent’. I’m really excited about this one as it’s completely different from the Mine Series. I keep drafting little scenes that come into my head because the characters are already speaking to me, but I refuse to spend any large amount of time on it before I’ve finished writing the Mine series.
Sachael Dreams is finished. SD2—Sachael Desires is going through its final edit and then it’s ready for Reuts with publication later this year. SD3—Sachael Delusions is written and is currently undergoing its first edit with my friend. And SD4—Sachael Destiny is being written – I’m 2 chapters in, but a few of the later chapters are already drafted. So there’s plenty going on. At times it feels weird jumping through different stages in Estelle’s head (my main character). But it’s also interesting to see how much her character had grown during the series.
If someone wrote a book about your life, who would star as you in the movie version?
Ohhhh, heck, let me think. Firstly I think it’d be a pretty boring book so this would never happen, but the person who I think could play me would be Rene Zellweger. I’m thinking mainly about the character Bridget Jones that she so famously played. Perhaps that’s because I see myself more of a Bridget Jones character, daft at times, but with a heart of gold. And let’s face it – who wouldn’t want to kiss Colin Firth!!!!
Please check out Melody’s new release Sachael Dreams.
Grab your copy here:
And here’s an excerpt from Sachael Dreams
Jumping to my feet, I took in the scene. Azariah was standing completely still, like a beautiful statue—the skin along his spine and the back of his arms raised in spikes as he faced the strangers, silently daring them to come closer. I wanted him to run. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t turn away. I backed up the beach, my breathing short, shallow, and hurried. One of the pebbles, slipped from my hand as the men charged at Azariah.
Three against one—he didn’t stand a chance. Why hadn’t we run into the sea? Surely, it was the safest place for us?
I turned away, not wanting to witness what I was sure was about to happen. If everything Azariah told me was true, these men would kill him. They wanted him dead.
Scrambling footsteps, the sound of pebbles being dislodged, shouts, and cries for help echoed across the beach, and as I hesitantly turned to where I had last seen Azariah, I saw one of his attackers lying motionless on the sand. Azariah was dragging the other two by their feet, heading to the sea. They were kicking ferociously with their free legs, shouting and swearing at him. He didn’t register the blows of their feet as they made contact with his body. One of them pleaded for him to let go, and the other cursed loudly. The sight of Azariah, the man whose arms I’d been lying in only a few minutes ago, dragging two big, muscular men into the sea, pulling them as if they weighed practically nothing, was a shocking scene to witness. His skin, raised in tiny silver scale like spikes, caught the bright light from the rising sun, but I could easily remember its softness, the way he had quivered under my touch, and how his eyes sparkled with pleasure. It was difficult to reconcile this angry, beautiful man with the one I had lovingly spent the past two nights with.
I glanced at the dead man lying on the beach. Two others would be joining him soon. Strangely, the fact didn’t scare or shock me the way his admittance had the other night. If Azariah didn’t kill them, they would kill him. This is what he had warned me about.
The two men he was dragging into the sea thrashed wildly. They were helpless against Azariah’s strength as he held their heads under the surface of the water. I was so intent on watching the calm, controlled way he stood looking out to sea as he willingly drowned his opponents, I was unaware of anyone else on the beach. But hearing the sudden crunch of pebbles behind me, I spun around.
There stood another man, smirking at me.
I screamed at his menacing appearance, and turned to run. But I moved too quickly. My foot slipped on the damp pebbles and my ankle buckled beneath me. I stumbled. The man grabbed me from behind, lifting me off the ground. I kicked my legs, trying to hurt him. I scratched at his arms. Nails raked flesh, but nothing made him release his hold.
“Let me go!” I cried, continuing to struggle, trying to hit him with the pebble in my hand.
“You are coming with me,” he growled, managing to hold me with only one arm. Wriggling with determination, I managed to free my arm and swung it through the air, aiming for his head. The pebble made contact with the side of his face before dropping to the sand. Unfortunately, the blow had no effect on his hold, and as I took in a ragged, desperate breath, preparing to scream for Azariah, a cloth was placed over my mouth and nose. Within seconds, I slumped against my captor.
My head spun, and my vision became distorted. My heart beat fast, rapidly thumping in my chest. I drew in a panicked breath, realizing too late that whatever was on the cloth had now been inhaled deeply into my system. As my body was dragged backward across the pebbles, the cloth was held against my nose and mouth. My limbs wouldn’t react; they ached with a forced weightlessness, unresponsive to any demands from me.
Pain jabbed at my eyes, and I screwed them shut. Whatever was on the cloth was having a dramatic effect on my body. Desperate to catch sight of Azariah, I managed to open my eyes. My view was blocked by a hooded, cloaked figure. Jerked upright from my slumped position, the cloth was removed from my face. Free from the suffocating substance, I took several deep, lung-filling breaths of air. Bony fingers grabbed my chin, and I was forced to meet the eyes of the cloaked figure. Haunted dark brown eyes stared at me. It was the woman who had passed Azariah and me the other morning, the woman from the farm shop a few weeks ago.
“Well done, Pactolus.” Her words were angry and short. “Take her back. Orontes wants her.”
The thudding of my erratically beating heart filled my head. I tried to force a scream from my lungs, but it wouldn’t come.
The woman released my face, pushing it sideways, and the cloth was shoved onto my mouth again. I held my breath, not wanting to take in any more of the substance.
As the woman moved away, my vision became increasingly blurred, but I saw Azariah. He stood in the water, the bodies of the two men floating motionless next to him. He was safe. It was all I could ask for.
Spots sprang onto my eyelids, grainy specks of darkness that slowly increased. My sight disappeared.
“Estelle!” A tremendous, angry roar rang out across the beach.
My world was plunged into darkness. I had no control over my lifeless limbs, my aching chest, or my shallow breaths. The cloth was removed from my face before I was lifted by my captor and thrown onto his shoulder. I concentrated on the names I’d overheard—Orontes and Pactolus. They were ones I never wanted to hear again.