melissaM.K. Clinton had a good year in 2013 and has a bright future in writing. She’s published two books, The Returns and The Returns 2 ~ Showstoppers. The Returns has already won a spot on the Authorsdb Top 50 and the Indie Book of the Day Award.bentleyandpierre

M.K.’s characters and stories have become overnight favorites for individuals who love a good story, but they are also vastly popular with group readers such as school classrooms, senior citizen groups, and even prison groups.  She has created characters which will, upon first reading, become instant favorites.  And they aren’t your everyday heroes and heroines: they are, instead, people who have been sent back from Heaven in order to fulfill their purposes on earth. Purposes which were cut off too suddenly – sending them straight to The Returns Department of Heaven.  Of course, they are all a bit surprised when, instead of human bodies, they are sent back in the bodies of dogs!

The Louisiana-based author writes with a rare mix of wisdom and effortlessness. Her characters are wonderfully funny, thoughtful, and insightful. Read on as she answers your questions about the amazing dogs she has based her characters on, becoming a writer, and some Returns back story.

Hi, Melissa! Thanks so much for joining me today. As a huge fan of your Returns series, I am thrilled to have you. Now, let’s get to some questions and answers!

I know that the dogs and cats that you write about are your own, either those still with you, like Bentley and Pierre, but also passed over the Rainbow Bridge, like Miss Gitty.  What gave you the idea to write The Returns with them as stars? 

My Basset Hound Bentley has a perfect number seven on his hip.  I knew that there must be a reason for him to have it besides him being our seventh dog.  I thought about writing a children’s book but the idea of making him an FBI Agent with that badge number just came to me one day.  The rest of The Returns just fell into their characters because of their personalities.  Writing about them is a joy because it brings the ones I’ve lost back to life.  I get to laugh, play, and enjoy them once again. 

Once you had decided that you were going to write, what particular challenges did you face?

I’ve always been a reader but had never thought seriously about writing as a career.  My husband urged me to sit down and put my stories into a book.  We have always made our pets “talk” and given them human characteristics.  The Returns is very easy for me to write because the dogs are very funny naturally.  My biggest challenges were diving into the business of self-publishing, self-promotion, and not knowing whom to trust for answers.  The publishing industry is a very vast ocean and there are some sharks swimming around looking for innocent victims.  Fortunately, there were some great people out there to throw me a lifeline.

Could you tell me a bit about your journey as a writer?  Were you that weird girl (like me) who was always with a book and constantly making up stories in your head?

I’ve always enjoyed making up stories in my head.  I used to read to my children and I’d ad-lib the lines in the books to make them laugh.  Once I became busy working and being a mom, I had little time to devote to pleasure reading.  I wrote newsletters, speeches, and that sort of thing but never attempted a book.  Most of my stories were just funny, off the top of my head tales to makes my children or the students I worked with giggle.  When the children graduated, I started reading books as though they were water and I’d been lost in the desert for years.  I had to catch up on several years of reading!

 One of my favorite things in your stories is the healthy, generous, respectful group friendship that your characters have.  What is your advice to those of us who wish to form supportive friendships like that? Hey, just because they are dogs doesn’t mean the advice wouldn’t work!

I think true friends are such a rare gift in life.  The Returns are such great friends because they respect each other, they accept one another as they are, support each other in everything, and they love to laugh.  If you can have a friend with those qualities, they are definitely worth hanging onto for a lifetime.  Of course, dogs are all born with those attributes, which is why they are considered man’s best friend!

What is the most encouraging thing anyone has ever told you about your writing? 

I have had some very encouraging responses from my writing.  My husband tells me all of the time that he knew I could do it.  I had a woman write to tell me she wanted me to become her personal storyteller and that I helped her through a dark time.  Seriously, I have been blessed with some amazing readers who have been incredibly encouraging to me.  It is difficult to narrow them down; I have had some reviews that were so touching, that they brought tears to my eyes.  When I wrote The Returns, I never expected such an outpouring of kindness.  It is very humbling.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination? 

Many of the funny things that happen to the characters are taken from real life experiences.  I could tell you what they are but I might have to go into a witness protection program!  Many of the sayings the gang use are common phrases here in the south.  I am sure that “Y’all” is one of the first words most southern babies say right after “Daddy” and “Mama.”  I have had several people read my books and say that it is just like talking to me.  I hope that is meant to be a compliment.

I was wondering if you could give some advice for writers who are just starting out. Whenever I see this question on my favorite authors FAQ page they always seem to give the same answer: Read, read, read. I was hoping if you could add more to this answer!

Reading is crucial to being able to write a book that you’ll enjoy.  I believe the key to writing a book that you’ll be proud of is to write about what you really love.  I know that next to my human family members, my dogs are whom I love most in the world.  They are my furry family so it’s like writing about my children.  I have loved dogs all of my life.  They are one topic on which I have a fair amount of knowledge.  It is important to know your subject, your characters, and to love the story.  If you don’t, it will be very apparent to the reader.

 What type of atmosphere do you write in? Do you lock yourself in a room alone, write at coffeehouses, or something in between? 

I like a quiet room with the blinds open and several cups of coffee.  The dogs are usually hanging around with me and occasionally bum a scratch but for the most part, I am in “the Zone” when I write.  It is not unusual for me to look up from my keyboard realizing that three hours have passed in a nanosecond.

Do you work with an outline, or just write? 

I never use an outline to write.  I will jot down pertinent facts, my timeline, and descriptions as I go along.  There are many times where I have to go back to re-read what I’ve written because I have no idea what I’ve typed.  This is how “the Zone” works with me.  I am usually as surprised by what The Returns do as my readers.  When I go back over a chapter, I can find myself laughing or crying just as if I’d never read it before, much less written it myself. I’ve read that writing is an acceptable form of schizophrenia because my characters definitely talk to me.  Once I start a book, they will pop in my head at the most awkward times.  I’ll stop on the grocery aisle and start typing on my cellphone so I don’t forget what they say.  They also like to chat amongst themselves just as I am almost asleep.  I think they do that on purpose!

Can you tell us about your upcoming book? 

I’m anxious to begin the gang’s new adventure.  I don’t want to give away too much for those who have not finished with The Returns 2 ~ Showstoppers but most of the new characters will be back.  The New Orleans FBI has been receiving bomb threats and the crew will certainly need to lend a paw to help catch the villain.  Faith will still be ruining perfectly good meals and as usual, Miss Gitty will be dishing out her “catty” advice.  It should be another great time in the Big Easy for dog and cat lovers or anyone who enjoys a fun imaginative book.

Finally, is there anything else you would like to talk about?  I know that you are a big supporter of animal rescues and animal rights causes.  What can we all do to help?

I have always had the desire to help the homeless and abused animals.  Like most people, I had no idea what I could do that would make a difference.  I have joined the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade that gives me an opportunity to voice my support for laws to protect animals.  My blog, “Barking from the Bayou” which I hope to establish as an informative and fun site for dog lovers to follow has ideas.  There are widgets on my sidebars that will provide a bowl of food for a pet, a petition for pet food safety laws, a pledge to not shop stores that sell dogs, a tab for ways to volunteer, and adoptable dogs.  There are so many ways that each of us can make a difference in our own communities.  I always thought it was so sad to see those little dogs in the shelter cages.  I finally realized it is sadder to see them in those cages when I was not doing anything to help.  One person can’t do everything, but every person can do one thing.

Thank you SO MUCH! It was, as always, such a pleasure to speak with you, and learn more about you. If my readers want to learn more about Melissa and her family of furry friends, check out www.mkclinton.com – it is a wonderful site!