Monday, June 8, 2020

Melanie Conklin

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 new novel for young readers is Every Missing Piece.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I’m a fan of titles that have thematic relevance. I tend to settle on a title very early on in drafting, in fact well before I begin to draft at all. The original title for Every Missing Piece was All the Missing Pieces…we had to change the title because it was too similar to another book coming out in the same season, but even though that was a relatively small change, it took me a while to wrap my brain around it. That’s how central titles are to my work. I also title my chapters. Sometimes it’s just a word I want to explore. Other times, there’s a theme I want to infuse into the scenes. Sometimes I’m not right and I have to change the title, but in the end, the title needs to connect with the story both literally and thematically for me to be happy with it. Every Missing Piece is about a girl who’s trying to solve the mystery of a missing child while piecing her own life back together after some big changes. In that way, the title speaks to the themes in the story on multiple levels, which is what I enjoy.

What's in a name?

The main character in Every Missing Piece is an eleven-year-old girl named Maddy. Her full name is Madison Gaines, which sounds like a pretty straight-forward name, but there is some conflict in it. Following the death of Maddy’s father several years prior, Maddy’s mother has recently remarried. Maddy’s step-father is named Stan Wachowski. At the opening of the story, Maddy tells us that she hasn’t changed her last name, and she doesn’t think she will, because she and Stan have not “clicked.” A major part of the story is Maddy’s journey into her new life, and whether or not she can find a way to connect with her stepfather.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

If I could go back in time and tell my teenage self about the books I’ve written, I don’t think she would be surprised that I was published, but she would be surprised that it wasn’t sci-fi or fantasy! I read so much science fiction and fantasy as a young person, and I still do today. I find that visiting other worlds helps me make sense of our world. Plus, there’s magic and dragons and supernatural human beings, all of which fascinated me then and now.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

When I begin drafting a story, I already know how my story will start and end. The trouble is the middle. How do they get to that ending? I often have no idea, but the one thing I know is that I don’t want to be bored as a reader. I like stories that make me turn their pages. I like short chapters and short books, and I’m forever trying to write shorter stories. I also revise a lot. I’m a fan of letting my subconscious take me where it wants to go, which means that sometimes it takes several iterations to get to the next version of my story.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters always seem to represent different parts of me, though they also resemble people I’ve known in my life. I think that authors use character study to make sense of the real world, so in this way we are always analyzing and recreating scenarios from life in order to process them. Sometimes I also just borrow from a funny friend, especially my kids. They crack me up, and I’m a firm believer that there should always be jokes in middle grade books.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was a designer before I became a writer. For ten years, I designed every kind of consumer good, from baking pans to ballpoint pens to eyewash stations for factories. Design taught me how to solve problems. Needless to say, I use those skills every day in writing. I also use about a million Post-It notes, which I recommend to anyone who’s trying to solve any kind of problem!