Saturday, March 15, 2008

Interview with "Violet" author Melissa Walker

Today I'm talking to NYC writer Melissa Walker. I've never met Melissa, in person anyway, but somehow I get the feeling that if we lived in the same city, I'd invite her to all of my parties (not that I'm throwing many these days with a baby in the house). She's fun and down to earth -- and also a writer with a voice I admire. 

Melissa just published her second book, "Violet by Design," a follow up to her successful first young adult novel, "Violet on the Runway." Here's what she had to say about fashion, writing, life in general:

SJ: Except for my obsession with The Babysitters Club series in the 80s, I am a bit of a newcomer to young adult (YA) fiction. How did you find yourself writing in this genre and what about the category do you get excited about?

MW: I honestly think it was the ELLEgirl audience who inspired me—they were such smart, funny girls and I got to the point where I wanted to write more for them.

I love writing for teenagers because I think they’re such an honest, open audience. They’ll tell you if they LOVE a story and they’ll call you out if something just sucks.

SJ: What is your advice to writers who want to break into YA fiction writing? Be up on trends? Channel your inner 17 year old?

MW: No need to be up on trends as long as you can tap into the real emotions that you felt when you were 17. Teen years hold some of the most poignant moments in life—my life anyway—and if you get those moments down, if you can tell them in a way that resonates, it doesn’t matter if you’re trendy or old-fashioned. The most important thing is that the FEELING of what you write is true.

SJ: A lot of people can only dream of making it to where you are at right now — working as a full-time writer, NYC no less. I’m there too, except in Seattle, where it rains. A lot. But, back to writing: As much as I love this gig, sometimes it can feel isolating. What kinds of things do you do to keep your work fresh and to beat feelings of isolation?

MW: I go to the gym, I make plans most nights of the week to see friends, I talk to my coffee shop lady, I shoot the breeze with the UPS guy when he comes. Basically, I take any chance for interaction I can get. Because you’re right—isolation can become a problem. It also seems to have caused a phone phobia—seriously, I hate answering my phone during the day!

SJ: Fashion is a big part of your VIOLET books. Curious: do you know a lot about fashion (the history of Chanel, the latest and greatest new designer to hit Milan)? Or maybe the question is, do you care about fashion — as in, do you save up your pennies to buy a designer dress or just head to Target? (And, just so you know, you’re talking to someone who wears Uggs and yoga pants most days. What can I say? I have a toddler.)

MW: As an editor at ELLEgirl, I interviewed a lot of fashion types and up-and-coming models. So I know a little bit, and I’ve gotten to go to a few fashion week shows. I also got to attend Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil once, which was a crazy enlightening experience. I keep up with fashion blogs, I enjoy knowing just the basics, but no, I can’t name season, designer and line in one glance.

SJ: I read something recently, I think it was from Anna Quindlen, about the importance of not confusing your life with your work. This resonated with me, since most of the time my work feels like my life: It’s what I think about a lot — way too much. It’s what I get excited about. It’s what I worry about. And on and on. I’m fortunate to love what I do, but big note to self: Work should not, and does not, define me. On that not, writing aside, what else is brewing in your life?

MW: Ooh, this is a blurry line for me, too. I’m recently engaged, though, so I’ve at least stopped working long enough to date someone for a while, right? I also have fantastic friends and a pretty healthy social calendar—I love a good beer garden. And I do yoga and run in the park. That’s pretty much it. Mostly, I write and work. (Because I really love it!)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

It was bound to happen

Mothers cherish the milestones in their babies' lives. First they babble, then they crawl. They toddle, then they're saying "mama." Well, last week, my son hit another milestone. This one, well, I'm not so thrilled about. Why, you ask? He's learned how to turn the TV on and off. 

It was cute at first. "Oh look, he turned the TV on, can you believe that!"

But that didn't last long. Especially when I was watching something really important on the evening news, and he walked over and turned it off, giving me a look as if to say "hah, look who's in charge now!"

Or when it was time for bed, and he trotted over to the screen with his little pointer finger and hit the "on" button -- again.

You get the idea. 

At least he's not surfing the Web yet. I have that to be grateful for.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Some of this, some of that

I have been a very bad blogger. This week, I find myself with several deadlines, a boy who has decided he's not into napping, and a to-do list the length of a football field. Wait a minute, that sounds like last week, and the week before that, and the week before that. Yeah, earth to Sarah: life is busy. 

I'd like to give you some updates by way of my favorite literary tool, the list:

*I'm writing several really great articles for right now. Check the "lifestyle" tab this month and next for my byline. Seriously, you're going to get a kick out of several of these stories. One of them, hands down, makes the Top 10 Favorite Stories I've Written list. 

*Recently, I bought the book "Your Spirited Child" on Amazon. Because, you know, I'm raising one. Funny thing happened: When it came in the mail today (I should mention, it's a used book), one of the corners had clearly been chewed off by the previous owners, or rather, the previous owner's spirited child. It looked like some kid took a bite out of the bottom corner -- chomped it right off. I had to laugh at this. Clearly, someone else's spirited child is more spirited than my spirited child. Still, I'm keeping the book away from Carson.

*My agent is sending out my novel to publishers this week. It's an exciting, and scary, time for a writer -- knowing that your work is being read by editors at the big houses, that your agent might call at any moment with NEWS, that you may be gearing up for a big rejection, all the while worrying that you should have fixed that dialogue on page 33, or the description on page 128, or the ending or the beginning or the middle. You get the idea. I'm hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. No matter the outcome, my husband I are cracking open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the milestone.

*Just wondering: Does everyone in America suddenly have Celiac disease? Do I have Celiac disease?  

*In the period of three days, I have fallen in love and fallen out of love with a home. Not mine, but a house down the block that just went up for sale. On Monday I was certain we should buy it, tear it down, and build our dream home. I envisioned dogs and kids and friends frolicking in the backyard, the smell of BBQ in the air. By today, it was just "meh." Funny how house-shopping can be such an emotional rollercoaster. I have shed more tears over houses in the last 6 years. 

*I'm doing some new features this spring for Hallmark magazine, one of my new favorite publications. Every time I pick up this mag, I learn something, tear up about something, or just smile. One of the stories I've been assigned is particularly exciting. I can't give too many details, like why, how, who, or when, but let's just say check the mag next year for a particularly fun dinner story, which will be shot in my home and surrounding neighborhood.

*I also feel compelled to tell you that I'm eating vanilla bean cheesecake right now.