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Home > People > Interviews > Wordsmith Melanie Jongsma

Wordsmith Melanie Jongsma

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Wordsmith Melanie Jongsma
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Melanie Jongsma is an experienced author, editor, and communicator who loves helping people organize their thoughts and experiences into compelling personal stories or effective business collateral through her freelance venture, Lifelines Publishing.

Thank you Melanie for answering a few questions for us!  To start, please tell us about the latest project you've worked on.

Earlier this year I finished a book called The Geertsema Chronicles. John Geertsema had been working on his memoirs since 1994, when his children gave him a blank book they had filled with questions about his life as a boy in the Netherlands. He filled in his answers to those questions, and then his daughter helped him compile them into a single document. She then hired me to turn that manuscript — and 100 JPEGs he wanted to include — into a published book they could share with his family here in the States as well as in the Netherlands. I edited and organized the content, researched the historical references, converted the images, and did the page layout and cover design. After a number of revisions, I uploaded the final files to Lulu.com for printing, and I sent the family the link so they could order copies whenever they want (stores.lulu.com). Mr. Geertsema received the first hardcover, full-color copy of his book in time for his wedding anniversary in February. He loved it!

The project was a lot of fun for me to work on too. By using his journal and taking his time, Mr. Geertsema had really put together some very detailed stories about his life in Holland and his experiences during the war. The photos and documents also added a lot to the presentation. He meant the book to be just a memento for his family, but I think anyone who is interested in history would enjoy reading it. And it's a good example for people who are thinking of writing their memoirs.

Have you received any awards for your work?

Only email accolades from delighted clients.

Do you also do speaking engagements, or seminars?

I have done a two-part seminar on time management from a Christian perspective. It's called Time for God. But I haven't done any speaking specifically about writing.

How has your education, profession, or background helped you in your writing career? Or conversely, how has you writing success helped you in your profession?

I had a wonderful journalism teacher in high school — Mr. Jon Huisman — who taught me how to conduct an interview, observe details, take notes, and then sort it all into a well-organized and accurate article. I have used those skills in all my writing jobs. When I worked for an international non-profit ministry, I often served as reporter, traveling to our offices in other countries and interviewing people who had benefitted from our work. I then crafted those interviews into fundraising appeals for prospective donors and thank-you reports for current donors. The appeals and reports had to be factual as well as emotional in order to be effective.

Today, many of my freelance jobs have been editing or ghostwriting books, similar to The Geertsema Chronicles described above, but often I'm starting with less of a manuscript, and I have to do a lot more research and re-organizing in order to make the book come together and be correct. My journalism background has helped me know what questions to ask and what information is most important.

What kind of other works (books, scripts, poems etc.) have you had published?

Cancer Freedom was my first book. It was actually published several years ago by Baker Book House, under the title Surrender or Fight: One Woman's Victory Over Cancer. After it went out of print, I had the rights reverted back to me and my co-author, so I could update it and re-release it as Cancer Freedom. It's my co-author's story — she has survived breast cancer for 25 years now. In addition to the paperbacks I've had printed, I also submitted the file to Smashwords.com to publish it in all the most popular e-book formats (smashwords.com).

Archer's Arrows is a collection of poetry and historical documents by Judge William C. Archer, who was instrumental in developing the Workmen's Compensation program in New York and Ohio. The Judge's daughters had had his poetry published in a small hardcover book in 1931, which they gave to him as a surprise gift for his 60th birthday. His grandson, George Griffiths, found a copy of that original book and wanted to re-publish it. The original publisher has gone out of business, so the copyrights reverted back to Judge Archer and his family. George added some old family photos and documents and turned it into a nice memoir of his grandfather's life and accomplishments. Archer's Arrows is available from Lulu.com in both hardcover and paperback.

Glimpses of Lincoln is a collection of stories by and about Abraham Lincoln. Originally published in 1904, the stories are in public domain now, so I reformatted them, freshened up the grammar, and re-released them in a convenient pocket-sized paperback.

Let It All Out is a collection of her son's poetry that one mother published for his 15th birthday. That was really a great idea. This son was overjoyed to receive a hardcover copy of his own book with his own name on the cover!

All these books and others are available through my storefront at Lulu.com (stores.lulu.com). In fact, I have some Cancer Freedom paperbacks in my living room, and I'll send a copy free to anyone who will just pay the shipping. Email me (lifelinespublishing@gmail.com) if you're interested.

Is there any aspect to your profession that gets you in touch with your readers directly?

Because of the subject matter of Cancer Freedom, I often hear from readers who have been encouraged by both the writing style and the final outcome of the story. I love knowing that I made a connection, that a book I helped craft years ago is still a kind of lifeline for people who are feeling overwhelmed and helpless today.

What type of work is the most rewarding or satisfying for you?

Work that achieves some kind of measurable result. I do a lot of different kinds of writing — not just books, but also fundraising letters, advertisements, instruction manuals, web pages, etc. No matter what the project is, I am most satisfied when it achieves its intended result. If it's a fundraising letter, I want it to inspire people to give money joyfully. If it's an instruction manual, I want it to be clear and accurate. If it's a book, I want it to resonate with people. Achieving an intended purpose is very satisfying for me.

What can you recommend for writers who are just getting started and are trying to make a name for themselves?

Be open to criticism. Really. In fact, welcome criticism. A lot of people say they want honest feedback when what they're really hoping for is praise and approval. But if you can find a few friends who will read your writing, jot down some thoughts about it, and share those honestly with you — you will become a better writer. Of course, if writing is mainly a form of therapy or expression for you, and that's all you want it to be, then it doesn't matter what other people say about what you've written. But if you want your writing to communicate or instruct or inspire or entertain people, then you need their feedback. Otherwise you'll never know if you're hitting the mark, and you won't be able to make strategic adjustments. In my opinion, writing shouldn't be a solo gig. Writing is a dialogue, a symphony, a bridge we build together.
 
How did you get started as a writer?

When I was in fifth grade, I turned in a one-page report that had been assigned the previous day. The teacher graded all the reports and handed them back later that week. When she brought mine to my desk, she told me it was very good, but she wondered if I had copied it out of the encyclopedia. That was such a wonderful compliment that I didn't even think to be offended that she would suspect me of cheating!

Which is your favorite book/work published? Is there a favorite?

There's no such thing as a "favorite" book for me. Different books speak to me at different times in different ways. There are so many good books in so many different voices that it's impossible to choose just one. I will, however, single out Lord of the Flies as one example of the power of good literature. I remember reading that book in junior high and being absolutely transported into the drama. When I got to the part where the main character is running through the jungle, being hunted by boys who have turned savage, I will never forget how stunned I was — just as he was — to suddenly see that naval officer standing there on the beach, representing civilization and normalcy. It took my breath away. I physically felt like I was part of the story. It was amazing.

Who is your favorite writer/author?

Through an odd series of events, I ended up re-reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" yesterday, by T. S. Eliot, and I was impressed again with his command of imagery and language and word sounds. I haven't read Eliot since college, but it was easy to see how he earned his rank as an academic classic.

Finally, a most important question: what was the last song you sang out loud when you were by yourself?  :)

"I Bless Your Name," by Selah. I was practicing for a duet I was going to sing in church later that morning!

Thank you Melanie! We wish you ongoing success with your writing projects and seminars!

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