How did you start out your writing career? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been a bit obsessive (some would say a lot obsessive) about writing since I was a child. I loved to journal and write poetry and create stories. In high school and college, I wrote articles and essays for the yearbook, school newspaper, and local newspaper, but when I graduated, I pursued public relations as a career and spent almost a decade writing press releases in lieu of creative writing. I had always dreamed about writing fiction but intended to start when I was “older.”

Months before my thirtieth birthday it hit me that I was, in fact, “older,” and if I was going to pursue this dream, I had been better start soon. It took me years, and three completed manuscripts, to learn how to write fiction. Eight years after I started writing fiction, Together for Good was published.

How did you get the idea for your this novel "The Black Cloister" ? Did you come up with this title? If not what was your working title?

The idea for The Black Cloister was sparked by hearing two similar stories from two very different time periods. My family and I lived for a season in the former East Berlin. Our flat was a block from the remains of the Berlin Wall, and my life was changed as I roamed the back streets of the city, visited Martin Luther’s Wittenberg, and learned about both the triumph of the Reformation and the terrifying days of Communist rule.

At an old monastery called The Black Cloister, I also learned the story of Martin Luther’s wife (Katharina von Bora) and her daring escape from a German abbey. A story began to form in my mind for a novel, but it was still missing a thread until we came back to the States and I met a woman who had been raised overseas in an abusive cult. She shared her stories about growing up in a commune, and with her help, I wove together the history of Katharina’s escape from the abbey with the contemporary suspense story of a woman trapped in a religious cult. Because of the historical significance of the “black cloister” name mixed with the themes in the book about a dark, cloistered cult, the title seemed like a perfect fit from the beginning.

What do you hope to see happen through the message inside the pages of this book about cults?

As a follower of Christ, I’ve learned that I must listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit and measure any spiritual instruction with God’s Word. My hope is that this novel will offer healing to those who have been ensnared by a toxic religious group that twists God’s truth, and after reading this story, I also hope readers will be sympathetic toward those who have been born into a cult as well as intolerant of spiritual leaders who abuse their followers.

I know that you can't pick a favorite child and that's what authors have said their books feel like their babies, but what was your favorite book to write and why? What was your most difficult to write? Why?

Together for Good was probably my favorite book to write because it was a book of healing. This novel is about a woman who lost a baby through a failed adoption, and then twenty years later she returns to her family’s cottage on Orcas Island to search for her son. The premise of this story is very personal for our family. At the same time we were adopting Karly, we had dear friends who were also adopting. But a week after they received their infant boy, his birthmother showed up at their front door and wanted him back.

As I struggled through the questions of why did God give this baby to David and Renee and then take him back as well as what would happen to this boy, I began scribbling down the concept for this novel—a story about how God could use a heartbreaking situation like this for His good.

The Black Cloister was the toughest to write because of the dark subject matter, and because I had to try and understand the demented mind of a cult leader and explain why a woman would stay in a cult and allow herself to be abused. Also, cult leaders often use Scripture to manipulate their followers so I had to delve into how the Bible can be twisted to harm people instead of help them.

I know that you have two beautiful adopted daughters - did you think of them when you were writing this story? Did you walk away from this experience convinced that you could stop someone from entering an cult situation? If so how would you help someone not get into a cult?
Because my girls are so young, I wasn’t really thinking about them as I wrote The Black Cloister, but now that it is published, I’ve heard from several mothers of teenaged daughters who are not only glad they read it but are recommending it to other mothers. My intent with this story was to show what life was like inside a cult and explain why many cult members choose not to leave, but I’m grateful that God is using this story to also show how to avoid being deceived by a cult. There’s a good book called Toxic Faith that explains the difference between a godly community of faith and a toxic one.

You wrote an intense book about gambling - called "Going for Broke". I love how you started the book out with an average normal person that finds herself in an unexpected situation and starts gambling on line very innocently and then it gets out of hand. What made you want to write about this tough subject? What research did you do for that project?

When my husband and I were on vacation in the Caribbean almost a decade ago, I watched an elderly woman with an oxygen tank pull the handle of a slot machine over and over, her eyes empty and sad. I could see the longing on her face and it was for more than just a win. She seemed to be using the machine as an escape, and I wondered why she was gambling instead of spending time with family or friends outside.

After this experience, I began to hear stories about women who’d bankrupted their family through gambling, church leaders who hosted poker nights, and a friend who’d lost his home due to his father's gambling debt. I wondered what would make someone risk everything to gamble so I researched the dark side of gaming through books, articles, and interviews to find out exactly how someone succumbs to this type of addiction. I quickly learned that this addiction has no respect for age, gender, profession, or religion, and so I began to write the story about a Christian career woman who got trapped by gambling.

I know that you have small children how do you balance work and family life and find time to write?

When my kids were really young, I wrote in the evenings and during naptimes and sometimes for just five or ten minutes while they were playing. The girls just started school last month, and the new schedule is perfect for us. I write like crazy for three full days, and then the rest of the week I’m able to spend with my family.

What are you working on now? Can you tell us something about it? Give us a sneak peek?

I’m working on two romantic suspense novels right now, one historic and one contemporary. The contemporary story is called Crescent Hill, and it’s about a woman in Ohio trying to save her family’s historic mansion from destruction. She uncovers all sorts of family mysteries and secrets, and even though my head is spinning right now as I weave together this story, I’m having a blast doing the research and writing it.

I know that you said in your book you had lived in East Berlin for a little while? What was the thing that surprised you the most living there? What did you grow to love there?

I loved the mystery and wonder of living in a foreign country! I didn’t know any German when we moved to Berlin, and our kids were just one and two at the time so I was worried that we would be sitting inside our flat all day, going crazy. But I buckled the girls into our double stroller, and we headed out on the train right away and began exploring. I was completely enchanted by the old streets, churches, and cemeteries, and I enjoyed getting to know so many people who came to Berlin from around the world.

Did you have a say in picking out the cover for either of your books? Was that a fun experience for you, why? If not, explain.

Kregel did an amazing job on The Black Cloister cover! With Elise’s picture over the darkened portico and a soft, glowing light at the other end, it’s the perfect illustration for this story. I think the artists on all my covers have done an incredible job so I haven’t had many changes or suggestions.


What TV show did you watch as a kid that you couldn't miss each week? What was the show and what did you love about it?

Little House on the Prairie was my favorite. I loved all of Laura Ingalls’ adventures on that prairie and was devastated when the show ended.

What was the first movie you remember seeing on the big screen as a kid that really made an impression on you?

I didn’t see many movies as a kid, but I loved to read. Every week I’d bike to the local bookmobile stop and fill up my basket with books. Emily Climbs was one of my favorites—about a girl who liked to read and write.

What is your favorite fruit and veggie? How do you enjoy eating it best?

I eat at least one apple every afternoon, and I like to eat baked broccoli with sea salt and butter.

If you had all the time in the world (and just as much money) to do anything you wanted to do; what would you do?

I have this dream to start a spa-type retreat center for missionary and pastor’s wives, a place for these women who give so much of their time and energy to be refreshed and renewed both physically and spiritually.

Where are your two favorite places to shop and why?

With two young kids it’s hard to go into any store for more than about ten minutes these days, but since eating is a must, Whole Foods and Trader Joes are two of my favorite places to get healthy, yummy food.

Do you watch American Idol? If so have you ever called in to vote? If so who did you vote for?

I don’t watch American Idol, but I enjoy watching Dancing with the Stars. A girlfriend and I got tickets to the show while we lived in Los Angeles so we dressed up and pretended like we were stars for the day.

If you were given a gift certificate to your favorite dining spot – what place would that be and why?

To the Mona Lisa in Manitou Springs, Colorado! It’s an awesome fondue place and Jon and I had many special dates there when we were first married. Memories…

What is your favorite restaurant to have breakfast at? Why? Is there something special you usually order?

There’s a quaint little cafe in our town that has simple but delicious breakfasts. The kids love their pancakes and I like the eggs and grits so it’s a family favorite.

Hey Melanie, thanks for hanging out with me and letting my readers get to know the woman behind the many books that you have written.


Thanks for the fun questions, Nora! I enjoyed hanging out with you too. If your readers are interested in learning more about The Black Cloister, my husband put together a book trailer and posted it on my website ( and GodTube (
Blessings on your writing friend.

Nora :)


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