By Michele Kirichanskaya
Today we’re pleased to welcome Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby to the WNDB blog to discuss This Is Our Rainbow, out October 19, 2021.
First of all, when did you realize you first wanted to become an author? What attracted you to the craft of storytelling?
Nicole: When I was eight, I saw the Nickelodeon movie Harriet the Spy. I was obsessed, I loved everything about it, but I especially loved the main character, Harriet, and the way she always carried around a notebook to write things in. I used to beg my parents to buy me marble composition notebooks just like the one Harriet had every time they went to a store that carried them, and I would fill those notebooks up with everything. I started off by taking notes about the people around me much like Harriet did while spying, and from there I started writing stories instead. I’ve been writing stories ever since.
The movie also gave me this quote, which I’ve kept in mind ever since, and speaks to why I keep writing: “You know what? You’re an individual, and that makes people nervous. And it’s going to keep making people nervous for the rest of your life.”
Katherine: I’ve been telling stories since I was little. Sometimes people called those “lies” when I was a kid but now I would consider them “oral storytelling.” I have picture books that I “illustrated” and my mom wrote from my dictation. I wrote fanfiction about my life. I loved writing from an early early age. I also spent a lot of time sitting still as I spent several hours a day for most of my childhood at a nebulizer due to severe asthma. I read a lot during that, and when I was around my grandparents, my grandfather used that time to tell me serial stories (about a kid named Kate and their horse, which was also fanfiction of my life.) I wrote my first novel in the front row of my ninth grade science class (sorry Mr. R!) and then two more during college. It took me awhile to write something I thought was worth publishing but I was always writing. Storytelling feels like the best way I know how to explore the complexity and messiness of the world around me, and try to understand myself and others better.
What titles growing up informed your conception and love for stories? What kind of stories/authors inspire you now?
Nicole: I vividly remember using Little Women as a book report book two years in a row, and I remember reading Holes in class and being o b s e s s e d with Kissin’ Kate Barlow—who may have been my first real crush. The authors who inspire me now are, well, the ones I wanted to include in this anthology: authors who tell stories about queer characters growing up and living their lives with no shame, coming of age the same way all middle grade characters get to.
Katherine: I am not sure I’d be the author I am if it wasn’t for Madeleine L’Engle, especially A Wrinkle in Time. But also, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and A Wind in the Door. (I do not speak of Many Waters.) I gobbled up Tamora Pierce and Jane Yolen as a tween and teen too (okay, and as an adult.) I read Wheel of Time and participated for years in forum role-playing based on Wheel of Time. I loved big, expansive worlds, but stories that really honed in one individuals, and one individual’s experience in a world that felt chaotic and messy and bright and too much, and how they survived and shaped a meaningful life. As I started to get into YA more, including more modern YA when I was just out of college, Malinda Lo and A.S. King both wrote books that really reached me at a time when I was struggling a lot. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I read Ash and Ask the Passengers. Now I’m so lucky to work alongside and with so many authors I admire. It’s definitely one of the coolest parts of this job.
As writers, you have explored themes tied to queer/ Jewish identities in your characters? Can you discuss your connection to that and the relevance of such representation?
Nicole: I always get asked if, because I’m queer and write queer stories, I write the books that I wish I had growing up. And that’s true! But it’s also not.
Most middle grade readers now live a completely different world than I did when I was that age—especially queer ones. There’s more visibility, more understanding among peers. And while it’s still not always great, it’s not the experience I would have had. So when I write about queer MG characters, I try to blend what I wish I had and what I needed, with what MG readers need and want now.
Katherine: I love Nicole’s answer. I wish I’d thought of that. That’s such a great way to put it. I explore queerness in my books in ways that I think I’m still exploring it in my life, even though I’m an adult now. The queerness I write feels natural to the story and the way I explore it is sometimes selfish, more for me than anyone else. With regards to Jewish identity, which I didn’t write in this anthology but I do in many other works, that’s more intentional. That is absolutely writing something I did not have when I was a kid, and is still relatively new and small, which is Jewish literature for children and teens that is not centered on the Holocaust. That is really important to me, both so Jewish kids can see themselves as heroes and not solely defined by the Holocaust, but so that non-Jewish kids also know and see Jewish characters as heroes and as people with more stories to tell than the Holocaust. I also really think it’s important to uplift Jewish voices writing about the Holocaust, as many of the most popular books, especially in curricula, about the Holocaust are not written by Jewish people and do not center Jewish characters.
You currently have a few projects coming out, including This Is Our Rainbow, a middle grade anthology of queer stories. Could you discuss that in some detail?
Nicole: Dahlia Adler, who runs LGBTQreads.com and has put together a bunch of anthologies, had tweeted something like, someone should be putting a queer MG anthology together if they’re not already. I said, okay, but I have no idea how to do it, so I’m not going to actually do it. And she said, well, Katherine Locke has done it before, so I’m going to pair you two up, and she did. Katherine and I talked and realized that we meshed well, so we decided to go for it.
It was a really exciting process just to sit down and think about, okay, how many voices can we include in this anthology? Who should we reach out to? And we really couldn’t ask for a better lineup. We got so many wonderful queer voices, and these are the authors who always pop into my head when I think queer kid lit. Plus, we’re lucky to have some stories that skew to the younger middle grades, some that skew a little older, and we have a couple of graphic novel shorts in there, along with a story in verse. We tried to appeal to as many different types of readers as possible, in addition to reaching as much representation as possible so that it can be a book for as many kids as we could make it for.
Katherine: The project has just been so joyful from start to finish, and the stories—they blew us out of the water. We had high expectations, especially with our contributor list as star-studded as it is, but the stories just exceeded every expectation. We were so happy with how this came together and so proud to put this in hands of readers.
Within your books, you seem to fluctuate between different genres and age levels, from historical fantasy to contemporary, as well as young adult to middle grade to children’s literature. What would you say you discover about yourself as an author writing between different mediums? Is there freedom in being so versatile?
Katherine: There is a freedom in being versatile, but sometimes it can be a lot to juggle! Mostly, I get bored. My brain likes to do a lot of things and learn new things and play with format and style and ideas, and being able to jump genres and age categories allows me to feel excited and fresh about every project on my plate. I love that I’ve been able to build a diverse career and I’m so lucky to be supported by all the publishing professionals in my life this way.
What advice would you give to other writers starting out, as well as those looking to finish their first book?
Nicole: Resilience is key. This industry can sometimes give you a myriad of reasons to quit—but don’t. Your voice is important.
Katherine: Learn to finish a book! I am a serial not-finisher. But you can’t publish an unfinished book, and you can’t revise an unfinished book. Learn to finish the book. You can’t fix what isn’t written, so write it, even if it’s messy, and fix it later. It’s also hugely helpful to learn how to finish books, because the next time you get stuck, you can remind yourself, “I’ve been here before, and I’ve finished a book before, so I can do it again.”
What’s a message you want to give to readers directly with This Is Our Rainbow?
Nicole: I really just want them to know that they’re not alone, and that I see them and I’m listening. We also made a point to fill this anthology with as much joy as possible, so that they can read this anthology and realize that they deserve joy, too.
Katherine: No matter where you are in your journey, if you’re sure of your identity or still questioning and exploring, you are valid. Your voice is valid. Your story is valid. No one can take that away from you.
Whose stories, besides your own, are you looking forward to seeing in This Is Our Rainbow?
Nicole: I love all my contributors stories equally! But I will say that I am so happy we were able to include *two* graphic art stories in this anthology, both of which are beautiful.
Katherine: Agreed! We were so lucky—every one of these stories just came out so beautiful. There’s humor and heart and adventure and sweetness and I just love them so much. We’re so proud to have two comics in the anthology and a story in verse!
What book recommendations would you have to give to the readers of We Need Diverse Books?
Nicole: Some recent queer middle grade books that I loved are: A Touch of Ruckus by Ash Van Otterloo, The Best Liars in Riverview by Lin Thompson (out March 2022), and Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith (out Spring 2022).
Katherine: And if readers of WNDB haven’t picked up Flying Lessons and Other Stories and The Hero Next Door, I highly recommend those two anthologies as well. For teen readers, Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler and The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros (out Oct 5th), both queer Jewish books that I loved a latke.
Katherine Locke (they/them) lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the author of The Girl with the Red Balloon, a 2018 Sydney Taylor Honor Book and 2018 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book, as well as The Spy with the Red Balloon. They are the co-editor and contributor to It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories, and a contributor to Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens and the forthcoming Out Now: Queer We Go Again. They are also the author of Bedtime for Superheroes and What are Your Words?. They not-so-secretly believe most stories are fairytales in disguise. They can be found online at KatherineLockeBooks.com and @bibliogato on Twitter and Instagram.
Nicole Melleby (she/her/hers), a born-and-bread Jersey native, is an award-winning children’s author. Her middle grade books have been Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections, and have earned the Skipping Stones Honor Award, as well as being a 2020 Kirkus Reviews best book of the year. Her debut novel, Hurricane Season, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She currently teaches college literature and creative writing, and spends most of her free time roller skating. She lives with her wife and their cat, whose need for attention oddly aligns with Nicole’s writing schedule. You can find her on Twitter @NeekoMelleby
Michele Kirichanskaya (she/her) is a freelance journalist and writer from Brooklyn, New York. Currently studying at the New School, when she is not writing, she is reading, watching an absurd amount of cartoons to survive reality, and creating content for platforms like Hey Alma, Salon, The Mary Sue, GeeksOut, ComicsVerse, The Gay & Lesbian Review, and more. Her work can be found here and on Twitter @MicheleKiricha1.