Posts Tagged depression

Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine: An Interview with Author Nicole Melleby

Looking for a great coming-of-age book? Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine has a little bit of everything. It will be the perfect summer read. I love getting a chance to interview the author and learn more about how the book came to be.

About the Book

Hi Nicole! I really enjoyed Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine. It reminded me a lot of Judy Blume’s Are You There, God, It’s Me Margaret in that your character was relatable and a great example of a young teen trying to make sense of the world and her place in it.

Can you give us a short summary about the book?

Winnie Nash is a twelve-year-old kid who is staying with her grandmother, who lives in a senior citizen community center in Seabright on the Jersey Shore for the summer. Her mom is pregnant again after a string of miscarriages and is coming off of a really deep depression, so while she and Winnie’s dad take some time to “regroup”, they send Winnie to have a summer at the shore with her grandmother.

The problem is, Winnie’s parents don’t want her telling her grandmother about how bad her mom’s depression was, and they don’t want Winnie telling her grandmother about how Winnie already knows she’s gay, too. It’s a lot of weight to put on Winnie’s shoulders, particularly since all she wants is to find a community in which she can be herself with—which is why her dream is to go to NYC Pride.

Throughout the book, Winnie learns how to carve out space for herself and find the people in her life who are there to hold her when she needs to feel held.

About the Author

How did your childhood help to shape Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine?

I grew up here in New Jersey and spent almost the entirety of my childhood on the Seabright beaches, where I set Winnie’s grandmother’s home. Like Winnie, my cousins and I used to walk along the seawall, gazing out at the water and the New York City skyline across the bay, dreaming of our future. Also like Winnie, I used to wonder what it would be like to be able to be out and confident and able to go to NYC Pride and celebrate with a community I wanted so badly to feel like I belonged to.

When did you begin writing? And what did you do before that?

I began writing when I was eight years old and saw the Harriet the Spy movie adaptation, and wanted to carry around a notebook like she did and write about everything. I started coming up with stories in those notebooks, and haven’t stopped writing since! I got my undergrad college degree in TV/Fillm (I wanted to write for soap operas!) and I worked for a little while as a personal trainer, but I always came back to writing, which is what my focus is on now.

What authors and/or books would you say influenced your writing style and/or this book?

I’m always inspired by Kate DiCamillo’s stories—she’s the first writer who I felt like gave me permission to let my middle grade characters be sad. Kids can be sad, and I think Winnie is a very sad, confused, and angry kid. I also was an MFA student of Eliot Schrefer, and I learned from him a lot then, and I still learn from him a lot now, as his friend.

What is something from your childhood that you snuck into the book? (Were you similar to Winnie?)

It’s funny, because when writing Winnie, I didn’t particularly think she was much like me, or that I wrote from a personal place with her—not anywhere close to what I had done when I wrote my second book, In the Role of Brie Hutchens, at least. Brie was a character that was wholly like myself and who I was as an 8th grader, so much so that I always say that Brie Hutchens is my most personal book. But a colleague of mine at Fairleigh Dickinson, where I teach (Minna Zallman Proctor, who is a wonderful translator and writer of creative nonfiction) read an earlier draft of Winnie and mentioned how much she sees *me* in this book, and I’ve since reflected on it a bit more. I think it’s there in a lot less obvious pieces than with Brie, but I think that I connect with Winnie’s yearning, and sadness, and anger, a lot more than I let myself realize when I sat down to write her.



You tackled a lot of important topics (mental illness, embracing one’s sexuality, dealing with miscarriages, and family secrets). Was there one of these topics that you started with? Can you tell us how the story then came together?

Mental health and embracing one’s sexuality are two things I always aim to write about in my books, so I didn’t start with these topics but I always knew that they’d be included. And for this book in particular, I knew that I wanted Winnie to be well aware of her own sexuality and confident about it—she’s not confused about liking girls. But what I actually started with was the idea that Winnie’s mom had struggled with these miscarriages she had.

One in four pregnancies end in miscarriages, so I know that Winnie as an “almost-sibling” isn’t alone. It’s not my story to tell, but before my younger brother was born, my mom had miscarriages—I was younger than Winnie and it didn’t affect my own life like it does Winnie’s, and now being an adult who has friends who have experienced their own losses, it’s something that I thought deserved space on the page in a middle grade book. It’s sad, and it’s hard, but like I said earlier (thanks to what I’ve learned by reading Kate DiCamillo) kids can be sad, they can go through hard things, and they deserve to have stories written about them, too.

Which topic was the most difficult to write about?

The miscarriages, and how it affected Winnie’s parents. I think it was a difficult balance to get right; Winnie’s mom and her dad are human, they’re people, they’re struggling. And they make mistakes. They try and protect and shield Winnie, but only end up hurting her more. They are in the middle of their own grief and fear and trying to find their way to the other side of it. They suck at it; they’re doing their best. They make a lot of bad choices, but it’s the only choices they know how to make. Hopefully they learn. Hopefully they grow. Hopefully Winnie finds strength in the relationships she has with her grandmother and the people around her so that she’ll be okay.

A lot of my readers have been coming down hard on Winnie’s parents, and I get it, I do. I’m mad at them, too. But I think that life is hard and complicated for everyone involved, and writing that, figuring it out and getting this family to a place where they could maybe, hopefully, someday be okay, was the one thing I wanted to do right.

I read on your website [] that you have a lot of Easter eggs connecting your books! I love that idea. Any hints?

Here is my favorite easter egg: Every single one of my books has the characters ordering or eating pizza from Timoney’s Pizzeria—which some readers may recognize from my book How to Become a Planet (every single one, including the books that came before How to Become a Planet did!) But since all of my books take place in the same area of New Jersey, if you read carefully enough, you might just find even more overlap!

For Teachers

Are you doing school visits related to this book?

I love doing school visits and am happy to and available to do visits with middle school students! I usually do visits with 5th-8th grade classrooms, where I talk about what it’s like to be a writer, how I became a writer, and what it’s like to write about mental health and identity. If you want to find out more about my school visits, you can head to!

How can we learn more about you?

You can find out more about me at, or say hey to me on social media! I’m currently most active on Instagram, @nicolemelleby.

Thanks for your time, Nicole.

Be sure to check out Winnie Nash Is Not Your Sunshine!

Author Interview: Amanda Rawson Hill

Happy Monday, everyone!

I’m excited about this author interview because it gives me a chance to introduce our Mixed-Up Files community to one of my favorite middle-grade writers, Amanda Rawson Hill. Her debut novel,  THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC (Boyds Mills Press), drops on September 25.

And what’s more …. we get to give one lucky reader a copy of THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC! After you read our interview with Amanda, scroll down and enter the Rafflecopter to win.

Author Interview with Amanda Rawson Hill

My son and I read THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC at the same time, which allowed us the fun of collaborating on an author interview with Amanda about the amazing Kate and how her brand of magic came to be.

MUF: How did you come up with the concept for the Three Rules of Everyday Magic? And by that, we mean the theme of the book AND the three rules themselves?

Elizabeth Gilbert is a best-selling author and she wrote a book called BIG MAGIC that talked about the theory that ideas are actual THINGS that exist outside of a person and are just waiting to be found. That’s sort of what finding the theme and the three rules felt like. When I started writing the book, I didn’t know it was going to be about connecting with others through giving. I just knew it was about a girl and her grandma. When Grammy taught Kate how to knit a hat, that’s when I realized that the book was about giving. I actually worked on the book for about ten months before I did a major revision that added in the THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC. I was writing while on a cross-country drive and all of a sudden my fingers typed out Grammy saying, “That’s the first rule of Everyday Magic. You have to believe.” It wasn’t in my head before I wrote it, but all of a sudden it was there on the paper. And I thought, “What are the other rules?” That’s when it all came to me. Like it was one of those ideas just floating around in the air waiting for someone to latch onto it.

So I guess that’s a long way of saying, “I don’t know.” Sometimes…most of the time…I don’t feel like I did come up with the rules. I feel like they kind of exist outside of me and were just waiting to be discovered.

MUF: Did you conceive of Kate before the book? Or did she grow along with it?

A bit of both. There are certain things about Kate that haven’t changed at all since the very first words of the first draft. Her love of karate, her hatred for the color pink, her secret crush on Parker. But there was a lot of her that I felt like I really didn’t know after the first draft. So I opened up a blank document and completely rewrote the entire book trying to really tap into WHO KATE IS. I ended up writing that version in epistolary format. The whole thing was told in letters to her dad. It didn’t stay that way, but doing so allowed me to really get to know Kate because letter writing requires a certain vulnerability which Kate didn’t really want to show me (and I still struggled to get her to open up to me all the way, even in much later drafts.) That’s what the symbolism of the pink is all about. Kate becoming comfortable with being vulnerable.

MUF: The poetry in this book is simply lovely and we just loved the way Kate’s teacher structured the history lesson with poetry and self-expression. Have you done this yourself as a homeschooling mother?

I’ve done poetry with my kids before, but I haven’t done this specific kind of poem with them yet. I got the idea for it at a writing conference I went where George Ella Lyon herself was presenting about how to write a ‘Where I’m From” poem and how to help children write one. It was such a great class, and everyone shared lines of their poems and I loved it so much that I knew I had to use it in my book.

MUF: Another special piece of the poetry in this book is that Jane’s poem was written by Joan He, a friend who is also a writer. How did you come by her poem?

I actually asked Joan and paid her to write it just for this book. It was important to me that Jane’s poem was authentic to her experience as a Chinese American, and I just didn’t feel like I could do that justice, even if it was just a few lines. I felt Joan’s knowledge and authenticity would really add something that I couldn’t bring to it, and I definitely think I was right about that because the poem is amazing and beautiful.

MUF: The themes of loss and depression are tough to write about – and poor Kate has to cope with some terrible losses. How did you approach writing these themes for a middle-grade audience?

I started out approaching them much more simply, with Kate simply referring to her father’s depression as “the sadness” and describing it all about his eyes and just lying in bed all day. But when it sold, my editor made me get much more specific about it. She had me refer to it by name, call it a sickness every time. She wanted me to show the slow development of it, other ways it manifested, etc. Which meant that I then went and talked to a lot of different people who had experienced it, so that I could show it in several true ways. I think that’s important. There are lots of kids dealing with depression, whether in their parents or themselves, and so naming it and accurately portraying it is absolutely vital, even if it’s hard because we’d like to just simplify and shield kids from it, right? But that doesn’t end up doing anyone any favors.

However, I did still have to filter all this information through the eyes of a child. I think that’s where the hope comes in. That quiet, undying hope that everything can and will get better eventually. And when you let hope color these hard topics, even when you face them and the pain head-on, it makes it approachable for a middle-grade audience. That’s the number one rule. Hope. Always.

MUF: What is your favorite passage?

Oh man! What a hard question! There are so many that I love. I think my absolute favorite though is, “Grammy said that magic happens when love becomes visible, when you give people something they can hold. But I think she was wrong about that. Because some things you can’t hold, not really. Like a firm squeeze that says it’s okay, or a song that makes you feel better. Like a family that’s always, always a family no matter what. You can’t knit that, or cook it, or draw it, or write it. But all those things are magic.”

Followed closely by this one that always makes me cry. “I’ve waited five months and twenty days to hear Dad say my name again, to say it like he knows me for real and forever, and when he does, it’s like somebody shaking up a root beer and pouring it over ice. All the foam comes spilling out from inside of me. ‘Daddy, please come home. Please come home. I can make you happy again. Mom will understand. I know you’re sad. But I’m sad too. And Mom’s sad. She needs you. We need you.'” (This passage hasn’t changed since the very first draft, which is kind of miraculous.)

MUF: We got chills AND tears in our eyes when we read that part, Amanda.

MUF: Congratulations to you, and good luck with your launch. And — thank you so much for offering to give away a copy of THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC!

Amanda Rawson Hill

Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate. She got a degree in Chemistry from Brigham Young University and now lives in Central California with her husband and three kids. THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is her first novel.



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Out of the Nest: Interview with Esther Ehrlich

nest jacketNest (Wendy Lamb Books, 2014) begins on a hot, hazy, and humid day on Cape Cod, when Chirp and Joey begin a friendship that will carry them through the tragic events of their sixth grade year. This debut novel by Esther Ehrlich has earned three stars and Kirkus calls it “a poignant, insightful story of family crisis and the healing power of friendship.”

It just so happens that Esther and I shared the same sixth grade teacher—although not at the same time—and so I reached out to Esther to talk about her amazing book.

JG: I love Chirp, the bird-watching heroine of Nest. Her nickname expresses her character too; how cheerful she tries to remain in spite of events and how se comforts herself by making a nest of blankets in her room. Which came first, the bird-watching idea or her name?

esther_ehrlichEE: I don’t really know which came first! When I write, everything develops in relation to everything else, so it’s hard for me to look back and tease apart what happened when. I do know that when Chirp was a baby she made a chirpy sound that her parents loved. The nickname “Chirp” stuck as Chirp’s love for birds declared itself!

JG: Chirp is Jewish, and occasionally her classmates make her feel like she doesn’t belong. How important to you was it to include the family’s faith in the story?

EE: Being Jewish is an integral part of who Chirp is. I think the range of feelings that she has—comfort and pride in who she is, but also that uncomfortable feeling of “otherness,” of feeling vulnerable and on the outside sometimes—is important to talk about. For Chirp and her family, being Jewish is a huge part of their backstory, a connection to the past. It also impacts their day-to-day life in a very real way, since there are so few other Jews in their community on Cape Cod. There’s a richness, I think, in exploring these layers of a minority identity.

JG: In addition to the challenges in Chirp’s life, we get a peek into her friend Joey’s life. This is handled so deftly and realistically—the helplessness of kids to do anything or even speak of something unspeakably sad. How did Joey’s role in the novel evolve?

EE: I had no idea that Joey was going to be such a central character in Nest. Originally, I imagined him as just one other kid who populated Chirp’s life. But he kept popping up. And I was captivated by his quirky, sweet, troubled self. I wanted to try and see behind the closed door of his family’s home. As I continued to write the story and Joey and Chirp had more chances to interact, Joey revealed himself as a layered, complex character. He became much more vital to the story because he kept proving himself as a loyal, courageous friend.

JG: Depression is so little understood as a disease, and you really capture the despair and lethargy. What inspired you to write about depression?

EE: Sadly, depression is just so common. I really don’t know if there’s anyone whose life hasn’t been touched by it in some way, yet there’s still plenty of stigma attached to it. Though I didn’t write Nest with a conscious agenda in mind, I do think it’s important to give voice to what we know—depression is mysterious, powerful, and can turn families upside-down. I’m convinced that Hannah would have been okay adjusting to the challenges of living with multiple sclerosis, but her depression on top of that was just more than she could handle.

JG: This is your first novel, and it’s getting rave reviews. Tell us about your love of language and story.

EE: Where to begin? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love words and stories. As a young girl, I kept a running list of my favorite names and would speak the names out loud, just to hear the sound and “feel” of them. My mom was a poet and shared her poetry with me, which I think helped shape my love of words. I also had an amazing sixth grade teacher. She was insightful enough to set up a corner of our classroom as a living room and, a couple of times a week, we’d all get cozy on couches and pillows and she’d read to us! What a joy that was! As an adult, I was trained as an oral historian. I learned how to listen carefully to people’s stories, to hear the stories within the stories. It was deeply satisfying work for me. I think it helped me really listen to my characters as I worked on Nest.

JG: In Nest, Chirp takes an unauthorized bus ride into Boston. Have you ever run away from home?

EE: Yes, my friend Penny and I packed up our backpacks one Saturday morning and tromped down to the playground in our town. We were in fourth grade. We set up camp, which meant spreading out a blanket, lining up our books, and arranging our food in a neat row. Then we read, ate, lay in the sun, talked about everything we could think of, including how everyone was probably super worried about us. By the time the sun was straight overhead, we were hot, cranky, and bored. We stalled just a bit more to ensure that people would be really worried about us. Then we packed up and walked home. Of course, no one had noticed that we were gone, which seemed to us like a perfect reason to run away again. We talked about it but never quite put our plan into action…