Monday, September 24, 2007

What's Fresh with Melissa Walker's Violet on the Runway

A wallflower in the spotlight can do one of two things: wilt, or blossom...

Violet Greenfield's life changes forever when a lady in giant Chanel shades tells her she could be IT, the next Kate Moss-but taller, and without the PR problems. That's how Violet winds up with a business card in the front pocket of her jeans on her first day as a senior in high school. Angela Blythe from Tryst Models in New York City wants to put Violet on a plane and whisk her into the world of high-heeled boots and oversized sunglasses. Tall, skinny Violet, who's been P-L-A-I-N practically forever.

And guess what? She's going.

Hello Melissa! Great to have you here. Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale?

Melissa: I had been working in magazines for 5 years, and was Senior Features Editor at ELLEgirl when I decided I'd like to get into books. I love the teen audience, so YA was a natural fit. I decided to investigate.

I had no idea what I was doing, so I did things backwards. First I contacted a fantastic YA writer I know through magazines, Carolyn Mackler, to ask her advice on pitching a YA novel. She directed me to Kate Seaver, an editor at Penguin’s Berkley JAM, who was looking for new writers. Kate took a look at my magazine clips, and I sent her a one-page summary of what I imagined VIOLET ON THE RUNWAY would be about. She asked to see the first two chapters, so I sat down to write those and sent them in.

Shockingly, she came back with an offer. I was thrilled, but also scared, so I asked her to give me a week to find an agent. I asked friends, and YA author Kristen Kemp, whom I know through ed2010 and, was particularly helpful in my search--she gave me lots of solid advice, like how the right title could earn you thousands extra. (Mine didn’t, but I’m saving that gem for next time!)

Enter Doug Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic, whom I had met at a book party five years earlier (my first book party in NYC!). I spoke with a few agents but really felt a connection with Doug. We talked, we signed.

Doug thought that we should shop the summary and chapters around, so we did, and FSG also made an offer. Then he asked both Penguin and FSG to have their very best offers in by Monday at noon (it was a total old west showdown! At least in my mind).

In the end, Berkley JAM was promising to put the book out faster, they wanted three books total (FSG wanted two and were going to wait a couple of years to publish), so we went with Penguin. The money was similar at both places. I was happy, because I had really liked Kate.

Great story, Melissa! Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.

Melissa: I still work at magazines sometimes during the year (filling in for someone on maternity leave or an extended vacation), so during those times, I hardly get to write at all. I do still have a third VIOLET book due, though, so my schedule right now goes like this:

I eat breakfast, then write. I don't allow myself to have lunch until I have 1000 words on the page. They don't have to be good words, but they have to be there. I try to do that that five days a week; afternoons are spent working on magazine stories, which I still need to write to maintain a good income. At that rate, you can get your 60,000 words in just 12 weeks. Of course, some days I play hooky in Prospect Park, some days I have lunch-and-beer dates in the city so just write 300 words, etc. I let myself enjoy the perks of being freelance sometimes! But in general, I am pretty consistent with the 1000-word rule.

Please tell us about your latest novel, VIOLET ON THE RUNWAY, (Penguin's Berkley JAM), out 9/4/07 and what we can expect from your characters.

Melissa: As soon as I started peeking behind the scenes of modeling and fashion as a magazine editor, I knew that I wanted to put a "real girl" in the middle of this crazy world, a girl who would see it from the outside and be like, "Holy crap!" It’s an insane environment, so there’s lots of fodder for adventure, humor and drama, especially from the point of view of a small town girl who’s not yet jaded.

In New York, Violet meets her type-A-nutcase agent and a vicious modeling competitor, Veronica Trask. She has the support of her often-stoned (but wise) Aunt Judy.

There are plenty of adventures with editors, photographers, a playboy club promoter, and of course, the sweet members of her family and two best friends from Carolina, who are never far from her mind.

Sounds like an entertaining read! What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Melissa: I’ve finished book 2, VIOLET BY DESIGN, and I’m almost done with book 3, VIOLET IN PRIVATE. I have another idea that’s in a nascent stage… I have to let the VIOLET stuff calm down a little before I start on another book, so I think I might take a slight break after turning in book 3 and just focus on magazine work. But we’ll see.

VIOLET BY DESIGN comes out in March 2008.

Thank you again for chatting with us, Melissa. I wish you the best with your VIOLET series! Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Melissa: My advice is to never focus on making it "good" when you're writing a first draft. Just focus on bringing the words and story into existence. The fine-tuning can come later... if you put too much pressure on yourself in the beginning, that first chapter may never come!

And one other idea: One thing I did that helped was that before I started writing, I interviewed my characters about their likes, dislikes, things that made them happy, things that pissed them off, etc. Coming from a non-fiction background, I wasn’t initially sure what my characters would say unless I interviewed them. Does that sound weird? Probably. Oh well. It totally worked.

Melissa Walker is a writer who has worked as ELLEgirl Features Editor and Seventeen Prom Editor. All in the name of journalism, she has spent 24 hours with male models and attended an elite finishing school for girls in New Zealand, among other hardships.

Melissa grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, and has a BA in English from Vassar College. She really believes in the motto "write what you know." Well, except for the whole supermodel thing. Swear! Visit Melissa's website,

3 fresh comments:

TinaFerraro said...

What a charming interview, and great publishing story!

There's nothing better than reading "insider" stories from someone who is truly "inside" and I look forward to picking this book up.

Kelly Parra said...

I'm looking forward to reading VIOLET, too! :)

Em said...

Yet another book to add to my wishlist. :-) Sounds great.