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An Interview with Author Melinda U-Daniels

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I don’t know where to begin. I’ve written all of my life. Stories, poems, essays, outfit descriptions, eulogies, biographies, but the only thing that’s ever been published (or officially released) are my songs. The author journey is very new to me. Currently I have written over fifteen short stories that I have made into my three-part book: As Told By Us. I have big dreams for these books, and I was full steam ahead when I became a mom and my parents migrated to the United States, and I lost my brother who was also my editor and critique, and so life had a huge shift for me, thus delaying my published writer’s journey. I guess all I can say is that words have always been my key to all the things that I’ve enjoyed in life.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

In high school, I remember being in fifth form (11th grade) and being placed in what was considered the…I don’t want to say bad, but I guess I’ll say “the ok class”. We were the ones who chose English and foreign languages over business and accounts and so there was no big uproar about us, or so I felt. (Might I add, I now speak fluent French and it had also contributed to many of my musical successes!) Our teacher was panicked and worried that we were not properly taught by the one in the previous grade and so she rushed through lessons trying to teach us the various styles of writing. During a mock exam one day, she burst out laughing at a paper she was correcting. When I had gotten mine back, she had written on it “That’s the funniest story I have EVER read. Whatever you do in life, write!” I then realised that it was my paper that she was correcting that day in class. I wish with all my heart I still had that paper. Eight of those high school stories (or at least their first drafts) are part of my book, and the teacher is now the Officer-In-Charge at the University of the West Indies on my island of Dominica.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I’ve always been intrigued by folklore, and there are tons of it in the Caribbean. Everyone has their own version of the “monsters” and “entities” that we battle daily, and I wanted to immortalize my experiences and those that had been handed down from through the generations. The names of these ‘monsters’ even vary throughout the Caribbean, but their MO is the same and I thought to myself…we may have something here! Some people swear that their experiences are real while others simply dismiss the entire idea, yet the stories live on, and now they will even more so, through me.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?:

As Told By Us simply came to me one day. I had written the stories and had already decided which ones would be in parts one, two and three, all without a title. I needed something to tie together the fact that this was the experiences of different individuals, on different or sometimes the same “monster”. I needed the readers to know that they were recalls or personal testimonies, and not just some fantasy writing. Whether or not they are believed to be true depends entirely on the reader.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“Who Will Save Your Soul” by Jewel

“I Put a Spell On You” by Screaming Jay Hawkins

“Soukouyant” by Jeff Joseph and The Grammacks Band (from my island of Dominica. Soukouyant is the creole word for “witch.” We speak English and Creole in Dominica.)

Of course, I’m going to have to write a few of those soundtracks myself! 😀

Describe your dream book cover.

One that I get to contribute to. I want to have a photoshoot, model, props, etc., and then enhance the photo with added art elements like paint or leaves or something. I need it to represent the Caribbean in me and also to bring out the eerie vibe to my stories. Something that Netflix (or the likes of) wouldn’t have to touch if my book were to be made into film. Special copies for collector’s items (if that’s still a thing, because for me it is) would have the “stand out” element, meaning actual cloth, or other materials to create a real feel of the cover.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I taught for several years as a French and class teacher at an all-boys primary school. I started at 17.

I was the secretary for the Comptroller of Customs and Excise department for the Government of Dominica.

I sang on cruise ships for five years.

I had a first music career as Mel, mostly in French countries, with a music genre called zouk. I have a song called “Touch Me Remix” with 24 million YouTube views.

I switched from Mel to Navy in 2020 and got to perform for the Don Black, Mitch Murray and Andrew Lloyd Webber at Koko in London.

Something about me that my readers would not know is that I regularly and generously donate to and feed the poor fully incognito. I started when I was 13 as part of a church project and never stopped. I don’t think that it needs to be a part of my public image and so I don’t publicize it.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

I don’t think I did that. When I write, I dive into it fully. I did have conversations with my dad who has had many of his own run-ins with the “monsters”.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope that they come to understand the Caribbean a little better. I hope that they read one part of the book and remember something from another, with an “AHA” moment in tow. That they put it down and force themselves to eat, shower or sleep because they need to be alive to finish reading it. I want them to see we (Caribbean) do particular things or act a certain way. Why we don’t just eat from any pot or drink from any cup. Why we insist on stepping into our houses backwards after midnight and why visitors to these islands would be better off understanding the dance with the devil. My perfect reader would, after gobbling up all three parts of As Told By Us, or watching all the seasons on (I’m going to say Netflix here again to jumpstart my manifestation. Insert Frankenstein laugh here :D), visit my island and in hopes of hearing firsthand stories of the Soukouyants themselves from the locals who are willing to share.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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