Friday, May 29, 2009
INTERVIEW WITH MELISSA HART
LH: How did you get interested in writing?
MH: My mother was a writer, and there were always books and manuscripts lying around the house. She’d get up early and write in her converted garage. Seeing my interest, she taught me to use her electric typewriter and bought me a copy of Writers’ Market. I wrote a truly awful short story about a girl in a mental institution who befriends a white tiger cub, and sent it off to Seventeen Magazine. Needless to say, it did not get accepted for publication.
LH: What was your first success?
MH: At fifteen, I had a short story titled “No Paper Airplanes Flew” in a national kids’ magazine called Scholastic Voice. It was a fictionalized account of a substitute teacher who’d just undergone a radical mastectomy, and how her recounting of the experience tamed an unruly class of junior high students. (I was one of the unruly students.) Scholastic Voice paid me $50, and I felt like a real writer.
LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?
MH: I love writing literary memoir and essays that inspire readers to think about subjects—owls, adoption, lesbian mothers—in a new and different way.
LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.
MH: My agent, Michele Andelman, left Andrea Brown Literary agency directly after selling my memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. At the moment, I’m actively looking for a new literary agent. Michele approached my writing with insight and helped me to shape Gringa into something that would appeal to editors. I miss her!
LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?
MH: If you can write short articles and essays for magazines and newspapers, whether related to the topic of your manuscript or not, this is a terrific way to get your name out there. Most editors ask for an author bio, in which you can include the name of your book and your contact information. I also love to teach at writers’ conferences, where I can network with other writers, plus agents and editors.
LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.
MH: I would have asked my professors in my undergraduate and graduate programs for advice on how to begin submitting my shorter and book-length pieces to editors and agents. Believe it or not, I used to be shy, and I didn’t take advantage of my teachers as resources. After earning my Master of Fine Arts degree, I knew how to write, but I had to teach myself the business of publishing.
LH: Any other thoughts to share?
MH: It may sound shallow, but I’ve taken for my motto one used by Ben and Jerry of gourmet ice cream fame. “If it’s not fun, why do it?”
I try to write what I love, what’s fun for me to craft. Even when I’m working on a particularly tedious writing project, I try to change my attitude about it so that it’s pleasurable. If this involves consuming large quantities of chocolate, so be it.
LH: Sounds great to me! Thanks for your thoughts, Melissa.