Meet Melanie Sumrow.
Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. Before becoming a writer, she worked as a lawyer for more than 16 years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. Melanie lives in Dallas with her husband, her daughter and one very spoiled dog.
What made you decide to aim your focus on the MG level for your first novel?
The Prophet Calls is actually the fourth manuscript I’ve written, but my first MG novel. The first three manuscripts I wrote were YA novels, and the first and third ones have never seen the light of day (and probably won’t, at least in their current form ;)). When I had begun the editing process on my third book, my agent called and asked if I would be interested in writing for an upper middle-grade audience. The thought intrigued me (especially given the heavier subjects I tend to deal with in my writing), but I soon fell in love with writing for this age-level.
Share with us the backstory for The Prophet Calls.
My second YA book centered on a girl who was drawn into a religious cult, and it was the book that landed me my agent. It was well received by publishers, but ultimately did not find a home. Fast-forward a year, and I was working on my third novel (unrelated to religious studies) and guest teaching a class on religious radicalism. For that class, I had updated my research on various religious sects, including the polygamous community known as the FLDS. Within that same time period, my agent called me and indicated an editor had contacted him (sort of as a shot in the dark), saying she was interested in polygamous communities and wondered if he happened to know anyone who could write about that subject for a middle-grade audience. Of course, my agent was very excited because he knew I possessed the knowledge, even though I’d never written MG. I started from scratch on an entirely new story and submitted a synopsis and the first three chapters of The Prophet Calls. My amazing editor fell in love with my proposal, and my debut novel will soon release on November 6, 2018!
From Religious Studies to being a lawyer to writing. What do you think has been the most influential in your writing to date?
All of it and more. These three things don’t exist in a vacuum for me. I believe our experiences as a whole mold us as writers. My religious studies background gave me the knowledge I needed to write The Prophet Calls, but I couldn’t have written it without the organizational skills and discipline that the practice of law gave me. And of course, I’m told writing is like a muscle. The more you use it, the better it gets (at least, that’s what I’m hoping).
Do you write full-time? If yes, how did that change your perspective on writing as a career vs. writing as a hobby?
Thanks to the support of my family, I now have the privilege of writing full-time. But the shift from hobby to career didn’t really change my intensity when it came to writing. Mainly, it altered the time of day I draft and edit. While I was still working as a lawyer, I would awaken around 4:00am to get in the day’s writing or write after my daughter went to bed at night. Now, I write during daylight hours, and I definitely treat my writing as a job (but a fun one!). When I’m drafting or editing, I’m usually at my desk by 8:30am. I take a short lunch break and work for a few hours in the afternoon before picking up my daughter from school.
Is there a certain religious story or figure you hope to portray in a future novel? If yes, or no, why?
I take one novel at a time and, for the time being, I’m taking a break from writing religious themes. But never say never!
Is there any new project you’d like to share with the readers today?
I’m incredibly excited to share that I recently turned in my second upper middle-grade novel, The Inside Battle, which is set to release in the fall of 2019. It is the story of a boy struggling to win his father’s approval, but when the boy follows his dad inside a racist, anti-government militia group, he has to choose what’s more important: his father’s approval or speaking up for what is right.