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.

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