Creative Spark: Melissa Crandall on ‘Three on a Match’ (Q&A)

Today, I have the pleasure and privilege of sharing virtual space with Melissa Crandall.

Melissa is a contributor, most recently, to Three on a Match (Books & Boos Press)—the second title in the publisher’s “Terror Project,” following Triplicity (2016). A Pushcart-nominated author, she writes narrative nonfiction and speculative fiction, and recently sold a short story–“The Last Zookeeper”– to The Wild Musette. Her book, The Man Who Loved Elephants: 30 Years at Oregon’s Washington Park Zoo, is currently being shopped to publishers by agent Bonnie Solow. Melissa’s work has appeared in Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut AuthorsChicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness, and Allegory, and has been featured on The Drunken Odyssey; she made her professional literary debut with media tie-in novels for Star Trek, Quantum Leap, and Earth 2. A member of The Authors Guild, Melissa makes her home in Connecticut.

Me at Zoo
Melissa Crandall

Praise for Three on a Match:

Three on a Match is a frightening menagerie of horror that offers a shocking blend of well-crafted tales to keep you up at night. My imagination was fueled by this nail-biting collection!” Patrick Rea, Director of Nailbiter and Arbor Demon

“Spooky, sinister, spine-tingling: these three keep-you-up-all-night tales of horror by Kristi Petersen Schoonover, g. Elmer Munson, and Melissa Crandall have it all!” Lauren Baratz-Logsted, author of The Twin’s Daughter

From the publisher:

PLAY WITH MATCHES AND YOU’LL LIKELY GET BURNED.

In Three on a Match, the second book in the Terror Project series, you’ll find not everybody makes it out alive.

SPLENDID CHYNA by Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Cece’s hoping for a fresh start for her and her family when she moves to Kissimmee, but soon terrifying visions, strange artifacts, and her daughter’s erratic behavior prove that some dark secrets can’t be left behind. Although she’s done with the past, it’s not done with her–and she may be doomed to repeat it.

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS by g. Elmer Munson

Harkening back to classic pulp and grindhouse, police officer Angel Lewis has problems–with anger management, a frustrated and distant wife, a precocious daughter . . . and bourbon. The one thing he doesn’t have a problem with is busting baddies–until a typical call turns into a shocking bloodbath, and he discovers one of those bad guys has been holding more than just a grudge.

THICKER THAN WATER by Melissa Crandall

Cora has secrets: her heart aches for her husband at sea; a young man is relentless in his unwelcome attention; she’s a witch, and her burgeoning daughter will be, too. Before long, there is vicious gossip, slaughtered livestock . . . and a witch hunter arrives. Cora insists she’s innocent, but will enough evidence be brought forth that even she begins to wonder?

Three On A Match

Now, Melissa offers an insightful glimpse into her writing life …

John Valeri: Tell us about “Thicker Than Water,” your story in Three on a Match. What was the creative impetus – and how did you go about capturing an authentic sense of time and place while maintaining modern sensibilities?

Melissa Crandall: “Thicker Than Water” takes place around New London, CT during the height of the whaling era. Cora Coleman’s husband Brendan is away on a whaling ship, leaving her at home with their six year old daughter. When the unwanted attentions of a neighbor are spurned by Cora, he retaliates by accusing her of witchcraft, culminating in a showdown with witch-hunter Orias King.

The genesis of the story came about in an interesting way. I was working on another project when I suddenly heard a small child’s voice say, “Mam? What’s a succubus?” I thought, Wow, that’s an interesting line, jotted it down on a scrap of paper, and shoved it aside. When I got back to it a few weeks later, the entire first scene literally wrote itself. From there, all I had to do was be open to letting Cora tell the story on her own terms.

I’m glad you think the story captures that authentic feeling. I did quite a lot of research about New London and the whaling industry in order to place “Thicker Than Water” in the right time, but I have to give most of the credit to Cora, who really spoke through me. I think she’s the reason the story feels rooted in time and place.

JV: This book is the continuation of a “Terror Project.” In your opinion, what is the role of fear in fiction – and how do you prefer to explore it in your own writing?

MC: I never intended to write horror of any kind. I couldn’t imagine writing it; I didn’t believe I had the sensibility or chops or whatever to tackle it. I’d read things by bonafide horror writers and think, “No way. I can’t do that.” Stacey Longo, publisher and editor at Books and Boos Press, changed my way of thinking when she challenged me – let me rephrase that—ordered me to write two horror stories for her Tricks and Treats anthology. Knowing better than to cross “She who must be obeyed,” I accepted the challenge. It taught me that I could, indeed, write horror … which was pretty cool to discover. Writers should be open to learning new things, particularly about themselves.

As to the role of fear in fiction, I think it’s basically a simple one. Reading something frightening allows us to approach our demons and battle them within a “safe” atmosphere.

JV: “Thicker Than Water” is a novella, though you’ve also written short stories and full-length books (both fiction and non-fiction). What are the unique challenges and creative liberties of each – and how did you know this story was fitting of its format?

MC: When I begin working on a story, I never set out to make it a certain length. The story will tell me how long it needs to be. I’ve written pieces of less than 300 words, and I’ve written pieces over 80,000 words. In fact, when I finished “Thicker Than Water” and submitted it to Stacey at Books and Boos Press for consideration, she said she liked it and wanted to buy it, but it was too short. Would I be willing to revise and expand?

I was willing to try, although I wasn’t certain there was anywhere in the manuscript where I could do that. Silly me! It soon became clear that I’d not delved as deeply as I might into who Cora was and her relationship to the townsfolk who, ultimately, betray her. Once I saw that, I had no difficulty at all adding meat to the tale.

I don’t experience particular challenges when it comes to writing short pieces as opposed to longer ones or vice versa. Each story/article/etc. will present its own difficulties along the way. I wrote only fiction for a long time, but a few years ago I started a blog about my mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s, which gave me the liberty to be in the real world and speak my mind, including both the ugly and surprisingly beautiful sides of the illness. There’s something particularly…freeing  I guess is the word I’d use…when it comes to writing nonfiction, which probably seems odd since one would think the world’s the limit when it comes to fiction, but fiction has its rules, too. If you create a world, you must adhere to the rules of that world, and they aren’t always rules that you, as writer, invent or even anticipate.

Three On A Match_Authors
Three on a Match authors Melissa Crandall, g. Elmer Munson & Kristi Petersen Schoonover. (Photo credit: Books & Boos Press)

JV: This collection is published by Books & Boos Press. How did the collaborative process work? Also, what have you found to be the advantages of using a small press?

MC: Books and Boos is the only small press I’ve done business with so far, so I can’t respond widely to this question. But they’ve been incredibly easy to work with. Stacey, as editor and publisher, has definite ideas about how she wants a project to look, but she’s not so hide-bound that she won’t discuss modifications with the author to reach a middle-ground. I’ve found her to be a pleasure to work with, not least because a small press can offer the writer more direct attention than might happen at a larger publishing house. There’s definitely a family atmosphere…a surprisingly functional family, too, oddly enough.

JV: You have a non-fiction title – The Man Who Loved Elephants, which is very much a passion project – currently looking for a home. Share a little bit about this.  – How can readers help support you in this endeavor?

MC: The Man Who Loved Elephants is the culmination of a two-year project to tell the story of Roger Henneous who, for 30 years, cared for the largest captive herd of breeding elephants in North America.

I met Roger 20 years ago when I was a volunteer at the Metro Washington Park Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo) and spent an evening participating in an around-the-clock medical watch on elephant matriarch, Belle. The experience impacted me so heavily that I never got it out of my mind. Eventually, I sought Roger out and he agreed to tell me his entire story.

The completed manuscript is being shopped around to publishers at the moment. Writing a nonfiction book before having sold it is a bit out of the ordinary, but I went ahead because I knew I was going to write it no matter what. I say “going to,” but I really felt compelled to write it. I had to.

And it’s a great story, if I do say so myself! The man had a fascinating life with the elephants, experiencing everything from newborn calves to almost losing his life twice; once to a male elephant named Thonglaw, who wanted to flatten Roger like a smashed pumpkin, and once by a brand-new mother named Hanako who decided Roger was a threat to her calf. On that occasion, he was saved by Belle, the elephant that brought us together for the first time. Their relationship forms the backbone of the book.

Those interested can share in the journey by going to www.themanwholovedelephants.wordpress.com and clicking on “Follow.” I’ll be sharing insights into Roger, his life before, during, and after the zoo, and the individual elephants he worked with. Readers can also check out my website at www.melissacrandall.com

***

With thanks to Melissa Crandall for her generosity of time and thought.

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