Melinda Viergever Inman was raised in the tornado capital of the U.S.—Wakita, Oklahoma, of “Twister” fame. There her roots were sunk in a storytelling family. During years of relocation, tragedy struck. Wounded and heartbroken, Melinda forsook her roots and ran from herself and from God. A journey of trial and heartache brought her home again. A prodigal now returned to her secure foundation, she writes with passion, illustrating God’s love for wounded people as he makes beauty from ashes. Refuge, her first novel, is published by Koehler Books Publishing.
CLARICE: What lessons have you learned from this writing journey?
MELINDA: I’ve learned that God comforts believers in hardship, equipping us to illustrate his goodness in trial. This requires suffering. We are then able to encourage broken people, showing how God orchestrates beauty from our ashes. I wanted a rosy, sunshine-filled, pain-free life, but God continues to equip me to write for this particular audience.
My heart overflows with compassion for those who suffer from their own choices, from situations outside their control, or from the actions of others. I am one of them. If the Lord can orchestrate my messy life for good, I know he can do the same for my readers.
CLARICE: As a committed Christian, do you plan to seek publication solely in the Christian market? If not, how do you see yourself fitting into the general publishing market?
MELINDA: This raises a question. If we write raw, emotional content for broken people like us, should we aim solely at the Christian market? Or should we try to embrace the secular market as well? Penning this type of material shapes how we seek to publish.
Refuge is the story of Cain, Abel, Lilith—the sister Cain desires to marry, and what happens next. It deals with sibling conflict, a relationship we would consider to be incest, fratricide, immorality, cutting, attempted suicide, revenge, and redemption. It’s gritty.
I made the decision to seek a broad audience. So I was thrilled when I received a contract with Koehler Books, a traditional publishing house owned by a Christian publisher. For distribution we chose to label Refuge as both Christian and open-market historical fiction. Straddling both made for tricky marketing and a learning experience.
CLARICE: How has your faith played a role in helping you share your story?
MELINDA: Authors and publishers must learn to think creatively for the good of our audiences—the people who need the uplifting themes of our stories. We must move outside our comfort zones. This isn’t easy. There will always be people who don’t understand why we’ve written or marketed our stories as we have, but the impact these novels have on broken lives makes it worth the challenge.
My publisher and I have walked a fine line in moving Christians to buy a novel from a traditional house while prompting the open market to respond to a novel that has “Christian” attached. As we discuss publishing Fallen, the next novel, we tweak our strategies.
CLARICE: What else have you written? And what are you working on now?
MELINDA: There are three books in this first series, but I have also written stories in other genres. All of them deal with faith issues from the perspective of a protagonist who is wounded or suffers within the story. My lead characters make tragic mistakes, have had crushing childhoods, or have been hurt by religious people. They have an ax to grind with God.
These types of stories appeal to both church-injured, world-weary Christians and to those who don’t claim to have faith, have been hurt, and yet still yearn for God.
CLARICE: How do you plan to get these stories to your target audience? What if you can’t find the right publisher?
MELINDA: I love and trust my publisher, but I believe we also need to have open minds about quality self-publishing. He agrees. We may want control over the details and timing of a novel, we may plan to publish an off-genre tale from our usual niche, or, just maybe, we don’t want a Christian label on a project we’ve aimed at a wider market. This business decision is especially true if we’ve written a book that draws unbelieving people to Christ.
To target this audience we must be willing and able to avoid preaching. We don’t have to supply every detail about God or faith within each story. We have to let our characters be true to themselves without our author voice intruding to moralize. Consequences, both good and bad, must be shown, not told. Or, as we did with Refuge, we have the option of including a study guide that has reflective faith content, if the reader desires it, leaving the story more accessible to a general audience.
In whatever ways we yield as finely honed tools in the Lord’s hands, he draws the reader. Writing for both markets has been difficult, but rewarding. When I hear how my story has touched hurting or discouraged readers, believer or nonbeliever, I am full of joy.
Serving the Lord in the area to which he has called us as writers provides great reward, whoever the audience or whatever the subject matter.
Have you found your niche? Do you seek to write outside the boundaries of the typical Christian market? What are your experiences?