Interview with Melanie Atkinson

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I'm not sure if I remember the first story I ever read but I remember the first story that had a huge impact on me. I was really young- probably about seven or eight- and I had to read Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner for school. I've never forgotten most of the details of that book and how involved I felt in the main character's plight. When I got to the end of the book, I remember sobbing for a long time and feeling like I had personally lived through everything I'd just read. I can't recall if I knew I wanted to be a writer at that point, but I do believe the emotional response that book incited has stuck with me through my life and made me want to create stories that deeply involve readers and give them a reason to care about the characters.
How do you approach cover design?
Before I was brave enough to start putting my stories out there, I spent about a decade working as a professional photographer. I really hate that word "professional" whether it's tied to photography or writing because a part of me still feels like I'm pretending to be a professional, but I owned a legitimate, licensed business with a decent list of clients. I discovered early on that, while I was fairly good at photography, I just didn't love it. But, during that time, I was able to get the equipment I needed and gain the skills I needed to understand and work in Photoshop. Even though I've stopped doing photoshoots (with a few exceptions), I'm able to photograph for my own covers and manipulate them in photo editing programs. I usually start out with a general idea of what I want the character to be wearing and a few scenes in the book I want to focus on. Also, I need to keep it simple. I don't have the talent to use programs like Painter 12 to their fullest extent, so what I create can't be too difficult. I like to sew so I make the costumes for my covers, choose my model (I've had some wonderful volunteers who are willing to help me out with this), and pick a location. After I set up multiple scenes and photograph them, it's just a matter of putting it all together in photoshop. Often, I have to change the lighting, add elements from another photo, and use brushes to create certain effects. Also, I use a lot of layers and textures. I start with an idea for a mood (usually I'm going for "mystical") and go from there. Finally, if there's something I'm not sure how to do, I can usually find a quick video tutorial online that will explain. I'm not sure how my covers come across to people but I personally like that they're original and came from my own efforts. However, I wouldn't recommend my methods for anyone who doesn't already have a background in photography.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I'm a bit sappy so this list is going to reflect that a bit. My favorite five books are:

1. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery - I absolutely MUST read this book at least once a year. There's something about it that leaves me feeling so at peace and makes me smile every time. I think everyone can relate to the main character a bit- Valancy feels so out of control in her own life and she just wants to break free and truly live- but to start off, she does it by serving someone else. I could gush about this book for hours.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre is kind of tied with The Blue Castle. The only way to describe the book is "Sweeping." It covers so many emotions, views, ideas, events. Jane is such an incredible character with so much heart and warmth and goodness. I could read it again and again and every time I do, I fall in love with the story more than the last time I read it.

3. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen - Of course I love ALL of Austen's books (Yes, I'm one of those girls), but Mansfield Park is my favorite. I loved how steady and quiet Fanny Price was and how she hung on, even when all hope for what she wanted was lost. I'm the complete opposite of her. . . I tend to lose hope easily sometimes and I'm definitely not quiet about my opinion even when I should be. I've always admired her qualities and wish I was a bit more like her.

4. The False Prince (Trilogy) by Jennifer A. Nielsen - Honestly, this is one of the best books/series I've ever read. The main character is brilliant, interesting, and maddening enough to make you appreciate his imperfections. It keeps you on the edge of your seat constantly but also makes you feel deeply for the characters. After this series, I decided Jennifer Nielsen was a literary genius in children's/YA fiction. I don't go starry-eyed and fan-girl on anybody but I could for Ms. Nielsen. I recommend this series to everyone I know.

5. Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery - Yep, another Montgomery book. This is another book I read when I need something sweet, light, and lovely. I usually read this every couple years and every single time I finish it, I wish there was more. I become so engrossed in the characters and the story, I hate to see it end.
When did you first start writing?
I remember being about eight years old when I really knew I wanted to be a writer. Once, I was given an assigment to write a paragraph about what I'd take with me on a desert island and the "paragraph" turned into 25 pages. The story was silly, outrageous, and really unique and it felt so amazing to be able to create my own world. Later, I started writing short stories for fun and handing them into my fourth grade teacher to edit and critique. That woman was so patient with me and always incredibly encouraging. Even when I wasn't handing in stories, I was embellishing everything I said to people because it made it more interesting. Sidenote: I was eight when it took a hard lesson to teach me there was a difference between lying and writing fiction for entertainment. So, by the time I was eight or nine, I was scribbling stories and writing in my journal regularly and I knew there was nothing I loved better than living in the worlds inside my head.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Mine was a unique journey into the indie business. With my first book, Sea Dweller, I fully planned on looking for an agent. I was ready to go the distance and search and query until there was no one left. However, the week I was ready to send out my first query, one of the small publishing houses I was interested in had just released a new series that sounded like it had a very simliar premise. I panicked, bought the book, and found a few lines and ideas that I thought were so similar, I worried other agencies would think I'd copied this author. Also, that author and I had very simliar backgrounds and had spent time in the same small city at the same time when she said she was inspired with the idea. Looking back, it was really silly because there really aren't any truly original plots out there anymore and over time, I've learned that it's the authors voice, characters, and style that make a story unique. However, after a lot of thought and after attending a few writer's courses, I decided to self publish immediately. Knowing how long it may have taken me to find an agent and a publisher, I wanted to prove that my book wasn't plagiarized. Looking back, that other story really wasn't much like mine. I really allowed my own insecurities to sway my judgement and I think I could have tried to find an agent and been just fine. . . but I think this experience as an indie author was meant to be and I'm really grateful for the things I've learned from it. Most indie authors really support one another and they make up an awesome group of motivated, talented, hard working people. They have to work harder to get noticed and to sell their stories but they don't give up and they help eachother out. I've met people that have inspired and amazed me in the indie world and I would have really missed out if I hadn't chosen this path to publishing.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords has been a great avenue to getting my book out there for people to purchase. I still don't get a ton of downloads- I'm a pretty private person when it comes to having an online presence and marketing doesn't come natural for me at all- but Smashwords really tries to support its authors. I've seen the most success through the companies Smashwords ships to and I've had a few really wonderful moments since I published my first book. Because of Smashwords, I was able to have my book featured through Itunes Australia and that was exciting for me. I didn't even know I had Australian readers and when I found their reviews, I was thrilled! Also, I like how Smashwords allows me to set my price so easily. The ability to generate coupons and even give my book away if I want has been helpful in getting it to more people. Also, I had no idea how to format a book for digital publishing. Smashwords taught me how to do that with their Styleguide and that made things so easy. All in all, I'm still not as successful as I'd like to be, but I attribute most of that to my own lack of marketing skills. However, Smashwords has been really great to work with and they've been been a huge help in what I have been able to accomplish.
What do your fans mean to you?
Honestly, I'm not sure if I have fans. . . but I've had some really amazing reviews from readers that left me speechless. One of my favorite reviews from an reader in Australia said she was so involved in the book that her family and best friends lost her while she was reading it. What a compliment! Another said she/he couldn't put it down and called it mystical and inspiring. Those are just a couple but it's those kinds of reviews and comments that make it worth it. Writing is something I do because I love it and because I have so many stories I feel need to be told. It's not something that makes me money yet. It can be discouraging at times when you put something out there that you poured so much time and emotion into and nothing seems to come of it. This is the case for a lot of authors. But those awesome reviewers- those fans who do read and love the book- I don't know if there are words to express how much they mean to a writer. THEY make it worth it. I'm not sure they realize that those positive words can keep someone writing even on the darkest days where an author doubts everything she's doing. So, my reviewers and/or fans deserve a lot of thanks and credit. They are one of my biggest sources of motivation and encouragment. I love them for taking a chance on an unknown writer and caring about the story enough to share their thoughts with others.
What are you working on next?
I'm currently working on the third book in the Birthstone Series. It will be the final story about Sai and Aylen and their adventures. However, I have a few books and novellas planned for some of the side characters like Faema and Hesper(shows up in Heiress) and even Aylen's parents and how they met. Also, I have another novel I'm working on that's not affiliated with anybody in that series. It would be a stand alone with the possiblity of other follow up books but I love the premise. It's truly a unique fantasy, and I can't wait to share it with people.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have too many to count. To list a few, L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen (of course), Shannon Hale, Janette Rallison (that woman has the best sense of humor!), Jennifer A. Nielsen, and Marissa Meyer.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I'm a mother of four young children so every moment of my day is mostly spent caring for them full time. When I'm not actively doing Mom things, I really love to sew. I have a love for retro clothing and I enjoy sewing some of my own dresses. I also like to sew my kids costumes for dress up and Halloween. I really hate to be interupted once I start writing so I usually wait to work on one of my manuscripts until after my children are in bed. This usually means writing late into the night. Once my kids are all in school, writing will be something I do full time during the day, but for now, my time is mostly spent on family obligations.
Published 2014-07-01.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Series: Birthstone, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 117,220. Language: English. Published: June 28, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Adventure
In Book Two of the Birthstone Series, Aylen realizes she must return to the mainland to learn how to control her gems before they consume her. To ensure Sai's safety, Aylen insists he stay behind. Sai takes matters into his own hands and journeys across an ocean to follow the girl he loves. Without eachother, they must rely on their own strength and work to save a kingdom in peril.
Sea Dweller
Series: Birthstone, Book 1. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 101,930. Language: English. Published: July 9, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
Sixteen year old Aylen has been an outcast on the island of Vairda her entire life until she discovers a glowing jewel that gives her the ability to breathe underwater, thus starting a chain of events that will change her life and the entire island nation forever.