An Interview With Novelist Melodie Bowsher

I talk to Melodie by phone Aug. 7, 2008 about her new book My Lost and Found Life.

Luke: "You were the first woman hired by the Wall Street Journal?"

Melodie: "That is correct. I hate to say how long ago that was."

Luke: "That’s quite an honor."

Melodie: "It happened to be at a time when the Journal decided it had to get with the times. They hired me straight out of journalism school. I was only 20 years old."

"I worked in the Dallas bureau for three years. They covered a seven state area. It was intense. The Journal commands respect wherever they are. We had some big companies to cover, mostly oil and airlines. You alternated between covering the hard financial news and you got a couple of weeks to work on feature stories."

"After the Journal, I discovered that newspapers weren’t where I wanted to be. They were a lot of fun in college but it was not so much fun at the Journal. It was a lot of intense pressure and responsibility. The president of an airline got fired because of an article I wrote. I found that uncomfortable. It was not what I wanted to do.

"I was only 23. I decided to travel around. I went to Colorado for a while and then I came to San Francisco. I ended up in marketing. I worked for Bank of America for a while."

Luke: "How did you come to write your first novel?"

Melodie: "I got laid off in the dotcom crash. From 1997-2000, I was working for a communications firm that did a lot of website development. Everybody was going to make a million. I lost all my stock options when the firm crashed. A lot of companies disappeared. Everybody who was out of work called themselves a consultant or writer. And I was a writer.

"I decided to take advantage of the hiatus and do what I had always wanted to do – to try to write fiction. I just started in 2001, I don’t know, fiddling around with it. And somehow the first line of the book came to me."

The first line: "Five days before I graduated from high school, my mother embezzled a million dollars and disappeared."

Melodie: "Because of my own brush with this kind of embezzlement, someone I knew, and the rest of the book developed easily from that first sentence.

"It was a long and arduous journey to get it published in 2006. I wrote it off and on as I worked on being a freelance marketing writer to pay the bills. Once I wrote it, I rewrote it four times while I struggled to find an agent. I was rejected by 42. Maybe it’s my Journal background. I actually kept a spreadsheet.

"It was hard. Sometimes I’d get discouraged and throw it in the drawer for a while. I’d think about starting another book and forgetting that one, but I was very attached to that book and the storyline so I kept at it. "Finally I landed an agent and she sold the book quickly after I found her.

"It was a grueling path to that agent. There are so many books being written and so many people wanting to write books and the number of bookstores is fewer. They are dominated by the large chains. It’s more difficult than it used to be to get published.

"When I started writing the book, I went away to a writing workshop in Sin Miguel Allende. I’d always wanted to go to San Miguel. I had a great week there. It awakened the dormant fiction writer in me.

"Sometime after I completed the first draft, I found a writing group here in San Francisco. It’s been going since before I was born (not with the same teacher). Anybody can drop in. It’s a wonderful process if you’re not faint of heart. It was very useful to me. I’d read seven pages a week. I was only up to page 40 when I found an agent. Then I stopped reading and sharing with the group because once your agent is marketing your manuscript, you don’t want to have a lot of versions flying around.

"I am working on another book. I belong to two writing groups now. I find them very useful. I would recommend that any writer go to a group. It’s hard to ask your friends for their opinion. If they don’t like your book, what do they say? That’s not useful."

Luke: "What did you find to be the hardest part of completing the novel?"

Melodie:"Letting go. You never really feel you’re finished. You always think you can improve it. I found finding an agent and selling the book a lot harder than writing it. It was a story that meant a lot to me. Not that I’ve embezzled money, but I know what it is like to be a mother who wants to give her kids everything and maybe goes too far and gets herself into some financial jeopardy.

"I have two children. Kids today expect everything. All their friends have new cars and are going to Europe. They have iPods and new Macs and they want to know where their stuff is. It’s very hard for single parents to come up with all of that. The book is about a spoiled and pampered girl who’s used to getting everything she wants. She was very similar to a lot of girls my daughter went to high school with. I can understand the desire to cut corners to give her child everything she wants."

Luke: "How did your children affect this novel?"

Melodie: "My daughter was horrified at first. ‘Everyone’s going to think it’s about me.’ In a way, it is about her. I did do things I shouldn’t have done to give my children the things they wanted. I say the words, ‘Home equity loan.’ Let’s just say I was foolish in the past, but not to the point of embezzlement.

"In the end, my daughter really likes the book.

"A lot of people told me they didn’t like the heroine. She was a brat. That I needed to make her more likable. But she was a character, yes, she was spoiled and pampered, but she didn’t do it herself. Somebody did it for her. She goes through change and transformation. All stories are about transformation. She becomes a better person because of her experiences. Life has made my daughter more practical.

"My son recognizes the real life incident that inspired the story. It was the father of his friend who embezzled money and disappeared. This boy ended up living in a camper behind a gas station. It was very sad. But he pulled out of it.

"I changed the story to a girl because I thought it would be an even more difficult situation for a girl. I fictionalized it a great deal."

Luke: "What have been the most interesting reactions you’ve received to the book?"

Melodie: "Most reaction has been great. It’s called a Young Adults book. I’ve been surprised by the number of 40 and 50 year old men who told me they liked the book. I didn’t write it intentionally for a young female audience. I was just trying to tell a good story."

Luke: "What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?"

Melodie: "We all struggle with self-doubt. I’m a journalist at heart so I don’t tend to wax poetic or add a lot of words to my writing or make it flowery. I have a journalistic style. Some people could say that’s a weakness. That happens to be what I like to read. I don’t like to read a book with a lot of extraneous digressions."

"I have to have time to concentrate to write. Stephen King supposedly wrote in his family’s laundry room with all sorts of distractions going around. I don’t find that easy."

Luke: "Do you find writing painful?"

Melodie: "It’s a matter of getting the first draft down, then working on it. Once I have the first draft down, I enjoy massaging it."

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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