Posts Tagged Nicole Melleby

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

 

 

Agent Spotlight: Ashley Herring Blake


Today I’m thrilled to interview the amazing and energetic Ashley Herring Blake. You may remember reading about her here previously when she talked about being an author of middle-grade novels.

Recently, Ashley became an agent at the Rees Literary Agency, and I was delighted to speak to her about her new venture.

To learn more about Ashley, her books, and her new position as an agent, visit her at her website: http://www.ashleyherringblake.com

 

 

 

Dorian: You’ve been a prolific writer of middle-grade novels such as Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea (published in May of this year), Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, and The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James. You’ve also written for young adults, and I noticed you have an adult romance coming out next year. What made you want to add agenting into your busy schedule?

Ashley: That’s an excellent question! I’m also a teacher for my day job, and last year, I was really wanting to think about how I could move my whole career into publishing. I’ve always been a big reader, and I love helping bring stories to life. My own agent has been so integral in my life—a support, an advocate, a pseudo-therapist—and I wanted to be that for other authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the Rees Literary Agency?

Ashley: Rees Agency has been around since the 1980s. They represent nonfiction and fiction, everything from literary to the very commercial, kid’s books, and romance. I’ve been with them as an author since 2014, so I knew joining them professionally as an agent was a smart move—I’m comfortable with them and I know they take care of their authors.

 

Click on this link for an archived interview with Ashley.

 

Dorian: Sounds great! How did you decide to specialize in the field of literature for children and teens?

Ashley: I actually didn’t! While I do rep middle grade and YA, I have more clients right now who write adult. I’m most interested in romance and contemporary fiction for all ages (sweet crushes for the MG set), and am really looking for queer stories more than anything right now.

 

Dorian: What was your favorite middle-grade book as a child?

Ashley: Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. Something about that book wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed tight! While my love for the story didn’t translate into me writing ghost stories, I’ll always adore that book.

 

Dorian: I remember enjoying that book, too! What are some of your favorite middle-grade books now?

Ashley: There’s so much great middle grade out there right now. I love anything by Kacen Callender, Nicole Melleby, Kathryn Ormsbee, Karen Strong, Akemi Dawn Bowman, Erin Entrada Kelly, A. J. Sass, and more.

 

 

Dorian: I know our writers who are readers will want to know: What would you like to see in your submission box?

Ashley: As I mentioned above, I’m mostly looking for queer stories right now, mostly in the realistic fiction realm. I’m looking for MG, YA, and adult, and I’m a sucker for messy characters, super voicey writing, and a smidge (or a lot) of romance.

 

Dorian: Can you tell us about a special interest, hobby, or obsession you have that isn’t listed in your bio or wish list?

Ashley: I’m very into planners. I don’t create my own like bullet journalers, but the one I do use, I make look pretty with colors and washi tape and use it as part planner, part journal. When the mood hits me right and I’m not annoyed at all the frizz and effort, I’m into curly hair care as well. I’ve had curly hair since adolescence and am just now starting to really understand how to take care of it.

 

Writing and Query Tips

Dorian: What are two of your best writing tips?

Ashley: Write a lot and read a lot. That’s really the crux of it. You have to be willing to write badly, a lot, in order to get better. And reading widely will teach you what good writing is. It’ll also teach you what good writing isn’t. 🙂

 

Dorian: How about putting your agenting hat on now, and telling us your two best tips for querying?

Ashley: Keep your query letter about the book. The agent doesn’t need to know why you wrote a book or the themes they may find therein. That won’t make them want to read further. Stick to the book’s character and plot—what do they want, why can’t they have it, and what do they plan on doing about it? Secondly, follow the agent’s sub guidelines. I know we’re all busy and it’s been a wild couple of years, but that’s a basic professional courtesy, and one which, if not followed, is a red flag in my opinion.

 

Dorian: That’s great advice. Thank you! How can writers query you?

Ashley: They can query me at this link: https://querymanager.com/query/ashleyblake

I ONLY take queries through query manager. 🙂

 

Dorian: How can people follow you on social media?

Ashley: My handle is ashleyhblake on both Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk to us today. Best of luck with your writing and agenting!

 

 

 

May New Releases!

This May there are lots of great new middle-grade releases to read. Here are a few coming out this month. Let us know which ones you’re excited to read in the comments!

Metropolis Grove by Drew Brockington

The big city is full of Superman sightings, but here in Metropolis Grove? Every kid in this suburb knows that he’s not real…except newcomer Sonia Patel, who convinces her friends Duncan and Alex to believe! When the trio discover a mysterious cave full of Super-memorabilia, they can’t keep it to themselves, and that sets off a school year full of drama and adventure and more than a few opportunities for a newfound friendship to test its limits. And when they finally figure out the resident of the cave is Bizarro, things get even more out of control!

Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea by Ashley Herring Blake

Hazel Bly used to live in the perfect house with the perfect family in sunny California. But when a kayaking trip goes horribly wrong, Mum is suddenly gone forever and Hazel is left with crippling anxiety and a jagged scar on her face. After Mum’s death, Hazel, her other mother, Mama, and her little sister, Peach, needed a fresh start. So for the last two years, the Bly girls have lived all over the country, never settling anywhere for more than a few months.

When the family arrives in Rose Harbor, Maine, there’s a wildness to the small town that feels like magic. But when Mama runs into an old childhood friend—Claire—suddenly Hazel’s tight-knit world is infiltrated. To make it worse, she has a daughter Hazel’s age, Lemon, who can’t stop rambling on and on about the Rose Maid, a local 150-year-old mermaid myth.

Soon, Hazel finds herself just as obsessed with the Rose Maid as Lemon is—because what if magic were real? What if grief really could change you so much, you weren’t even yourself anymore? And what if instead you emerged from the darkness stronger than before?

Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be normal again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team–even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .

But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves–and each other.

Da Vinci’s Cat by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Federico doesn’t mind being a political hostage in the Pope’s palace, especially now that he has a cat as a friend. But he must admit that a kitten walking into a wardrobe and returning full-grown a moment later is quite odd. Even stranger is Herbert, apparently an art collector from the future, who emerges from the wardrobe the next night. Herbert barters with Federico to get a sketch signed by the famous painter Raphael, but his plans take a dangerous turn when he hurries back to his era, desperate to save a dying girl.

Bee never wanted to move to New Jersey. When a neighbor shows Bee a sketch that perfectly resembles her, Bee, freaked out, solidifies her resolve to keep to herself. But then she meets a friendly cat and discovers a mysterious cabinet in her neighbor’s attic—a cabinet that leads her to Renaissance Rome. Bee, who has learned about Raphael and Michelangelo in school, never expected she’d get to meet them and see them paint their masterpieces.

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

When a Hollywood film crew arrives on Martha’s Vineyard with a mechanical shark and a youth film contest boasting a huge cash prize, disgraced pitcher Gayle “Blue Streak” Briar sees a chance to turn a bad season into the best summer ever.

After recruiting aspiring cinematographer Elijah Jones and moody director Maddie Grey, Gayle and her crew set out to uncover the truth of the island’s own phantom shark and win the prize money. But these unlikely friends are about to discover what happens when you turn your camera toward the bad things lurking below the surface.

The Wild World Handbook: Habitats by Andrea Debbink

The wonder of the natural world surrounds us—from the Amazon rainforest to the snowy peaks of Mount Everest to the green spaces in big cities. And as the threat of climate change grows, it’s more important than ever to show appreciation for our planet by taking action.

The first book in a middle grade series for young environmental activists and nature lovers, The Wild World Handbook offers a roadmap for change and an invitation to explore the outdoors, alongside surprising facts and hands-on STEAM activities. Featuring nine habitats from around the globe, each section includes diverse biographies of outdoor adventurers, scientists, and artists who used their passion and skills to become bold allies for Earth’s natural diversity and resiliency.

Sister of the Bollywood Bride by Nandini Bajpai

Mini’s big sister, Vinnie, is getting married. Their mom passed away seven years ago and between Dad’s new start-up and Vinnie’s medical residency, there’s no one but Mini to plan the wedding. Dad raised her to know more about computers, calculus, and cars than desi weddings but from the moment Mini held the jewelry Mom left them, she wanted her sister to have the wedding Mom would’ve planned.

Now Mini has only two months to get it done and she’s not going to let anything distract her, not even the persistent, mysterious, and smoking-hot Vir Mirchandani. Flower garlands, decorations, music, even a white wedding horse—everything is in place.

That is, until a monster hurricane heads for Boston that could ruin everything. Will Mini come through as sister of the bride and save the day?

How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

Strong Like the Sea by Wendy S. Swore

Twelve-year-old Alexis was born in Hawaii and loves exploring her island paradise, but she’s afraid of the ocean, actually afraid of the various creatures who live in it. She still remembers the day a viper moray eel, looking like a monster, startled her when it popped out of a coral reef. When she tried to swim away, she got caught in a riptide until her dad rescued her. Now, even when her friends are surfing and swimming in the ocean, Alex watches from the beach. Alex’s mom works as a civilian contractor for the Navy. Alex thinks it’s cool that her mom works in intelligence on a submarine, but her job requires her to be away from home a lot. When she’s gone, she leaves codes and puzzles for her daughter and friends to solve, including a small prize.

A special birthday puzzle has a new twist―it leads Alex to visit their grumpy older neighbor whom everyone calls Uncle Tanaka, a retired marine biologist. Knowing her mom is away on an assignment, Uncle Tanaka reluctantly allows Alex to tag along as he and his enormous dog, Sarge, collect marine samples. Sarge isn’t the only creature devoted to Uncle Tanaka. A deformed sea turtle that Uncle Tanaka rescued returns to his beach each day, but Alex is leery of it and any other creature hiding beneath the waves. Uncle Tanaka assures her that sea turtles are gentle animals and are ancient symbols of wisdom and good luck.

When Uncle Tanaka’s Parkinson’s disease acts up, making it hard for him to put the stoppers in his specimen vials, Alex is a pair of steady hands ready to assist. She’s starting to believe that maybe old Uncle Tanaka isn’t as grumpy as everyone says. Alex’s courage is put to the test when Uncle Tanaka has a medical emergency and she finds him stranded in his small boat. Alex knows there’s no one else around to help but her. To crack her mom’s codes, she had to be smart and use her problem-solving skills. But now she’ll need to be strong like the sea and overcome her very real fear of the ocean to help save her new friend.

Spells Trouble: Sisters of Salem by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Hunter and Mercy Goode are twin witches, direct descendants of the founder of their town of Goodeville. As their ancestors have done before them, it is now time for the twins to learn what it means to be Gatekeepers–the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds, ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and nightmares come to life.

When their mother becomes the first victim in a string of murders, the devastated sisters vow to avenge her death. But it will take more than magic to rein in the ancient mythological monsters who’ve infected their peaceful town. Now Hunter and Mercy must come together and accept their destiny or risk being separated for good