Author Interview with Melissa Sarno, MG Realistic Fiction Author of “Just Under the Clouds”

Hi guys! I am starting off the first full week of my last semester of high school. It’s pretty crazy to think about that. I mean, I’m graduating this year!!! It’s almost a real reality. The journey leading up to this moment feels very surreal. Today on the blog, Melissa Sarno and I are having a conversation over her MG realistic fiction debut novel Just Under the Clouds. It’s high up on my TBR, so I can’t wait to read it! Enjoy!


About the BookJust Under the Clouds

Can you still have a home if you don’t have a house?

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

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1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?

I love writing because I love getting in a character’s head and living there. I love listening to a voice and following it to understand the heart of the story. And I love exploring themes so I can make sense of my own life. I also like finding just the right rhythm for a sentence. And, the challenge of puzzling through a story and unlocking mysteries and connections.

I started writing when I was around eight years old. My father brought a home-computer in the early 1980s. There was only one game on the computer, PacMan, and, I got bored with it so I turned to the only other thing I could actually do on the computer and that was to play around on a word-processing program. There was just the cursor and the keyboard, and I started fooling around with words and stories. Soon, I started writing by hand in lined marble notebooks whenever I could.

2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?

I love reading fiction. I prefer realistic fiction but I also like quirk, some absurdity, a hint of magic, or surrealism. I guess you could say literary fiction is my favorite genre. Some of my favorite children’s authors are: Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, Jaqueline Woodson, Beth Kephart, and Rita Williams Garcia. On the adult fiction side, I love George Saunders, Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Yoon, Aimee Bender, and Elizabeth Strout. I think they’ve all impacted me in different ways. Many of these authors have very lyrical, rhythmic prose, and I am attracted to that as a reader and writer.

3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?

Writing fiction is something I have to fit into the tiny cracks and openings in my day. There are many days when I do not fit it in. I have a one year old and four year old who keep me very busy. I am also a freelance writer for many children’s media companies where I write content for toys, games, magazines, learning software, podcasts and more.Just Under the Clouds

4. Your debut MG realistic fiction novel Just Under the Clouds follows the story of Cora and her family as they try to navigate homelessness after her father’s death. Since homelessness affects nearly half a million individuals in America–including almost 60,000 families–how does your novel explore the harsh reality of homelessness for young readers, and what do you hope to achieve when a child picks up your novel?

Just Under the Clouds focuses on the instability of homelessness, as Cora and her family seek permanence in their housing situation. I tried to be realistic about the unsafe conditions of many shelters and the emotional stress of not having a permanent home. But, ultimately, this is a hopeful story about the true meaning of home; how it can be more than a place, and shift and change as we do. I hope the story will encourage readers to think about what home means to them. And I hope they will find compassion for themselves and others in Cora’s situation.
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