ward-winning author Melody Carlson has hit a gure
that most authors only dream about: her sales are
around seven million
now. Her readers—too many to
count—include children, preteens,
teens, and adults. Some of her most
popular works are the Diary of a
Teenage Girl series and the True
Colors series. How does she stay so
popular with her readers?
“When I decided to write for
teens, I was determined to keep it
real. I try to write about issues that
are relevant today. I try to write
honestly, but with a good dose of
hope. And I get more letters from
teen girls than anyone else. That is
very satisfying,” said Carlson.
Carlson knows how to reach
readers who have a heart for the
holidays too. For the rst time
in her writing career, she had
three Christmas books on the
bestsellers list at the same time.
Christmas Tails, The Christmas
Angel Project, and The Christmas
Joy Ride were denitely seasonal
favorites for many shoppers.
“That was a delightful gift for
me!” Carlson said. “It was a sweet
encouragement during a somewhat
stressful season.”
Another nice delight for Carlson
during the rst part of 2017 has
been launching her latest Mulligan
Sisters novel, As Time Goes By,
which released in April. This series
tells the story of four young women
living in San Francisco during
World War II. Carlson was inspired
by hearing stories from aunts,
uncles and grandparents who lived
during that time.
“I could tell from their stories there was something very
special about that era. The more I’ve researched it, the
more I respect the way our country
really banded together to ght a
very important war. And I love
the way people on the home front
rolled up their sleeves to do their
part too. It was truly an amazing
era. I just nished writing the third
book in that series and can’t wait
to write the fourth one. I just love
those Mulligan sisters.”
Carlson’s Follow Your Heart
series remains another favorite with
readers who can travel along with
the characters to a different city
highlighted in each book. Carlson
wanted to bring her fans along on
an adventure. “I’ve always loved
traveling. I circled the globe before
I was twenty. But I realize not
everyone gets to travel like that, so
I thought a series that transported
readers to interesting spots might
be fun. I decided to start with U.S.
cities. I picked New York simply
because it’s such an amazing and
diverse city, and San Francisco
because it’s my birthplace (and fa
vorite city), and Savannah because
it’s so beautiful and historic.”
Carlson shared her exciting
news about one book in this
series. “All Summer Long has been
optioned for a Hallmark movie.
The script is already in progress,
and the producer hopes to go
into production soon. Ironically,
although I set the story in San
Francisco, it will be lmed in
British Columbia. But because the
8 Southern Writers
by Chris Pepple
Keeping it Real

story is about restoring an old yacht into a dinner cruise
boat, Vancouver Bay will provide a great setting.”
Carlson may juggle writing many different series for a
variety of age groups, but she knows that some things must
be present in each work to live up to the expectations of
all readers. “I believe the ingredients for good storytelling
remain consistent. Basics like characterization, plot, setting,
dialogue are important whether the reader is eight of eighty.
Of course, there are elements like content and vocabulary
that require extra attention—and it helps to relate to the age
group I’m writing for. But a good story will usually hold up
for any age group.”
Throughout her career, Carlson has managed to nd
many good stories and publish them at an amazing pace.
She averages writing a chapter a day (around 2,500 words)
when she is on a deadline, but she often doubles that
number if she’s near the end of one book and feels inspired
to nish. At one point in her career, she published ten books
a year. She now still releases about ve a year, a number
many authors are still hoping for in a career.
What’s the easiest part of the manuscript for Carlson
to write? “That’s a good question. I’m tempted to say
characters, but it might actually be dialogue—or so I’ve
been told by producers interested in adapting my books for
Carlson encourages other writers to develop characters
that draw the readers in. “Create characters that you care
about, give them problems and challenges that tug at your
heart and pull you in—let your characters take over. I also
like a good setting with some ‘take you there’ description.”
Where do the ideas for her characters originate? “I
honestly feel like they choose me. I know that sounds crazy,
but I’m not an outliner or planner. I just start out getting to
know a character right on the page, letting them develop
in front of me, and as the story moves forward I’m usually
surprised by a few things. But, to me, that’s the fun part—
and why I keep on writing and writing and writing.”
Where does Carlson prefer to do all of this writing?
“Although we still live near the mountains, we downsized
into the city limits almost two years ago. My new writing
space is a small studio that I designed and my husband
built. It’s like a tiny house located in our backyard by our
sh pond—and very peaceful. I used to say I could write
anywhere—whether it was calm or chaotic—but over the
years I’ve discovered my tolerance for distractions while
writing has decreased, so the quiet setting is appreciated.”
Despite her busy writing schedule, Carlson does manage
to squeeze in some time for reading also. “I have a number
of favorite authors, but I remember loving Rosamunde
Pilcher books and wishing I could write like her. I still
greatly admire her style. She’s a pro at characterization,
description and just a very ne storyteller.”
Carlson’s readers could very well say the same thing
about her—she’s a pro who is always “keeping it real.” n
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