Author Spotlight: Melissa Sarno talks Just Under the Clouds
Today I'm hosting author, Melissa Sarno, on the blog so grab your coffee and get ready for a great interview! After earning an MFA in screenwriting, Melissa spent time working on the sets of reality television shows, and behind the scenes on documentaries and advertisements. Her debut novel, JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS was released earlier this month, and has been compared to such acclaimed middle grade titles as That Thing About Jellyfish and Fish in a Tree.
And now, here's my chat with Melissa!
Hi, Melissa! Welcome and congrats on the release of Just Under the Clouds. Can share a little about the story and what inspired you to write it?
Thanks so much Megan! Just Under the Clouds is a novel for middle grade readers about Cora Quinn, a 12 year old girl living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn with her mother and sister. When their room at the shelter is ransacked, the family moves in with her mother’s old friend and Cora discovers “the tree of heaven”, a tree that can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a quest to understand the true meaning of home.
The novel was inspired by a lot of things but, especially, my love of Brooklyn, where I lived for eight years. I was wandering around Prospect Park when I saw a group of kids climbing a giant oak tree. I wanted to write about a city kid trying to find and climb the tallest tree in New York City. Gradually, I realized I wasn’t writing about a girl searching for a tree. I was writing about a girl searching for home.
Cora’s journey revolves around finding a sense of belonging—from a writing perspective, how did this struggle flavor her voice?
I love this question. Fitting in, finding the people around whom I can be myself, and discovering places where I feel ‘at home’ are, for me, life long pursuits. I think I will always be someone who yearns for a deeper sense of connection to the world. That longing is a natural part of my narrative voice and, therefore, a big part of Cora’s voice. She is wistful. She is melancholy. But, above all, she is hopeful. I think hopefulness is a big part of wanting to belong. We believe it’s possible.
As a fellow tree-lover, I’m interested to know why you decided to give Cora a fascination for trees?
Hooray for fellow tree-lovers! In my mind, trees are very stable and sturdy living things. They are tall. They help us breathe clean air. They are essential to life. When I was thinking about home and about a girl looking for stability and permanence, I gravitated toward trees.
Since children see the world through a different lens than adults, what are your tips for writing an authentic middle grade POV?
I think the best resources we have as writers are our own desires, emotions, and memories. As adults, we have the benefit of having been the age of our middle grade protagonists. I remember, in fifth grade, being pulled into a circle of kids on the playground, and everyone going around to announce their crushes. I remember not having a crush. I remember wanting to just play on the swings, thinking that everything was changing and I wasn’t ready for it. Being in those middle years is a time of messy, strange, and beautiful transition. I think tapping into those emotions and exploring them can lead to authenticity.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author?
Holding a finished copy of Just Under the Clouds in my hands. Not only was I holding on to something that a group of designers, editors, and publishing professionals had helped me create. But it was tangible proof of decades of hard work toward a dream I’d had as a little girl to publish a book. It was an incredible feeling.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
At the moment, I am infatuated with the Netflix series Ugly Delicious. I love food and I love people who love food. Rather than exploring how to make certain dishes or even the areas around the world where food is made, this show taps into something different, exploring the emotions, traditions, and culture surrounding food. It wanders a lot and doesn’t come to neat conclusions. It makes me think about what I eat and why I love it.
And finally, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
A lesson I keep re-learning is that my journey is my own. Other writers and their books are on their own paths and have nothing to do with me or my work.
Many thanks go out to Melissa for taking the time to tell us more about JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS, what inspired the story, and how to use past experiences to tap into an authentic middle grade voice. Be sure to add Melissa's important book to you Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from retail sites such as Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Or you can always request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,