Hurricane Season: Author Interview

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For Fig’s dad, hurricane season brings the music.
For Fig, hurricane season brings the possibility of disaster.
Fig, a sixth grader, loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door.
As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbor, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought . . . and begins to compose her own definition of family.
Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a radiant and tender novel about taking risks and facing danger, about friendship and art, and about growing up and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story about love—both its limits and its incredible healing power.

I found the storyline to be very intriguing. I loved Fig and I loved that she wanted so badly to be her father's keeper, but I do know there are moments in my students lives where they have to step back and understand they need to just be a kid. I liked the way Nicole explored that subject that tends to happen so often in middle grade classrooms. I loved all of the social issues interwoven, I just feel like with some kids it will definitely be too much, which is okay because not every book is for every kid, but I know wholeheartedly there are going to be kids out there who definitely need THIS EXACT STORY. 🌊

Early reviews of Hurricane Season:

“Fig Arnold is an original and irresistible heroine in a story full of hope, art, and love.” –R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder

“This debut novel—about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about growing up and coming out—will make its way straight into your heart…stunning…I found it hard to put down.” –Confessions of a YA Reader

“Melleby’s debut novel includes two coming-out stories—Fig has a crush on an older girl—but integrates these elements naturally into its main story of the father-daughter relationship, as each struggles with how much to share with the other and when. Details involving art and science (STEM-oriented Fig tries to relate to her musician father and draws connections between his condition and Vincent van Gogh’s) lend specificity and keep the plotlines centering on LGBTQ+ identities and bipolar disorder from feeling overly formulaic.” –The Horn Book

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the title.
A: My book is a story about the relationship between a daughter and father, struggling to stay afloat in the face of his bipolar disorder. The title, HURRICANE SEASON, captures the storm brewing both inside of their home, and in the Jersey Shore weather outside of it. Hurricane season is also the focus of the main character, Fig’s countdown—November 30th is both the end of hurricane season and the date of the upcoming follow up visit social services has with her and her dad.
Q: What was your inspiration behind Hurricane Season’s story line?
A: In spring 2017, my cousin was studying abroad in London. My aunt and uncle were planning a vacation to go out for a week to see him, and I basically invited myself along.  I was coming out of a pretty bad depression period, and hadn’t really been writing anything much, but I was ready to try something new. I knew I wanted to explore the relationship between a father and daughter…but that was pretty much all I had.

I wasn’t planning on writing during the trip—I planned on getting the much needed break and then coming home and trying. But I adjusted to the jet lag pretty quickly, and my family didn’t, so I had my mornings to myself. I knew that the National Gallery in London was free so I decided to check it out.

When I got to the Van Gogh paintings, there was a tour guide talking about Van Gogh’s mental illness, and there was something so unbelievable relatable about what he was saying, particularly since I was just coming out of my own depression. I ended up going to the gift shop and buying a book of Van Gogh’s letters and read them all on the plane ride home. By the time we landed, I knew exactly what I wanted to write.
Q: Will you explain a little bit about your writing life?
A: When I was around eight, I watched the Nickelodeon movie adaptation of Harriet the Spy. After I saw it, I immediately begged my parents to buy me notebooks just like Harriet had. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since, though I didn’t exactly know for sure how to make a career of it. I actually got my BA in TV/Film, because I wanted to write for soap operas, and it was a bit later that I decided to get my MFA in Creative Writing and start focusing on novels again.

When I write, I like to be in bed (I know you’re not supposed to work in bed—but I love being comfortable!) with a huge cup of coffee, and my cat Gillian awkwardly splayed out in my lap. I don’t write to music, I find it distracting, but I do usually have the Food Network on in the background! I’ve also always been a “character first, plot later” kind of writer—which I think I get from my love of soap operas and their focus on character and relationships.
Q: What are some challenges unique to writing stories that encompass social issues? And how do you involve yourself in any issues that may arise with people out there who might question some of your characters?
A: First and foremost, the challenge is remembering who your audience is. I firmly believe you shouldn’t underestimate what kids can handle (and do handle in their everyday lives) so when I’m writing a story that deals with more social issues and “tougher topics”, I want to write it in a way that is true and real and not watered down for them. But they aren’t the ones necessarily purchasing the books—teachers and parents and librarians are the ones who get these books into the hands of these kids, so it’s important to keep them in mind, too, without letting that distract from the story you’re trying to tell. I think the best that I can do when issues arise is just continue to write the story—because it’s what I would have needed at a young age, too.
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A: It does deal with a lot of topics that some may view as “tougher” topics, but are ones that middle grade readers are living. Mental illness, budding sexualities—they’re experiencing it, too. I wrote this book so that they would know that they aren’t alone, that they’re seen, that I see them, and I think that’s why it’s a perfect fit for a classroom. You can start a lot of conversations around mental illness, around Van Gogh, and around the things that Fig feels and lives and goes through.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A: Getting to tell stories! I’ve always loved being a storyteller. When I was really little, my family says I could make anything into a toy. I would play with little rocks, or utensils, or whatever was in front of me and make up elaborate stories with them. So, really, it’s always been about the stories for me. Now, I’d have to say the readers, particularly the middle grade audience themselves. It’s been just a joy to connect with them and hear their reactions (and opinions—of which they have many!) to my book. 
Q: How do you get started on your writing, and what advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing?
A: Like I said early, I’m very much a character first writer. Which means, I always start with coming up with a character, and worry about figuring out the plot as I go along. This…isn’t always great, but I’ve never been good at writing outlines. But to get started, sometimes you just have to…start, and treat it like a job (especially if that’s what you want it to be!) I try and carve out time during my day that I dedicate to writing, and I write. I don’t always write anything good…but sometimes you have to just push through the bad until you hit a groove. So, my advice would be…just write! And keep writing. If it’s what you love, be resilient.
Q: Future projects that you are currently working on? 
A: My second book, which comes out next spring! Playing off of my love of soap operas, it’s about a soap-loving 13-year-old Catholic school student with a complicated relationship with her mom, made more complicated when the main character has her first crush on another girl. I keep referring to it as a middle grade LADY BIRD meets SIMON VS THE HOMOSAPIEN AGENDA.
Q: What else would you like us to know?
A: Since I’ve talked so much about my love of soap operas, I’ll share that my main character, Fig (whose full name is Finola) was named after Finola Hughes who plays a character on General Hospital! (Most of my character names come from places like that!)

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