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WNDMG Wednesday Author Interview with Nicole Melleby

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

Welcome to WNDMG Wednesday and happy September to you all. I’m excited to share my interview with author Nicole Melleby, on her latest book: THE SCIENCE OF BEING ANGRY (Algonquin Young Readers, May 2022).

Book cover with the title The Science of Being Angry featuring a figure in the center of a re-orange circle - with two people looking on at the main figure

About the Science of Being Angry

Eleven-year-old Joey is angry. All the time. And she doesn’t understand why. She has two loving moms, a supportive older half brother, and, as a triplet, she’s never without company. Her life is good. But sometimes she loses her temper and lashes out, like the time she threw a soccer ball—hard—at a boy in gym class and bruised his collarbone. Or when jealousy made her push her (former) best friend (and crush), Layla, a little bit too roughly.

After a meltdown at Joey’s apartment building leads to her family’s eviction, Joey is desperate to figure out why she’s so mad. A new unit in science class makes her wonder if the reason is genetics. Does she lose control because of something she inherited from the donor her mothers chose?

A warm WNDMG welcome to Nicole Melleby (and welcome back to MUF!)!

A Two-Mom Household

MUF: What’s the origin story for your book?

NM: During the early days of the pandemic, I binge-watched a lot of the TV show the Fosters. It’s one of the only shows I had seen that had lesbian moms as the head of the family. It was representation I didn’t realize I was craving. And I realized that I hadn’t yet written a book with a family dynamic that could resemble the one I would have someday. So I knew then that I wanted to write a book with two moms, and tell a story about what their family might look like. I also wanted to tackle childhood anger, and with all of these things in place, Joey came to be. With Joey’s anger, and her two-mom household, it naturally developed into a story about nature vs. nurture and what makes us worthy or not of love from there.

The Science of Being Angry

MUF: Your main character, Joey, is searching for answers about why she is the way she is – and since it’s in the title, (!!) I guess it’s no spoiler to say she’s wondering about why she’s always so angry. You’ve framed a thoroughly 21st century perspective to this age-old but also complicated question. How did you work through the challenge of exploring the science and the question itself for a middle-grade audience?

NM: I think that what it came down to for me was to show that Joey’s anger causes a lot of issues, but that Joey herself doesn’t mean to be this way. She hates that she’s this way and can’t control it. And while yes, her actions need to have consequences, I wanted to show that Joey isn’t unlovable because of it. She deserves love and she deserves to feel safe regardless of her anger issues. In her search for those answers, she ends up on an ancestry website to find out why she is the way she is, and I think having those sort of answers at her fingertips with the internet is a very 21st century middle grade thing. It’s messier when you pair the internet with any sort of soul searching, regardless of how old you are!

An Unconditional Love

MUF: I was particularly struck by a moment in the book where (no spoilers here) your main character, Joey, expresses concern that one of her mothers will want to give her up because of her anger. I think all of us have those moments where we worry that the love we get from others is conditional. Why was this scene important for the book?

NM: I wanted to show that DNA doesn’t make a family, love does, and that Joey’s anger doesn’t make her any less worthy of that love. That who she is, regardless of where her DNA came from and which parent she shares a biological connection with, doesn’t mean that any one of her family members could just walk away from her. It’s a struggle for everyone to learn how to understand one another, but at the end of the day, they are there for Joey no matter what.

These are Important Stories

MUF: At WNDMG, part of our canon is that representation matters, but in this current (loud) culture of book banning, that message sometimes gets shouted down. Have you faced challenges to your book?

NM: I have! And it’s hard, and it sucks, and it’s easy to get caught up in it in a “woe is me” kind of way. But, really, you need to use it to fuel you to keep pushing. I’m going to keep writing these stories because they’re important and these kids need them. And, well, the more books like this I publish, the less of a chance they can ban all of them, right?

MUF: Right!!!!! You never name Joey’s diagnosis – curious to know whether you were describing Oppositional Defiance Disorder?

NM: I purposely didn’t name Joey’s diagnosis because I wanted to show that it could take time to get one. Hopefully they find a good solution, but it was more about everyone understanding one another. When I was writing, I looked up a bunch of different reasons a kid like Joey could have these anger issues—Oppositional Defiance Disorder was one of them, so was ADHD, sensory issues, and a whole slew of others. I took the time to decide what Joey’s anger looked like, and realistically what it could look like, and shaped it from there. I have my own theories as to what she would be diagnosed with, but I never sat down and pin-pointed one specific thing.

((Enjoying this interview? Here’s another from the last time she visited with MUF during her 2019 debut of Hurricane Season))

Keeping Track of the Triplets

MUF: What parts of this book were hard to write?

NM: Honestly, the hardest thing was balancing triplets!!!! I originally write it as quadruplets, but it was way too many siblings and I kept losing track of one of them. So, they became triplets, and even that was a lot to keep track of! I kept forgetting who was in a scene and who wasn’t. Those poor brothers of Joey.

Valid and Worthy of Love

MUF: What resonates most for you?

NM: Getting to write about and see this particular type of family in a published book meant a lot to me.

MUF: Who did you write this book for?

NM: I wrote it for the kids of same-sex parents, for the angry kids, for the queer kids. I want them to know that I see them and that they’re valid and worthy of love.

What’s Next

MUF: What are you working on next?

NM: I have a lot to look forward to in 2023! My very first picture book, Sunny & Oswaldo, comes out from Algonquin Young Readers in Februray, and my very first co-written middle grade project, Camp QUILTBAG, written with A. J. Sass, comes out in March!

Cover illustration featuring two young people, one with an arm slung around the other, both smiling.

We Love Easter Eggs

MUF: The Wild Card question: is there anything I didn’t ask but you wish I had? Feel free to use this space for closing remarks if you like!

NM: Are there any Easter Eggs in The Science of Being Angry? Why, yes! Like every single one of my books so far, Joey and her family live in my hometown of the New Jersey shore. And, because of this, in every one of my books the characters get pizza from Timoney’s pizza (the pizzeria Pluto and her mom own in my book How to Become a Planet!) Though, unfortunately for Joey, she doesn’t get to eat the pizza so much as she’s hit in the face with it…..

 

About Nicole Melleby

headshot of author Nicole Melleby, a brown-haired smiling woman in an outdoor setting

Photo Credit: Liz Welch

Nicole Melleby, a New Jersey native, is the author of highly praised middle-grade books, including the Lambda Literary finalist Hurricane Season and ALA Notable book How to Become a Planet. She lives with her wife and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule. Visit her online at nicolemelleby.com and @LadyMelleby on Twitter.

To buy Nicole’s Books:

Workman Publishers

Bookshop.org

 

 

Tour the Mixed-Up Files Blog!

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A Case for New Beginnings

Writing Excuses is in its 17th season!

For years now I’ve listened to a podcast called Writing Excuses. It’s a show that focuses mainly on writing technique, and it’s hosted by a plethora of veteran authors, one of whom is the very talented Brandon Sanderson. A few seasons back, Brandon made a comment about deleting the early chapters of a manuscript and rewriting them completely (in fact, Brandon talks about this often and even includes many of the deleted scenes on his website).

As a writer who barely scrapes together enough time to write a first draft at all, the idea of deleting entire chapters was (okay…is) pretty terrifying. All that work, all that setup, all those precious words just…gone. 

I have beginnings on the brain this month largely because I’m a middle school teacher, and September is a month of beginnings. New classes, new students, new Spongebob Squarepants socks. As I think about it now, there have definitely been school years that could’ve used a better introductory chapter. Life, of course, doesn’t allow us to delete and redraft, but as a writing technique this is something I’m warming up to.

Maybe you’re like me — balking at the thought of trashing entire sections of a manuscript. With that in mind, I’d like to make a case for new beginnings by highlighting a few authors who aren’t shy about laying their work on the chopping block.

The 10% Rule

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King recalls early advice from an editor that suggested his second draft should be 10% shorter than the first. The idea that much of editing is deleting transformed King’s writing and helped propel him to the success he has today. Writer and editor Erin Whalen digs into the details of this strategy on her blog, and it’s definitely worth a look.

Short Chapters

Another wildly successful author who’s recently branched out to middle grade is James Patterson. In countless interviews and articles about his craft, Patterson’s notoriously short chapters are often highlighted and pondered. So much of what gives Patterson’s books the punch and the pace they have is his willingness to sometimes say as little as possible. The underlying mantra here is not too dissimilar from my own mindset when I have to stop by a fellow teacher’s classroom on my way out at the end of the day — get in, get to the point, and get out!

 

Murder Your Darlings

This is perhaps one of the most well-known ideas where writing and editing is concerned, but just to be clear, no one is advocating for actual murder here. The phrase, which has taken various forms and been attributed to several different authors (William Faulkner among the most famous of them), centers on the idea that sometimes deleting the things most precious to us is the best way to advance a story. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule (Margery Bayne at the writing cooperative does a great job unpacking this idea more fully), but the takeaway for me, both as a writer and as a human, is to edit objectively. Getting swept up in the emotion of something is a surefire way to keep stuff around that probably needs to go, whether it’s chapters in a manuscript, junk in the attic, or toxic people in my life (but just to reiterate, actual murder is bad).  

The writing graveyard isn’t as scary as it sounds!

Whether you’re writing a new book or just starting a new season in life, a willingness to remove the unnecessary and even start over entirely is profoundly helpful. I’ve already got a few chapters in my new manuscript that need to go, and thanks to techniques like the writing graveyard, I don’t necessarily have to toss anything permanently (though I suspect some of it should definitely be tossed permanently). 

Best of luck as you embark on new beginnings this fall, and feel free to drop other editing strategies in the comments. Happy writing!