Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by friend and fellow 2017 Debut Author, Melissa Roske, whose book, Kat Greene Comes Clean, is scheduled to come out TOMORROW from Charlesbridge!
JR: Hi, Melissa and thanks for joining us today.
MR: Hi to you, Jonathan!
JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about Kat Greene Comes Clean and the impetus behind writing it?
MR: Okay, here’s the plot: Kat Greene is an 11-year-old fifth grader at the super-progressive Village Humanity School, in New York’s Greenwich Village. Kat’s lucky to have great friends, a loving blended family—including a caring stepmom and an adorable three-year-old half-brother, Henry—and the excitement of New York City at her doorstep. She’s also got a big problem: Her mom’s got an out-of-control cleaning compulsion, fuelled by her worsening OCD. She’s also terrified of germs. To cope, Kat reaches out to her best friend, as well as to the hippie-dippy school psychologist, Olympia Rabinowitz—but things start to spiral out of control when Kat’s mom decides to be a contestant on Clean Sweep, a TV game show about—you guessed it—cleaning.
The impetus behind the book is 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.
JR: I read that you used to be a journalist in Europe. That sounds fascinating. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MR: Before my daughter was born, I lived with my husband in Brussels, London, and Munich respectively. My first gig, in Brussels, was at a newsweekly called The Bulletin, where I interviewed Belgian politicians, wrote restaurant reviews, and profiled minor celebrities (with the focus on minor). I did pretty much the same thing in London, but the celebrities were a tiny bit more high profile and I was able to get around town without getting lost! I also had an advice column in Just Seventeen magazine, Britain’s then-leading magazine for teenage girls, where I answered hundreds of letters from readers each month.
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
MR: How long have you got, Jonathan? Okay, here’s the short version: I started querying Kat—which was then called What’s the Problem, Ellie Gold?—in 2012. I got an agent after an R and R, and went on submission later that year. When the manuscript failed to garner interest from editors, my agent and I parted ways. I then reworked the book from top to bottom (and bottom to top, and top to bottom…) and started the querying process all over again. I found a great agent, who then sold the book to Julie Bliven at Charlesbridge. The deal was announced on September 29, 2015. I’ve since switched agents—I’m now represented by the awesome Patricia Nelson of MLLA—and working on my next book.
JR: What’s your writing process like?
MR: I try to write every day, although some days are more successful than others. On successful days (which outnumber the slacker days, thankfully), I like to do a little prewriting in my journal before I sit down to work. I test out ideas, explore plot points, and to ask myself plenty of “What if” questions. For instance, there’s a scene in my book where Kat goes trick-or-treating with her BFF, Halle, but Halle isn’t speaking to Kat. I wasn’t sure how Kat should react at this point, so I asked myself: “What if Kat acted as if everything was fine?” From there, the scene developed naturally. Another thing I do is to write a synopsis before I tackle a project. I like to have a roadmap, even if I don’t follow it.
JR: What was your favorite childhood book and who’s your favorite author?
MR: This one is too easy! Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. Published in 1964, it tells the tale of Harriet M. Welsch, an eleven-year-old New Yorker who spies on her neighbors and writes down her observations in a notebook. I actually wrote a whole article on why I love this book so much, but I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say I’ve read Harriet the Spy more times than I can count—at least once a year, every year, since the age of 11. Don’t ask me to do the math. I will refuse.
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
MR: As embarrassing as this sounds—and it is, admittedly—it’s Legally Blonde. How can you not love it? It’s about a whip-smart fashion-merchandising major who aces “The History of Polka Dots” and gets into Harvard Law School.
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
MR: I turned down the chance to be on the David Letterman show. I was a life coach at the time, and I’m pretty sure the producers wanted to poke fun at the coaching profession. Life coaches have a hard enough time being taken seriously, and I didn’t think David Letterman needed any encouragement. So I said no.
JR: I think your inclination was probably right.
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
MR: I actually had to do quite a lot for Kat Greene, because I wanted to make sure that the portrayal Kat’s mom’s OCD was fair and accurate. To that end, I read many books on the subject—including David Adam’s excellent memoir, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop—and interviewed several psychologists and psychiatrists. I also corresponded with people who suffer from OCD, and talked to members of their families as well.
My second book focuses on a girl whose stepdad is an ex-football player, so I’ve been learning more about football than I thought humanly possible. And there’s been a steep learning curve. I know nothing—and I mean nothing—about the game!
JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?
MR: I used to be a member of a wonderful critique group, but it disbanded when a key member moved away. Now I exchange manuscripts with several writer friends, including the accomplished MG author, Nancy Butts. At some point I’d like to join a new group, but it would have to be the right fit. The sharing of one’s work is incredibly personal.
R: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
MR: The best piece of writing advice came from my mentor, the incredible life- and writing coach Sara Lewis Murre. She always says, “What you write is right.” That’s not to say what you write needs to be good, but it’s important that you let yourself write whatever you need to, at any given time. Self-criticism runs rife for writers, and it’s vital to keep it at bay.
JR: What are you working on next?
MR: I’m not sure if my agent wants me to blab, but I can say that it’s another middle-grade novel, this time about a sixth-grade girl whose family lands on a reality-TV show. Oh, and it’s set in New York. (Surprise, surprise!)
JR: That sounds very cool. Can’t wait to read it!
JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
MR: Well, I can give you my bio, if you want. If not, well… here it is anyway. Melissa Roske was a journalist in Europe, before landing a job as a teen-advice columnist for Britain’s Just Seventeen. 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, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny.
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Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays, and I’m begging you, please don’t say Faran!
MR: Faran? Who’s Faran?
JR: And that’s why I like you so much!
Thanks, again for joining us, Melissa, and here’s hoping for huge success for Kat Greene Comes Clean!