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!)


Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Thanks for an interesting interview. I am a debut author who still has a day job too- I'm a teacher. I laugh when my fellow teachers assume that just because I have a book coming out, I am filthy rich now (or will be, soon...) They look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them that I really don't WANT to write full-time (half-truth there, but still)-- because I would so miss the social interaction that I get by being outside my home. I am always interested to see how other writers who are fortunate enough to be able to do it full time are able to handle the lack of on-going human contact. It's easy to see that Melissa has a definite plan for keeping involved in the bigger world.
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse

Melissa Walker said...

Thanks for having me and asking such unique questions, Sarah!

Cakespy said...

I can't say thank you enough for asking some great questions. As a freelancer I too have trouble with the isolation thing--AND the phone thing! Sometimes I will just watch it ring, and I imagine the look on my face is kind of like Naomi Watts when the phone rings in "The Ring". :-) Wonderful interview and so great to get to know the face behind the writing!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! I really enjoyed the questions AND the answers!