Ah, middle school. It was the worst of times, it was … well it mostly just sucked. But Los Osos middle grade and young adult author Robin Mellom (who also works as a para-educator at Los Osos Middle School) thinks a little more fondly about that transitional time between elementary and high school. The former teacher and principal’s kid (and current spouse of New Times’ photographer Jayson Mellom) sat down with New Times to talk tweens, getting started as a writer, and her latest book: The Pages Between Us: In the Spotlight. The book is the second in its series (written with co-author Lindsey Leavitt) and follows the friendship of a pair of tweenagers: outgoing, sassy Piper, who loves making videos, and her bestie Olivia, who is an introverted, type-A book lover. The whole story is told through notes, passed back and forth between the girls. No matter your age, this read will feel like a note from your school days.
- IMAGE COURTESY OF ROBIN MELLOM
- BFFS: Los Osos author Robin Mellom’s latest book, 'In the Spotlight: The Pages Between Us,' follows besties Piper and Olivia as they face middle school together.
New Times: How did you get into writing?
Robin Mellom: I started writing when I was teaching fifth grade in Atlanta. I was 22 and had just gotten out of college. I had always loved writing, but I never knew that I could do it. I started writing with my kids. They were my first audience I guess. I read it out loud to them and they gave me feedback. It was great. Then when I got here, Jayson went to shoot a local author at a school and called me and said, “This woman is doing what you want to do.” And that’s how I found SLO Night Writers. So I met with them for years and years and we just had a really serious critique group. That’s what kept me on track.
NT: On your website, you mentioned that middle-schoolers are some of the coolest people ever, but I think anyone who’s been through middle school will remember them as some of the worst people ever. What endears you to that age group?
RM: Because those little creatures turn into amazing adults, as we all do. It’s fascinating to me to see kids go through that emotional roller coaster in such a short period of time. When I was in middle school, I didn’t enjoy it, but when I went back as an adult to teach, it was like watching an adorable movie.
NT: Where did the idea for the Between the Pages series come from?
RM: That came from my own experience. When I was in eighth grade, my best friend and I wrote notes back and forth. We figured out that if we took a spiral notebook and wrote “history,” on the front of it, no one would ever know. It worked. We spent that entire year writing. First it was like diary entries and then it turned into bizarre stories that we would pass back and forth, and the other one had to add on to it.
NT: How did you meet your co-writer Lindsey Leavitt?
RM: I met her through SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I just connected and felt like I had always known her, so it didn’t take long after I had the idea to realize that she was the one I wanted to do it with. It’s really cool to write with someone and see their process.
NT: Who writes for which character?
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- LOCAL AUTHOR : Robin Mellom, a local author and Para-educator at Los Osos Middle School, got her start writing books, in part, through the local group SLO Night Writers.
RM: I write for Olivia and Lindsey writes for Piper. Piper’s the stronger, sassy one. And Lindsey’s more that way. And I just kind of want to read and write like Olivia.
NT: What inspired each of the characters?
RM: They’re based on ourselves, our students, our children, and just some random weirdness.
NT: What inspires you?
RM: Kids, the kids do. As they go out and observe things and notice things for the first time, it’s like they’re from another planet. I love being around them and listening to them.
NT: What’s your writing process like?
RM: It’s different for every book … but I do the first couple of chapters to get the voice, character, and style, and to get excited about it. And once I see how the characters are talking and how it’s flowing, I go back to my outline and really start hammering it out. It usually takes me about three months or so to write a draft of a novel.
NT: As someone who’s in that world of writing and consuming literature for children and young adults, what would your response be to those who have a stigma about adults reading that genre?
RM: I feel sorry for them if they think there’s anything wrong with that. The literature that’s out there is just outstanding. The YA [young adult] thing has just turned into amazing work.
NT: Do you have any upcoming projects?
RM: I have two more books coming out this year, they both come out on the same day, on Aug. 1. One of them is the first of a picture book series for little kids, Hannah Sparkles. She’s the happiest girl in the world and she likes to show people how to “sparkle.” The other one is a middle grade book called Confessions from the Principal’s Kid. My mom was the principal of my school. It was an interesting experience because I stayed after school and was friends with the janitor and cafeteria manager. It’s about a fifth grader just dealing with her mom being in charge of everyone she knows.
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