Author with Cumberland County roots publishes book
Crossville Chronicle, Jan. 7, 2010
Although she had been writing stories all her life, Melissa Newman never thought it was anything special. She believed that everyone could create new worlds and new people with the stroke of a pen or a few clicks at the keyboard.
It wasn’t until she won her first writing award in the early ’90s that she began to suspect this hobby of hers might be worth looking into.Now, after 20 years as a journalist, one published novel to her credit and another one on the way.
Newman is sure she’s doing something special with her talent and truly enjoying every minute of it. Nothing, she said, brings her as much joy as sitting down for eight hours each Sunday to write.Most in Cumberland County may remember the author as Melissa Dozier. She attended Homestead Elementary School, Martin Junior High and one year at Cumberland County High School before moving with her mother to Kentucky. She is the youngest sister of Denise Dozier Melton, Jenny Asberry and Curtis Clark, all who still live in Crossville.Although Newman’s book Sister Blackberry is just the first of many novels to come, the author has no plans to quit her day job. She said she is happy doing exactly what she’s doing with her work and her writing. Making a day to day job out of writing novels, she said, would make it feel like work and possibly kill her love of the written word.
“I learned early in life that success should be measured by happiness, not money or power,” Newman said. “When you find that one thing in your life that makes you smile every time you think about it and compels you to thank God for it every day that you’ve been given the ability to do it, then you’ve found your true calling. For me, it’s writing. It always has been.”
Whiskey Creek Press released Newman’s first title, Sister Blackberry, in November. The novel, which began with an idea and an in-depth outline, was stuffed in a drawer not to be rediscovered again for 10 years. When Newman picked it back up and the writing was finished, a publishing contract came quickly.
“When the publisher contacted me I was thrilled, to say the least,” Newman said. “I have to confess I did shed a few tears of happiness. When I got the contract and the release date I knew this was really happening. Then came the editor and then the graphic artist … it was all very surreal.”
The book begins with the discovery of a dead body and carries readers through three generations of the Garland women of Rayes County. Viola Garland, the family matriarch, makes a decision as a young woman which leads to many decades of heartache for her daughters and granddaughters. As the 87-year-old woman decides to tell the truth, it becomes clear to rest of the family why the secret had to be kept.
Although Rayes County doesn’t exist other than on the pages of Newman’s book and in her imagination, she said she loved the place so much she just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving it behind in her next novel. For that reason, Rayes County, she said, is the setting for her next book and most likely all others to come if her publisher will allow.
“I have travelled a lot over the years and lived in different places. I’ve just taken my favorite parts from everywhere and pieced them all together to make Rayes County,” Newman said. “For me it’s perfect. I just can’t bear to part with it. It would be like moving away and leaving all my family and friends.”
Many scenes from the fictitious Rayes County, Kentucky come from parts of Cumberland County and Newman’s memories of living there. And although she and her family now call Kentucky their home, she will always hold a special place in her heart for Crossville.
“I still try to keep in touch with people as many as I can in Crossville,” Newman said. “Of course, I visit my family there often — holidays and some in the summer. I have recently connected with several of my former classmates from Homestead and also Martin Junior High. I plan to go to the 1985 CCHS high school reunion this summer.”
Newman’s characters are fashioned much the same way as her setting — pieces and parts of thousands of people to make one character. Some, like Rayes County, she just can’t leave behind, which is why at least one character from Sister Blackberry will end up in House of Cleaving, her next novel.“I created these characters and I want them to continue on,” Newman said. “So, just like a real small town where everyone knows everyone else, it would be hard for my characters from House of Cleaving to live in Rayes County and not cross paths with the characters from Sister Blackberry.”
Newman is the Director of Annual Giving and Alumni Relations at Union College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She lives in Barbourville, KY, with her husband Frank, who is an attorney. They have two grown children, Brittani, 22, who was recently married and a graduate of University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, KY, and will be attending law school at Cleveland State University; and Brooke 20, who is attending Union College in Barbourville, KY, majoring in communications.Sister Blackberry is available online at www.amazon.com and readers can also get Newman’s book at her Web site www.melissanewman.net or at her publisher’s Web site www.whiskeycreekpress.com