Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.
Today, I’m very pleased to welcome author Melanie Florence to the blog! I’m especially interested in learning from her, because although Melanie is still in some ways a “new” writer, her body of work is already very diverse, including YA novels, picture books and non-fiction.
As she notes on her website, Melanie Florence is a Canadian author of Cree and Scottish heritage. She is a recent winner of the Second Story Press Aboriginal Writing Contest for her upcoming picture book Stolen Words (coming from Second Story Press in Spring 2016). Her first book, Jordin Tootoo: The Highs and Lows of the First Inuit to Play in the NHL was chosen as an Honor Book by the American Indian Library Association.
Melanie’s first young adult novel, One Night, part of Lorimer’s Sidestreets series, was published in September of 2015. Her new non-fiction book, Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools is forthcoming from Lorimer/Formac on December 15, 2015.
Missing Nimama, Melanie’s first picture book, deals with the vital and timely issue of missing indigenous women. It was released in November, 2015 by Clockwise Press.
A young mother, one of the many missing indigenous women, watches over her small daughter as she grows up without her nimama. Together, but separated, they experience important milestones: the first day of school, first dance, first date, a wedding, and new life.
A free-verse story of love, loss, and acceptance told in alternating voices, Missing Nimama shows the human side of a national tragedy.
An afterword by the author provides a simple, age-appropriate context for young readers. Includes a glossary of Cree terms. Typeset in a dyslexia-friendly font.
Missing Nimama is available from print and online booksellers across Canada. Her other works are available from their publishers or through your preferred bookseller. You can learn more about them here.
[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Melanie! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[MF] I’m not sure I’ll ever feel that way! Like many writers, I always worry that this book contract will be the last and I’ll suddenly find that no one wants to hear what I have to say anymore. But with that said, I’ve been incredibly lucky over the past year or so and I’ve signed book deals with some incredible publishers that I have long admired.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
I think I just tried to stay true to what I felt I needed to write. It’s incredibly important to me that I write strong Aboriginal characters and talk about Aboriginal issues. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing editors who believed in me.
Your body of work is already impressively diverse – non-fiction, YA and picture books. Was casting your net widely a deliberate part of your approach to breaking in?
Not at all! The first two books I sold were non-fiction and the publisher of those books (James Lorimer) asked me if I’d like to write fiction for them. I always wanted to write fiction and he gave me a shot that I am incredibly grateful for. My first picture book, Missing Nimama, came about when I had a meeting with an editor about another project and we started throwing ideas around and that book came out of it. I just sold my third picture book! I’ve got several YA books coming out in the next couple of years. It’s more about the story, not the genre.
And knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I’m so happy with the books that I’ve written and the relationships I’ve made with my publishers and editors. Like I said, I’ve been so incredibly lucky.
Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?
I honestly haven’t had time to think about it. I’ve been juggling deadlines for the past year. It’s exhausting but I’m not complaining. It’s a great problem to have.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the second draft of a YA book for Orca that’s kind of an Indigenous Billy Elliot story, I’m outlining a new YA book with Kat, my incredible editor from Lorimer and I’ve got a book launch for Missing Nimama on November 30th. Hopefully I’ll close out the year with the release of Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools.
How can people keep up with you online?
Thank you, Melanie for taking the time to share your experiences and insights! And okay, is there anyone out there who doesn’t want to read “an Indigenous Billy Elliot story”, like, RIGHT NOW? So we have that to look forward to. And speaking of things to look forward to…
Coming up on the blog: My November progress report is looking like it’s going to be a November post-mortem instead, but it’s coming. Plus, more Breaking In interviews!