Interview with Melissa Walker: The Hardest Working Woman in YA Literature
Melissa Walker may be the hardest working woman in YA literature. She’s young, talented, and whip-smart. Her bestselling novels include Violet on the Runway, Violet by Design, Violet in Private, Lovestruck Summer, and Small Town Sinners. She also blogs her heart out at IHeartDaily, BeforeYouWereHot, and ReaderGirlz. Melissa’s most recent novel Unbreak My Heart will be published on May 22. Listen in as we discuss writing, motherhood, and what happens when you break up with your best friend.
Nicki Richesin: Congrats on Unbreak My Heart (out this May 22 from Bloomsbury). Love the title! Could you tell us a bit about the novel and how the character of Clem first appeared to you?
Melissa Walker: It’s the story of a girl who has lost her best friend, through some fault of her own, and is dealing with the aftermath of the friendship breakup. But she’s also about to spend the summer with her family on a sailboat–not the best place to wallow alone. At the end of the day, my editor wrote the line that sums it up best; the book is about “The year that broke her heart. The summer that healed it.” Clem has been in my head for a long time, since I suffered a friendship breakup. I always knew I wanted to write about someone who experienced that same thing.
NR: You got your start working as an editor for ELLEgirl and Seventeen. What did working for these publications teach you about writing?
MW: I think that having a “real job” that let my inner seventeen-year-old speak made me realize that there’s a place for that voice (the one in my head).
NR: I had the pleasure of meeting your mom in your hometown Chapel Hill, North Carolina as part of the Crush tour (full disclosure: Melissa contributed a beautiful essay to the collection). She said you have always been a writer. Did having such a strong identity as a writer early on help to instill confidence while building your career?
MW: Aw, Mom. Yes, my parents were always hugely supportive of my writing, even when it involved banging out paragraph-long stories on our typewriter in the dark ages! They would read what I wrote, praise me, give ideas and encourage me to keep going. It was the ideal environment for a little writer and I credit them with so much having to do with my career.
NR: You maintain some incredible blogs (IHeartDaily and ReaderGirlz) and also incredibly funny (BeforeYouWereHot). What does it feel like to be connected to so many readers online versus having readers devoted to your books? Does having this amazing connection affect how you work on your novels?
MW: I like talking back and forth with readers, and those sites are another way to do that. It definitely energizes my writing.
NR: You’ve also contributed to Barnes and Noble’s blog about cover stories. What have you learned about our initial perception of a book’s cover and do you believe one can judge a book by its cover?
MW: I don’t think you can judge a book by its cover, no. There are so many amazing books with lackluster covers (and vice-versa). But the thing is: We DO judge books by their covers. It’s impossible not to—it’s what we see first! I think you have something like 1.7 seconds to catch the eye on a newsstand/book table, and you’ve got to do it. Covers absolutely sell books. It’s a plain fact, even if—idealistically—we don’t want it to be that way.
NR: How did you become a “diva” for ReaderGirlz and could you tell us a bit about your mission and future goals for the organization?
MW: I was asked to blog for ReaderGirlz a few years ago, and I just love the supportive group of writers who keep it going. It’s fun, it’s lively, and I especially adore the Rock the Drop initiative that we do in April to accompany YALSA’s Support Teen Lit Day.
NR: You became a mother last year and I’m sure motherhood must have made a significant impact on your writing life. Has it changed how you approach your writing?
MW: Ha! I actually haven’t started a new book since June was born (she’s 9 months old now, and I’m revising a book I started before she arrived). I have wondered if it’s going to make me more sympathetic to parental characters… we’ll see! In the practical sense, I have a lot less time to write and daydream—babies demand that you be in the moment. But that is such an amazing thing, too, so I have no doubt she’ll shape whatever comes next in many ways.
NR: Do you have a vision for a book (with a story you’re dying to tell) that you have to write before you die?
MW: I have a lot of ideas in my head, but none that stand out as “the one.” With Unbreak My Heart, it was very cathartic to write about a friendship breakup—that happens so often and it takes a backseat to romantic breakups, but I think it’s even more painful a lot of the time. So that was one I had to share, and now it’s out there!
NR: In your last novel Small Town Sinners, you tackled some weighty issues like religion and teen pregnancy in a sensitive and tender way. What has the overall response been to the novel and were you satisfied with its reception?
MW: Oh, I was so nervous about Small Town Sinners, but the overall response has been just as I’d hoped! People see that I was just telling the story of this group of people, without judgment or agenda. I wasn’t sure I could pull that off, but I think (I hope!) I did, based on the readers who’ve contacted me. There’s still some talk out there about it being a crazy Hell House book, but I think that’s mostly from people who haven’t read it yet. And I hope they do read it one day, but hey, if they want to talk about it in the meantime, I’ll take the buzz!
NR: If you could be reincarnated as your favorite character from children’s literature who would it be and why?
MW: Fancy Nancy. Does she count? She is to-die-for fabulous.
NR: Which projects are you currently working on and what can we expect to read from you soon?
MW: I’m staying somewhat mum for the moment about my next release… but it’s coming! I have a letter in the Dear Teen Me anthology, out in October, and I’m in great company so check it out.
NR: THANK YOU, Melissa!
MW: Thank YOU, Nicki!
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies The May Queen, Because I Love Her, What I Would Tell Her, and Crush. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Daily Candy, 7×7, Red Tricycle, and San Francisco Book Review. Nicki has been reading to her daughter every day since she was born. For more information, visit: www.nickirichesin.com.