Inspired by an article on Hell Houses (haunted houses of sin) she wrote for ELLEgirl magazine, journalist Melissa Walker set out to delve deeper into the culture of this phenomenon, as well as the community that creates them. The result: Small Town Sinners, a universal story of first love and finding your voice set against the backdrop of extreme religion. This thought-provoking, touching story of faith in family, friends and self will have readers endlessly talking about and sharing this break-out novel.
“I was so intrigued by the small town I traveled to and the warmth of all the teenagers I met, plus their obvious passion for this production, that I had to revisit that world,” said Walker.
Hell Houses are often run by fundamentalist Christian churches and emphasize the belief that anyone who does not accept Christ as their personal savior is condemned to Hell. The way they often work is that a script is written covering a variety of sins each of which is performed within its own vignette in its own room in the house. A guide leads the visitors through each room acting as narrator. The performances have a controversial tone focusing on issues such as abortion, suicide, drinking and drug use, premarital sex, and homosexuality. Hell Houses usually take place in the fall.
Small Town Sinners is the story of Lacey Anne, daughter of the pastor and perennial good girl, who is eligible for a lead role in the season’s Hell House production—a role she’s been coveting for years. But when Ty moves to town as casting begins, a new perspective is added to Lacey Anne’s world and she starts to see her tight-knit, Evangelical community in a different light. With the help of her two best friends Starla Joy and Dean, and her potential first love Ty, Lacey Anne begins exploring her own thoughts and feelings about her religion, her community, and her place within both. While this novel deals with provocative issues like religion, teen pregnancy and underage drinking, it is not an “issue” book; the topics are masterfully interwoven into this story of friendship and family.
Jenn: What’s your favorite gizmo advertising your book?
Jenn: My current release, Love Story, is set in a creative-writing class. Did you ever take a class like that, and what was your experience?
Melissa: I took creative writing in college, and I completely wrote about my real life without much fictionalizing at all. I had a lot of friend-and-guy drama, and I used that class more like therapy than a writing class... I don't think I learned much, which was my own fault.
Jenn: My heroine longs to be a novelist. Was your journey to publication filled with longing? Quick and easy? How did you make it?
Melissa: My journey involved 7 years of writing for magazines. I sold my first three novels, the Violet on the Runway series, pretty quickly after I decided to try books, but those magazine years laid a lot of groundwork! Here's the full story, uncut: http://www.mediabistro.com/articles/cache/a9841.asp
Jenn: In one of my creative-writing classes, I was taught never to write about writing. Oh well. Were you taught this too? Are there other writing rules you were taught that you still remember and either follow or throw out the window?
Melissa: I do think someone told me never to write about writing. But how can you avoid it?! We also learned to "write what you know," right? I'd expand on that one and say, "Write what you want to know," because I think exploring new things can lead to better writing.
Jenn: What good books have you read lately?
Melissa: I'm in the middle of THE SUMMER I LEARNED TO FLY by Dana Reinhardt and I'm just adoooring it. I also just finished three great books that blur real-world lines by Tara Altebrando, Micol Ostow and Nova Ren Suma. See more about those titles on I Heart Daily.
Jenn: When readers tell you they’ve read and loved all your books and they want recommendations for similar books to read now, what do you say?
Melissa: I write so many different kinds of books (fashion, romance and now... um, faith?) that I'd be a little lost! But I can never go wrong recommending writers I admire, which include the people named above as well as Sarah Dessen, Blake Nelson, Michael Northrop, Lynn Weingarten, Gayle Forman, Libba Bray, David Levithan, Jenny Han, Natalie Standiford, Donna Freitas and a TON more...
Jenn: What’s next for you?
Melissa: I have a May 2012 novel with Bloomsbury that's untitled at the moment... but it involves summer sun and a very fraught double-love story.
For the very latest on Melissa's books, check out her web site at www.melissacwalker.com!