Friday, May 4, 2007

Melissa Walker, Former Editor At Ellegirl Magazine Turned Freelance Writer & A Novelist

Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing her views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Melissa Walker. She’s the author of soon to be released novel “Violet on the Runway” from Berkley Trade in September 2007.

E.I. Good Afternoon Ms. Walker, would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager with your readers? Tell us more about Melissa Walker -- the woman behind the author.

M. Walker: As a teenager, I think really wanted to be known—I was yearbook editor, on the tennis team, in school plays. I had a great group of friends, and yet I still felt unseen/unheard somehow. That said, I have great memories—and great friends, still—from high school. I’m still quite close with my high school boyfriend and his family, too!

E.I. Ms. Walker, how did you get started in publishing? Did you set your sites right after college?

M. Walker: I loved working on the yearbook in high school and the newspaper in college. In the summer between my junior and senior years of college, I applied for magazine internships in New York—I landed one at McCall’s, a women’s magazine. After college (and after a year waiting tables and working at a pop culture dot-com in London), I returned to New York and went back to work with the same editors I’d interned under at McCall’s, but now it was ROSIE, Rosie O’Donnell’s magazine.

E.I. Please tell your readers something about your experience as a Senior Editor at Ellegirl? What was the career path that lead you to the level of Senior Editor?

M. Walker: After a stint at ROSIE as Editorial Assistant and Assistant Editor, I got a job as an Associate Editor at ELLEgirl. There was a small staff, so I was writing, assigning stories and editing quite a bit. After a year, my boss realized I was doing a senior editor’s job, so she gave me the promotion.

E.I. After ELLEgirl, what made you decide to leave your Senior Editor position to become a freelance writer and a novelist?

M. Walker: ELLEgirl folded in April 2006, about a month after I got my book contract for three YA novels. It was a good timing for me—I was wondering how I was going to work full-time and do my books. Suddenly, I had no job, but I also didn’t have to make the decision to leave a place I loved, which made things easier.

E.I. Do you think that your experience as an editor helped you succeed as a writer?

M. Walker: Definitely. It’s been extremely valuable to me to be able to see writing and editing from both sides of the table. I know what writers love and hate, and I know what editors love and hate, more or less. It’s a delicate walk on both sides, I think.

E.I. Do you still write for periodicals? What are the do's and don'ts of writing for periodicals, and how does the discipline differ from writing novels?

M. Walker: I do. Most of my income is from magazine writing (books aren’t quite paying the rent yet). The disciplines are quite different. For one thing, with a magazine article, a deadline is a deadline—there’s no pushing it back. You also have to be much more concise with magazine stories. 1000 words means 1000 words, not 1200. I think magazine writing hones certain skills like making every sentence count—that helps in fiction, too.

Also, when I’m writing magazine stories, I’m working on non-fiction. These three books are the first foray into fiction I’ve made, and at first it was hard for me. I kept thinking, “How will I know what my characters say if I can’t interview them?” My boyfriend suggested I do just that, so I have a pre-interview with my main characters that I can go back to if I need to figure out how they’d react to a certain situation. It helps, because I’m really used to reporting more than imagining.

E.I Would you give your readers ideas on how you as editor work with writers?

M. Walker: As an editor, I’m very sympathetic to my writers. I know that sending out a pitch is tough—and I make sure none go unanswered. I also respect writers’ voices within a piece, but there are always edits to be made. I know it’s hard to get that revision note, but I also know that it’s a writer’s job to give the editor what he/she needs. There’s nothing I dislike more than a writer who can’t follow instructions on a revise—that’s part of the job! That said, someone who maybe turns in rough first drafts but is very flexible about revisions might get repeat assignments because they’re easy to work with.

E.I. Now... let’s shift gears and talk about your first soon-to-be-published novel “Violet on the Runway.” What inspired you to write this novel?

M. Walker: Honestly, I read a lot of YA books at ELLEgirl and I realized that the bestsellers all had this “glam” element to them, but they didn’t necessarily have the greatest underlying messages. When the goal of the book is to fit in with the rich/snobby girls, that doesn’t equal a happy ending for me. I wanted to write a book that had a touch of glamour and a strong main character who could come to some helpful, hopeful realizations about what real friendship is.

E.I. Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced to publish your first book? What surprised you most about the publishing process from the writer's perspective?

M. Walker: My main challenge was having to write some of the book before I was sure it would be sold. I’ve been writing on assignment—with guaranteed pay—for so long in the magazine world that I had trouble finding time for something that wasn’t a sure thing. In the end, though, I wrote two chapters of VIOLET ON THE RUNWAY over two months, and I showed them to an editor who had expressed interest in the idea. She called and offered a two-book deal. That’s when I knew I needed an agent! So I got one before I signed and we shopped the book around, got another offer, and ended up going with the original publisher (Penguin’s Berkley/JAM) for a better deal and three books.

E.I. How has actually writing your first book changed the way you look at writing?

M. Walker: With magazines, 1000 words is a semi-long feature. When I’m on deadline for my books, I write 1000 words a day, minimum. I’m a lot less of a perfectionist with my writing now—when you have to get 1000 words on paper, you can’t agonize over a paragraph the way you can with a magazine article. I definitely think working on the book has helped my magazine story first drafts come a lot quicker.

E.I. What do you like most about your writing? Do you consider having your book adapted to film in mind?

M. Walker: What I like most is writing details that make people become three-dimensional. I think every author dreams of having their book turned into a film, and I’m no different. It’s a long shot, but I’d love it, of course!

E.I. If you were allowed total control of a Hollywood adaptation of 'Violet on the Runway', what actors would you cast? And who would you want to direct?

M. walker: Ooh, tough question. Honestly, I’d like Violet to be an unknown—someone who’s new to Hollywood. In terms of directors, I’m really not sure, but I wouldn’t mind if Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator-writer of Gilmore Girls, wanted to pick up the rights.

E.I. What was your inspiration for the book? Are any of the characters in the story actually based on real people in your life?

M. Walker: My inspiration was working at ELLEgirl and interviewing models, seeing that world and all its quirks. As far as the real personalities go, though, I think each character is an amalgam of people I know. And yes, Violet and I share a lot of opinions on things, and I did work at a movie theater in high school (those theater-worker characters may be lightly based on some people I know… you couldn’t make them up!).

E.I. Do you have any interesting experiences while writing, or researching the book?

M. Walker: I did spend 24 hours in a male model apartment(, which was fun. I actually pictured their apartment when I described Violet’s, bunk beds and all!

E.I. What is a typical work day schedule when you are in full writing mode? Would you tell us a little about your process for editing, revising, and novel development? How long did it take you to write ‘Violet on the Runway’ including the time it took to research the book?

M. Walker: When I’m in the thick of things, here’s how it goes: Get up, eat, go to the gym (this ensures that I get dressed and have at least a teensy bit of human contact). When I come home, I shower, put on something comfortable and climb into the overstuffed chair in my bay window. I sit there and write until I have 1000 words. No lunch until I reach 1000. Then lunch, and after lunch is all magazine work—writing articles, pitching new stories, reporting. I really try to divide my day sharply like that because the mediums are so different.

E.I. What is the premise of ‘Violet on the Runway’, which I understand is to be published by Berkley Trade in September 2007?

M. Walker: I’ll start with the tagline: A wallflower in the spotlight can do two things: wilt—or blossom…

A self-described mousy geek with stringy brown hair and glasses resting on her bigger-than-Minnie Mouse ears, 6’1” Violet Greenfield has two goals for her senior year at Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina: To make it through the next nine months with as little humiliation as possible and to not get any taller. But when a modeling scout from New York City approaches her at her movie-theater job and offers her a plane ticket on the spot, Violet’s world is shaken. A first-class makeover—complete with hair, makeup and photo shoot—turns Violet into something more than pretty. She becomes Tryst Models’ new It Girl. As she books runway shows and faces her own image in magazines—an image she barely recognizes—her life explodes in ways she never could have imagined.

E.I. Please tell us about ‘Violet Greenfield’ and ‘Angela Blythe.' What was your biggest challenge in developing these characters?

M. Walker: Violet is the average, insecure 17-year-old who really hopes college will be better than high school. She has her two best friends, Julie and Roger, but she feels like her life is nothing special. Until she meets Angela.

Angela Blythe is a top agent at Tryst Models. When she sees something she wants (like Violet), she goes after it, barreling through any “no”s that might stand in her way. Violet learns from Angela’s ruthless behavior, but will she be able to stand up to her intimidating agent when it really matters?

Both characters are incredibly strong, but Violet has an inner strength, whereas Angela’s is a more raw, overt power. My biggest challenge in developing Violet was to let her grow into some sense of self-esteem without completely losing her appealing soft nature and vulnerability. With Angela, I wanted to write a funny, tough character, but I didn’t want her to be one-note—and I wanted her to be slightly sympathetic as well.

E.I. How did you develop these characters? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story?

M. Walker: Violet I knew inside and out—I’d been thinking about her as a character for a while, probably since I was in high school myself. Angela came quickly as the book evolved—I know a lot of people like her who work in the fashion industry, so I could practically hear her voice and the way she yelled. I knew instantly what she would say or how she would react to certain situations.

E.I. What's up next? Is there another book in the works? What can you tell us about it?

M. Walker: The second book in the VIOLET series is called VIOLET BY DESIGN, and it’ll be out in the spring. In this book, Violet heeds the siren song of modeling once again and travels to Brazil and around Europe to do fashion shows. She battles pressure to lose weight as well as the expectations of new fans (and Angela) as she soars into the spotlight. And she also learns of a secret love that her best friend Roger has been harboring for years…

E.I. Ms. Walker, thank you so much for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to work with you. Would you like to close the interview with a writing tip for young aspiring authors.

M. Walker: Read, read, read. Read as many books as you can. You’ll develop an ear that will serve you as a writer.

To learn more about Melissa Walker please visit her at:

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