Swanky Seventeener Kristen Ciccarelli recently interviewed Heather Smith Meloche, author of the YA contemporary novel RIPPLE, published by Penguin Putnam on September 20, 2016.
About the Book:
Tessa doesn’t understand why she can’t stop cheating on her boyfriends. She only knows she gets a rush and a feeling of power from her trysts in neighboring towns — and that rush is so welcome when there is so much ugliness and pressure at home. But when the wrong person from her high school accidentally walks in on her in the most revealing of situations, Tessa suddenly finds herself doing everything she can to cover her tracks. Jack doesn’t see his habit for destruction of public property or his love of screwing with authority figures as anything but a way to release the pressure from his home life. His mom is an all-out mess, and his home life is absolutely whacked-out crazy, but it’s his mom and his life, and he’ll do whatever he needs to in order to keep it together. The story of RIPPLE navigates Tessa and Jack through their all-too-adult lives as they wrestle with their own destructive habits and struggle to find each other as well as the best parts of themselves.
About the Author:
Heather Smith Meloche has had the honor of winning the Katherine Paterson Prize and the Writer’s Digest National Competition for her children’s/Young Adult writing. She studied video production and poetry at Michigan State University, and then got her Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language at Bowling Green State University. She spends her days in her home in Michigan sampling a wide variety of chocolate, letting her dogs in and out constantly, and writing and reading as much as she can.
You can find her online at www.heathersmithmeloche.com
Kristen: One of the things I loved most about RIPPLE is how it doesn’t flinch away from the hard and sad realities in life, as well as the misguided ways we as human beings attempt to deal with the pain of those realities. Tessa hooks up with guys she doesn’t know because it makes her feel loved and powerful–things she doesn’t feel at other times. Jack causes trouble in order to show that he can dish out what life throws his way. Both Tessa and Jack are such strong, complicated characters living in difficult, complex situations and I’m so curious: What made you want to write this book and these characters in particular? What was the inspiration behind this story?
Heather: Ripple is loosely based on my husband and me during high school. We both had chaotic home lives and lived with alcoholic parents, and we both dealt with that chaos in very destructive ways. As an added bit of horrible, my husband’s mom was most likely mentally ill. She definitely suffered from depression, but she had times of mania, as well. Her drinking made it very hard to diagnose her. When my husband and I met after I moved to his high school my senior year, we sort of “got” each other. We understood what the other was dealing with, and it was a relief to find someone like that. It became the foundation for our friendship that eventually grew into more.
Kristen: Since a lot of our readers are also writers, can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication? When did you know you wanted to be an author? How did you get here?
Heather: I always knew I wanted to be an author, but I thought I was going to be a poet. I love poetry, and when I was at Michigan State University getting my undergrad degrees, I mentored with poet Diane Wakoski. Her classes and encouragement really helped me grow as a writer. I only started working on prose as soon as my kids were born and I began writing short stories for them. Eventually, I realized my most organic voice was of a sixteen-year-old girl, so I flowed with that.
I wrote Ripple back in 2007, and at the time, while editors and agents were interested in my writing and even the story, they thought it was a “tough sell” because of the edgy subject matter. Now things have changed. Twilight and The Hunger Games broke through barriers that allow YA writers to freely write about sex, violence, and many other tough issues young adults and teens face daily. I turned Ripple the novel into a short story, “Him,” which won the Katherine Paterson Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Writing through the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ journal, Hunger Mountain, in 2011. Agents started contacting me after that was published, and I found my awesome agent through that process. Heather Schroeder was then with ICM and now owns her own agency, Compass Talent, and she really understood and believed in my work. I rewrote Ripple a third time so it seemed more “of the times,” and it sold! But not until 2014. It was a long process, but I believed in the book and the characters. I knew that it might not resonate with everyone, but it would speak to someone. That was really motivating for me to keep plugging away at this whole writing thing!
Kristen: It’s so easy to read a book like RIPPLE and be blown away by the depth of character, flawless pacing, strength of theme, etc. and forget that books don’t just fall out of authors as is, but need to be revised (often many times). What was your revision process like for this book? If this isn’t the first book you’ve written, how has the process of writing it differed from the others? Has your process changed over time?
Heather: I love this question because I’ve been thinking a lot about process now that I’m finishing my latest novel, which is a YA fantasy. Writing a contemporary was a completely different process than writing the fantasy, and it made me realize every book is different. I’ve written other contemporary novels where I’ve written whole scenes and then pieced those scenes together in a logical way to create my story arc. With Ripple, because it was personal, I wrote that very chronologically. But the YA fantasy, ugh! It’s been years of layering and thinking and layering more and thinking and layering… You get it. It’s not as organic, for sure. But for some reason, I can’t let the story, the characters, or the world go, so I keep on keeping on with it! I hope I don’t eventually have to stick it in a drawer, but even if I do, I don’t think any book is a wasted time experience. I learned soooo much by writing the fantasy. I think that’s what writers should aspire to most – keep writing, keep discovering, keep honing the craft and, as a result, you creatively stumble on the most amazing stories and characters you didn’t even know were living in your brain!
Kristen: Okay, last question: if you could go back and give your pre-published writer self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Heather: Don’t give up. Keep writing what inspires you and makes you feel strongly. Keep conferencing. Find a critique group and other writers to give you support. It usually takes a lot of time to snag a contract for a book or even a short story for a magazine. But look at this like a job, and do it every day or routinely during the week. It’s about diligence and a great attitude. Oh, and coffee. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.
Favorite writing snack?
Oddest job you ever had?
Working behind the meat counter of the downtown butcher. Ew.
Music to write by?
None. I need total silence. I’m weird that way.
What were you reading when you were 16?
Stephen King and hard-core adult romance, since YA didn’t really exist L
Favorite Broadway musical?
Mamma Mia, for sure!
Do you ever write longhand or just type?
Always type. I can’t read my own handwriting.
About the Interviewer:
Kristen Ciccarelli writes books about deadly dragons, badass girls, and enemies who save each other. Her debut fantasy, THE LAST NAMSARA, is the first in her Askari series and comes out in Fall 2017. You can learn more at kristenciccarelli.blogspot.ca or by following @twocentsparrow.