Q&A with Melanie Sumrow, author of the stirring middle-grade novel ‘The Prophet Calls’

Melanie Sumrow’s The Prophet Calls tells the story of Gentry Forrester, a young girl born into a polygamous community in the foothills of New Mexico. Gentry feels lucky to live among God’s chosen people in the Prophet’s compound, but when music is outlawed, Gentry and her older brother, Tanner, sneak out of the community. When they return, all bets are off as the Prophet exercises his control. Read below for insight into Melanie’s writing process and the inspiration behind her story!


1. When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

I was working as a lawyer and really missed having a creative outlet when another lawyer had recommended a book to me: Twilight. I thought he (yes, a guy lawyer recommended it) was pulling my leg, but he kept going on and on about how awesome it was. Long story short, he lent it to me and I read it, and then I picked up the next one in the series and the next and impatiently waited for the last book. I thought they were so fun! And then I started to pick up more books written for teens and devoured them. When I heard Stephenie Meyer had written the first book while working outside the home and being a full-time mom like me, I thought why not? I had always loved to read and I’d always enjoyed writing, so the idea really energized me. As luck would have it, a flyer came through the mail advertising a series of creative writing classes that I could take at night through my local university, while still practicing law during the day. From my first class, I was hooked!

2. How did you come up with the idea for The Prophet Calls?

My second YA book centered on a girl who was drawn into a religious cult, and it was the book that landed me my agent. It was well received by publishers, but ultimately did not find a home. Fast-forward a year, and I was working on my third novel (unrelated to religious studies) and guest teaching a class on religious radicalism. For that class, I had updated my research on various religious sects, including the polygamous community known as the FLDS. Within that same time period, my agent called me and indicated an editor had contacted him (sort of as a shot in the dark), saying she was interested in polygamous communities and wondered if he happened to know anyone who could write about that subject for a middle-grade audience. Of course, my agent was very excited because he knew I possessed the knowledge, even though I’d never written MG. I started from scratch on an entirely new story and submitted a synopsis and the first three chapters of The Prophet Calls. My amazing editor fell in love with my proposal, and my debut novel will soon release on November 6, 2018!

3. Which part of The Prophet Calls was your favorite to write? Why?

There is a scene in the book where Gentry and her brother sneak off to play at the Santa Fe Music Festival. Prior to writing that scene, I traveled to Santa Fe and walked the same path Gentry takes in the book—from the Collected Works Bookstore to the Loretto Chapel and then running up the Santa Fe Trail to the Plaza. All along my walk, I took pictures and really paid attention to all the senses. What was I hearing? Smelling? Feeling? It was so fun to recapture my walk that morning in the book. Even the little boy who was chasing bubbles with his mother made it into the final scene.

4. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I really love the arts, so when I’m not writing, I enjoy museums, musical theater, opera, the symphony and plays. I also love to travel with my husband and daughter. Our daughter plays sports and has been in some theater productions, so it’s fun to attend her games and plays as well. Of course, I love to read and our daughter is also an avid reader (and usually one of the first readers of my work), so I have fun talking books with her.

5. What was your favorite book to read as child?

One of my favorite books was Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I distinctly remember my mother reading it to me as a child, and I still have my old and worn copy. What I recall loving most about the story was the idea of escaping through a rabbit hole and entering into a whole new world of curious things. And that’s what I still love about books: They are doorways into new worlds.

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