by Melissa Roske

Inspiration is weird. It comes at the strangest times, in the strangest places. The inspiration for my middle-grade novel, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, came stuffed inside a fortune cookie. Here’s what it said:

A winsome smile is your sure protection.

I hadn’t a clue what this meant—or how it applied to me—but the fortune had a nice ring to it, so I decided to keep it. Several years later, I was going through my desk drawer when I found the fortune. For reasons I can’t begin to understand or explain, an image of a sassy 11-year-old New Yorker leapfrogged into my brain and I knew I had to write about her.

I wrote and wrote (and wrote), until I had a clearer picture of who this character was, and what mattered to her. I slowly added parents, a best friend, a quirky school in Greenwich Village, a stepmom, a little brother, a crush. Before I knew it, I had created Kat Greene’s world—and a first draft of the novel. I found an agent (not easy), landed a book deal (harder still), and, on August 22, 2017, was finally able to call myself a published author. It was a dream come true!

Unfortunately, the idea for my second middle-grade novel didn’t come as easily. Images of sassy protagonists didn’t leapfrog into my brain, and all the fortune cookies in the world couldn’t help me this time. Clearly, I’d used up all my good ideas in the first book. I was a one-hit wonder, I decided. The kidlit equivalent of Milli Vanilli.

Immobilized by fear and self-loathing, I went into a very dark place. Then the pandemic hit, and the place grew even darker. The more despondent I felt, the more immobilized I became. Was this writer’s block, I wondered—or something more sinister?

As most writers eventually do, I turned to Anne Lamott’s iconic craft book, BIRD BY BIRD, for guidance. I had resisted this book for years because—let’s be honest here—it seemed way too touchy-feely for my cynical New York taste. Too New Age-y. Too Californian. But I was wrong. Sure, Lamott uses words like “abundance” and “self-compassion,” but her book turned out to be hysterically funny and, more important, offered me more than humor. It gave me hope. Hope that I wasn’t a one-hit wonder; that I had the ability to write but had lost my confidence, somewhere between “fear” and “self-loathing.” I’d also forgotten how joyful writing can be, especially when you learn to tune out the judgy-wudgy voice inside your head that says, “You suck!” and “You have no business calling yourself a writer.”

It didn’t happen overnight, but after a while “you suck” gave way to “I can”. I revised two novels and wrote a short story—“Grandma Merle’s Last Wish,” which will appear in COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES, a Jewish MG anthology released on April 18 from Albert Whitman & Co.

I also realized that fear and self-loathing can be kicked to the curb, but only you’re ready and willing to do the work. And if you’re not…?

Crack open a fortune cookie. You never know what’s inside.

Melissa Roske is the author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN (Charlesbridge, 2017) and the short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish,” which will appear in the forthcoming Jewish middle-grade anthology, COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Company, 4/19/22). A native New Yorker, Melissa is a contributor to the popular MG blog From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, including this post she wrote about #Storystorm2021. Learn more about Melissa on her website and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Melissa is giving away three prizes to three separate random winners—a signed copy of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, a copy of COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES (when it becomes available on 4/18/22), and a middle-grade query critique!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.