Today I’m thrilled to interview Melanie Conklin about her new novel Every Missing Piece. It was great hearing about her writing process as well as the fabulous Everywhere Book Fest, which she helped create. Read the interview below and then write us in the comments section for a chance to win a copy of the book (U.S. residents only). I’ll pick a winner Saturday night at 11:59 PM and announce on Sunday. Enjoy the interview and good luck!
First, here’s a bit about Melanie and her book.
Maddy Gaines sees danger everywhere she looks: at the bus stop, around the roller rink, in the woods, and (especially) by the ocean. When Maddy meets a mysterious boy setting booby traps in the North Carolina woods, she suspects the worst.
Maddy is certain she’s found Billy Holcomb–the boy who went missing in the fall. Except, maybe it’s not him. It’s been six months since he disappeared. And who will believe her anyway? Definitely not her mom or her stepdad . . . or the chief of police.
As Maddy tries to uncover the truth about Billy Holcomb, ghosts from her own past surface, her best friend starts to slip away, and Maddy’s world tilts once again. Can she put the pieces of her life back together, even if some of them are lost forever?
Melanie Conklin grew up in North Carolina and worked as a product designer for ten years before she began her writing career. Her debut middle grade novel, Counting Thyme, is a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, winner of the International Literacy Association Teacher’s Choice Award, and nominated to four state reading lists. Her second novel for young readers, Every Missing Piece, was published this week with Little, Brown. When she’s not writing, Melanie spends her time doodling and dreaming up new ways to be creative. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Connect with her on twitter @MLConklin.
What was the inspiration for Every Missing Piece?
The funny thing is that when I begin to write a story, I often don’t know why I’m writing it, and I usually haven’t discovered what my inspiration actually is. When I started writing Every Missing Piece, I had this question in my mind as to what would happen if you found a missing child. Especially if you were also a child. As the plot of the story came together, I found that I was writing about a family facing a very difficult time. Somehow, that is always the story I tell, just in different forms.
You’ve been praised for your “fine Southern storytelling” in reviews. Can you tell us a little about how your own upbringing in North Carolina played a part in your writing of this novel?
My first book, Counting Thyme, had a lot to do with how I felt about living in New York City for the first time. In Every Missing Piece, I wanted to tell the story of what it felt like to grow up in North Carolina. My parents were from up North, so we didn’t always fit in with the expectations of a small Southern town. It was difficult for me to deal with being an outsider as a kid, but over time I also experienced the affection and loyalty of a close-knit community. I hope those good reviews mean that I managed to communicate these qualities in a genuine and honest way, because I have a lot of love for North Carolina.
I know many readers and writers are fascinated by the process of writing and publishing a novel. Can you tell us a little bit about your title and the first line of the novel? Did you have both before you started? Did they evolve? If so, what were some of the titles and first lines that you didn’t use?
The title of Every Missing Piece used to be “All the Missing Pieces.” I tweaked the title during revisions with my editor, Tracey Keevan. That’s not a very big change, but it felt big to me! I usually figure out my titles very early in the writing process and they stay the same the whole way through. I like thematic titles that give the reader multiple meanings as they read. Originally, Every Missing Piece had a completely different opening chapter, but we cut it during revisions because it wasn’t needed. Sometimes less is more.
I love the idea of thematic titles. Do you find that there are themes in common with both of your novels that are important to you?
Themes are interesting. I remember learning about themes back in grade school and wondering how authors managed to wind thematic ideas throughout their stories. Now I know that themes aren’t something you plan in advance. Themes just happen organically, and yes, I tend to revisit the same ones over and over. Some common themes you’ll see in both of my books: family, secrets, friendship, and food. There is always a strong thread of food as comfort and community in my stories. Probably also because I’m always hungry!
Ha! I love reading and writing about food as well. Why have you chosen to write for the age group of middle-grade readers?
I wasn’t very familiar with the term “middle grade” when I first started writing, but it didn’t take long to figure out that I like stories set in middle school. There’s a part of me that’s still that age, I think. It’s such a tough time in a kid’s life, when you are growing up whether you want to or not. I certainly never felt ready to grow up. I think I was the last girl in sixth grade to buy a bra! And that was only because my best friends basically forced me to. So it makes sense that I tend to revisit those times in my life, when I was learning how to be a friend, how to be a daughter, and how to be me. I love that middle grade stories always have a sense of wonder and adventure to them. We are in a golden age of middle grade literature for sure! Some recent recommendations from me: Love Like Sky by Leslie Youngblood, Just South of Home by Karen Strong, and Ultraball by Jeff Chen.
Thanks for those recommendations. What would you like readers to come away with after reading Every Missing Piece?
I hope that readers come away from Every Missing Piece with love in their hearts for flawed characters, because we all have flaws. I tend to write about grownups who have made bad choices. As a kid, it took me a while to learn that grownups can make mistakes, too. In this story, I explored the idea of what makes people good or bad quite a bit. Life is not always that simple. People are complicated, and they don’t fit neatly into boxes. Hopefully this story gives readers some food for thought, and they are excited to discuss it with their friends.
Can you give our readers who also write one of your best pieces of writing craft advice?
My favorite piece of writing advice is to be kind to yourself. As writers, we are encouraged to accept criticism of our work, and often that can lead to being super critical of ourselves all the time. When you are drafting, do your best to put your inner critic to bed. There will be time for analysis later. Drafting should be about exploration, so let your subconscious take you where you want to go and enjoy yourself!
Great advice! Would you like to tell us a little about the Everywhere Book Fest?
I was in the midst of cancelling my book tour when my friend Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark) asked me if I would like to help her and Ellen Oh (The Dragon Egg Princess) create a digital book festival in place of Covid closures. I wasn’t doing anything at the time, so I said yes! LOL. We had no idea that Everywhere Book Fest would grow to be such a signficant event in the publishing world, but I’m so happy that viewers found the sense of community and celebration that we were hoping for. If you missed the festival, all of our content is still available on our website and Youtube page!
Thanks, Melanie, for a great interview!
To get to the Everywhere Book Fest Youtube Page, click here.
To order a signed copy of Every Missing Piece, click here.
And don’t forget to comment for a chance to win a copy of Every Missing Piece.