Heather, what was your inspiration for writing RIPPLE?
RIPPLE came out of the experiences my husband and I had when we were younger, so it’s a very personal book. I met my husband our senior year, and immediately realized his home life was just as crazy, if not crazier, than mine. We both had to deal with addiction with a loved one at home, and we both had our own destructive ways of reacting to that addiction, thus the “ripple” of addiction and dysfunction that inspired the title. Knowing there were other people my age going through what I was going through, just having that support and friendship from my future husband and then friend, gave me hope that life could eventually be better and less painful.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
There is a scene where Jack takes Tessa to an old mental health hospital and breaks in with her in tow. It’s a really cool scene because of the creepiness and history of the place and the risk they are taking being there, but it's also a scene that causes Jack pain. I cried when I wrote it. I cried every time I edited it. But I’m happy with how it turned out. The other scene I really like is at a party where Jack pulls out his flea market violin, strips off his shirt, decorates his belly button, and becomes part of the band named Navel Strange. I love it because I actually dreamed it, all these musicians with different patterns painted around their navels. When I asked them their name, in my dream, they came right out with it -- Navel Strange. I woke up and thought, “That’s going in the book!”
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?
Sara Zarr’s STORY OF A GIRL, Rainbow Rowell’s ELEANOR AND PARK, and Sarah Dessen’s DREAMLAND have a similar feel to RIPPLE. More recent titles that have a similar tone are Ashley Blake’s SUFFER LOVE and, considering Tessa’s perspective and reactions to things, Amber Smith’s THE WAY I USED TO BE.
How long did you work on RIPPLE?
RIPPLE was in process for about seven years before it sold. When I first rolled it out, agents and editors said they loved the writing, but the topic and the issues made the book a tough sell. Overall, young adult publishing liked to “close the door” before any sexuality or any major violence occurred. But with TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES, all those doors have opened, and YA writers have a lot more freedom. I decided to revamp RIPPLE so it had two voices, which is a common format now, and it sold fairly quickly.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
I thought I was going to be a poet. I mentored in poetry in college. I never wanted to write in prose. But when my boys were born, I started writing picture books, which I was miserable at, and eventually, I found my voice as a 16 year old and ran with it. It seemed organic and natural, and I found I could incorporate my poetic training into the prose. I even played with RIPPLE by condensing it into a short story in verse, which won the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing through the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ journal HUNGER MOUNTAIN in 2011. My current agent read that short story and contacted me, and I’ve been working with her since. So I guess, in the end, this book taught me that I could actually be successful as a prose writer … with a poetic flair. And one day, I’ll write an entire novel in verse. That’s definitely one of my writing goals.
What do you hope readers will take away from RIPPLE?
The mental health aspect is forefront in this book. The lack of mental health resources in the U.S. and the stigma surrounding mental illness, even things as common as addiction and depression, makes me seethe. Tons of people need help who can’t get it, and they're afraid to talk about the mental illness in their lives because of the negative reactions and exclusion that come from it. I wrote myself into a place of hope and courage and optimism in RIPPLE, and I really hope that comes through for the reader, as well.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
Like, forever. At least that’s how it felt. I started working on picture books about 14 years ago through the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) correspondence course. My instructor was Idella Bodie, who wrote a book called WHOPPER that I actually loved as a tween. So it was super cool to have her critiquing my work. But again, I pretty much sucked at picture books. So I took another course through ICL on novel writing and from there, I wrote three full novels and about eight more half novels before RIPPLE sold. It was practice at honing my prose. I honestly don’t think I was ready to sell my work until I actually did. I needed to be strong as a writer and as a person, since this business comes with lots of criticism. You have to believe in your work and in yourself.
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
My first novel that I worked on with ICL was called ON THE BRINK OF OOHS AND AHS. And I really dug it. It was younger YA, but it was funny and slapstick and a good first novel to write because it was fun and shorter than my other work. I think when I finished that, even though it wasn’t quite publishable, I knew I could create characters, create a strong plot line, and build a novel the way I needed to.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I work in my study with no noise. I stare at a wall. I need to be in a bubble with nothing to distract me. If I’m not home, my favorite place to work is in my family’s cottage on Lake Michigan. My grandmother has passed away now, but her old bedroom is dark, quiet, and I seem to be really prolific in there. Could be good vibes. She once told my mom, “Heather will be a successful writer. I’ll be long gone and won’t be here to see it, but that’s what will happen.” Thanks, Grandma :-) Miss you!
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Read. Read as much as you can in the genre in which you want to write. Go to conferences to learn about books and writing and meet other writers. Know what’s out there, what’s been done, and that will help you find your niche and become a better writer by looking at technique. Also, write what moves you. Not what’s trendy. Write what you feel inside you. That passion you have for the subject will fuel every aspect of the book and make it go from an okay novel to a brilliant one.
What are you working on now?
And now for something completely different … I’m working on a fantasy novel. I would never say I’m a fantasy writer and I don’t love high fantasy, but I do I love “fantasy stories for people who don’t like fantasy.” Usually they are grounded in realism with characters that are truly relatable and might have some magic. Marie Lu’s THE YOUNG ELITES and Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES are good examples of fantasy that rocks my world. So about six years ago, before those books were even out, I woke up at 3 a.m. with a girl talking to me, because I hear the voice before I start to write. She told me about her hot, dry, agrarian world that her best friend was about to try to leave even though it might kill her. And I sat down to write a couple pages and ended up with about 80 along with more story that still had to be told. So it became a novel and will go to my very patiently waiting agent as soon as I'm done editing it.
ABOUT THE BOOK
by Heather Smith Meloche
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
When their too-adult lives lead them down self-destructive paths, these broken teens find a way to heal in this YA novel perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins
With her impossible-to-please grandmother on her back about college and her disapproving step-dad watching her every move, Tessa would do anything to escape the pressure-cooker she calls home. So she finds a shot of much-needed power and confidence by hooking up with boys, even though it means cheating on her boyfriend. But when she's finally caught red-handed, she’ll do anything she can to cover up what she's done.
Jack is a prankster who bucks the system every chance he gets—each transgression getting riskier and riskier. He loves the thrill, and each adventure allows a little release because his smug smile and suave demeanor in the face of authority doesn’t make life at home with his mom any less tough. He tries to take care of her, but the truth is he's powerless in the face of her fragile mental health. So he copes in his own way, by defacing public property and pulling elaborate pranks, though he knows in the end this’ll only screw up his life even more.
As they both try not to let their self-destructive patterns get the best of them, Tessa and Jack gravitate toward one another, discovering the best parts of themselves in the process. An honest portrayal of the urges that drive us and finding the strength to overcome them, Ripple is a stunning debut from a powerful new voice.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Have you had a chance to read RIPPLE yet? Have you ever dreamed something that ended up in your novel? Do you write what moves you rather than what's trendy? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
Jocelyn, Shelly, Martina, Anisaa, Sam, Erin, Susan, Michelle, Laura, and Kristin