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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I have debut author Melanie Sumrow here to share about her MG contemporary THE PROPHET CALLS. It sounds like a gripping story that tackles issues we don’t usually see in a middle grade book.

WriteOnCon Is Back

Before I get to Melanie's interview, I want to share about an online conference you may be interesting in. WriteOnCon is back! It's a three-day online conference February 8-10th. For $10, you can get an extended admission to read and watch to all the content through March 10th. There's online presentations by authors and agents where you can submit questions and blog posts throughout the three days of the conference. You can also purchase critiques from authors and agents. You can find out more on WriteOnCon's website. I just registered and am excited to attend from the comfort of my home. 

Here’s a blurb of Melanie's book from Goodreads:

Born into a polygamous community in the foothills of New Mexico, Gentry Forrester feels lucky to live among God’s chosen. Here, she lives apart from the outside world and its “evils.”

On her thirteenth birthday, Gentry receives a new violin from her father and, more than anything, she wants to play at the Santa Fe Music Festival with her brother, Tanner. But then the Prophet calls from prison and announces he has outlawed music in their community and now forbids women to leave.

Determined to play, Gentry and Tanner sneak out. But once they return, the Prophet exercises control from prison, and it has devastating consequences for Gentry and her family. Soon, everything Gentry has known is turned upside down. She begins to question the Prophet’s teachings and his revelations, especially when his latest orders put Gentry’s family in danger. Can Gentry find a way to protect herself and her family from the Prophet and escape the only life she’s ever known?

This realistic, powerful story of family, bravery, and following your dreams is a can't-miss debut novel from Melanie Sumrow.

Hi Melanie! Thanks so much for joining us. 

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I was working as a lawyer and really missed having a creative outlet when another lawyer had recommended a book to me: Twilight. I thought he (yes, a male colleague recommended it) was pulling my leg, but he kept going on and on about how awesome it was. Long story short, he lent it to me and I read it, and then I picked up the next one in the series and the next and impatiently waited for the last book. I thought they were so fun! And then I started to pick up more books written for teens and devoured them. When I heard Stephenie Meyer had written the first book while working outside the home and being a full-time mom like me, I thought why not? I had always loved to read and I’d always enjoyed writing, so the idea really energized me. As luck would have it, a flyer came through the mail advertising a series of creative writing classes that I could take at night through my local university, while still practicing law during the day. From my first class, I was hooked!

2. As a former lawyer, I can relate to not feeling being one was creative. And I know many attorneys who became writers. Where did you get the idea for THE PROPHET CALLS and the polygamous community that is at the center of the story?

I received my undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and have maintained a long-term interest in
studying world religions. A couple of years ago, I was 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 that same editor fell in love with The Prophet Calls.

3. That's such an interesting way to get a story idea. Your story is set in a polygamous community in New Mexico? Why New Mexico and what research did you have to do on your setting and life in a polygamous community?

New Mexico has always held a special place in my heart, especially the foothills north of Santa Fe. I have been going there almost annually since I was a teenager, and I needed a somewhat isolated setting for this book. It was really fun to place Gentry and her family somewhere that has been so dear to me.

As for researching the polygamous community, my Religious Studies major and continuous research really came in handy. When I started to write the book, I updated my research by reading or re-reading memoirs of those who had left the community, watched documentaries and read books by members of law enforcement who had interaction with the FLDS.

4. Gentry goes through some heavy experiences as a middle grader with The Prophet trying to exert influence from jail. How did you make this realistic while recognizing the age group you’re writing for?

I put myself in the shoes of this barely thirteen-year-old girl and viewed her community through that lens. If this way of life was all I had ever known, I wondered how I would react to what was happening around me. I wouldn’t have the benefit of taking a step back and examining things from an “outsider’s” perspective. Given that lens, it helped me to keep the story appropriate for the upper MG audience.

5. That's great advice on a good approach to take. Gentry sounds like a strong, sympathetic character. Tell us about her as a character and something that surprised you about her as you wrote her story.

Gentry is strong, smart and loves her family. But she’s beginning to question her faith and the inequitable treatment within her community. She is totally devoted to her younger sister, Amy, and loves to play her violin. When she plays, it is the only time she feels like she can truly be herself.

When I first started writing the book, I knew how much Gentry loved her family. But it surprised me how fiercely loyal she was to them, even to certain family members who wronged her.

6. Share what your road to publication was like.

Long and winding.

I shelved my first manuscript. I queried my second manuscript, and received many requests. I read every rejection and, if I saw a common thread, I would go back and revise. After over 100 cold queries and many revisions, I received three offers of representation. Although that book was well received by publishing houses, it ultimately did not sell. I was working on another YA book when the call came in from my agent to ask if I would consider writing for the upper MG audience. I did and got my first book deal with The Prophet Calls. We recently announced a second book deal for another upper MG book, The Inside Battle.

7. I saw on your website event page that you are part of a middle grade panel at Books of Wonder at New York City. How did you set that up? Would you recommend other debut authors try to do something similar?

I am part of a group of debut MG authors that are a subset of the Electric Eighteens (which consists of both MG and YA debuts). One of the MG authors put a call out to see if anyone would be interested in joining her on a panel that her publicist could pitch. I raised my hand and, with the help of our publicists, ultimately five of us participated in a Great MG Debuts panel at Books of Wonder.

If you are a debut author, I would highly recommend connecting with other debuts, especially since no one is yet familiar with your work. I think the chances of finalizing an event definitely goes up when you pool your resources. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!

8. Yes, I think it's really good to connect to a debut group like this. What else are you planning to do to promote your book? What have you already done to build a social platform and generate excitement for your book?

I have upcoming signings and events, plus a blog tour. Since The Prophet Calls has a strong girl at its center, I have had fun running giveaways with an ARC of my book, plus another MG book that features a strong heroine. That way, I get to talk about some of the other books I’ve read and loved. This past year, I have also really enjoyed connecting with teachers and librarians via social media and through the various ARC-sharing groups.

9. What advice do you have for someone who just signed a book contract for getting organized for his/her debut and book release?

I have been fortunate that my publisher has been very helpful in this regard. They know I’m a debut and have been so kind to answer my (many) questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your publisher. And, if you haven’t already, I would also recommend connecting with the authors in your community for advice about the industry as a whole. Finally, join your debut group, which will be comprised of people from all over the world. There is nothing quite like having a community of writers who are going through the exact same thing to help you with the ups and downs of your debut year.

10. Yes, getting advice and being a part of a supportive group sounds really helpful. What are you working on now?

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.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Melanie. You can find Melanie at http://www.melaniesumrow.com or on Instagram & Twitter: @melaniesumrow.

Melanie's publisher has generously offered a hardback of THE PROPHET CALLS for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through November 24th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, November 14th I'm participating in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop

Monday, November 19th I have an interview with debut author Megan England and a giveaway of her YA space opera THE DISASTERS

Monday, November 26th I have an agent spotlight interview with Weronika Janczuk and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, December 5th I have an interview with debut author Elizabeth Tammi and a giveaway of her YA fantasy OUTRUN THE WIND and my IWSG Post

Monday, December 10th I have an interview with debut author Rebecca Caprara and a giveaway of THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD

Friday, December 14th I'm participating in the Midwinter Eve Giveaway Hop--my last post of the year

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


nashvillecats2 said...

A good interview with Melanie Natalie, most enjoyable.
Enjoy this new week.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Love how Melanie's background inspired and informed her writing!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

A good interview! What a fascinating community. I thought polygamy was illegal.

Greg Pattridge said...

I'm glad to see a strong girl as the MC. The topic being explored is one I've never seen in an MG book. Sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for another revealing interview and for the WriteOnCon info.

Danielle H. said...

Your book is unique to me as I've never read about a polygamous society before. I love that your main character surprised you. I enjoyed the interview very much and am looking forward to reading your work. I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/180042202662/melanie-sumrow-interview-and-the-prophet-calls

Patricia T. said...

I participated in two WriteOnCon events many years ago and had a lot of fun! I thought it stopped. Glad to know it's alive again.

What an exciting journey from religious studies to law and now author. The title really interests me because I've studied many world religions and am always intrigued with the stories of those who join and escape. Haven't seen a middle grade book on the subject, but a good time to talk about the subject. It amazes me cults still exist. And begs me to ask many questions as to why. Sounds like Gentry is a very strong and questioning protagonist. Look forward to reading your book! I'm sold.

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks for the heads-up about Write OnCon, Natalie. Congrats on your MG debut, Melanie!

Sue Kooky said...

Congrats on the debut and awesome Q&A! I enjoyed reading through them. :P

Natasha said...

Great interview!
The Prophet Calls sounds like a great read!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Rosi said...

I really, really want to read this book. It sounds so good. Thanks for an interesting interview.

Angie Quantrell said...

Sounds so good! And a bit scary, with how things keep playing out in the real world around us! Congratulations! Angelecolline at yahoo dot com

Christine Rains said...

Congrats to Melanie! I always love when the characters surprise me too. :)

sherry fundin said...

Great interview. Love how the book came about.
sherry @ fundinmental

Jarm Del Boccio said...

Thanks, Melanie! Your suggestions were helpful. . .any specifics for those of us with an MG Historical Fiction debuting next year? I’m not sure where to find those debut groups. “The Prophet Calls” sounds like a fascinating read. Congrats on your next book! It’s good to hear about your author’s journey to publication.

Carl Scott said...

Sounds like an excellent story, challenging for middle-graders, just like i like it! Thanks for the chance to win a copy!!
I tweeted a link: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/1062411618280034305, and pinned an image on Pinterest with a link: https://www.pinterest.es/pin/336573772148335231/.
Thanks again, have a great day!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks or a chance to win a copy!! This is on my TBR.

Michelle Mason said...

What an interesting path to publication! And this book sounds very powerful. I'm especially interested in how music plays a role :).

Cherie Reich said...

Congrats, Melanie! The Prophet Calls sounds like an amazing read.

jean602 said...

Great interview the book sounds great can't wait to read it.

jean602 said...


Tonja Drecker said...

Wonderful interview! It's always interesting to see the various routes people have when getting published.
I was glad to see that WriteOnCon is back this next year!

Anonymous said...

I love WriteOnCon so much, and as someone who's mostly homebound because of chronic illness, it offers me access to an experience I couldn't have otherwise. I'll be there this year!

Thank you for the giveaway.