As an aspiring thriller writer, I kept noticing the bold, brassy covers of books by one Mel Comley sitting high in the genre bestseller rankings on Amazon. I was impressed by this indie author’s considerable creative output, dominated by thriller novels but including quite a few romances, novellas, and short stories, too.
Because I admire strong female fictional protagonists, I wanted to chat with Mel about her series heroine, a police investigator named Lorne Simpkins, as well as her background and writing methods. Mel graciously consented to my grueling interrogation, and here is the transcript of the session:
The Vigilante Author: Welcome to my little piece of the Internet, Mel. I’m delighted to host you here as the first female author I’ve interviewed. And the second native-born Brit, after Lee Child. Why don’t we begin with a brief self-introduction?
Mel Comley: First and foremost, I’m a thriller writer. My “Justice” series has reached the ”Top 10” in the thriller genre on many occasions throughout the year in America. To date, my highest rank in the UK has been #37 in the Kindle “Top 100.”
My romances are also pacey and have either a mystery or thriller element to them.
The Vigilante Author: What’s your most recent book?
Mel Comley: Cruel Justice is the third book in the D.I. Lorne Simpkins trilogy, although in order, it is the first book you should read, just to confuse you.
The Vigilante Author: Okay, I’m confused. What’s the plotline of Cruel Justice?
Mel Comley: A serial killer taunts the police . . . and he has his sights on D.I. Lorne Simpkins.
The story starts off with the discovery of a headless body in the woods. The victim is found on D.I. Lorne Simpkins’s patch, and she and her partner are assigned to the case. A few days later yet another victim is found; this time the body is that of a young woman, different from the first victim. Who could the killer be, and what’s the connection between the two victims?
After a third murder, the killer contacts Lorne with a grisly surprise. It looks like she has a serial killer on her hands—and one that has become fixated on her.
The Vigilante Author: Don’t you hate it when that happens? I assume there are other complications?
Mel Comley: As she tries to solve the crimes, Lorne is also coping with a failing marriage and a new, unsympathetic boss with whom she has a secret past. Despairing at the lack of clues, Lorne receives help with solving the case from an unlikely source.
The Vigilante Author: Yes, those would be complications. Is Cruel Justice typical of your novels?
Mel Comley: My full-length novels are all crime thrillers. They’re pacey and the main character has plenty of conflict to contend with.
The Vigilante Author: So, Mel, how did a nice girl like you wind up writing crime thrillers?
Mel Comley: I’m a Brit, but now live in beautiful France. I was raised by my mother; my father walked out on us when I was four. To say life has been a struggle up ‘til now would be an understatement.
After my father left, we had to move in with my grandparents while my mother went back to college to train as a chef. Having three generations in one household meant that life was often fraught and full of arguments. Maybe that’s the real reason why I married at eighteen. Needless to say that the marriage failed after seven years.
The Vigilante Author: That difficult background must have fueled your sense of drama. How and when did you begin to write?
Mel Comley: I’ve always written a diary, et cetera, but it wasn’t until we moved to France and I no longer had to work 70-80 hours a week that I threw myself into writing. After reading my first James Patterson novel, I was hooked and set out to emulate the way he writes (used to write): short chapters and fast-moving plots.
The Vigilante Author: Any other literary influences beside him?
Mel Comley: Recently I have to say reading Karen Rose’s books has been influential to me. Some kind readers have likened my work to Lynda La Plante, “if not better,” in one instance!
The Vigilante Author: You’ve produced a number of works rapidly. Apparently “writer’s block” isn’t a problem for you.
Mel Comley: Nowadays I find writing addictive. If I don’t write every day I have withdrawal symptoms. I aim to write a full-length 80,000-word novel every six months. This year I’ve released three novels, two novellas, two novelettes, and a few short stories, all from my backlist. One of my novelettes is It’s A Dog’s Life, the proceeds of which are going to charity.
The Vigilante Author: I confess, I don’t know how you keep up that pace! I’m envious. You must be really focused. Do you have any time for socializing?
Mel Comley: I’m lucky that I regard myself as one of life’s loners, really; I prefer my own company. Does that sound awful?
The Vigilante Author: Not to me. I can relate.
Mel Comley: I also belong to a great group of writers. We proofread each other’s work and give genuine feedback on our novels. We all have professionally edited books, but we try and catch anything the editor has missed, so hopefully our products stand out from the rest.
The Vigilante Author: Readers give your books very high ratings, and that’s a testament to your craftsmanship. Do you begin with a detailed outline, like me, or do you wing it, “seat of the pants”?
Mel Comley: A bit of both really. I have the outline of the plot set in stone, but as soon as a project starts, my characters have a life of their own. I tend to make lots of notes as I go along—a key sentence that has been used in a section of dialogue, et cetera, that I might refer to later on. I write in my bedroom on a laptop most of the time—I get good vibes from that room for some reason. I like to write a minimum of 2,000 words a day.
The Vigilante Author: Do you find writing to be hard or easy?
Mel Comley: Yikes, this time last year I would have said the whole writing process is hard. Now, I’m struggling to think of anything. Like I say, the more you write, the more addictive it becomes.
The Vigilante Author: What are you most proud of in your writing?
Mel Comley: I’m definitely most proud of my main character, Lorne Simpkins. I’m 10,000 words into the fourth book in the series, and it feels comfortable walking in her shoes once again.
The Vigilante Author: You’re a self-published author now. Did you try the traditional publishing route first? And if so, are you tempted to go back to it?
Mel Comley: Yes, I’m self-published, and yes, I tried the traditional route. I sent Impeding Justice out to several agents, but after months of waiting for a response, I decided to take the plunge and go indie. After selling 30,000 copies back in April this year I had agents knocking on my virtual door.
After much deliberation I signed a contract with top New York agent Richard Curtis. He’s doing his best to get me some kind of deal, but has informed me that because of the success of indies, the traditional publishing world is in turmoil.
The Vigilante Author: That’s being reported everywhere now. They don’t seem to be able to adjust well or quickly to the ebook revolution.
I like to ask successful authors what qualities they think are most important for any aspiring writer.
Mel Comley: Stamina! You have to be in this job for the long haul; it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.
The Vigilante Author: Any specific advice for them?
Mel Comley: Yes, the old saying says that we all have a book in us. But actually putting a great story together that excites the readers is a very challenging job. I would always advise people to get a good, recommended editor. As a writer, you never see the faults, if there are any, in your own work.
The Vigilante Author: I absolutely agree, and the outside feedback I received from others was invaluable.
Okay, you’ve aroused a lot of curiosity among our readers. So, where can they buy your books or contact you?
The Vigilante Author: Final words?
Mel Comley: Thanks for inviting me, Robert. I’m following your own success with a touch of envy and admiration. Good luck with your sequel, too.
The Vigilante Author: Thanks, Mel, and best wishes with your continuing Lorne Simpkins tales. I hope our chat inspires a lot of new readers to check them out.