Melody Carlson has written more than 200 books for teens, women and children. Before being published, Melody traveled around the world, volunteered in teen ministry, taught preschool, raised two sons, and worked briefly in interior design and later in international adoption. “I think real-life experiences inspire the best fiction,” she says. Her wide variety of books seems to prove this theory.
Before becoming the best-selling author of over 200 Christian books (including the popular Diary of a Teenage Girl series), Melody Carlson was a teen atheist. It wasn’t until a group of acquaintances were killed in a car wreck that she began to ask the hard questions about eternity.
“It was disturbing to think we go through all the challenges of life to simply be snuffed out,” Melody says. “In that dark spot, I said a prayer, ‘God if you’re real, show me.’ To be honest, I think becoming an atheist at twelve was my plea for God to reveal himself to me.”
Which is exactly what He did. At a Young Life meeting, Melody heard the gospel for the first time. She soon accepted Christ and immediately knew God was alive and real.
“I went from being a confused wild child to a born-again Jesus freak. I think my mom and sister were in shock. It was such an extreme change that I’m sure my mom must’ve thought it was a weird adolescent phase. But by the time I was getting ready to head for Papua New Guinea as a short-term assistant preschool teacher with Wycliffe Bible Translators, they realized I was serious about my faith. I prayed they would get saved before I left, and amazingly that happened.”
Melody’s always loved writing, but she didn’t take it seriously until she was in her thirties. “I felt like I was going to explode (or implode) if I didn’t start,” she says. “As soon as I began to write, it was like a pressure valve was released. I knew that I would continue to write even if no one ever read a single word. I believe it happened like that because God had given me a gift I wasn’t fully using, and it was His Spirit compelling me to get with the program.
“I only wanted to write fiction,” she says. “I was having success selling short stories, but I wrote so quickly it didn’t take long before I had several books written. Back then the Christian publishing industry was barely producing novels. Finally an editor who believed in me asked if I could write a nonfiction book [to get my foot in the door]. I had just closed a successful group home childcare center that I’d run for a few years. I decided to write about that. The book sold to Thomas Nelson, and shortly thereafter all the other books I’d written sold as well. I was launched.”
Years later, her well hasn’t run dry. In fact, Melody has had four books release in the last few months alone, including Here’s to Friends (David C. Cook), the conclusion to her Four Lindas series. She admits she tends to do most things fast, whether it be cooking, walking, thinking or writing. “I’ve tried to slow my writing down,” she says, “but I end up getting bored and the story suffers. Plus with my teen readers always begging for the next book, I just keep going. I write because I truly love doing it. I start with a character. Not a fully fleshed-out character though—that would be boring to me. I do know a few things about her—her general statistics, where she lives, etc.—but most importantly, I know she has a problem. Then I get to explore her through the form of story.”
In her recent teen book Damaged (NavPress), Melody knew her character was a girl who would be a date-rape victim. “It’s one of the most under-reported crimes committed against teens. I told her tale as a cautionary one for readers. It’s hard being mean to my characters, but it’s worth it to ‘torture’ a fictional person in the hopes that a flesh-and-blood reader will learn something vicariously and not suffer the same problems in real life.”
Which just goes to show Melody’s soft spot for today’s youth. Dozens of her books, including the Colors series, address relevant topics like cutting, drug abuse, and promiscuity, yet she always makes sure she’s not writing down to her readers.
“The number one thing teens are looking for in their stories is authenticity,” she says. “Whether they’re reading vampire, sci-fi, fantasy or inspirational stories, I think they want books to ring true to their worldview and experience. They want to relate to the characters—to feel pulled in, as if they could step into the story themselves.”
Melody often receives e-mails from teens who’ve given their lives to Christ along with the characters in her books. “That always blows me away—and blesses me,” she says. “It also keeps me writing for teens.”
Melody brings this same authenticity to her adult novels. River’s Song (Abingdon Press) is the first book in the Inn at Shining Waters trilogy, a series about multi-generational women of Siuslaw Indian heritage.
“We have a little cabin near the beach,” she says. “To get there we drive along the Siuslaw River—a beautiful coastal estuary which has always intrigued me. Over the years I’ve read what I can find about the Siuslaw Indians—some very sad stories—and we’ve taken some boat trips on the river. It always felt like the river was begging me to tell its story.”
If writing for adults and teens wasn’t enough, for the past eight years Melody has penned eight Christmas novellas, including Christmas at Harrington’s and the just-released The Christmas Shoppe (Revell). She’s not even sure how she got started writing these holiday tomes. “Maybe just because it’s fun!” she says. “Ironically, I always write these stories in July. Sometimes I’ll emerge from my office where it’s been ‘snowing’ to discover it’s actually 95 degrees outside. Some of my Christmas books have been considered for TV movies. In fact, I just did my first adaptation of a Christmas novella (that’s not even out yet) and it’s closer to becoming a TV movie than any of them so far. I would so love to break into that arena.”