A Peek at the Creative Space of Melanie Crowder

Melanie Crowder is the author of Parched, her middle grade debut novel which published this month. A bit about Parched from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 

Sarel is a girl with secrets. She knows which tree roots reach down deep to pools of precious water. But now she must learn how to keep herself and her dogs alive. Nandi is the leader of those dogs. She knows they can’t last long without water–and she knows, too, that a boy is coming; a boy with the water song inside him.

Musa is that boy. His talent for finding water got him kidnapped by brutal men, yet he’s escaped, running away across the thirsty land that nearly claims his life. And so Sarel, Musa, and the dogs come together in what might their last hope of survival.

Parched was chosen as a spring Junior Library Guild selection. And for you teachers out there, she has also made a free teacher guide available for download here.

To learn more about Melanie and her books, visit her website.

Describe your workspace.

I do have an office—but I rarely use it to write. I’d rather be outside, under the covered patio or on the sundeck. When the weather isn’t cooperating, I write in the living room or the bedroom; the lived-in places of the house. There are times when I am under a deadline or when my family is having too much fun and I need to shut myself in the quiet, confined space of my office. At those times, I am really grateful for the space!

My snowy writing cave.

Describe a typical workday.

I wake up before 6 am, grab a cup of coffee and write for an hour before I go to work. I am a school teacher, so that morning writing time when my creative energy is high is invaluable to me. And then, when I do go to work, it is with a sense of accomplishment. The day is just beginning, and I have succeeded already. It’s a great feeling!
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
1.  My diploma for my MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I worked so hard for that degree! And I learned so much in the process. Sometimes when I need an extra boost, I put on the green graduate hood too—why not? I’ll never wear it anytime else!
2. A digital print that my sister made. It’s of a snail, and the words “no motivation” are repeated throughout the background. It’s very cool, and for some odd reason, I find it motivating!
3.  While curled up with a book on loan from the library, a piece of carefully creased and tucked paper dropped into my hands. Remember Middle School—the flurry of origamic notes that passed under desks and through locker grates? This was one of those, only it didn’t contain gossip or a check-yes-or-no prompt inside. Instead, it opened to reveal the drawings of a reader completely drawn in by the world she had discovered in the pages of that book. I keep it above my writing desk to remind me that children’s authors write for the most enthusiastic, most dedicated, most willing-to-be-swept-away readers out there!
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I probably do—but I couldn’t tell you what they are! So I’ll tell you instead about my writing buddy. She’s a german shorthaired pointer, who alternates between hours curled into a tiny ball and sudden bursts of crazy, sprinting energy.
What do you listen to while you work?
That depends on the project—sometimes classical music, sometimes nothing, sometimes nature sounds that match the setting of my book. For my newest project, I am listening to a lot of birdsong.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Dried fruit. Mate. Sparkling water.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
I think it’s just the scarcity of writing time in my day that keeps me going. If I don’t write in the morning, I may not have time later, and I hate missing an opportunity to write.
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
On a computer, absolutely! It would be interesting to see what would come if I tried to write an entire story on a steno pad. I suspect it would be terrible! It usually takes me a while to sink into a character’s voice, so I use that delete button a lot in the early stages of my novels. Maybe if I were writing an epistolary historical novel, the longhand would be instructive, but I do a better job of keeping up with my brain on a keyboard than with a pen, so I don’t think I’ll try it anytime soon . . .
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
My stories always start with an image. Next comes the voice and a vague idea of where the plot is headed. About halfway in, I get to the point where I can’t go any farther without an outline, storygraph, or storyboard to track all the loose threads. And at this point, my writing buddies are really helpful—I bounce plot ideas and problems off of their brilliant brains, and together, we can usually come up with something that works!
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
That would be my friend Kristin. We have laptop parties sometimes with fluffy blankets, gallons of tea and lots of brainstorming, though we have to set timers for stretches where we’re forbidden to talk! Usually our combined motivation and creative energy results in a day of very productive writing.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
A lesson I learned from the Vermont College community is that writing over the long term is a great deal of work. Sure, there are times when it is thrilling and enormously satisfying, but mostly, this is a hard road. If you can come to look at the process, the work, the tough questions as a joy in itself, you’re in for a great ride!