GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Melanie Crowder, Author of PARCHED

Today’s Lucky13 interview is with Melanie Crowder, whose debut middle-grade novel PARCHED hit the shelves on June 4. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Melanie Crowder PARCHED book coverA mesmerizing debut about a girl, a boy, and a dog struggling to survive in a parched and barren land.

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 be their last hope of survival.

Congratulations on your debut, Melanie!

Thanks Tara! And congratulations to all you OneFours on your debuts as well!

The setting of PARCHED—a world with almost no fresh water left—is both frightening and frighteningly believable. Can you tell us how you first came up with it?

The story started for me as an image: an aerial shot, as if I were in a plane flying low over the savanna. On the ground below, a skinny girl and her pack of dogs walked along a narrow path. I wanted to know who she was, and how she had come to be all alone in such a harsh place.

As I began to research the setting, I discovered that I only had to nudge the real life situation in order for potable water in the region to run out, allowing for fear and desperation to turn the city over to gangs. Right now, in the place where my book is set, mine tailings threaten to poison underground aquifers and drought comes with regularity. All I added to the situation was rising sea water, something that, unfortunately, is coming all too soon.

The narration of PARCHED dances between the perspectives of Sarel, a young girl, Musa, a young boy, and Nandi, a Rhodesian ridgeback (and probably my favorite character). Did you have any trouble finding the voice to write from a dog’s perspective?

Nandi’s voice came very easily to me. Of course a dog’s voice would be in present tense. It would be sensory: bursts of images, smells and actions. Complete sentences would be absolutely wrong!

The difficult part was honing that voice to make it accessible for the reader. It’s almost like I was acting as translator, not a writer, for her chapters—trimming and clarifying so the reader could find her way into Nandi’s mind.

PARCHED is a slender book, clocking in at 144 pages—but it packs the punch of a much longer novel. Are you generally a less-is-more kind of writer?

Yes. Absolutely, yes!

And those 144 pages are so much more fleshed out than my original … it’s almost as if my editor was acting as a translator between me and my future readers!

I know that the story behind your first book deal is a little unconventional, since you didn’t have an agent or “go out on submission” to lots of editors. Would you mind sharing how you ended up at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?

Sure!

I wrote PARCHED when I was supposed to be working on other things during the third semester of my MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Little by little, in between drafts of my critical thesis, the story began to take shape. By the end of the semester, I had 20 pages ready. I crossed my fingers and sent them in to be considered for the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt prize for Middle Grade Literature. When I won (!), I received a request for the full manuscript. Months went by, I graduated, finished the story and sent it in, revised, and then scurried to find an agent just in time for the sale! It was about a year from the time my editor got the first 20 pages to the time when the book sold, and another year and a half until release day. It has been a long and eventful few years—and I can’t wait to do it all over again!

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA

When I met Katherine Paterson a few years ago, I only got halfway through a sentence about how much her stories meant to me as a kid before I started crying. How embarrassing! For both of us!

RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8

I was Ramona Quimby as a kid. A well-intentioned but disastrous force of nature.

FREEDOM TRAIN

This was the first book to come along and nudge me out of the bubble of my own experience. Harriet became my childhood hero.

Thanks, Melanie!

Melanie Crowder Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melanie Crowder graduated in 2011 with an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the middle-grade novel PARCHED (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).

A West Coast girl at heart, Melanie now lives and writes in the beautiful (if dry) state of Colorado.

WEBSITE   GOODREADS   TWITTER   FACEBOOK

Here’s where you can buy PARCHED:

IndieBound   Barnes & Noble   Amazon  Books-A-Million   Indigo Books   Powell’s Books

Tara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering round-the-world honeymooner (two years, 74 countries!) who now lives in Colorado. Her debut middle-grade novel, THE DELICIOUS DOUBLE LIFE OF GLADYS GATSBY (Putnam/Penguin, Summer ’14), tells the story of an 11-year-old girl who secretly becomes a restaurant critic for New York’s biggest newspaper.
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