I’ve known Mel Campbell pretty much since I first joined the Crime Writers of Canada, and over the years, I’ve gotten to work with her more and more often. So it’s remiss of me not have to done this interview before now!
Mel is one of those folks like Alison Bruce, who can’t be content with one genre or another. So not only does she write crime novels like The Goddaughter and A Purse to Die For, but also time travel romance like Rowena Through the Wall.
This week, Mel launches her latest romantic comedy, Rowena and the Dark Lord. And she’s launching it at a special introductory price of $0.99. You can’t even buy a cup of coffee for that price!
Being someone who writes neither comedy nor romance (at least, not deliberately), I absolutely had to pick Mel’s brains. Here’s what happened.
PF: Rowena Through the Wall was your first Comic / Time Travel / Romance book, and now, you’re launching Rowena and the Dark Lord. In your “…Through the Wall” excerpt, I get a sense of breathless, fast-paced comedy. What’s the creative process for you, when writing, say, comedic dialogue? How easily does it come to you?
Melodie Campbell: It is the thing I am most comfortable writing, Pat! I got my start writing stand-up. I even did some in person, so I could test audience reactions to my work.
PF: When you’re about ready to submit, how do you know if a reader is going to find the funny bits funny?
MC: Ah! I have a team of guinea pigs. Two good writer friends are my testers. They are just wonderful. The only problem is, they expect everything I write to be laugh out loud funny. So that when I write straight, sometimes I get scolded.
But Pat – what I have found is that different people find different things funny. In Rowena Through the Wall, one of my editors was about to cut out a small part. I fought to keep it in. I have been told by some readers that this one sentence is one of the funniest things in the book. But not everyone gets it in the same way.
PF: Some have said that good comedy is tragedy narrowly averted. How much of that will we find in either of your two Rowena books?
MC: This is SO TRUE. I actually teach this in workshops. The Land’s End series (Rowena) is supposed to be fun, rollicking adventure with lots of comedy. However, the underlying premise is quite serious. In Land’s End, there is a shortage of women, due to violent wars and their aftermath. I was exploring the serious issue of: if women are scarce, would they be more valued and thus have more power in society? What I have concluded, after looking at some cultures where this has happened, is no. The opposite is true. When women are truly scarce, their movements are restricted to protect them ‘for their own good.’ Sounds an awful lot like being a chattel.
So while the book is funny, and I want people to enjoy the comedy, the underlying premise is uncomfortable. Some people have picked up on this. I am always thrilled when they do.
PF: Of course, then there are also your crime fiction stories, including The Goddaughter and A Purse to Die For (co-written with Cynthia St-Pierre). Can we expect the same kind of humour in these two books as well?
MC: Pat, I achieved a personal best this year when Library Journal compared me to Janet Evanovich. For me, it doesn’t get better than that. The Goddaughter is a crime caper and straight comedy. By that I mean, the purpose of the book is to make readers laugh and smile. The plot itself is funny. I reached far back into my standup writing days for this one.
A Purse to Die For is a classic Agatha Christie gathering of the suspects mystery. It has witty bits in it – “delicious humour” as one reviewer said. But it’s not a comedy in the way that Goddaughter is.
One of the problems comedy writers have is that audiences expect every single thing you write to be wacky comedy. I pull away from that when I write mystery, although I always interject humour somehow.
PF: And if a Rowena sequel wasn’t enough, you’ve also got a second Goddaughter story coming out in the fall, which will also be available through Rapid Reads. Is there a difference in the creative and editorial process between writing a full length novel like “Rowena…” versus a smaller book such as a “Goddaughter…” book?
MC: To be honest, the novella is my natural length. I got my start with short comedy, then moved to the short story. Thus my natural style is lean and fast. With comedy, you come in with a jab. You don’t layer words.
With Goddaughter, I wrote from beginning to end. It is one complete (and loony) tale.
To write long (70,000 plus words) I need to work hard. How I do it is this: I write my basic plot, the one the book must revolve around. That usually takes me to 50,000 words. Then I go back and layer in subplots to bring up the word count. The subplots are often where I lace the silliest humour.
PF: The path to success is long and twisty. Do you ever wonder if you made a left hand turn when you should have gone right? Any regrets?
MC: A doozey. In 1993, a producer from HBO saw my play “Burglar for Coffee,” called it “completely nuts” and offered me a spot writing pilots for them, which I turned down. This has to be the worst mistake ever made by someone not legally insane. I mean, who had ever heard of HBO?
Excerpt from ROWENA AND THE DARK LORD
I was beginning to get a very bad feeling.
“Did you volunteer for this job?”
“Yes.” Howard was now relieving himself off to my right.
“Why?” My voice was perhaps a little harsh.
“To get out of fighting, of course. Everyone says there’s going to be a big battle. It seemed like a good time to leave the castle.”
I rolled my eyes. So now I had a complete newbie horse dude who was also a coward to look after on this trip. Howard the Coward. Lucky me.
“Can we sit for a bit? I’m exhausted.” He plunked down on the grass. Then he sprang up again.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” He ran around in circles.
“What is it?” I watched in amazement.
“A bee! I sat on a bee.”
“Are you sure it’s a bee?” I said, crossing my arms. “Maybe it was a wasp.”
“Does it matter?” He was jumping up and down.
“Well, if it’s a wasp, you’re okay. If it’s a bee, the stinger will still be stuck in you. So when you sit down again…”
“Ahhh!! Take it out! Get it out!” He lifted his tunic and bent over.
I turned away. “I am so not doing that.”
Melodie Campbell achieved a personal best this year when Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich. She has over 200 publications, including 100 comedy credits, 40 short stories, and 4 novels. She has won 6 awards for fiction.
Click the title to buy ROWENA AND THE DARK LORD, book 2 in the Land’s End series, NOW AVAILABLE at the special introductory price of .99! (regular price $3.99, after May 1.)
But don’t forget to buy the one that started it all: ROWENA THROUGH THE WALL, book 1 in the Land’s End series.