Interview with Melanie Conklin about A PERFECT MISTAKE

Anne: Hello, Melanie! It’s so good of you to stop by and chat about your third novel for MG readers, A Perfect Mistake, which came out earlier this year. It’s a real page-turner. Would you please give readers a super-brief summary of the action?

Melanie: Sure! Eleven-year-old Max has ADHD, is the tallest student in his middle school, and has just lost his two best friends after a dangerous trip into the woods in the middle of the night. Max doesn’t remember exactly what happened before he ran away and left his friends behind. Now, one of his friends is in a coma, and the other friend isn’t talking to Max. When the local authorities run out of leads, Max begins to question what happened after he and his two friends each went their separate ways, back on the night he feels he made a terrible mistake.

Anne: Thank you! I loved the mystery in this story, and loved trying to solve it along with Max. It’s also a friendship story. When you set out to write A Perfect Mistake, where did you begin? With the mystery? Or the characters? Or something else?

Melanie: I started planning A Perfect Mistake with the intention of featuring a character with ADHD. My previous books had strong mystery storylines, so I also intended to create a page-turning mystery. It took a while for me to think of the right external plot that would amplify Max’s emotional journey and keep readers guessing, but ultimately the book is about making mistakes, so I decided to create an incident wherein many characters made mistakes.

Anne: I love the Uncle Cal character and his lines like, “All you can do is be yourself. You gotta embrace the weird, man.” He made me laugh! Is he (or are any of your characters) based on people you know?

Melanie: Uncle Cal is inspired by one of my favorite actors, Sam Rockwell. He usually takes roles that are somewhat quirky but ultimately good-hearted, and that’s how I viewed Uncle Cal. He’s a very loving and loyal person who has been through some tough times, but he turns out to be exactly who Max needs with him on this journey. Miss Little is named after a favorite teacher of mine from high school, and Dr. W is named after a dear friend of mine, Romaine Williamson, who passed away this year and was known for her wisdom and kindness.

Anne: Nice. I love knowing these connections.

Max’s friend Samantha enjoys combining words, such as “sweird” (super weird) and “freal” (for real). In some scenes you don’t translate her words, and I enjoyed trying to figure them out. Fun! Tell us about your process in crafting the Samantha character. 

Melanie: I’m glad you enjoyed figuring out Sam’s word play! I was pretty obsessed with words as a child. I even made my own dictionary by hand, and I used to write new words on my little sister’s chalkboard and make her learn them. Sam is definitely a character who embodies my love of words. In some ways, Sam is the “model” neurotypical student, which was very intentional on my part. I wanted to demonstrate for readers that Sam and Max are both equally curious, creative, and intelligent, though they may have neurological differences that make their school experiences quite different.

Anne: In some ways, the story celebrates the strengths of people with ADHD. I enjoyed learning techniques kids can use to improve their ability to focus. Why did you want to write a story with characters who are dealing with ADHD?

Melanie: My husband and older son both have ADHD, and my husband and I met in high school, so I’ve spent a long time navigating the public education system in the context of ADHD. I found it frustrating twenty-five years ago when there was not so much compassion or accommodation for my husband’s neurological differences, so I was very intentional about supporting our son’s journey through public school. Luckily, there are many supports in place now for students with ADHD, but it is still challenging navigating 504s and accommodations. I definitely wanted to show a realistic depiction of Max’s school journey while also highlighting the remaining challenges of being a student with ADHD in a neurotypical world. Since the book came out, I’ve heard from a lot of young readers who are excited to see themselves reflected in Max’s story.

Anne: That’s great. I especially like the scene when Max’s therapist says, “It’s easy to hide from pain, but we really only start to deal with it when we let ourselves feel it… This is trauma management.” Good stuff! Are there any circumstances from your own life that caused you to include this scene in the story?

Melanie: Therapy is definitely a resource I have utilized in my own life! Often there are experiences and emotions that we need help navigating, and I’ve found therapy helpful to move through these experiences with intention, and I wish everyone had access to that kind of support. I also wish that our very busy and stressful modern world were perhaps a bit less anxiety-provoking, so that maybe we wouldn’t have so much trauma to process in the first place. Hopefully the depictions of therapy in the book will help readers who are not yet aware of that resource so they can ask for the support they need.

Anne: My sister has a son with ADHD and her experience raising him inspired her to become a therapist/life coach. You’re so right that we’d all benefit from having access to that kind of support!

How long did it take you to write A Perfect Mistake? And what are you working on now?

Melanie: Every time I do author visits, I always have the students guess how long it took me to write the book. With Counting Thyme, it took three years from first draft to publication day, which included NINE drafts of the story. A Perfect Mistake only took me two years and five drafts, so I think I’m making some progress! Sometimes the creative process takes a long time, and that’s okay. That’s also something I emphasize on author visits: art is messy! We have to embrace the process. Right now, I’m working on edits for my next middle grade story, Crushed, which is a #metoo story set in middle school that will publish in 2024.

Anne: I look forward to reading it!

Finally, please tell readers where they can go to learn more about you and your work?

Melanie: Sure! You can find me at my website; on Twitter; on Instagram; and on Tiktok.

Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such an engaging mystery for middle-grade readers!

Melanie Conklin grew up in North Carolina and worked as a product designer before she began her writing career. Her debut middle grade novel, Counting Thyme, is a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, winner of the International Literacy Association Teacher’s Choice Award, and nominated to four state reading lists. She is also the author of Every Missing Piece, A Perfect Mistake, Crushed (2024), and her picture book debut, When You Have to Wait (2023). When she’s not writing, Melanie spends her time doodling and dreaming up new ways to be creative. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

Anne (A.B.) Westrick is the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about Anne at the MG Book Village “About” page.

Interview with Briana McDonald about THE SECRETS OF STONE CREEK

Shari: Hi Briana! Welcome to MG Book Village! I’m thrilled to chat with you about your new book that just came out, The Secrets of Stone Creek!  Tell us about your book!

Briana: Thanks so much for having me, Shari! I’m excited to share a bit about The Secrets of Stone Creek, a middle grade adventure about an aspiring explorer who – while visiting an estranged relative in a small, strange tourist town – sets out to find an adventurer who went missing there two decades ago. The protagonist, Finley, enlists the help of her brothers and sets out to solve Stone Creek’s decades’ long mystery in the hopes of becoming a great explorer herself – and, through that, to prove to her mom, overbearing brother and ex-best friend that she’s worth taking seriously. 

Shari: Finley, the main character, is an adventurer who is inspired by real-life female adventurers! Who or what inspired the creation of Finley’s character, and what do you love most about her? 

Briana: Finley was such a fun character to write, because she is so gung-ho and never hesitates to take on a challenge! I had so much fun researching real female adventures and weaving their stories into the narrative whenever Finley referenced them for inspiration. 

But Finley’s character arc is also about exploring whether she needs to, or should dedicate herself to achieving “greatness.” Finley feels overlooked by her mom, and like she’s not taken seriously by her brothers or her friends at school. She is driven by a need to prove herself to others, and is convinced that unless she accomplishes something incredible like the female adventurers in her favorite book, she’ll continue to be overlooked and left behind. 

I loved writing Finley because her goals make her such a driven, fun character, but also reflect what I believe are very real and relatable insecurities. I hope her journey to self-love and realization is as cathartic to readers as it was for me. 

Shari: Finley’s brothers, Oliver and Griffin, are important characters too. What was it like writing a story with sibling relationships at its core?

Briana: When writing Stone Creek, it was important to me that even though Finley is the protagonist, both Oliver and Griffin had character arcs of their own, too, and went through challenges and changes in each chapter. The Walsh siblings are all dealing with the aftermath of their father leaving a few years ago, but they all experienced it differently and faced unique roles and expectations from their mom – and each other – after the divorce. Coming together to solve the mystery of Meggie’s disappearance brings this all to a head but also gives them the opportunity to try working together despite their differences and misunderstandings, too. 

As a writer, it was fun to play with the way the three siblings’ goals aligned and conflicted – both for the purpose of tension and plot, but also because of all the fun banter that ensued, too! Even when they’re disagreeing, there’s a lot of love between the Walsh siblings, and embracing that is ultimately what makes them capable of solving the mystery. 

Shari: The setting of Stone Creek is very unsettling and strange. Tell us more about Stone Creek, its inhabitants, and what makes it such an important element in the story.

Briana: Setting is always important in my books, but it takes on more of a life of its own in The Secrets of Stone Creek than in my previous work. Stone Creek is a tourist town dedicated to the legacy of Meggie Riley, a local adventurer who went missing decades ago. All the characters (and suspects!) are connected to Meggie’s legacy somehow, and – because of that – are invested in the mystery of her disappearance, whether they’re hoping for her return, hoping to clear their name as a suspect, or hoping to take advantage of her story for a profit. 

In a way, the town itself goes through a character arc of its own as the sensationalized mystery surrounding Meggie’s disappearance is explored and critiqued over the course of the novel. As much as the story is about Finley hoping to become a legendary adventurer, it’s also about the dark side of legacies and an exploration of who can – and should – be able to tell someone’s story. 

Shari: Wow, what an fascinating perspective! What types of readers do you hope find Stone Creek, and what message would you want them to take from it?

Briana: I hope any reader with a love of adventure finds and enjoys Stone Creek. But at its heart, Stone Creek is for anyone who has ever felt like they’re not enough, or feels they need to prove they’re worthy of love or acceptance. The Secrets of Stone Creek is an action-packed and twisty adventure – but it’s mainly about a girl who’s afraid of failure and her journey to discovering that what makes her great isn’t what she accomplishes, but the person she is and chooses to be. 

Shari: How was writing Stone Creek different from your first novel, Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing? What can you tell us about upcoming projects?

Briana: Stone Creek and Pepper both have mystery and action elements to them, but Pepper was solving a murder that just occurred whereas Finley is working on what is essentially a cold case. So the clues aren’t fresh, and the story of Stone Creek relies heavily on the unique things Finley and her brothers are able to uncover because of their distinct point of views and experiences. The settings of the two stories are quite different, too: Stone Creek is a town full of quirky locals and suspects, while Pepper only interacts with people who live directly in her cul-de-sac. They are similar, though, in that they’re both stories about stubbornly determined girls who have something to prove! 

I can’t say too much about what’s coming next, but I have a third book with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers that will be coming soon. It’s another adventure, like my first two books, but this time…it’s set in space! I’m very excited to share more with readers soon. 

Shari:  What are your favorite books/ types of books to read?

Briana: I love mysteries and adventures. The more action and twists, the better! Some of my favorites from the past year are The Clackity by Lora Senf and The Fright Watch series by Lorien Lawrence. 

Shari: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

Briana: My website is, and I am @BrianaRMcDonald on Instagram and Twitter. I love hearing from readers and educators, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

Shari: Thank you so much for joining us today, Briana, to share about your fantastic book! 

Briana: Thanks so much for having me, and I hope everyone enjoys The Secrets of Stone Creek

Briana McDonald writes diverse and adventurous books for young readers. She studied writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and her short fiction has appeared in several literary journals. When she’s not writing, Briana works at Columbia University and lives in New York City with her wife and their dog, Rex. She is the author of Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing and The Secrets of Stone Creek. Find out more at