Melissa-Sue John, Ph.D.
DOB: Dec 16, 1980
Residence: Connecticut, USA
Romelia: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE UNDER-APPRECIATED NOVEL?
Melissa-Sue John: Most of the books I read are well-loved, well-appreciated, and highly recommended books. I read mostly children books, financial and self-help literature, spiritual, biographies, romance novels, and race-themed books. I am in a book club so I get to read books I would not normally select myself. This year I read “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsay, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, “Paper Towns” by John Green, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, and “The Pursuit of Happiness” by Douglas Kennedy. My favorite novel was “The Pursuit of Happiness” because it was a tragic love story. I have not heard anyone outside of the book club talking about it and it was very well written.
Romelia: HOW DO YOU BALANCE MAKING DEMANDS ON THE READER WITH TAKING CARE OF THE READER?
Melissa-Sue John: I am an author and publisher of children’s books at Lauren Simone Publishing House, an independent publishing house located in Hartford, CT. I am an educator by training, and I want children to learn a lot of new things. I hope to increase children’s curiosity, self-esteem, and love for literacy. I balance my need to educate and their desire to have fun and be entertained by adding activities at the end of each book and a glossary. I am also very blessed to have my husband, my children (Alyssa Simone and Olivia Lauren), and youth illustrators who are creatives, and my advisory board who are visionaries to help maintain the attention on the audience and getting the books marketed to the adults and the children.
Romelia: AS A WRITER, WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE AS YOUR MASCOT/AVATAR/SPIRIT ANIMAL?
Melissa-Sue John: My spirit animal in general is a horse. I love horses. They are huge animals, and each horse has its own personality. That helps me to think about many personalities and characters in less stereotypical ways. I allow girls to do things that boys normally perceived to do, characters with disability to have active roles, Black, Asian, and Latinx characters to show up in atypical ways. However, my book series is entitled “Olivia Lauren”, named after my younger daughter, so in that way she is the “mascot” or “avatar”. She has been illustrated by four different artists, has been made into crotchet dolls, stickers, etc. Olivia motivated me to write in the effort to increase the number of books that represent children of color.
Romelia: WHAT DO YOU OWE THE REAL PEOPLE UPON WHOM YOU BASE YOUR CHARACTERS?
Melissa-Sue John: The book, “Olivia Travels”, is based on my family’s experiences with different modes of transportation and shows us traveling in New York, London, Washington, DC, and Florida to name a few. The book, “Things We Wear”, was inspired by friends who lived in foreign countries and were now wearing clothes that were not part of their tradition. For example, my friends wore hijabs and thobes living in Dubai, saris visiting India, and kimonos visiting China. In honor of my friends, family, and personal travel, I mentioned them in the dedication and sent them a complimentary copy.
Romelia: HOW MANY UNPUBLISHED AND HALF-FINISHED BOOKS DO YOU HAVE?
Melissa-Sue John: I have at least half a dozen unpublished books. I write whenever I am inspired, but it takes a while to get the illustrator to complete the book and the financing is also a heavy investment. Right now, my focus is to really market the 5 books I have written and get them into local schools. COVID has made this difficult as many schools were either hybrid or remote and administration has students’ health as top priority as you would hope.
Romelia: WHAT DOES LITERARY SUCCES LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
Melissa-Sue John: In the beginning of my career, literary success meant getting all my book titles into national and international bookstores. I joined organizations, contacted distributors, and reached out to local businesses. After seeing so many independent bookstores close, I realize it is more about people getting to know my story- how and why we came up with the Olivia Lauren series and created the Lauren Simone Publishing House. Literary success is having children read my stories in schools, libraries, and parents and teachers gifting my books and wanting to be like the Olivia Lauren character, adventurous, smart, and bold. Getting the books animated for television and on “Netflix Bookmarks” would be a dream come true!
Romelia: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO MARKET YOUR BOOKS?
Melissa-Sue John: We have marketed through interviews, bloggers, advertisements, pop up shops, and events. COVID-19 made events more difficult and ads while an important way to reach a wider audience don’t always have the return you expect. Word of mouth and gorilla marketing are still some of the best ways to market books. We ask all our customers to review our books and share with friends and family. Nothing goes further than a personal recommendation. Hosting book signings in bookstores was excellent pre-COVID if the bookstore has heavy traffic and does good advertising.
Romelia: WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DO YOU DO, AND HOW LONG DO YOU SPEND RESEARCHING BEFORE BEGINNING A BOOK?
Melissa-Sue John: I research origin of names for characters, culture of different nationalities, geography, history, and the novelty of the story idea. I research whether the book title has been used before. I research the grade the topics are taught. My books are on transportation, communication, cultural apparel, and occupations.
Romelia: DO YOU VIEW WRITING AS A KING OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICE?
Melissa-Sue John: Writing is therapeutic and has health benefits. I do not see it as the king of spiritual practice per se. For me, prayer is the king of spiritual practice. I am not a good singer, but I also find singing worship songs and hymns to be very spiritual. Others may argue exercise is a spiritual practice because it connects and improves mind, body, and soul. To each his own.
Romelia: WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT WRITING CHARACTERS FROM THE OPPOSITE SEX?
Melissa-Sue John: Douglas Kennedy did a great job writing from the perspective of male and female. John Green did the same. Many authors do it seemingly effortless. Sex is biological, gender is not. For me, when our views about men and women are based on stereotypes and social norms, writing becomes difficult. If you believe men and women are really not that different, it doesn’t feel that challenging. Stereotypes are exaggerated views about social groups. Its use only creates divisions, hierarchy, and caste systems. The “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus” rhetoric need to stop. Men can be sensitive, and women can be aggressive. Our characters, male or female, can be whatever we want them to be.
Romelia: HOW LONG WERE YOU A PART-TIME WRITER BEFORE YOU BECOME A FULL-TIME ONE?
Melissa-Sue John: I am an educator first and an author second. I work as a Professor of Psychology and Director of Education and Training in Racial Equity. Because I have summers off, that is when I write most. I love writing but it is not something I do full time, right now.
Romelia: HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU WRITE?
Melissa-Sue John: I write less than an hour every day during the academic year, but in the summer, I spend most of my waking hours reading, writing, and editing. I currently have a blog where I write book reviews and articles about our events.
Romelia: WHAT PERIOD OF YOUR LIFE DO YOU FIND YOU WRITE ABOUT MOST OFTEN? (CHILD, TEENAGER, YOUNG ADULT).
Melissa-Sue John: I have always kept a journal. I started writing children books after I had my children and became published in my late 30s.
Romelia: HAVE YOU READ ANYTHING THAT MADE YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT FICTION?
Melissa-Sue John: For me, great fiction has historical premise or scientific basis. Without it, it just doesn’t keep my interest. In Paper Towns I learned about ways that cartographers would put fake towns on the maps to see if other cartography companies were using their maps. That was fascinating.
Romelia: WHAT ARE THE ETHICS OF WRITING ABOUT HISTORICAL FIGURES?
Melissa-Sue John: N/A.
Romelia: HOW DO YOU SELECT THE NAMES OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Melissa-Sue John: I select names that have national origin to be authentic and true to the characters. I do research on top 10 names in different countries to keep characters relevant and applicable.
Romelia: DO YOU READ YOUR BOOK REVIEWS? HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH BAD OR GOOD ONES?
Melissa-Sue John: I read all my book reviews. I use the bad ones to improve and the good ones to stay encouraged. I know my intentions are pure and I will not satisfy every reader. I especially believe “A prophet is never welcomed in his own home” therefore I actually expect that strangers will give more praise than close friends or family.
Romelia: DO YOU HIDE ANY SECRETS IN YOUR BOOKS THAT ONLY A FEW PEOPLE WILL FIND?
Melissa-Sue John: There are no secrets in the book. The illustrators may put their own secrets though.
Romelia: WHAT WAS YOUR HARDEST SCENE TO WRITE?
Melissa-Sue John: The hardest scenes for me to write are entertaining ones. I am a teacher and I like to give facts and promote critical thinking. So I find it challenging to go in the more creative and imaginative worlds.
Romelia: DO YOU GOOGLE YOURSELF?
Melissa-Sue John: My husband told me he googled me, so I did the same to see what came up. I appeared very accomplished. I am proud of what I have achieved in these few years on earth.
Romelia: WHAT ONE THING WOULD YOU GIVE UP TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER?
Melissa-Sue John: I believe you become a better writer by writing more, publishing more. You can sacrifice time spent on other activities to invest in writing. But I am not sure if I would give up a skill as each skill makes me the writer I am today. For example, I have a very research-based approach to writing.
Romelia: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE LITERARY JOURNALS?
Melissa-Sue John: My favorite literary journals are the Horn Book Magazine and School Library Journal as I write children’s books.
Romelia: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD BOOK?
Melissa-Sue John: I enjoyed reading “Amelia Bedelia” books by Peggy Parish to my children when they were young. The character was funny and whimsical. “If you give a mouse a cookie” by Laura Numeroff is a classic and Corduroy by Don Freeman, of course. My children are adolescents now, but I get to read to my nephews who are into cars, trucks, and comic book heroes. As a child, I had “The Little Golden Book” series so I read a lot of fairy tales. I also read Disney story books growing up. When I got older, I read comics, Sweet Valley High, and “Sweet Dreams” romance books in my teenage years. I read whatever my parents purchased for me. As a kid I read for entertainment and now I read more for learning, unlearning, relearning, and relaxing.
Romelia: TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.
Melissa-Sue John: In Jamaica they say, “What is funny to you, may be death to someone else” so it depends on what you think is funny. I was born in Jamaica and moved to the US when I was 18 years old to start college. I was on my way to the library and I was attacked for the gold chain around my neck. I always thought if I should be robbed to give it up because my life was worth more than silver or gold. Well you never know how you will respond in crisis. Some people fight, flee, or freeze. Unbeknown to me, I was a fighter. I ended up preaching to the kid about being a better human being and living a decent life. He received it well.
Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.
Melissa-Sue John: I am a believer, an optimist, an adventurer, and lover of friends, family, and travel. I enjoy reading and I like learning new things, especially activities and countries. My social roles are mom, wife, educator, racial equity coach, author, publisher, and activist. I hate that every society is hierarchical by some social category whether age, gender, class, religion, or race. I wish we could see each other’s humanity and treat each other equitably.