3 Question Interview - ROCHELLE MELANDER
I'm so excited about my friend Rochelle's debut book for children, Mightier than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing (Beaming Books, 2021). I'm happy that we met in a Children's Book Academy course, and Rochelle's journey with this book is a testament to hard work and perseverance! Also, I love her thoughts about morning writing pages and artist dates! Read on for Rochelle's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Rochelle!
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
In 2006, I founded Dream Keepers, a writing program for young people in my city, in hopes of providing a safe space for them to talk about their lives, learn about people who have used writing to change the world, and write their own life-changing stories.
We studied the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the young people wrote stories about how they could make a difference. We listened to Nina Simone sing, “Young, Gifted, and Black,” and the young people wrote poems about their own gifts. I searched for stories of young people who were changing the world through writing, people like a young girl from Pakistan named Tuba Sahaab, who wrote poems to fight for girls’ education. The young people loved these stories, and I thought they might make a good book. When I wrote my proposal for my National Novel Writing Month book, Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It), I included three potential follow up books. One of those was about people whose writing changed the world.
As I worked on other projects, I spent a lot of time reading anthologies and taking notes about people who I could feature in the book. Fast forward to 2018. I was taking a class called Middle Grade Mastery from the Children’s Book Academy. (That’s where we met, Melissa!) We had an opportunity to pitch projects to agents and editors. One of the agents liked my idea for Mightier Than the Sword, and I wrote the book proposal in a month. She passed on the book, but her notes helped me revise the book proposal. I had a few bites from agents, even an R&R, but nothing landed.
In the fall of 2019, I pitched the book for #pitmad, and it generated some interest. Shortly after that, an editor from Beaming Books offered me a contract. I was so delighted to be able to research and write about all kinds of people (scientists and filmmakers and politicians and kids!) who used writing to make a difference in the world for Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I’m a creature of habit, and I’ve worked hard at making those habits creative and productive ones!
Morning pages: I start every day writing. I always begin by listing what I am grateful for. That keeps me grounded and feeling happier, even when things are not perfect. Sometimes I do the traditional version of morning pages, writing three messy pages. Other times, I will list ideas or set my intentions for the day or week. But morning pages always leads into my daily writing session. I don’t always have hours to spend on my writing, but I spend some time writing every day. Recently, I’ve started tracking my writing time. That helps keep me honest!
Artist Dates: Oh, how I love to engage with art. Before the pandemic, I had a busy schedule of attending plays and touring art museums and hanging out with artist friends. The pandemic taught me to appreciate the beauty and art in daily life—and I treasure walks in my neighborhood, watching the flowers change (or the snow pile up!) Now that we are opening up again, I am trying to take time for an artist date each week.
Playing with color! I’ve been collecting art supplies for years. This year, inspired by the artists on a friend’s podcast Authentic Obsessions, I’m spending time making art each week. One of her guests talked about how she made a sketch book out of an old book. So, I did that. I’m using the book to do art journaling and practice my lettering. And, of course, I am finally able to play with all of those supplies! Yipee!
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
During the pandemic, my work as an artist educator has slowed down—but it hasn’t stopped. I continue to lead virtual and in-person visits with children through the public library, local arts organizations and for schools. This summer, I will finally be back in a classroom with young people—and I can’t wait. I get so inspired watching children play with words!
I wrote Mightier than the Sword during the pandemic, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends. I have a fabulous critique group, and they helped me sort out some of the big questions of the book—including who to profile. My husband, Harold Eppley, and good friend, Jane Kelley—both children’s book authors, read versions of the book proposal and many of my early chapters. They helped me to shape the stories so that they were more kid friendly.
One of the big bonuses of the pandemic has been how much easier it has become to take classes and meet people online. I’ve taken a ton of workshops through SCBWI. I joined 12x12 and met several people who became the core of our debut book group, New Books for Kids. We’re working together to learn how to promote books and help each other get the word out about our books. All of our books have a theme of empowering young people to be themselves, use their voices, and connect with their creativity. (Check them out—they’re fabulous https://www.newbooksforkids.com/)
Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults including Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. Her debut book for children, Mightier than The Sword Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing (Beaming Books, 2021), tells the stories of historical figures who used their writing to impact history and offers interactive exercises to help readers make a difference in their own communities.
CONNECT WITH ROCHELLE: