It’s always exciting to share upcoming releases and hear directly from their authors. Today, we’re visited by middle grade author Nicole Melleby and her debut novel HURRICANE SEASON. “This debut novel—about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about growing up and coming out—will make its way straight into your heart.”
Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.
Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.
Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a stunning novel about a girl struggling to be a kid as pressing adult concerns weigh on her. It’s also about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about coming of age and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story of the healing power of love—and the limits of that power.
Hi Nicole! We’re thrilled you’ve stopped by. Tell me, how did you begin writing?
When I was eight, I saw the Nickelodeon movie Harriet the Spy. I was obsessed, I loved everything about it, but I especially loved the main character, Harriet, and the way she always carried around a notebook to write things in. I used to beg my parents to buy me marble composition notebooks just like the one Harriet had every time they went to a store that carried them, and I would fill those notebooks up with everything. I started off by taking notes about the people around me much like Harriet did while spying, and from there I started writing stories instead. I’ve been writing stories ever since.
The movie also gave me this quote, which I’ve kept in mind ever since, and speaks to why I keep writing: “You know what? You’re an individual, and that makes people nervous. And it’s going to keep making people nervous for the rest of your life.”
Interesting quote, and an important one for kids to remember. Thanks for sharing it here!
Your main character Fig’s growth is pivotal as readers venture toward the climax of her story. How did you decide to show this internal growth and understanding of her father and their relationship?
I knew from the start I wanted to do two things with Fig and her father’s relationship: I wanted to show that, regardless of his mental illness and limitations because of it, Fig’s dad is a loving, wonderful father. They love each other; the mental illness doesn’t get in the way of that. And I wanted to have a scene where a young daughter comes out to her father and it’s a non-issue. Fig’s dad doesn’t make a big deal about Fig’s sexuality. He accepts it, full stop.
With those things in mind, I knew that Fig’s growth had to center more around her understanding of her father’s mental illness more than their actual relationship, along with the avenues of help available to them, and how to accept the help provided to her. Throughout the novel, Fig finds comfort in learning about Vincent van Gogh, whose story is all too relatable in how it reminds her of her father. While Van Gogh helps Fig understand how serious mental illness is and how important it is to seek help, she also has to learn that her dad is not Van Gogh—mental illness isn’t one size fits all, and Fig and her dad have to learn together how to deal with their own circumstances.
What was the hardest part about writing Finola (Fig)?
For me, getting inside Fig’s head wasn’t hard—I don’t know what it says about me that my natural voice is that of an eleven-year-old. What was hard was making sure I took the time and did the research to do Fig justice. What would school look like for Fig, how ostracized would she feel because of her lack of cellphone and her dad’s limitations? It’s been many many (many) years since I was in sixth grade. What’s different now that I needed to be cognizant of while developing Fig? What would social service visits be like for her and her dad? What responsibilities would the adults around her have in reporting the strange behavior her dad exhibited? What parts of Vincent van Gogh’s life would really resonate with her (and what parts were maybe too mature for the story I’m trying to tell)? How would an eleven-year-old in 2019 react to the flutters in her stomach from a first crush on another girl?
Much differently than I would have in the year 2000, I’m guessing, and it was important to remember that while I was writing. I’m not writing about my childhood—I’m writing about today’s middle grade readers’ experiences.
This is a very good point to keep in mind for any writer reading this.
As the rawness of mental illness is strongly threaded throughout Hurricane Season, what suggestions can you give to educators on how to breach this subject using Fig’s journey?
My first suggestion is always that educators don’t shy away from discussing mental illness. It exists in so many people and families, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of or to hide away and whisper quietly about. Books like HURRICANE SEASON and Tae Keller’s THE SCIENCE OF UNBREAKABLE THINGS and Cindy Baldwin’s WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW that show kids dealing with mental illness in their lives in a raw and real way I think is a good way to open up conversations with kids.
I also tried to show that both medications and therapy are useful and sometimes necessary, and I think being able to read about a young character experiencing both helps to put both of those into a context that becomes less scary and unknown.
What do you hope readers gain from reading this book?
I think a lot about the books I read when I was younger, and what characters meant the most to me. Who were the characters that were around when I needed them? Which characters gave me comfort, and why? What do I wish I had been able to read about but didn’t get the chance to growing up that could have been life changing?
With HURRICANE SEASON, I wanted to write a story for readers who needed a character like Fig: someone who is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and who is struggling with her love for her father and what his mental illness means for both of them, but is also going through the all too real pains of growing up. I hope that readers find a companion in Fig. I hope they see someone they can relate to, who maybe can be there for them in ways that characters were there for me when I was younger—whether it be a reader struggling with mental illness, or sexuality, or just the beginnings of a first crush or the struggles of sixth grade.
I also hope they gain a love and understanding for Vincent van Gogh!
Can I just say how much I love that you included work from Vincent van Gogh. #love
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing new writers in the constantly evolving publishing world?
With social media right at our fingertips, it’s ridiculously easy to see who sold what book how quickly, who is getting starred review after starred review, who gets to go to the big conferences, who gets to be on the most lists, and so on and so forth. Between that and having Goodreads reviews and Amazon stats a click away, it’s easy to get caught up in your own head about what defines success and whether or not your rejections or disappointments equal failure. Jealousy is human nature, and we’re all going to compare ourselves to others from time to time. The challenge is keeping your head up and focusing on your own path. I think it’s important to just try and remember (which I’ll admit is sometimes easier said than done!) that there are a million different paths in publishing, and most of it is subjective. Give it your all, be resilient, but keep your eyes on your own paper.
Also, protip: When I get a rejection, I sing a silly little children’s song that makes myself feel better. Mostly because by the time I’m done singing it, I’m not taking myself so seriously anymore, and I usually end up giggling.
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I should just go eat worms. Worms, worms, worms!
Haha! I’m definitely going to try that!
Care to share what readers can expect from you next?
Yes! You can expect another Algonquin Young Readers middle grade book from me out in 2020—a story about a soap opera loving Catholic school girl with a complicated relationship with her mother and her first crush on a girl.
Fantastic! We’ll be looking for it. Thank you for sharing yourself with our family of readers. All the best to you always, and stop by anytime.
Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. When she’s not writing, she can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea. Find Nicole on Twitter and Hurricane Season here.
Enter to WIN your very own copy of HURRICANE SEASON!
Giveaway winner will be announced via Twitter on May 14th.