Monday, August 29, 2022

Q&A with Melanie Conklin



Melanie Conklin is the author of the new middle grade novel A Perfect Mistake. Her other books include Every Missing Piece. She lives in New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to write A Perfect Mistake, and how did you create your character Max?


A: The initial inspiration for A Perfect Mistake was the idea of a kid who personally fears making mistakes having made a big one with serious consequences.


From my experiences with my husband and son’s ADHD, I know that people with ADHD receive an inordinate amount of negative feedback in their lives, so it made sense that Max might have ADHD, too, and a strong aversion to making mistakes.


This pits his personal growth against the plot, which makes for a more engaging story. I often start from the character’s emotional growth arc in order to figure out who they are as a person.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Mystery and just a little peril make an absorbing vehicle for an exploration of ADHD.” What do you think of that description, and can you say more about why you decided to focus on ADHD in the novel?


A: I actually love “mystery and a little bit of peril,” because while there are some intense scenes in A Perfect Mistake, most of the bad stuff happens off stage. That’s a hallmark of middle grade. We explore serious issues but present them to readers in a safe way, so they can think through these kind of challenges without harm.


So many readers young and old are diagnosed with ADHD that it seemed like a natural topic to present for a middle grade audience. I do not have ADHD, so it took a lot of research and work with expert readers to ensure Max’s depiction honored the lived experience of a person with ADHD.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I always know the way a novel will end before I start writing it! Usually, the pieces I know are: the character’s initial emotional state, the inciting moment of the plot, the character’s emotional growth arc, and the climax moment.


Everything else is a total guessing game and I often change the external events of the plot quite a bit. A Perfect Mistake got a new ending after the first draft I turned in to my editor, and that is a typical revision for me!


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: You’re the first person to ask me this! I like titles that are thematic and can contain multiple meanings. For me, A Perfect Mistake speaks to both the external plot, of the incident that happens to Max and his friends, and also to the idea of perfection.


It’s a mistake to think that we can ever be perfect. To quote from the book: “𝚃𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎𝚜 𝚗𝚘 𝚜𝚞𝚌𝚑 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚊𝚜 𝚙𝚎𝚛𝚏𝚎𝚌𝚝. 𝚃𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎𝚜 𝚘𝚗𝚕𝚢 𝚝𝚛𝚢𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚜𝚘𝚖𝚎𝚝𝚒𝚖𝚎𝚜 𝚏𝚊𝚒𝚕𝚒𝚗𝚐, 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝𝚜 𝚘𝚔𝚊𝚢.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I’m working on my next middle grade novel, Crushed. It’s a #MeToo story set in middle school. Most girls have experienced harassment by that age and it’s a topic I have a lot to say about. The book includes a chorus of voices from my main character’s life chiming in with their own experiences with sexism, misogyny, and harassment.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My previous novel, Every Missing Piece, is now in paperback! It’s my very first paperback and I’m so excited to have that option for readers now. The paperback also includes a preview of the first few chapters of A Perfect Mistake.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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