Throwback Thursday: Melanie Crowder on Parched

Congratulations to Melanie Crowder on her new young adult novel, Jumper (Viking, June 2022)! It received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Melanie recently joined the faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

Take a look back at Melanie’s thoughts on her debut novel, Parched (Harcourt, 2013). This interview first appeared on Cynsations June 4, 2013.

See the Teachers’ Guide for Parched.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Melanie Crowder is the first-time author of Parched (Harcourt, 2013) From the promotional copy:

A mesmerizing debut about a girl, a boy, and a dog struggling to survive in a parched and barren land.

Sarel is a girl with secrets. She knows which tree roots reach down deep to pools of precious water. But now she must learn how to keep herself and her dogs alive. 

Nandi is the leader of those dogs. She knows they can’t last long without water—and she knows, too, that a boy is coming; a boy with the water song inside him.

Musa is that boy. His talent for finding water got him kidnapped by brutal men, yet he’s escaped, running away across the thirsty land that nearly claims his life.

 And so Sarel, Musa, and the dogs come together in what might be their last hope of survival.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I made a couple of good decisions that have resulted in a wonderful writing community that supports and challenges me.

The first good decision I made was to pursue an MFA at Vermont College. The rigor of the program and the atmosphere of the school gifted me with true friends and very intelligent, insightful critique partners. I absolutely rely on their feedback.

The second good decision I made was signing with Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This agency is not only excellent at the business of selling books, but they have also fostered a community among their authors.

While my VCFA friends are scattered around the country, my agency represents several authors in Colorado. There are so many strange and exciting and daunting aspects of the debut process—it has been really wonderful to be able to turn to some experienced (and kind) authors for advice.

VCFA MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—this is hard!

The thing is, some writing tasks require every ounce of creative energy I have—like revising to meet my editor’s requests or drafting a new scene. But other tasks, such as making a marketing timeline or connecting with bloggers and teachers online or sketching plants for a field guide for students, take a lot less from me.

So I get up every morning before work to write for an hour. And I block out big chunks of time for writing and revising on weekends and holidays when my mind is clear and my creative energy is high. I can’t think of a single vacation I’ve taken in the last three years where I didn’t bring my manuscript with me!

Also, I am writing in some fashion every night after the day job is done, sending a few emails or adding new content to my website.

The best advice I have for other writers doing the same is to be kind to yourself. You can’t do everything, and if you try, chances are you won’t do anything well.

Set manageable goals for yourself. And celebrate them. Celebrating the little things—that’s a lesson I learned from you, Cynthia, so thank you!

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

The wonderful thing is, my editor found me.

When I was in my third semester at Vermont College (and supposed to be writing my critical thesis) this image of a girl and her dogs all alone in a desolate landscape wouldn’t leave me. So I began to draft what would eventually become Parched, my debut novel, a few scenes at a time.

By the end of the semester, when the time came to submit a few chapters for the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt prize for middle grade literature, I shoved all my doubts and insecurities to the back of my mind and sent in what I had.

I was thrilled when my manuscript was chosen and sent to HMH—a real editor at a fabulous house would be reading an excerpt of my story!

But the really great part was still to come. The editor who wanted to work with me, the editor who eventually acquired Parched, wholeheartedly embraced the risks I was taking with this story, and her support and guidance made the novel even better.

Yes, I am well aware of how very fortunate I am!

Melanie’s writing buddy.

Cynsational Notes

Photo by Tiffany Crowder

Melanie Crowder (she/her) is an educator, speaker, and the acclaimed author of nine novels for young readers. Her work has received numerous awards and starred reviews, and has been featured in publications such as The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal.

Kirkus Reviews declares that her 2021 historical YA novel, Mazie (Viking), “deserves a standing ovation” while her 2022 contemporary YA, Jumper (Viking), “is never less than riveting.” Melanie eagerly anticipates the release of two picture books in 2024.

Her YA historical novel in verse, Audacity (Viking, 2016), was awarded the Jefferson Cup and Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and was named a National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her middle grade novel, Three Pennies (Atheneum, 2018)+*, was named a New York Public Library Best Book for Kids. An Uninterrupted View of the Sky (Viking, 2019) was a Walden Award finalist. A Nearer Moon (Atheneum, 2015) was declared a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, the New York Public Library, and Bank Street College. The Lighthouse Between the Worlds (Atheneum, 2018) was a Colorado Book Award finalist, while her debut novel, Parched (Clarion Books, 2013), was a Junior Library selection.

A West Coast girl at heart, Melanie lives with her family under the big blue Colorado sky. She holds an MFA in writing and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a NSK Neustadt Laureate and NYT bestselling author. Her novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018, 2020) won an American Indian Youth Literature Award, and her recent books include Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021), an ALA Notable Book and winner of the Reading of the West Book Award for Young Readers as well as Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021), which received six starred reviews and made numerous “best of the year” lists. Her debut tween novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name was named one of the 30 Most Influential Children’s Books of All Time by Book Riot. Her 2023 releases are the YA novel Harvest House and the MG graphic novel, The Blue Stars: Mission One: The Vice Principal Problem, co-authored by Kekla Magoon and illustrated by Molly Murakami (both Candlewick). Cynthia is the author-curator of Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperChildren’s, and was the inaugural Katherine Paterson Chair at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program.