Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.


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Better Than Blurbs: An Altered Existence by Melody M. Nuñez

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I'm launching a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them. This is the second post of the series. The author is Melody M. Nuñez and the book is An Altered Existence.

Let's Get started. 

Me: Melody, please tell us, in your own words, as much as you care to about An Altered Existence.

Melody: An Altered Existence is a collection of 14 illustrated short stories.  Each story is illustrated with a vintage photo that I "altered", and each photo is directly linked to the story somehow.  Some stories are set in the present - some in the past.  And though the stories are all quite different, they're connected: through the vintage photo illustrations and through the universal feelings and experiences of the characters.  

A few story highlights from the book’s back cover:

  • A photo of a bearded man with haunted eyes is paired with a silver key, and a story of a family with hoarding tendencies emerges.
  • A wedding portrait of a young couple, combined with a gold wedding band and the words “false” and “true”, yields a tale about a gentle schoolteacher who sets her small town’s rumor mill on fire when she poses for a photo with a local scoundrel, though they’re not engaged, or married.
  • A young girl’s portrait, when paired with vintage buttons, births a story that many can relate to: loss, and the subsequent struggle to feel whole again.

Love, loss, birth, death, personal growth, salvation, and self-acceptance are just a few of the things the characters experience.

To give you a little bit of the back story, An Altered Existence is a combination of two things I'm passionate about: writing and art.  I've been an avid reader since I was a child, have always love to write, and started working as a visual artist in college.  I find myself drawn to vintage photos and objects, and started collecting vintage photos in earnest approximately eight years ago.  Their untold stories fascinated me.  Who were the people in these photos?  How had their photos ended up for sale in flea markets and antique stores?  

Since I'd never have the true answers to my questions, I invented my own answers.  Sometimes the photo alone sparked my imagination and prompted the story, and sometimes it was the combination of the photo with an object – like an old buttonhook or a pocketknife – that drew the story out.  The photos I used are known as cabinet cards, and they were popular in the late 1800s and very early 1900s.   

Me: How long ago did you find that your imagination was going to work on these old photos? Was there a time when you wondered about these people, even daydreamed little stories about them, but hadn’t yet considered that a work of fiction might result?

Melody: I first purchased vintage photos at an antique store back in my third year of college - way before I had any inkling of what to do with them.  They just got to me and drew me in.  I think my first official foray into combining vintage photos with some sort of story was in 2006 when I created a “Fictitious Family Album” project that was published by a paper arts magazine.  I combined vintage snapshots with captions, and added decorative elements.  An Altered Existence is the same basic concept, but on a grander scale.  The idea that I should create a collection of stories based on this concept didn’t materialize until 2007 – it was a pleasant surprise.

Me: I know from your blog that you are a very creative person, and very…it will sound strange to say “creatively creative” but your imagination regarding the different ways to utilize creativity is always a pleasant surprise. Is this the first time you’ve combined two different types of creative processes, or have their been other such projects?

Melody: “Creatively creative” has a nice ring to it.  Thank you!  My blog post topics include art, crafts, recipes, photography, travel, and ethnic market write ups, so I tend to think of my blog as the ultimate place to mix and match creative processes.  Not only am I writing and taking virtually all the photos on the site, often times I’m actually creating a project or some other “deliverable” to feature, whether it’s a batch of muffins, greeting cards made from beautiful paper scraps, or a haiku illustrated with a photo I’ve taken. In addition, much of my visual art incorporates text.  For example, my collages often feature text.  I’m also an art journaler.  Art journaling, or visual journaling, combines visual art with the written word, and it’s the perfect medium for me.


Me: What was your background in writing, if any, before you began An Altered Existence?

Melody: I started writing when I was a young girl.  I always excelled in English in school and was torn when it came to selecting a major in college.  I was drawn to both creative writing and to art, but ended up getting my major in art.  Most of my publishing credits thus far have been in art and crafting publications, where I’ve had several articles published.  An Altered Existence is my first significant piece of fiction.


Me: Talk a little bit about your path to publication, and your decision to bring this out independently.

Melody: It’s been a long road to publication, that’s for sure!  I wrote the stories in late 2007, put them aside for a few years, and then started working on them again in 2010.  I cleaned them up, had some folks read them, and then started querying agents.  

By the time 2010 came to a close I’d been rejected by approximately 20 agents, including one I met with in person that really loved the project.  The problem?  Publishers don’t buy short story collections from unknowns.  You either have to be a famous author and/or a celebrity, and I’m neither.  (Me: Note, publishers usually don't buy story collections from "knowns." I'm bringing two out independently after years of waiting.) 

Because self-publishing was still viewed as being a bit “sketchy” in 2010 I put the project aside again.  It wasn’t until November of last year that I decided to self-publish this collection as a present to myself for my 40th birthday (coming up in May).  So the decision was really made for me in this case, but I’m pleased with how things are working out.


Me: Will you tell my readers more about your blog and your projects? Maybe specifically (but not limited to) your projects involving getting art supplies to students?

Melody: Ooh, I’d love to talk about my ongoing passion project: the Bits & Pieces Art Program!  I bring art journaling instruction and supplies to at-risk public school children, to help nurture their creativity and to help them cope with life’s challenges in a positive way.


I gather donations and art supplies, and determine how many classrooms I can teach.  I provide each student with a blank journal and a packet of art supplies when I first visit their class.  I teach in the early part of their school year, and then return to the class during the last month of school for an art journal show – to see what they’ve created and to celebrate their artistic accomplishments!  This year I gathered enough supplies for three classrooms of students.

My mission is to provide as many children as I can with art journaling instruction and supplies.  Not only does this program nurture their creativity and provide art instruction that would otherwise be missing because of curriculum and budget constraints, art journaling also helps get the children excited about their overall educational experience.

And, perhaps most importantly, art journaling gives the children a constructive way to express themselves and process the world around them.  This is particularly important for these at-risk students, who are sometimes facing the effects of poverty, abuse, neglect, exposure to gangs and drugs, and absent parents.  I know that art and writing have the power to strengthen, nourish, and heal, and hope to plant a love for art journaling and creative self-expression in the lives of as many children as I can.  

I accept donations year-round. If folks would like to help the children receive art supplies they can contact me via my personal website or via the program website.

Me: Okay, I have to do this. I can’t resist. Please tell my readers about the bunnies. (Some long-time readers of this blog may remember they had their own More Bunny post.)

Melody: Gladly!  Cypress, our female rabbit, is the white one.  Pinto, our male rabbit, is the spotted one. We adopted from the local animal shelter.  They arrived at the shelter separately, and were bonded at the shelter.  We adopted them on March 20, 2010, and just celebrated our three-year "bunny-versary" with Cypress and Pinto.


I'd never had a pet rabbit before, but had wanted one since I was a teen.  So, when hubby saw an ad in the local community magazine saying that rabbits make good apartment pets we ended up checking it out.  I had no idea that rabbits could be litter box trained, but they can - hurray!  So here we are, with two little bun buns in our apartment.  They bring us joy, laughter, occasional exasperation, whisker kisses, and lots of love.   We're not sure of their exact ages, but think they're around 4 or 5-years old.

They have distinct personalities. Cypress, also known as "The Brute Squad" (from The Princess Bride), is pretty feisty, and can be a bit of a bulldozer - especially at mealtime.  Hubby was semi-reluctant to adopt a white rabbit with pink eyes, because of the killer rabbit in Monty Python's Holy Grail, but so far she hasn't gone for the jugular.  ;)  Some of her other nicknames include Plumpie (from "Love Actually"), Plumpita, and Plump-a-doodle-doo.

Pinto is very easy-going, but has his feisty moments too - he's our sprinter.  We think he's half dwarf, half English Spot.  They both love banana, but banana is truly like "Bunny Crack" for Pinto - he goes nuts when it's near.  He actually twitches from excitement - well, his back/coat does.  :)  His spots slay me, especially the bit of black on the end of his tail.  Pinto, named after the bean, is also known as Pinto Bean and Pinto Monster.  

We love them so!


Me: Anything else you want to say about the book (or anything else)?  

Melody: Yes.  I’d like to thank you for interviewing me and for sharing An Altered Existence with your readers!  It’s always a pleasure to connect with you, and I appreciate your support.  


Please give Ella and Jordan scratches for me!

Me: Will do, and thanks for visiting the blog.