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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Spotlight Saturday: Author Interview and Giveaway with Melissa Studdard, author of Six Weeks to Yehidah

Hi, everyone!

Welcome to another edition of Spotlight Saturday at Darlene's Book Nook, where we feature authors and their books!

We will be joined today by Melissa Studdard.

About Melissa:

Melissa Stud­dard is the author of the best­selling novel Six Weeks to Yehi­dah and the newly released My Yehidah (a companion journal that nurtures emotional intelligence, creativity, and authenticity). Since its August 2011 release, Six Weeks to Yehidah has been the recipient of many accolades, including the Forward National Literature Award and January Magazine's best children's books of 2011. She is also, with Scott Lutz, co-author of For the Love of All, which is the fifth story in the Mark Miller’s One series, and which debuted in the number one spot for Hot New Releases in Literary Criticism and Theory in the Amazon Kindle store. Her poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and arti­cles have appeared in numer­ous jour­nals and antholo­gies, and she cur­rently serves as a Reviewer-at-Large for The National Poetry Review, an editorial advisor for Lapis Lazuli Journal of The Harold Pinter Society of India, and a con­tribut­ing edi­tor for both The Criterion and Tiferet. As well, she is the host of Tiferet’s radio inter­view program, Tiferet Talk, which interviews writers and spiritual and religious leaders. A collection of these interviews, The Tiferet Talk Interviews, will be released by Tiferet Press this spring. Studdard is a professor at a community college in Texas. 

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Welcome to Darlene's Book Nook, Melissa! Please tell us a little about yourself.

I love animals. I’m always picking them up on the side of the road – usually dogs and cats – but I’ve had foxes, raccoons, possums, and other types of critters. I even tried to get a fawn into my car a few months ago. My daughter says if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I’d be the crazy cat lady.

Do you have a specific writing style? Do you write an outline, or do you write more “by-the-seat-of-your-pants”? 

I’m not a big planner as a writer. I like to create characters and throw them into situations and see what happens. I may know the ideas I want to convey, but I leave it up to the characters to drive the plot through action.  This allows me to participate in the journey of discovery right along with the reader, which makes the writing process more dynamic and exciting for me.

Do you discipline yourself to write a certain number of words daily? Or do you ever have dry periods where you do not write?

It’s very cyclical. When I’m working on a book, I get into the routine of writing daily, but, when I’m not, I sometimes take weeks or even months off at a time. I love writing more than almost anything else, but life experience enhances writing, so I have to force myself to live too! Haha. When I’m deep into a project, I’m a bit obsessive. Often, my daughter will come in to find me typing away in the dark because I’m so deeply into my writing that I don’t notice the sun going down. When this happens, she just turns on the lamp, shakes her head at me, and commits to cooking dinner that night. Likewise, because she is a writer too, when her writing is flowing well, I do whatever I can to support her and make sure she doesn’t have to stop until she’s ready. 

What is your ideal writing environment? Do you prefer music or solitude? Is there a time of day (or night) that you prefer?

Inspiration strikes at all times of the day and night, and I can write just about anywhere. The only real requirement I have is that I cannot have anyone behind me. If I feel like someone might be reading over my shoulder, I absolutely cannot write.

I like both music and solitude, depending on what I’m working on. I have a tendency to listen to the same song over and over when writing a poem, and the same cd or playlist over and over when working on a longer project. In a way, I use music as a tool to keep me in a consistent mental space. This is especially effective for reorienting me when I’ve had to step away and then come back to the writing. 

Are there any authors that influence your writing?

There are so many authors and works that I adore—T.S. Eliot, Hermann Hesse, Elizabeth Cunningham, Rainer Maria Rilke, Henry David Thoreau, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Dorothy Bryant, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Rabindranath Tagore, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and many, many more. I’ve also been inspired by The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and other children’s classics. I could go on for pages. I love to read, and reading is a huge foundation for my own writing. Let me just say that anything I read that is crafted with some authenticity of voice or spirit, even if it is very different from my own style and themes, is likely to inspire me in some way.

Six Weeks to Yehidah is your debut novel. Tell us a little about your journey to getting published!

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that difficult. Rather than flooding the industry with submissions of my book, I chose a few presses that I admired, and which I knew were publishing books like the one I had written. The research – finding the right places to send it – was the hardest part. Once I targeted a specific small group and got my book to the right people, the acceptance came rather quickly. 

How did you celebrate the release of your first book?
I had a release party at this wonderful bookstore in Houston called Kaboom Books.  So many great people came out to support me and get their copies signed. One of my favorite grade school teachers was even there! I hadn’t seen her in over twenty years.

Are any of the characters based on someone you know?
The funny thing for me about characters is that each one is a mix of different people I know. As well, most of my characters have a bit of me in them, though none of them are fully me. It’s a fascinating part of my creative process—seeing how this blending of features from different people will take shape. It’s all very organic in the moment of writing. I don’t even realize it usually. Then when I look at the finished piece, I say, “Oh, that’s where that trait came from!” 

Can you tell us about your current or upcoming writing projects?

I’ve got two projects forthcoming. 

I host a radio program called Tiferet Talk for the literary journal Tiferet. The publisher, Donna Baier Stein, has started a press associated with the journal, and the first book will be a compilation of the first year of the Tiferet Talk interviews. It’s filled with insight and wisdom about spirituality and writing. I was fortunate enough to interview people such as Julia Cameron, Robert Pinsky, Floyd Skloot, and Jeffrey Davis. They had so much to share. I can’t wait to see it all collected together as one book! Diane Bonavist, who designs the Tiferet journals, has done a stunning job so far with layout.

The other project is a new novel that I’ve just started.  This one is for adults and has a complicated plot, with lots of layers of mystery and intrigue, so I think it will probably take me a couple of years to write it. 

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I’m committed on so many levels to the literary lifestyle that much of what I do revolves around it, so when I’m not writing, I’m often reading. I also attend readings and literary festivals and give workshops, signings, and talks. And I edit literary journals and review and interview other writers.

When I’m not doing something in the literary arena, I like to meditate, spend time with family and friends, ride my bicycle, do yoga and kickboxing, cook, go out for meals and movies, and travel.

What book(s) are you reading now?
I’m teaching a course I designed called Wayfaring Heroes, so we are reading journey-based novels—The Wizard of Oz, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Siddhartha, The Road, The Alchemist, The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, The Sun Singer, and more. I’m loving looking at all the different ways—physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and so forth—that the journey can play out in literature.

At the top of the course syllabus, I have the following quote from the Rolling Stones. It’s one the motifs for the course, since most of the protagonists are seekers:

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need
--The Rolling Stones

Do you have any specific last thoughts that you want to say to your readers?

Actually, I would like to thank both you and the readers. It’s a delight to find kindred spirits in cyberland and to be hosted by people who value books as much as I do!

*Fun Facts*

Favourite music?  I like so many different kinds of music that I think it might be easier to identify my least favorite—country. I enjoy different music for different moods and situations. My daughter and I have so much music stored on an external hard drive that if you let it play continuously, it would play for a year without stopping.

We have 50 gigabytes of jazz alone, and that’s not including the subcategories of jazz, such as jazz vocal, jazz big band, bebop, Latin jazz, and so forth. Having said that, I must clarify that I do like some country music. I just wouldn’t collect 50 gigabytes of it.

Dog-lover or cat-lover? I adore both, but deep in my heart I am a cat lover. They are lower maintenance,and I admire their intelligence and mischievousness.  I think a lot of people who like to read are cat lovers. Having a cat on your lap and reading really go together very nicely.

Vanilla ice cream or chocolate? This is a very important question! You can learn a lot about a person this way. I’d have to say vanilla, but only because I’m allergic to chocolate. I’ve learned to love vanilla, and I even make my own cookies and cream ice cream with organic vanilla cream cookies. It’s divine!

If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be and why? You know, I always seem to go back to DaVinci on this one. The depth and breadth of his talent and intellect absolutely fascinates me. I would love to know what he was tapped into, or what it was that drove him, and I would love to be able to talk to him and study how his mind birthed and processed ideas. 

I can't live without my... computer. My daughter and I traveled through Italy and Greece for several weeks the summer before last, and we joked that “home is where the computer is.” Honestly, my computer does feel as much like home as my physical dwelling!

The craziest thing I ever did was... Oh my gosh! I’ve done a lot of wacky stuff. It might be easier to answer a question like, “What are the top ten crazy things you’ve done?” Haha!

Anyway, the thing that pops to my mind right now—maybe because I just mentioned Europe—occurred during my college years, when I studied abroad in London. A group of American students went to Oxford for a Friday day tour, and my friend and I loved it so much that we split off from the tour, got a hotel, picked up some new clothes and toiletries, and stayed for the weekend.

It never occurred to us that it wasn’t okay to do this, but when we got back Sunday night, our flat mates were in a panic, and our suite mother was practically hyperventilating. She’d called the embassy and everywhere else looking for us. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time and simply call her on the phone and say, “Hey—we decided to stay the weekend in Oxford.” We seriously had no idea she felt so much responsibility for us.

If I could take an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, I would go to...  My first choice would be Tibet, but since I can’t get in there, I’d probably choose India next, or a cruise down the Nile, or the Galapagos Islands …

One thing I would love to do is travel the world visiting holy and mystical sites and natural wonders.

 Thanks so much for joining us today, Melissa! It was a lot of fun getting to know you better!!

Two lucky winners will receive a copy of Six Weeks to Yehidah: One paperback and one Kindle copy. The paperback version is limited to entrants from Canada/US at the author's request.


The thing you would notice most was the rain, how the rain fell and fell and never seemed to stop. The sky was constantly swollen with it, then birthing it, swollen, then birthing again, and the hills, like greedy babies, suckled up all that rain. They shone and glistened green as the backs of frogs on bright green lily pads.

Annalise was ten then, old enough that she’d begun thinking about grown up things, like picking her own clothes out for school, yet young enough, still, to indulge in fanciful imaginings of enchanted trees and talking hills. Her best friends were the clouds that canopied her village and the verdant hills that hosted her most precious and outrageous dreams.

As spunky young Annalise travels from one adventure to another, she learns ancient wisdom traditions and gains deeper and deeper insight into herself and her world. Eventually she must make the most important decision she's ever faced -- whether or not to return to the self she has always known.

To enter the giveaway, please complete the Rafflecopter entry form below.

This giveaway is open to all (the paperback is limited to Canada/US entrants only), and it will close at 12:01 AM EST on Saturday, March 10th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Thanks for hosting me at your beautiful site, Darlene. It was such a pleasure to speak with you!

  2. I would also choose Tibet, but getting there is a problem. So are the costs. I really would like to see K2, Everest and the other high mountains in that neck of the woods.

    Glad to hear I'm not the only one who often listens to the same music over and over while I write.


  3. Yes - It would be such a dream to go to Tibet! Maybe someday we will. As a fan of your writing, I'm glad to hear that we both listen to the same song over and over. I guess it must be effective :)


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