I read Kat Greene Comes Clean in one sitting. It’s that kind of book. Melissa so expertly captures the feelings of a middle school girl that I felt I was back there myself. Her bravery in dealing with her mother broke my heart a little bit – kids being strong in the face of adversity gets me every time. I loved this book and I know you will, too. AND we have the author here today to answer some questions…onward!
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I can’t actually remember a time when I didn’t love reading. I think I sprung out of the womb with a book in my hand! I would say, though, that my love of writing was nurtured at City and Country, the progressive school I attended from the age of five through thirteen. At C&C, we were encouraged to express ourselves creatively, without worrying about spelling, grammar, or punctuation (that came later). Formal reading instruction came later too, in second grade. By today’s standards, learning to read in second grade is unusual, but I think it worked well for me. I was so anxious to read by myself—and the Archie comics my mother flat-out refused to read aloud—that I learned how in a week. I haven’t stopped reading since.
What was the hardest part of writing Kat Greene Comes Clean?
It’s a toss-up between researching OCD, in order to get the details of Kat’s mom’s illness right, and learning how to separate fact from fiction. As above, my elementary-school experience was pretty unusual, and I wanted to infuse KAT with some of my most vivid memories. Unfortunately, when I sat down to write, classroom incidents that seemed hysterical at the time no longer seemed funny. Worse, I caught myself veering dangerously close to memoir. In the end, I embellished a lot—and changed the characters’ names to avoid being sued. I hope it worked!
I love your depiction of New York City and what it’s like to live there as a kid. Did you draw on your own experience for this?
Absolutely. I’m a native New Yorker—I grew up across from the Queens Midtown Tunnel, in midtown Manhattan—and a huge part of my identity is tied to the Big Apple. I love the place: every noisy, dirty, crowded, busy, exciting, and frustrating inch of it. That said, New York is a vastly different place from when I grew up. For one thing, it’s safer. Sure, there’s crime, but nothing compared to the dark days of the 1970s when serial killer Son of Sam was in the headlines, and kids were encouraged to carry “mugger money” in their lunchboxes. I never went to this extreme, but I was taught to be vigilant, and not talk to strangers. Still, as safe as New York is, kids are given less freedom than when I was a kid. I took public transportation to and from school, for instance, and I was allowed to walk to the local newsstand to buy gum. Now, kids are now chaperoned everywhere. I’m a parent, so I totally get this. It’s just sad it’s come to this.
Kat is the kind of character I would have liked as a friend when I was a kid. Did you feel like you knew her immediately or did she take some time to come together on the page?
Thanks for saying that, Beth. I would have been friends with Kat, too! As far as character development goes, I don’t think it was a conscious process. I just dug into my treasure trove of middle-grade memories and extracted bits here and there. The voice came organically, probably because I’m very connected to my 11-year-old self, and my memories of that time are extremely vivid. I’m not Kat, of course, but there’s a lot of her in me—and vice-versa. This stands to reason, considering that most writers reflect themselves in their characters. It’s almost impossible not to.
Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?
I love the fearlessness middle graders bring to their reading. They know what they like, and what they don’t—and they’re not afraid to tell you. At the same time, they’re open to new ideas, which is a wonderful trait. A kid might not be crazy about fantasy, say, but she’ll give it a try before deciding it’s not her thing. This sort of fearless reading is usually lost by adulthood, sadly. A grownup will stick with one genre, and that’s it. I shouldn’t talk, though. I prefer realistic fiction, and I always have, ever since I fell in love with Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. I appreciate other genres, don’t get me wrong. I guess I just like what I like.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many! Louise Fitzhugh (obviously); Judy Blume; Norma Klein; M.E. Kerr, Rebecca Stead; Kate DiCamillo; Kwame Alexander; Rita Williams-Garcia; Katherine Applegate; Terry McMillen, Nora Ephron, Armistead Maupin; Chinua Achebe; Sara Lewis, Ernest Hemingway; Ann Hood; Toni Morrison; Lisa See… Please don’t make me choose!
What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?
Eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (any flavor; I’m not picky) while watching Scandal on Netflix with my daughter, Chloe.
What are you working on right now?
I’m not sure if my agent wants me to blab, but I can say it’s another middle-grade novel, this time about a seventh grader whose blended family lands on reality TV. Oh, and it’s set in New York. (Surprise, surprise!)
How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?