Hi guys! Yesterday I just got back from Washington, D.C., and I definitely had a really great trip! Man, April’s almost over, and that means this entire school year is quickly coming to an end. In just a few weeks, it will be AP exams time, so I will be cramming as much studying as I can before then. Today I have another interview with the wonderful Melissa Roske, MG debut author of Kat Greene Comes Clean! I hope you enjoy!
About the Book
Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle. At least, without a little help from her friends.
1. Your MG debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean follows a young girl as she manages through a turbulent time in her life, including dealing with her cleaning-obsessed mom, her parents’ divorce, the school play, and many friendships. How do you want readers to be impacted from Kat trying to be the “parent” when her mom is unable to? Why do you believe it is important to show how young children overcome these struggles in their everyday lives?
Although I was never thrust into a parental role the way Kat was with her mom, I can certainly relate to being an eleven-year-old with familial and social struggles. I mean, who doesn’t struggle as a preteen? My struggle was primarily with my physical development. At Kat’s age, I was extremely small and underdeveloped, and I used to get teased for it all the time. I was always picked last for sports teams too. One boy in particular—who shall remain nameless—called me “Flatsy,” because, well, you know… and it was humiliating. I was teased for being flat-chested at summer camp, too. I know what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but the scars left by all the teasing and name-calling never fully healed. That’s what I tapped into when I wrote my book. I wanted kids to know that life’s struggles are incredibly difficult—but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
2. How has your personal experiences and those of others helped shape Kat Greene Comes Clean? What aspects of Kat’s life and personality are based off your life?
I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but my book based on my own experience with OCD—or, to be more accurate, my dad’s OCD. His compulsions are the polar opposite of Kat’s mom’s, though, because my dad is extremely messy and keeps everything. (I recently found a datebook in his apartment from 1973!) He’s also a checker, which means he must check the front-door locks, and the gas jets on the stove, multiple times a day. I too have obsessive-compulsions tendencies, including the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, but I wouldn’t say they impede my life. They’re just extremely distracting—to my family, and to myself.
3. What about Middle Grade Contemporary drew you as an author and a reader? What inspired you to write for kids and from a child’s point of view, and what were some of the challenges that you faced writing your debut?
I’m not sure if I should admit this, but in many ways I still feel like an eleven-year-old girl. That’s why I’m drawn to MG. It focuses on a phase in one’s life when feelings and thoughts and creativity—even love—are bubbling at the surface, ready to come up for air. I also love the openness, and the receptiveness to new things, that tweens exhibit and express. They say want they mean, and they mean what they say. Who doesn’t love that?
In terms of challenges as a debut novelist, I’d say it’s learning how to manage my expectations. As author, you hope your book will be enthusiastically received, and that it will sell well. But that is not always the case. Some things are beyond your control, as it’s important to realize this and manage your expectations accordingly.
4. In the novel, Kat attends the progressive Village Humanity School, which is not your typical education. How was it like attending a progressive school as a child? What aspects of progressive education do you believe should be applied to school systems nowadays?
As you know, the Village Humanity School is based on the progressive school I attended as a child, the City and Country School, in New York’s Greenwich Village. It’s one of the oldest progressive schools in the country, and it has a colorful past. The artist Jackson Pollack worked there briefly as a janitor; folk singer/environmental activist Pete Seeger taught music. Graduates include Eloise illustrator Hilary Knight (’40) and my (not-so-secret) crush, actor Matthew Broderick (’76). At C&C, children call their teachers by their first names; they run the school post office, printing press, and store; they build vast structures—indoors and outdoors—with Unit Blocks; they dance around with silk scarves and wooden hoops in P.E. (aka Rhythms); and they don’t learn to read until second grade. I also got to write poems and short stories whenever I wanted—even during math. Obviously, I loved this school. What’s not to like?
Progressive education is not for everyone, particularly those children who don’t enjoy working independently or who require more structure. But for me, and for most of my C&C classmates—many who appear in my book—it was quite heavenly.
5. If Clean Sweep were a real game show, and you were invited to participate, would you compete it in? Do you think you have a fighting chance to win?
Ha! I love that question, Kester! To be honest, I would be an abject failure. I dislike cleaning intensely and, you may be shocked to hear, I am not neat at all. (You should see my writing desk; it is a MESS!) If I’d win anything, it would be the booby prize. 🙂
6. Could you describe to us your experiences living in Europe as a journalist and columnist? What are some of your fondest memories from “across the pond” (as they say in the UK)?
Working in Europe was an extremely eye-opening experience for me. As a journalist, I got to interview Belgian politicians and authors, Australian soap-opera actors, British pop stars and rock musicians… you name it. Being an advice columnist was fascinating, too. It was my job to I read every letter that crossed my desk—and I do mean every one. Over the years, I must have read thousands. Many of the letters followed a similar pattern: problems with boys, and pimples, and periods, and friends; annoying siblings; overprotective parents; curfews… Other letters, however, were unspeakably sad. One in particular, from a 13-year-old girl whose mom had recently died of cancer, really stood out. We ended up corresponding for more than a year, until the letters stopped coming. At first, I didn’t know how to feel. Should I be relieved that this girl no longer needed to write me—or worried that something had happened to her? Either way, this experience taught me that reaching out for advice is an act of courage; a leap of faith. I ended up exploring this further, when writing KAT.
7. What makes you the proudest being a debut author? With Kat Greene being out for over half a year, how have the past few months been like?
I’m proudest of having produced a book—with the help of the brilliant team at Charlesbridge and my brilliant editor, Julie Bliven, as well as the unstinting support of my rock star agent, Patricia Nelson—that resonates with kids. When a child tells me how much they loved KAT, or how much the book means to them on a personal level, I feel unspeakably grateful. It’s as if all the hard work, all the blood, sweat, and tears, finally paid off.
The post-publication month have been a whirlwind of activity, to be honest, between promoting KAT while working on book two. It’s a tricky balancing act, and I’m trying not to drop any balls!
8. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love writing. It’s a part of me, like a leg or an arm or an ear. I can say that my love of writing was fostered at the City and Country School, the progressive elementary school I attended from kindergarten through eighth grade. (Or, in C&C lingo, the Vs through the XIIIs.) My teachers recognized that I needed to express myself through the written word, so they encouraged me to write on a daily basis. And I did.
9. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
I adore realistic fiction, particularly the work of the late great Louise Fitzhugh, author of the 1964 classic, and my all-time favorite book, Harriet the Spy. Harriet speaks to me the way no other novel has—or, I’m guessing—ever will. Like my love of writing, it’s a part of me and my identity. I actually wrote an article about my love for this book for the Nerdy Book Club (https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/how-harriet-the-spy-shaped-my-identity-by-melissa-roske/). In terms of authors who have impacted my writing style, it’s Judy Blume all the way. She’s able to capture the middle-grade voice in a pitch-perfect way, and she makes it look effortless—which we know it’s not.
10. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
I write every day, even if it’s for a short period of time (and yes, it’s my full-time job). I’m also an avid reader; an art lover (I particularly love browsing through NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the Frick Collection); an exercise freak, and I volunteer at my daughter’s school. There’s a lot of other stuff I do, like pay bills and do laundry, but that’s not particularly exciting!
11. What could we expect from you in the future? Are there any secrets you would like to share?
I love sharing secrets! I’m in the midst of working on my second book, and I’m hoping to get a first draft to my agent in the next month or so. (And if you’re reading this, Patricia… I hope you like it!) 🙂
12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers?
As a matter of fact, I do. When I first started writing, it was hard for me to keep my butt in the chair. I’d find any reason to escape: trips to the supermarket, the drycleaners, the post office, the bank… Not surprisingly, I didn’t get much writing done. Instead, I’d feel guilty for not being that person on Twitter who claimed to write 10,000 words a day. (I still say she’s lying.) Sessions with my writing coach helped, but even my coach, as amazing as she was, couldn’t handcuff me to my chair and make me write. That was something I had to do myself. Luckily, I had a library of self-help books from my life-coaching days, so I pulled out Debbie Ford’s 2009 bestseller, The Best Year of Your Life, and read it cover to cover. I’m paraphrasing here, but Ford says that if you have a specific goal in mind—in my case, it was writing a novel—you need to ask yourself the following question: Will my actions bring me closer to my goal—or farther away from it? From then on, whenever I was about to do something that would distract me from writing—trying on jeans at Bloomingdale’s, say, or trolling Sephora for the perfect lip gloss—I’d ask myself Ford’s question. I still use this technique when I’m hearing the siren song of distraction, and I find it incredibly useful.
Thanks so much, Melissa, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great having you!
About the Author
Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. (Her column was called “Life Sucks,” but it was Melissa’s job to insist it didn’t.) Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her husband, Henry, daughter, Chloe, and the occasional dust bunny.
Have you read Kat Greene Comes Clean? Do you like MG contemporary?
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