This week, we have quite a treat. One of my Facebook friends, Melissa Tagg, author of Made to Last, has stopped by to chat with us. Her debut book is available now, and it's certain to wiggle into your heart with its small-town charm.
Andrea: Made to Last (MTL) is your debut novel. What surprised you most about your journey to publication?
Melissa: Ooh, interesting question. I think probably the thing that surprised me most was the incredible amount of relationships and friendships I’ve developed in these past few years. I had no idea when I started writing seriously in the fall of 2009 that God would bring such amazing people into my life. Mentors like Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. An amazing craft partner and other writing friends. It really blows me away.
Andrea: Did any of your characters take the plot into their own hands while you were writing Made to Last? Or did you have everything well in control?
Melissa: Oh my goodness, yes, characters definitely mucked up my original plot plans. Haha! Probably my biggest surprise was when an important character showed up a couple chapters earlier than I’d planned…it was just the most perfect writing moment. I remember squealing at the timing of it. But it forced me to go back and change a lot of what I’d planned.
Andrea: Which character was the most challenging to write? Why?
Melissa: The most challenging character was also the easiest character. :) Miranda Woodruff is my heroine and she’s very different from me in terms of career, talents and skills. But her emotional journey very closely mirrors mine. So writing her was easy in that I felt like it was pretty natural to write her responses to situations, etc. But it was also challenging in that it meant going through those emotional highs and lows right alongside her.
Andrea: What piece of advice would you give to a writer suffering with writer's block?
Melissa: Just write. Truly, I think that’s the best cure for it. Sit down and write. I think a lot of times we wait for inspiration or muse or a magical burst of creativity. But those moments are going to come and go. We can’t depend on them. They’re fickle. If we really want to make progress, the best thing we can do is learn to write through those dry spells, be determined and keep going. We can always go back and revise later…but if we spend too much time waiting around for inspiration, we’ll never get to “the end.”
That said, I do think there are things we can do to refuel our creativity and inspiration. I like to take walks and bubble baths. Exercising is great thinking time for me, even though I don’t generally love the actual exercising part! And I love watching movies with good dialogue…that always sparks my own writing.
Andrea: In MTL, Miranda Woodruff volunteered with Open Arms, a shelter for children with special needs, giving of her time and talents to help those in need. Have you ever been a volunteer? If so, would you share with us something that surprised or inspired you along the journey?
Melissa: Well, I have volunteered before, yes, but probably the thing that even more inspired that storyline is my dayjob. I work at a Christ-centered nonprofit which provides food, clothing, shelter and long-term life-recovery for those who are homeless and hungry. Volunteers are vital to our work, so that’s always in my head. And then, too, my nephew Ollie was born with Down syndrome and multiple heart defects…so he inspired the shelter piece of the story. As I’ve watched my sister and brother-in-law take care of him, I’ve often thought, man, what is life like for children like Ollie who don’t have the same kind of awesome parents he does?
Andrea: Is Open Arms an existing organization, or was it a creation of your own imagination? If the latter, did any specific organization or person in your life inspire it?
Melissa: I made up Open Arms, but I know there are places like that which exist. And I’m glad they do. And I mentioned Ollie above…he definitely inspired that piece of the storyline. I’m convinced he’s the coolest kid in the whole world. :)
Andrea: Miranda has traveled to Brazil to build houses. Have you ever participated in foreign missions? Did it involve house building?
Melissa: Yes, as a teen I went down to Mexico with my church youth group and we built a house. It was definitely a cool experience. And then when I was reporting, I wrote several stories about Habitat for Humanity—I love what they and other organizations do to help families in need.
Andrea: Are you a DIY (do-it-yourself) expert, like Miranda? How did your experience with tools help you write Made to Last?
Melissa: Haha, I am not at ALL a DIY expert. I’m just not crafty…and my main experience with tools has been people taking them away from me. I’m very intimidated by stores like Home Depot. So in writing Miranda’s character, I had to do a fair bit of research. I watched quite a few This Old House how-to videos and spent a lot of time Googling this and that. I will admit, there are some tools mentioned in MTL which I couldn’t pick out of a lineup of tools, I’m sure!
Andrea: What do you hope readers take away from Made to Last? What did you learn as you were writing it?
Melissa: At its core, Made to Last is about discovering who we really are underneath the trappings of successes or failures or relationships or lack thereof. So I really hope readers walk away thinking about who they are through a new lens. For me personally, this story hit me right where I needed it. I am someone who does tend to determine my self-worth or identity by what I do or don’t do…so writing this story was one constant reminder that my real identity is found in Christ.
Andrea: What's up next for you? When can we expect your next novel, and may we have a hint at what it's about?
Melissa: My next book is called Here to Stay and it releases in May 2014. It’s all about Blake, the fake husband, from Made to Last. I just loved the guy more and more as I wrote MTL, so I knew his story had to come next. :)
Andrea: Thanks so much for hanging out with us today, Melissa! I enjoyed your debut book, Made to Last, and am eager to see what you'll come up with next.
Melissa Tagg is a former newspaper reporter and total Iowa girl. Her first novel, Made to Last, releases from Bethany House in September 2013. In addition to her homeless ministry day job, Melissa is also the marketing/events coordinator for My BookTherapy. Melissa blogs regularly and loves connecting with readers at www.melissatagg.com.
Ways to contact Melissa Tagg: