It’s 1968 and Melanie is turning thirteen. It seems like everyone is growing up faster than she is, but that doesn’t stop her from being an incurable romantic. When a gorgeous new boy shows up in her boring, small town, she’ll do anything to be noticed by him.
When an unexpected sequence of events lands her the job of trusted babysitter for his unusual little sister, Melanie is thrilled to be admitted to his inner circle. But then she has to figure out what really matters—a chance to be around him or staying true to her family and her best friend.
Read this dramatic coming-of-age story and be immersed in a time of turmoil and change in the heart of one memorable young girl.
I’m so incredibly thrilled to welcome debut author Linda Shew Wolf to The Diamond Mine! Not only is this her first interview about her debut novel, but she is my awesome, precious older sister who is so dear to me. So this interview is very special indeed! It’s hard to know where to start, but here we go!
What’s the first thing you remember writing, and how did you feel about it?
When I was about six or seven, I remember writing a simple poem for Mom and marveling that I could make words connect with each other as if they were people singing together. Just in case anyone reading this doesn’t know already, this interviewer is none other than my beloved sister Nancy. It gives me such pleasure to have my first author interview with you, Nance!
The feeling is definitely mutual! When did you know you wanted to write a novel?
I think I always viewed myself as writing novels, ever since I fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and (blast from the past), the Honey Bunch series. Now I’m really dating myself, but in defense of my true age (62), these books were published in 1928, so I’m sure they were originally Mom’s. Anyway, I loved all this little girl’s adventures, and I wanted to be just like her.
You know me, I’m a huge fan of the Little House books, too!
Since you’re a musician, how is writing different from music in terms of expressing yourself?
It’s funny. One of the things I value most about music is its immediacy. You play some notes, express yourself, it hits the air and it’s gone. Like the wind. And that’s what makes it so compelling. Even when I’m recording, I am inside this sacred sense of the moment, and I usually object to any excessive editing, autotuning, or processing of anything I’ve played because I want to honor that. Writing, however, is loaded with layers of effort. Being an editor by trade, it is often difficult for me to achieve that same sense of the moment when writing, so when a story really takes off and gives my editor-head a swift kick in the tush, I couldn’t be happier.
I have to admit that I just love the fine-tuning part of writing, especially going back to lay down more support for the actions and feelings of the characters. Some of my favorite scenes were added later to round out the picture I see in my head while I’m writing. It’s a lot like song development. The core of the song is there, raw and beautiful, complete in its own way, and then I get to add textures, harmonies, and rhythms to enhance it.
Wow! What a wonderful, thought-provoking answer! I love it!
How did you get the idea for this novel?
I dedicated it to our daughter, Julie, because I started writing it when she was about 12 and starting to have her first big crushes on boys. I was a romantic young lady myself back in the day, and I wanted to write something for her about how powerful these attractions can be—so powerful that you can lose yourself in them, as well as lose track of people, ideas, and beliefs that are important to you. This power needs to be respected and understood, as it can be a real game-changer.
The weird thing is, this novel started out as a simple exercise in a small writing group I belonged to: “Write a paragraph or two about a person who reminds you of an animal.” My original paragraph is still the opening paragraph of the book:
“The lion boy stood waist-deep in the pool. There was no other way to describe him.
“Melanie’s magazine dropped to her lap and the watery racket of children’s voices around her faded to a soft hum. The boy held his back and neck with regal straightness, surveying his surroundings with fierce disdain. His eyes flickered at various points around the pool. He was an exotic, caged animal looking for a way out.”
That’s a powerful opening, and really grabs the reader’s curiosity. Are you a seat-of-your-pants writer, or do you work from an outline?
Definitely seat-of-the-pants! If anything, it feels as if the story and its characters are piloting a plane and I’m trailing behind gripping a bit of flimsy rope, trying to hang on.
I know exactly what you mean! Pretty wild ride sometimes! Give us a thumbnail description of your main characters.
Melanie, the central character, is a 13-year-old “late bloomer” with the romantic imagination of a much older teen. In 1968 in a small town in upstate New York, she is the only white girl at her school who is best friends with a black girl. That’s not the only thing that sets her apart. Though she wants desperately to fit in with the more mature-looking and mature-acting girls in her grade, she holds true to her integrity and uniqueness and helps hold her family together, too. Until Jonathan comes along.
Jonathan, even at 13, is a natural-born rock star, gorgeous and charismatic. He’s suddenly a very big fish in a very small pond when he is plucked away from his life in New York City by his mother’s remarriage and deposited in Melanie’s little town. Jonathan has many plans for his big escape from Nowhere, USA, and to his delight, he finds a willing accomplice in lovestruck Melanie.
Josephine (Jo) is Melanie’s best friend. Smart, no-nonsense, and with big plans of her own to become a history professor, she takes a dim view of Melanie’s deepening crush on Jonathan. Her vibrant family life and church community have always been a source of strength and comfort to Melanie, and Jo finds it hard to believe that Melanie would risk losing all that and their close friendship over a boy.
Melanie’s Grandma, Grandma G, is her favorite person in the whole world. She’s great at keeping secrets, only giving advice when asked, and never judging—plus she makes cookies and hot chocolate for their late-night Scrabble marathons whenever Melanie sleeps over. Melanie respects her Grandma’s devotion to her church and to lots of prayer, but when Melanie begins to doubt, she isn’t sure if Grandma G will accept her or approve.
Tracy is Jonathan’s 6-year-old sister and is autistic. In the 60s, not much was done for children with autism besides placing them in a separate room at school with other disabled children, and Tracy was used to being misunderstood. Baffling her mother, her teachers, and other babysitters, Tracy finds a kind, compassionate ally in Melanie. Despite Melanie’s original intention of worming her way into Jonathan’s life by becoming Tracy’s babysitter, Melanie finds herself drawn to this unusual, endearing child.
You’ve got some mighty interesting characters and conflicts there. Sounds marvelous! Is there an underlying message you hope readers will take from your book?
Well, I hope readers will see that our feelings, at any age, are valuable and need to be understood, and that God is there even though he seems far away when situations are complicated. I tried to portray a complex character going through a tumultuous time in her young life, making choices and having reactions we can relate to.
How much of yourself is in your characters?
There’s a lot of me in Melanie, certainly, though I wish I had her feistiness. I know I painted some of myself into Melanie’s mother as well.
I’m glad they contain some of your sweet, warm character! This is your debut novel. What are your feelings on becoming a published author?
Giddy, totally giddy. I don’t think it’s quite set in my head yet that this lifelong wish is becoming a reality. It’s pretty cool, and of course, I have you to thank for all your encouragement, as well as Jacqui and Joan at Prism for theirs!
What are you working on now?
I’m busy on a novel dedicated to our son, Chris, about an 18-year-old boy who spends most of his time and nearly all his energy dreaming. This one has more of a psychological, almost scifi, twist to it and poses the questions: What if God uses the best part of us while we’re sleeping to help others across the world who are awake (and vice versa)? What if we are much more connected to each other in our dreams than we could ever imagine?
What a unique premise! I can’t wait to read it! Thank you, dear Linda for this interview. I’m so thrilled for you!
Linda’s book release date is August 7th. If you leave a comment for her, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a copy of “A Firefly Life.”
Here’s an excerpt from her book:
Well, at least today, she wouldn’t have to worry about propping her eyelids open in class. Just before the bell rang, the new boy sauntered in and headed for the last empty seat at the back of the room. He acted like he didn’t notice the way the buzzing in the room swelled to a crescendo, or the way all the heads turned toward him like starving flowers groping for the sun.
The air became electric. Melanie felt as if her hair was standing on end. She clamped her fingers around her composition book and willed all the blood in her body to flow away from her face and down her arms. Thank God, he was sitting behind her and couldn’t see her face!
This is all in Your hands now, God. You’ve got to get me through this!
Melanie had a hot-cold relationship with God. Most of the time, she barely thought about Him. She had even nodded in agreement once when Barry Muldoon explained why he was an atheist. Some of his arguments did make sense. But at times like this, when her heart was threatening to slam a hole through her chest any second, she remembered how many times God had certainly rescued her in the past.
Now here’s a short bio and Linda’s social links:
Linda Shew Wolf grew up in Ithaca, New York. She graduated from Cornell University and went on to play saxophone in an R&B band in Chicago, where she met her husband, Bobby, a fellow musician. After raising two children, they both returned to performing, and she also rekindled her lifelong passion for writing fiction. She now works as a curriculum consultant for elementary and middle school students in Chicago, sharing her love of writing and music with young people of all ages.