There’s something special about discovering a young author who’s really good. You can savor that first book while looking forward to the next, knowing that chances are, each succeeding work will be even better than the last. So imagine the kick of discovering an impressive author who’s only sixteen. Remember Me, a young adult coming of age novel written in verse, was published last month by Bold Stroke Books. The author, Melanie Batchelor, is a high school junior, who actually penned the novel when she was fourteen.
I first met Melanie two years ago, at a teen writing workshop I was leading. It didn’t take long to recognize her unusual talent, and I was privileged to read an early version of Remember Me. My biggest contribution was helping her sort through competing contract offers for the book.
Since its publication, Melanie has gotten a lot of attention and press, with most of it highlighting her age. But it’s not Melanie’s age that makes this a stunning achievement, it’s the quality of the work. This book isn’t notable because it was written by teenager; it’s notable because it’s very good.
I asked Melanie about Remember Me, her writing process, and her long-term plans. Here’s our interview:
Q: When and how did your interest in writing develop?
A: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I became interested in writing. When I was really young I would make “books” that I taped together—most of them unfinished. I think my interest developed from my love for books, which came from my Mom, who first encouraged me to read.
A: I didn’t become seriously interested in writing until middle school, when I wrote my first story that I actually finished. I started joining writing groups during that time, which allowed my love for writing to grow.
Q: When you started writing, did it ever occur to you that you’d get a novel published when you were only sixteen?
A: It had definitely been a dream of mine to get something published early on, but I never thought that it would actually happen. It seemed like a fantasy. I was very surprised (and pleased) when I got an email from a publishing company that was interested in my story.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer? If you had to guess, do you think you’ll make that your career choice?
A: I’ve always wanted to be a writer (excluding that one awkward year in middle school when I wanted to be a fashion designer). I definitely want to make it my career. I’m thinking of majoring in creative writing when I go to college in just a little over a year.
Q: If someone asks you what Remember Me is about, how do you answer that question?
A: I assumed it would be easy to summarize a book that I actually wrote, until people actually started asking me what Remember Me was about. It turns out “what’s it about?” is a really hard question to answer! If someone asked me now, I’d probably say that Remember Me is about a girl who is forced to revaluate the manipulative relationship she has with the girl she supposedly loves after a tragic event occurs. It took me way too long to come up with a brief description, but I gave it my best shot!
Q: Where did the idea for Remember Me come from?
A: It was late at night and I couldn’t fall asleep. I was lying on my bed, looking out my window and thinking of the big tree in my backyard, when I envisioned two girls up in a tree; two girls who would later be known as Erica and Jamie. I started writing a little bit about them, but after a few pages I decided to scratch that story but keep the two main characters. After that, the plot just came to me over time.
Q: Did you know from the beginning that it would be a novel in verse or did you start writing in a different form?
A: I started writing Remember Me in verse. Even the first story involving Erica and Jamie, which only spanned a few pages, was written in verse.
Q: Do you have a routine for writing – a certain time of day, a certain room, a favorite prompt?
A: I don’t, but I really should! I think having a plan would help me focus and be more productive. Over the summer I plan on creating a routine; however for now I just write whenever and wherever.
Q: What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had so far about the world of publishing?
A: People in the publishing world are actually really nice. The company I worked with, Bold Strokes Books, was really warm and welcoming. Everyone I worked with was very friendly and available to answer questions or give advice.
Q: What are your favorite genres to read? What are some of your favorite authors and titles?
A: I love realistic fiction as well as nonfiction. Some of my favorite books are Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk, White Oleander and Paint it Black by Janet Fitch, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, The Kite Runner by Khalaed Hosseini, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and Nothing by Janne Teller (just to name a few J ).
Q: What do you most love about writing?
A: I love seeing through the eyes of characters and exploring who they are and how they relate to the people and environment around them. Writing characters is like meeting new people—slowly you find out every fascinating detail about them. They may even surprise you.
Q: What do you most hate?
A: I hate how a certain scene can sound so much better in your head than on paper! Trying to convey exactly what I mean can be a challenge.
Q: What’s the hardest part of the process for you?
A: The hardest part was editing the book, partly because it was so time consuming but mostly because it’s when I saw all the flaws that I needed to fix. It’s never fun to reread your work and discover a million things that need to be fixed. Of course, the final product is totally worth it.
Q: Now that you have a published novel, is it hard focusing on school and friends and all the things you like to do other than writing?
A: I think my grades and social life were more at risk when I was writing the book rather than after, when it was published. I spent so much time writing and rewriting, trying to finish the story and then trying to find a publisher. Even though it’s a little crazy right now with my book just being released, I think I have a lot more time to focus on friends, school, and other actives other than writing. Right now, everything is balanced.