Author Spotlight: Melissa Dassori
July 15, 2022
We are excited to feature author Melissa Dassori and her debut middle-grade novel, J.R. SILVER WRITES HER WORLD (Christy Ottaviano Books (July 19, 2022)). Enter to win a copy!
cover art by Chelen Écija design by Jenny Kimura
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
My name is Melissa Dassori, and I live in New York with my family. Quite a while back, I took a couple of fiction writing classes to clear my mind after work. At that time, my interest was really in adult fiction, and I dabbled rather than dove in. Once I had kids, I loved reading picture books with them but recent middle-grade literature wasn’t really on my radar until I happened to make a friend who was writing middle-grade fantasy. His enthusiasm intrigued me, and eventually I decided to try writing more seriously and to refocus on middle-grade readers. Pretty soon, I was hooked.
Congrats on your debut middle-grade novel, J.R. Silver Writes Her World! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
J.R. Silver Writes Her World was inspired by an assignment I received in fourth grade! My teacher had a large collection of New Yorker magazine covers that she passed out as inspiration for creative writing assignments. Each one was illustrated and its own work of art, and something about the exercise always stuck with me. When I was looking for an idea for a book I asked, What would happen if the stories my protagonist writes about similar covers were to come true? That’s what happens to J.R. Silver, who begins sixth grade in Manhattan far more comfortable expressing herself on paper than out loud. But as she pushes the boundaries of her magical stories, she’s able to push herself to become braver, and a better friend, too.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
More long and winding than short and sweet, but with elements of both. J.R. Silver is the first middle-grade novel I wrote (very slowly). I got an agent pretty quickly, but then the path to acquisition was long, and from there to publication took a while, too, partly because of the pandemic. I did a couple rounds of revisions for the editor who eventually acquired J.R. Silver, and luckily she stuck with me through that process. I cannot express how much richer this book has become with the benefit of my editorial team’s input, which I feel lucky to have gotten so much of pre- and post-acquisition.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently drafting a contemporary middle-grade novel, and after that I have an idea for a ghost story set in coastal New England that I’m playing with.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? Recent ones?
J.R. Silver has a lot of nods to a 1967 middle-grade novel that is set in New York City, E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which is one of my absolute favorites. For recent books, I’m a big fan of Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger series and am really looking forward to her newest novel this fall, Sisterhood of Sleuths. Also, two novels-in-verse about moving to America that I find very poignant are Reem Faruqi’s Unsettled and Jane Kuo’s In the Beautiful Country.
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same that you'd give to aspiring authors?
Yes, it’s the same advice! For a long time I was interested in writing but reluctant to call myself a writer. I basically lacked the confidence to do so, which was silly–we all have to start somewhere! If I could do it again, I would have attended more workshops or classes early on both to work on craft but also to build community. I didn’t meet many middle-grade writers, published or unpublished, until after my deal was announced. Then the #22debuts formed and through that group I happened to connect with a bunch of #the21ders. It’s been so wonderful to make these friends, find critique partners, and generally share this process with one another.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
My sister and I are both moms of identical twins!
Where can people find you online?
You can find me at melissadassori.com, and please come follow me on Twitter (@mdassori) and Instagram (@mdassoriauthor).
Melissa Dassori lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters, with whom she especially likes to enjoy books, travel, time outside and ice cream. Her middle-grade debut, J.R. SILVER WRITES HER WORLD, will be published on July 19, 2022 by Little, Brown/Ottaviano. An assignment from her own fourth grade teacher inspired the story, although Melissa couldn’t conjure the same magical results that J.R. Silver can.
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