Melanie Wells’s Bumps on the Road to Tupelo

I met Melanie Wells at a book festival in East Texas last month—she’ll tell you a little more about that—and I’ve become a big fan of her series of novels, which center around a psychology professor in Dallas who finds herself at the center of ongoing spiritual warfare, real angels versus demons territory with human souls in the balance. The book’s covers call them “suspense,” I think of them as horror novels with strong religious themes, and you’ll probably find a descriptor somewhere in between once you read them—which you really ought to. (You don’t have to start with When the Day of Evil Comes and work your way up to the latest, My Soul to Keep, but that’s how I did it.) Melanie blogs with her friend, Trish Murphy (who you’ll also hear about in her essay), at a blog called “Thelma & Louise.” Melanie’s Louise.

I did my best to convince them to blog a little bit more often—not about their projects, although those are cool, but about their friendship and their creative lives, because I believe those things make for a compelling story that will convince you that they’re very cool people whose projects are worth a look, and that’s when they’ll really reel you in. Which is pretty much how I feel about blogs for creative people in general…

melanie-wells.jpgThis is my wacky friend Lynette Shirk‘s idea of a brain explosion prophylactic:


I met Lynette at Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, TX, a fantastic blur of leopard print, fuchsia, and well-crafted words, and this headwear would have fit right in. I was there with my best friend Trish Murphy. Do all my friends have websites, you might ask? Only the interesting ones.

Which brings me to the topic of brain explosion. This happens to me regularly, which is why I’m so grateful to Lynette for her suggestion. A more sane person in a more sane profession (read: not a writer) would simply get her life under control rather than risk the ridicule of wearing a rubber headpiece with big orange flowers on it. A sane person would simply learn to file instead of pile. To fold while there’s still fluff. To pack up a trailer and move out of the time management disaster zone. Things of this nature. But this is not my destiny.

Trish, who is a rock star—really—and who, like me, was raised by creatives in a home with no office supplies, where the only snack in the refrigerator was olives (for martinis), and I complain regularly about the perils of the creative life. We talk daily, just to make ourselves feel better about the chronic disorganization that infects every single thing we do. And we buddy-breathe through the creative process. We take writing trips together to jolt ourselves out of the tar pit inertia that comes, for example, when you turn the corner in a novel (for me it’s always around chapter 10) or get your wheels stuck in the middle eight. All songwriters hate writing the middle eight.


I read an article recently about writers. (Of course I don’t remember where I read it—I wrote the name of the publication down on a sticky note, which is… somewhere). The article explained the entire thing. It turns out we’re all like this. To varying degrees, of course. It’s the engineers of the world who know how to make lists and think in straight lines and have procedures, for crying out loud. This is what engineers are for. I’m not sure what writers are for, but it’s not to produce and implement procedures, I tell you that, for sure.

What we should all do instead—and you know who you are—is pop in a beautifully written CD, like the Lucinda Williams record I’m listening to right now, and note the word Tupelo in that phrase she just sang. She had a million choices. But she picked Tupelo. And it’s exactly the right word. And I bet Tupelo didn’t occur to her until the third or fourth draft at least. Sometimes when I’m writing, I stick one of Trish’s records in the changer and remind myself about the trip we were on when she was scribbling those words on paper and then scratching them out, at high risk for brain explosion. And I hear lines like “When I touch, I do not feel; When I cry, I do not grieve; When I smile, it is not real; When I take, I do not receive.” Trish wrote that on 9/12/2001. And it’s a helluva song. (Here’s a 60-second MP3 sample.)

My new novel came out last week. It’s called My Soul to Keep, and it’s in a bookstore near you. I read from it at Girlfriend Weekend (and this video also has Trish singing part of another song):

But I swear, that’s not why I’m writing this blog. I’m writing to encourage us all to stop the madness. Cease the self-flagellation. Wear the headwear if you must. Because when you read your own words or hear them wafting into the room from your iPod, you can’t believe they’re yours. And of course they’re not. Not anymore. You gave them away the minute you wrote them down.

Hey. I guess that’s what writers are for. Tupelo is our gift to the world.

17 February 2008 | guest authors |