A Conversation with Jen Petro-Roy: Books Between, Episode 47

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who loves middle grade books. I believe in the power of stories to help us realize that we are not alone in the world.  And my goal is to help you connect kids with those incredible stories and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a teacher of 22, and gearing up for my Spring Break next week!

This is Episode #47 and today I’m sharing three books about the challenges and realities of family life, and then I’ll share with you a conversation with Jen Petro-Roy – author of P.S. I Miss You.

A few quick announcements before we get started – the April Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson and the May pick is Every Shiny Thing by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen if you want to adjust those TBR piles so you can join us.

Also, if you are on Twitter, Matthew Winner and I will be guests on the upcoming #mglitchat Twitter Chat this Thursday, April 19th from 9-10pm. And we’ll be chatting about podcasting and whatever else you want to chat about! So I hope you can join us live this Thursday or check out #mglitchat afterward to see the transcript.

Book Talk – Three Novels Featuring the Challenges and Realities of Family Life

This week I am kicking off the show with some book talks! And the theme this week is novels featuring the challenges and realities of family life.Our three featured books this episode are Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske, The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne, and One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Kat Greene Comes Clean


kat-greeneOur first featured MG novel this week is Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske. This is a book about a 5th grade girl, Kat, who lives in New York City with her cleaning-obsessed mother who is now a contestant on the TV game show Clean Sweep. But that’s not the only stressor in her life right now. She is still dealing with the ramifications of her parent’s divorce and her dad’s new family. Her best friend, Halle, is less-than-supportive now that she’s newly enamored with a particular boy at their school.  And, Kat did not get one of the lead roles in her school’s production of her favorite book – Harriet the Spy. She gets the blah role of the boy in the purple socks. Here are three things to love about Kat Greene Comes Clean:

  1. The complicated crush situation in this book. I won’t reveal the details because it’s a bit of a spoiler, but Kat’s best friend has an intense crush on this boy, Michael McGraw, and talks about every facet of his life constantly. And that situation takes an unexpected and awkward detour. Well, unexpected for Halle and Kat. As a teacher, I’ve seen this play out like this a bunch of times…..  yikes!
  2. How this book portrays what it’s like dealing with a family member who has OCD. Kat’s mom was laid off from her job at a magazine, went through a divorce, and her OCD has manifested itself more and more through her obsessive cleaning. I appreciated that this book acknowledged that these anxieties and disorders are often more than just one thing. And the multiple layers of impact on everyone around them. Kat’s mom scrubs the floor with an electric toothbrush, so Kat has to constantly worry about her wrath if there are crumbs anywhere. Her mom washes her hands in a very precise way over and over again, so Kat has to wait while she finishes and her mom’s attention is always diverted to the next thing she has that compulsion to clean. Even in public, her mother wipes down the cans at the grocery store before putting them in her cart, which embarasses Kat terribly! But then she starts throwing away Kat’s things from her bedroom and the impact on Kat is beyond just that embarrassment. At one point later in the novel when things have come to a head, her mother says, “I felt out of control and incredibly anxious. So I shut down.”
  3. Kat’s school psychologist – Olympia Rabinowitz. I just loved her gentle way of slowly helping Kat release herself that her mother had a problem. Early on, Olympia comes to her classroom for something like a sharing circle and later Kat writes her an email about her mom. And then deletes it. I thought that was such a truthful moment – because especially for children, sometimes even acknowledging a problem is overwhelming because the consequence of telling is often also bad. There’s a real chance that Kat could have to leave her mom and go live with her dad and his new wife and son – which she does NOT want to do! And like a lot of kids, she has an aversion to airing her family’s “dirty laundry.” Plus – I loved Olympia because has jelly beans in her office and that’s always a plus.

If you have a kid who likes Harriet the Spy or Kharma Khullar’s Mustache or Finding Perfect, then Melissa Roske’s Kat Green Comes Clean is a great book to introduce them to next.

The Thing About Leftovers

9780147514226A book that I finally got a chance to read last week is The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne. This novel is about 6th grader Elizabeth “Fizzy” Russo who is struggling to navigate changing family dynamics in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. And figuring out how to make friends at her swanky new school. The only two things that consistently provide stability and help her cope are cooking and her Aunt Liz, who helps Fizzy register for the prestigious Southern Living Cook-off and works with her to test out tons of recipes after school.  I loved every bit of this book from the first to the very last page. But, just as a small sample, here are three things to love about C.C. Payne’s The Thing About Leftovers:

  1. Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for books featuring food?  Oh my gosh – this book had me DROOLING over all the recipes that Fizzy tries out. Like lasagna and apple tart and this intriguing German dessert called Eis and Heiss (meaning ice and hot) which is a mix of cold ice cream and hot fruit sauce.  And then later, when she finds out that her mom’s boyfriend, Keene, likes her baking, she makes cake after cake – pineapple upside down and red velvet and this gorgeous purple cake with purple flowers all over it…ahhh. Oh – and this wonderful thing called Benedictine that Fizzy’s Aunt Liz makes for her when she comes over. It’s this wonderful-sounding cucumber and cream cheese spread. I NEED to try this!
  2. All the analogies and descriptions related to food. As Jarrett Lerner mentioned on a recent episode, a fabulous analogy can make your writing just sparkle. And boy does Payne fill her writing with sparkling moments. Like, “In a voice so sugary I could practically feel a cavity coming on.”  or “And if Mom was starting fresh, then that made me a kind of leftover, didn’t it?”, “Here’s the thing about leftovers: Nobody is ever excited about them; they’re just something you have to deal with.”  and here’s one of my favorites from page 190.
  3. Her friendships with Zach and Miyoko. Zack is a boy who Fizzy’s mom describes as “slick” but who you realize is coping with his own “stuff” by telling adults what they want to hear – and then doing what he wants to do. And then Miyoko – who does exactly what the perhaps over-protective adults in her life want her to – from getting straight A’s to going to bed at 10 – even when she’s having a sleepover!  But who stands up for things when it really matters. I really enjoyed Fizzy and Miyoko and Zach‘s supportive friendship with each other.

C.C. Payne’s The Things About Leftovers is so well-written – a bittersweet mix of heartbreaking and heartfelt and humourous, and with an ending that is both honest and hopeful. As a kid who went through some very similar family dynamics, I think this book is a must-have for your collection. And I’m really looking forward to seeing more from C.C. Payne!

One for the Murphys


one-for-the-murphys-335x512Our third book featured this week is One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  This is one of those books that got past me and when some friends found out I hadn’t read it yet they basically staged an intervention and forced me to! And oh am I glad they did!! They were so right – this book is incredible! So for the few of you who haven’t read it yet (it seems like I was the last one!), One for the Murphys is about 12 year-old Carley who grew up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving but neglectful mother. She’s a tough kid. But when a violent incident with her step-father leads to Carley’s placement in foster care with the Murphys, it gets harder for Carley to convince herself that she is not worthy of their love.  Here are three things to love about One for the Murphys:

  1. The slow, skillful reveal about Carley’s previous life and what happened to land her in foster care. Hunt does not come right out and tell you, but drops a trail of memories. Like learning that Carley used to “go shopping” for her family by diving into Goodwill dumpsters while her mom played lookout. Or when she asks Mrs. Murphy if the lasagna she has planned for dinner is Stouffers or the store brand. Or when she’s shocked that Mrs. Murphy can calm herself down, because her own mother could never do that. Or the times Carley reveals she had to sleep in the bathtub… It just reminds us that a lot of kids – the angry ones, the quiet ones – have those types of stories that if we knew them, would explain so much.
  2. Mrs. Murphy! This woman, who has her own stories, is incredible at understanding Carley and being patient with her as the family adjusts. There’s this powerful scene at a restaurant after Mrs. Murphy has just taken Carley clothes shopping and Carley, probably feeling overwhelmed, starts lashing out at the server, at the food, at her, at herself. Let me read you this one section from page 25.  
  3. All the little things. I can’t pin it down to just one, but… the giraffe stuffed animal, and Tori’s love of the musical Wicked, and her razzing Mr. Murphy about the Red Sox, and all the Murphy boys – Daniel, and Adam, and especially little Michael Eric. And the sign in Carley’s bedroom… The last three chapters of this book – whoa. Prepare to finish this novel in a location where you can cry. And yes, it’s a tear-jerker at the end, but the tears are about the hope as much as they are about the other things that happen. So please don’t let the fact that you might cry dissuade you from reading this book! It’s… earned them. I almost feel like, Carley (and the kids like Carley) deserved that emotion at the end.

One for the Murphys is for all the Carley’s in the world, and for all the kids and adults who need a way to see past the hardened front of children like Carley.

If you want to instantly boost the quality of connections your kids can find in your classroom library or your collection, get these three books! They each offer much-needed perspectives for families experiencing divorce, mental illness, the foster care system, and a lot more and told with warmth and lightness and humor!

Jen Petro-Roy – Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Jen Petro-Roy, author of P.S. I Miss You. We discuss the role of sensitivity readers, the challenges of writing a novel told all in letters, her favorite board game, and of course – her debut novel!

Take a listen…


PSIMissYouFor our listeners who haven’t yet read P.S. I Miss You, what is this story about?

One of the things I really appreciated about this story was that it deals with issues that many, many kids are experiencing – like an older sibling’s pregnancy, religious questioning, and Evie slowly starting to realize she may have romantic feelings for her friend, June. I love that kids have your age-appropriate story so they can either see themselves reflected in the characters (and feel like they are not alone) or start to develop some awareness of what their peers are going through.

What was your thought process like as you were including those elements of your story?

I saw you mention that you used a sensitivity reader. I am so curious about that process – can you tell us what that was like, how you connected with them, and how their advice may have enhanced your story?

On a personal note – I just want to thank you soo much for including a positive portrayal of an unapologetically atheist family.  I was formerly very Catholic but we are now a non-religious family and it was so refreshing to FINALLY see a character like June who is happy, well-adjusted, and also non-religious. … So, thank you!!

Even though there are some weightier themes, your novel includes such laughter and light – and the references to Fish in a Tree, and Harry Potter, and Beauty & the Beast and the movie Grease…

How did you balance those aspects of Evie’s life?

So…. I want to talk about the ending. But… I don’t want to reveal the ending!

NOTE: Jen and I discussed the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 45:35 mark.


As a novel told all in letters – what kind of challenges did that format create for you?JenPetro-Roy.authorphoto

What are you working on now?


One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.

Did you have a special teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?

You’ve said that reading The Babysitters Club as a child made you into the reader and writer you are today….

Are you more Kristy, MaryAnne, Claudia, or  Stacey?

What are you reading now?


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Jen Petro Roy’s  gorgeous website – https://www.jenpetroroy.com

Jen on Twitter and Instagram

Danika Corrall’s website – https://www.danikacorrall.com/work

Photosynthesis Board Game


Books & Authors We Chatted About:


The Baby-Sitters Club (Ann M. Martin)

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade (Jordan Sonnenblick)

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (Jordan Sonnenblick)

Not If I Save You First (Ally Carter)

Gallagher Girls (Ally Carter)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.


Writing as a Second Career: Seven Middle-Life Authors Share Their Experiences

One of the interesting things about middle grade fiction is how many authors begin writing for children after working in other careers for many years.  So many, in fact, that those of us who’ve made the leap to writing for children suspect there are many more aspiring authors out there who are second-guessing whether or not to take the leap themselves. Seven authors — Kristin L. Gray, Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Sally J. Pla, Jonathan Rosen, Melissa Roske, Corabel Shofner, and Rob Vlock — have pulled back the curtain to share their own experiences, and perhaps encourage others that it’s never too late to chase their dream.

. . .

Kristin L. Gray — Author of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2017

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What was your previous career? 

Pediatric RN, Stay-at-Home Mom of five

Why did you change? 

My youngest began school, and I’d let my RN license lapse. I decided to give myself that year to buckle down and get serious about my dream. Up to that point, I’d treated writing like a hobby.

What in your previous career prepared you for kidlit? 

Being around kids! Observing their speech, their body language, their negotiation skills, their zest for life.

Commonalities in previous career/this new career? 

Same age audience.


Fewer kids crying!

Is it ever too late?

Never. Anna Sewell didn’t start writing Black Beauty until age 51, and Laura Ingalls Wilder was 64 when the first Little House book published.

What do you envision for the next few decades of your new career? 

Writing more books, improving my craft, making more friends.

What advice do you have for older aspiring authors? 

Read what’s current. Join a writing community, in person or online. Enjoy the journey. It’s a privilege to do what we do.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight — Author, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face, Sky Pony Press, 2017 and The Frame-Up, Greenwillow Books, June 5th, 2018

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What was your previous career(s)? 

I taught part-time at the University of New Brunswick and I was a civil servant for the province, rising to the level of Deputy Minister of Education.

Why did you change? 

I’d dreamed of writing for children my whole life. One day I woke up and decided it was now or never and left.

What in your previous career prepared you for kidlit? 

Tenacity, not taking others’ criticism of my work personally, work ethic.

Commonalities in previous career/this new career?

Deadlines, managing expectations, having to work long hours under very tight deadlines.


In my previous career, everything was about implementing political policy directions. This career is solely for me.

Is it ever too late?

So long as you can access your inner child, and unleash your imagination, you are good to go!

What do you envision for the next few decades of your new career? 

Writing, learning, and hopefully inspiring kids just like I was inspired by the books I read.

What advice do you have for older aspiring authors? 

The kidlit world has changed and you need to understand it. Strive for excellence, make connections, and find peers and teachers who can give you useful feedback. And keep trying!

Sally J. Pla — Author, The Someday Birds,Harper Books, 2017 and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine, Harper Books, February 6th, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 7.15.12 AM What was your previous career(s)? 

Business journalist. Front desk clerk. Freelance writer on business/family/education issues. School board president. Bad waitress. Terrible back-up singer in a local band. Mother. Special needs advocate.

Why did you change? 

Life comes in phases. I loved everything I did while I was doing it. (Except for waitressing. Those trays were HEAVY, and they made such a mess when you dropped them in the middle of the restaurant!)

What in your previous career prepared you for kidlit? 

I’ve always been a writer at heart and have always viewed everything in life as writing-fodder (for better or worse). The more life you live, well, the more fodder you have… Also, raising three little boys close in age, and surviving to tell the tale (they are all young adults now) gave me lots of stories. LOTS OF STORIES.

Commonalities in previous career/this new career?

I almost always wrote for a living — for journals, magazines, and businesses. Can’t not write.


This is the first time I really love what I get to write. I have always, always wanted to write fiction, but it took me decades to finally give myself the permission to try. (Hey, I have self-esteem issues! I didn’t think I’d be good enough. I mean, what audacity, to assume you can write a novel!)

Is it ever too late? 


What do you envision for the next few decades of your new career?

Many books of all sorts. Hopefully, I’ve got time! I mean, Ursula LeGuin was writing until she just passed away at 88. Grandma Moses started painting at 78. Newbery Medalist Karen Cushman started writing at 49. Inspiring, right?

What advice do you have for older aspiring authors?

Don’t make it be about getting published. Make it be about the art. The journey, not the destination. Do it for the work’s sake — for the love of perfecting an amazing, rich, full-of-life story. Eventually, you’ll know when it’s time for the next level.

Jonathan Rosen — Author, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, Sky Pony Press, 2017

 Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 7.15.23 AMWhat was your previous career? 

Which one? I did a few different jobs, but I did daytrading for many years, until the market really started tanking, and I transitioned into the lucrative field of education. From there, it was a more natural switch to writing, which I had always wanted to do, but never devoted the time to it.

Why did you change? 

I had always wanted to write, and being an English teacher meant that I was already immersed in literature. The bug came back, and I really sat down to do it.

What in your previous career prepared you for kidlit?

As a teacher, I was already doing literature. Reading, studying it, analyzing it. I got to discuss some of my favorite books, but kept thinking I want kids to discuss my work one day.

Commonalities in previous career/this new career? 

Well, besides being immersed in books, I do think you have to study your craft. By that, I mean reading a lot. Also, reading and learning about writing. I love to read new middle grade books and think about story structure. What would I have done the same or differently? Would I have made the same choices as this author?


It’ll sound funny to say in a world where deadlines are ever-present, but I like the solitude. I don’t have to answer to people about my work. It’s freeing, that I’m in total control of what I do. Though, I guess, agents and editors might beg to differ.

Is it ever too late? 

No. Definitely not. We all have to follow our own paths to whatever gets us here. And just because your first book might not be published until later in life, doesn’t make it any less of a great story than someone who publishes right out of school, or along those lines. It’s your journey, and everyone’s is different.

What do you envision for the next few decades of your new career?

I want to write, write, and write. I want to have as many books out as I can and leave behind a body of work for kids to enjoy. I have a lot of stories I want to tell.

What advice do you have for older aspiring authors?

Keep at it and NEVER give up. Rejections are tough to deal with, but we’ve all had them. It’s discouraging, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, or that you’re not going to make it. Learn your craft, study, and write. It can happen.  

Melissa Roske — Author, Kat Greene Comes Clean, Charlesbridge Books, 2017

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What was your previous career? 

Magazine editor/freelance writer; advice columnist; life coach.

Why did you change?

I didn’t change, exactly. I’ve always written for work; I just lacked the discipline to write anything longer than a magazine article, or answers to readers’ letters in my advice column. But then, when I became a life coach, I realized that my lifelong dream was too important to ignore. So I stopped ignoring it, and wrote a novel.

What in your previous career prepared you for kidlit?

As a magazine editor/writer, I learned to listen to the rhythm of words. As an advice columnist: Not every problem has a solution—but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to find it. As a life coach: Your inner voice always has something important to say. Listen to it.

Commonalities in previous career/this new career? 

Using the written word to express my thoughts, feelings, and ideas; adhering to deadlines; paper cuts.


Working in pajamas (I don’t do it, but I could); no waiting in line for the Xerox machine (there is no Xerox machine); talking to myself without getting the side-eye from co-workers (there are no co-workers).

Is it ever too late?

If Grandma Moses started painting at 78, well… why the heck not?

What do you envision for the next few decades of your new career?

Writing more books; worrying less about what people think of my books. You can’t please everyone, but you can be true to yourself—and to your readers.

 What advice do you have for older aspiring authors?

I know it sounds trite, but DON’T GIVE UP! I actually did give up at one point, but the urge to write overpowered the desire to quit. Being stubborn helps, too. 

Corabel Shofner — Author, Almost Paradise, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 7.15.45 AM  What was your previous career? 

What is this thing you call a career? I’ve been a traveler, a lawyer, an actress, a wife and mother.

Why did you change careers? 

I got old.

What in your previous career prepared you for kidlit?

Law: research & communication; Actress: imagination & tenacity; Traveling: bravery & energy; Family: faith & love

Commonalities in previous career/this new career? 

You must study to become excellent at anything. Writing is no exception. Keep learning. Network. Have fun.


Have to break in, so to speak. And that is weird particularly for an older person. Fortunately, I learned to handle rejection as an actress. It’s no big deal. You only need one agent and one editor to love your work to get published.

Is it ever too late?

Absolutely NOT. My debut novel came out when I was 64 and I think it is a perfect age.

What do you envision for the next few decades of your new career?

Writing many books for children. Promoting librarians and teachers.

What advice do you have for older aspiring authors?

Treat it like a job. Learn the craft, work hard, learn the business and get out there. Oh and get a layer of teflon for rejections.  I can’t tell you how many friends stop because of rejections. An independent editor told me to submit to 100 agents before giving up on a manuscript.  With so many submissions you can’t take it personally.

Rob Vlock — Author, Sven Carter and the Trashmouth Effect, Simon and Schuster/Aladdin, 2017 and Sven Carter and the Android Army, Simon and Schuster/Aladdin, Fall 2018

 Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 7.15.53 AMWhat was your previous career? 

I started out teaching college writing at a couple of schools in the Boston area, but I was a pretty lousy teacher. So I became an advertising copywriter. SPOILER: It’s not as glamorous and exciting as MAD MEN would make lead you to believe. (Although I do have some stories….)

Why did you change?

I got tired of writing ads for life insurance companies, banks, software companies, health insurers and pharmacy chains. So I started working on my first book — an adult commercial novel about a copywriter who writes ads about flushable scented butt wipes.

What in your previous career prepared you for kidlit?

Being a copywriter was actually great preparation. You learn to be creative on demand, grow a thick skin, and cope with tons of distractions and competing demands and scathing criticism, and way too tight deadlines. It’s an awful lot like being a kidlit author, come to think of it.

Commonalities in previous career/this new career? Differences?

They’re similar in that they’re actually both really fun careers that can be incredibly rewarding — and incredibly bruising. The biggest differences: 1) Ads are typically much shorter than novels. 2) Being an author is a far more solitary endeavor.

Is it ever too late?

Of course not! My father, who just turned 90, has started his memoir. And I have every expectation that he’ll get it published! And I, decades out of college, am only now feeling like I’m hitting my creative stride.

What do you envision for the next few decades of your career?

Other than fretting and stressing over deadlines and sales? I envision continuing to write books that delight the 12-year-old inside me and give kids a reason to put down their iPhone and pick up a book!

What piece of advice do you have for older aspiring authors?

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too old. Just keep working and keep looking forward. Oh, and be sure to eat plenty of fiber.

Interview: Melissa Roske

Every week or so, Kat Greene Comes Clean author Melissa Roske invites a fellow author onto her blog and has them answer the Proust Questionnaire. Popularized by the French essayist, novelist, and madeleine-lover Marcel Proust, the questionnaire is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing (i.e., nosy) questions.

Melissa seems to take great pleasure in putting her author pals in the “hot seat,” as she calls it, and then revealing their true nature to the world at large. The other day, it occurred to me — someone really ought to give Melissa a taste of her own medicine. Someone really ought to put her in the hot seat.

Well, I went and did it.

Get to know Melissa’s true nature below, and then head over to her site to learn more about her and her work.

— Jarrett


What is your idea of perfect happiness? Hanging out with my daughter, Chloe, eating ice cream (any flavor, I’m not picky) and watching Scandal on Netflix.

What is your greatest fear? That something terrible could happen to my family.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Indecision. At least I think that’s my most deplorable trait.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? A lack of empathy.

Which living person do you most admire? Anyone who advocates for the rights of children. Esther Rantzen, the founder of the UK-based nonprofit ChildLine, comes to mind.

What is your greatest extravagance? Not counting books (they’re educational, okay?), I’d say frequent trips to Sephora to buy overpriced – and alas, ineffective – face creams.

What is your current state of mind? Cautiously optimistic.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Excelling at sports. Wait. That’s not a virtue. How about patience?

On what occasion do you lie? When my husband asks if his bald spot is getting bigger.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Seriously?” “Really?” “Seriously…?”

Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? I’d love to tap dance like Ann Miller in Kiss Me, Kate (ideally, the “Too Darn Hot” number). I tried tap classes, but it was a complete disaster. I couldn’t remember the steps. And I kept tripping.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Besides having a book published, I’d say my daughter, Chloe. She’s the smartest, loveliest, most level-headed person I know. And I’m not just saying that because I’m her mother. Seriously. I’m not.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? An elderly man surrounded by lonely widows. That, or a well-loved puppy.

What is your most treasured possession? After my family experienced an apartment fire in 2004 and lost many of our possessions, including my daughter’s baby clothes, I learned not to get attached to material objects. Everything is replaceable. Except people.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Watching someone you love suffer without being able to do anything about it.

What do you most value in your friends? Empathy, reliability, and a sense of humor. Bonus points for the ability to tap dance.

Who are your favorite writers? Louise Fitzhugh; Judy Blume; Norma Klein; M.E. Kerr, Rebecca Stead; Kate DiCamillo; Kwame Alexander; Terry McMillen, Nora Ephron; Armistead Maupin; Chinua Achebe; Sara Lewis, Ernest Hemingway; Ann Hood; Toni Morrison… Can I stop now?

Who is your hero of fiction? Harriet M. Welsch. She’s super busy with her spy route, yet she always has time for a chocolate egg cream at the local luncheonette.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? I should make myself sound intellectual and say Eleanor of Acquitaine or Madame Curie (or Sacagawea, or Susan B. Anthony, or Indira Ghandi…), but I’m going with Cleopatra. She was smart, sexy, and rocked a bold eye.

What is your motto? “Life is a struggle, and a good spy gets in there and fights.”

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Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Find Melissa on her website, on Facebook, on TwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.