Author spotlight: Melanie Mosher

Writer Melanie Mosher grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia and now lives on the eastern shore of the province with her husband in a little green house with a bright orange door. Always an avid reader, her love of writing began in Grade 2 when she won an essay contest. Her two daughters make me proud and her granddaughter, Emma, reminds her of the joy of childhood.

I love the little bit of info about yourself on your website. What was it like to grow up in a funeral home?

My Dad was a funeral director and licensed embalmer and my family lived in the upstairs apartment over the funeral home. I really didn’t consider it much different than anyone else’s home. We did have to be quiet sometimes as the noise we made upstairs traveled through the floor and could disturb the mourners below and my parents worked odd hours compared to other families. I can remember kids at school teasing me and telling me spooky stories, trying to scare me. I told my dad, and he quickly replied, “It’s not the dead you need to fear.” I never thought much more about it. It was my home. No, we didn’t get many trick or treaters at Halloween, but I did have plenty of friends who came to visit.  

Your latest book is called A Beginner’s Guide to Goodbye. What is it about? What is it like to have a new book come out during a pandemic?

A Beginner’s Guide to Goodbye is a story of loss. Ten-year-old Laney has lost her sister in a tragic accident and we see her and her family grieve. They travel to their cottage on the Northumberland Strait of Nova Scotia for the first time since Jenny’s death but Laney is worried her favourtie place may not be the same. It is a gentle story about a tough subject written for a young audience although suitable for all readers including adults. It is meant to provide comfort for those who have lost, and encourage empathy for those around them. It is meant to provide hope and spark difficult, yet necessary, conversations. 

It is a story that seems a bit “too” relevant right now. My sincere hope is that is may resonate with readers and provide comfort.

What do you like about writing for children and teens? 

For the younger readers, I love their honesty and their imagination. And I can always learn from them. For example, in my picture book, Fire Pie Trout, young Grace will not put the worm on the hook. For me, as the writer of a certain age, this was simply because it was gross and about her fear of trying new things. But when I went into the classroom and asked students in Grade 2 why this happened, they immediately told me it was because Grace didn’t want to harm another living creature. “Okay, but what about the fish?” someone else asked. It started a wonderful conversation about nature and the circle of life. A conversation I hadn’t expected.

What were some of your favourite books growing up?

This is a hard question to answer. I was fortunate to live a house filled with books and readers. My parents were generous when it came to the Scholastic book orders and my siblings and I spent much of our allowance at the local comic book store. I also frequented the local library. To name a few: Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are, Winnie-the Pooh, Clifford, the Big Red Dog, Pippi Longstocking, Baked Beans for Breakfast, The Pigman, and anything by Beverley Cleary, Judy Blume, Mark Twain, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

I would have to say money on workshops and courses about writing. Because, writing is a solitary endeavor, it is important to come together with other writers to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas. I still look back on the workshops I took at the WFNS in 1999-2001 (dates may be off as that’s a long time ago) with Norene Smiley and Carol MacDougall as the ones that set me on the path to becoming a published author. The encouragement of the instructors and fellow writers was/is a priceless thing.

Does your corner of the world — Gaetz Brook — figure into your fiction?

Not specifically, but my love of a rural setting and the importance of nature is part of my stories. My characters often know their neighbours, walk through paths, and climb trees. And can go fishing. When I give a presentation here in Nova Scotia and ask grade one students to tell me a “fishing story,” every hand flies into the air. Once, when I was in Toronto, I asked a group of kids to raise their hand if they’d been fishing. No one raised their hand. Up to that point, I had taken for granted how influenced I was by my beautiful province of Nova Scotia.

What has it been like for you during this strange time? Have you discovered anything about yourself that you didn’t know previously? What have you found to be difficult?

I’m an introvert, so staying home has been okay. I write, I read, I cook, I rake, I garden, I play solitaire. Again, I am grateful for my rural surroundings and my yard. Being able to get outside and be in nature is very important. Also, I am very grateful for technology. Having email, messenger, Facebook, Zoom, and twitter make it possible to stay connected with my family, friends, and other writers. Some of these I found overwhelming before, now they are necessary.

I used to say “If I had more time…”

Now, I have the time, but I find it hard to settle down and focus. Perhaps it was an excuse all along!

I am recognizing what’s important by recognizing what I miss most: hugging my family and friends, the freedom to come and go, and the sense of purpose that going to my day job gave me. But I also have immense gratitude for my government and our medical system and all those essential workers still going to their job each day.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I prefer to write early in the day.  I love to write by hand using pen and paper, my favourite being Hilroy scribblers. My computer is great for editing, rewriting, and sharing words, but the creative part, for me, is still with paper.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Criticism can be devastating if it comes too early in my writing process, so I have become very protective of first drafts. I do seek advice from others, and I think it’s important, and I do want and get feedback, both positive and negative. But if I’m still in the stages of developing an idea, negativity can squash it and the story fades away. Once the draft is complete, I’m not as vulnerable and I can welcome the input of others. And I do welcome the input. None of my writing is complete without the others. Writing is solitary, but it’s also collaborative.

What does literary success look like to you?

If I can help one person, make a difference in their world, have them recognize themselves in my story, then I have success. 

What are you working on right now?

My ideas seem to pick me, and don’t go away until I listen. When Vic Markham, the protagonist, in Goth Girl, first appeared in my imagination she intimidated me and I didn’t want to write a young adult novel about a girl dressed in black who was breaking the law and mouthing off to police. She was relentless and eventually I sat and let her speak. I’m glad I did.

I usually have more than one project on the go at a time. I am currently working on a non-fiction piece for adults, which is a completely new genre for me. It’s a memoir that details my journey with depression, not one that I would have volunteered to write, but as I’ve said, it is persistent.  Because it can get “heavy” at times, I am also working on an early chapter book about a young boy named Jackson. Jackson finds himself suspended from school for three days and must spend them with his cranky old neighbour, George. Discovering how these two unlikely characters become friends due to circumstance provides me balance.

 Questions by Marilyn Smulders

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Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that participants in any given workshop have similar levels of creative writing and / or publication experience. This ensures that each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their career stage. The “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions used by WFNS.

  • New writers: those with less than two years’ creative writing experience and/or no short-form publications (e.g., short stories, personal essays, or poems in literary magazines, journals, anthologies, or chapbooks).
  • Emerging writers: those with more than two years’ creative writing experience and/or numerous short-form publications.
  • Early-career authors: those with 1 or 2 book-length publications or the equivalent in book-length and short-form publications.
  • Established authors: those with 3 or 4 book-length publications.
  • Professional authors: those with 5 or more book-length publications.

Please keep in mind that each form of creative writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and writing for children and young adults) provides you with a unique set of experiences and skills, so you might consider yourself an ‘established author’ in one form but a ‘new writer’ in another.

For “intensive” and “masterclass” creative writing workshops, which provide more opportunities for peer-to-peer feedback, the recommended experience level should be followed closely.

For all other workshops, the recommended experience level is just that—a recommendation—and we encourage potential participants to follow their own judgment when registering.

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