Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your names. What are your ages?
Melissa: Hello Fiona. It is a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for interviewing us. My name is Melissa-Sue John and these are my daughters, Alyssa Simone John, age 15, and Olivia Lauren John, age 9. Our company is called Lauren Simone Publishing House, named after Olivia Lauren and Alyssa Simone.
Fiona: Where are you from?
Melissa: We live inthe United States, Connecticut, to be specific. I was born in Jamaica (an island in the Caribbean),Alyssa was born in New York, and Olivia was born in Connecticut.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Melissa: Well, this year we wrote 5 children’s books and published 2 others written by A.K. Dowe and her twins, Brazil and Princeton. We have 3 new child authors joining our team, Madison Bishop, Elijah Bishop, and Imani Grant.Our company was recently featured by Background Noise Books for our book “Olivia Connects”, which features special needs characters. As for events, we will be at a meet and greet event located at Jack and Allie’s Children Book Store on September 23rdfrom 11am to 1pm and Diamond Fashion Week in New Haven, CT as a vendor on September 30thfrom 4pm to 6pm.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Melissa: I started writing in graduate school, about ten years ago, but I only became published this year. I have always kept a journal. I used to only write when I was sad. Now I write when I am happy.
Alyssa: I had a dream earlier this year that I was a journalist. Ever since I shared that with my mother, she’sbeen pushing me to write.
Olivia Lauren: I began writing stories when I was 7 years old. We all have stories to tell.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Melissa: I am a psychology professor. Writing research articles is part of my training and expectations for tenure. However, I did not consider myself a children’s literature author until February of this year when we published our very first book.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Melissa: I was inspired when my older daughter was born. Literacy is important to me, so we oftenwent to the library to get books. I was frustrated that there was little to no diversity in children’s books. All the books with Black characters in primary roles were either about slavery/racism, historical icons(such as first Black basketball player, first Black baseball player, first Black astronaut, Black scientists, Civic Rights leaders, Slave Rebels), or self-esteem (love your hair, love your skin, handling bullying). Ten years later, as an investigator on a research project aimed to use literature to teach problem solving, I was disappointed books were still racially homogenous. In fact, there were more books about animals than “people of colour”or people with disabilities. I decided I wanted to be a part of the solution. However, I did not have the confidence to write until I actually saw my sister, Rose-Anne Uwaguesuccessfully self-publish her book. I still wasn’t ready until I met another mother, who is now a business consultant, who wrote books and suggested that we self-publish. Perhaps it was divine intervention but A.K. Dowe and I came up with the idea to brand a company that provides a platform for other young authors and illustrators to share their talents. And that’s how Lauren Simone Publishing House was born.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Melissa: My daughter, Olivia is loves attention and is a drama queen. Because of this my husband and I got her into modelling and acting. When we went on set we met so many different professionals. We met the photography and film crew, wardrobe crew, hair and makeup crew, sound engineers, casting directors, etc. This inspired us to share what we were learning with other children who were not exposed to this wealth of knowledge. Most children are exposed to the traditional careers such as doctors, teachers, police, firefighters, and mail carriers. We entitled our first book “Occupations A to Z.”The book series title was named after my younger daughter, “Olivia Lauren.”After that, we wrote “Guide to becoming an actor,” “Olivia travels,” “Olivia Connects” and most recently “Things We Wear.” My older daughter, Alyssa, is very talented but prefers the behind the scene action. She helps with writing and editing. She wrote “Olivia Connects” with me. Everything we do is a team effort.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Melissa: All our books are illustrated by young illustrators. I have worked with Simonne-Anais Clarke, Zachary-Michael Clarke, Niquey, and Lionel Emabat. They range from age 13 to 25. I tend to share my ideas for what my daughters and I envision and they come up with their own creation. Then I format the words and the image. Each author under Lauren Simone Publishing House has a different strategy when working with the illustrators. Some give a lot of direction because they have a specific vision, while others give a little to allow illustrators more creativity and ownership over the designs.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Melissa: All of Olivia Lauren series books are “nonfiction” in that it provides factual information but “fiction” because they include fictional characters. I am an educator so education is the mission. In “Things We Wear”, the message is we wear different things for tradition, expression, and protection. In “Olivia Connects”, the message is there are different ways that people communicate and the devices we use to communicate have evolved over time. In “Olivia Travels,” the message is there are many different modes of transportation and spelling and grammar is very important. For example, “Watch the planes take off from the plains.” This is an introduction to homonyms. Words may sound the same but have different meanings and spelling. “Occupations A to Z,” the message is there are many different occupations. Some are traditional and some are modern. Anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity or ability can be aspire to any occupation.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Melissa: I hope to have a very fruitful career as a writer. I would love to blog for a big newspaper such as the New York Times or the Huffington Post one day. In particular, I would like to write book reviews. I plan to take fiction writing classes, so that I can increase my creativity and literary skills. I have drafted several novels over the years and would love to complete one.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Melissa: I am in love with our latest book, “Things We Wear.” I would not change a thing!My illustrators, Simonne-Anais and Zachary Michael Clarke did an amazing job. They are only 16 and 13 years old. Their talent simply blows me away.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Melissa: Oh yes! It is a multicultural approach to clothing. I had to research the clothes worn by Jews, Muslim, Arabs, Scottish, Irish, Nigerians, Chinese, and Japanese. I was very concerned about accuracy in spelling and cultural representation. I would hate for my book to come across as stereotypical. It is meant to be culturally inclusive. I also had to research what makes a good swim suit. I learned it is about absorbency. You do not want to wear a swim suit made of cotton because it will soak up water and become heavy. You want nylon that is stretchy and dries quickly. It makes sense but it is not something one considers unless they are a fashion designer.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Melissa: If any of our books ever became available for television or film, the Olivia Lauren series would be played by Olivia Lauren or it would be animated and we would hire diverse characters to do the voiceover. The Dowe Twins series would be played by Brazil and Princeton.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Melissa: In my opinion, I think the biggest problem writers face is wanting it to be perfect. If you wait for perfection it will never be completed. The more you write, the better you become. Your last book will be better than your first. Do not get hung up on perfection and just finish it. I think John C. Maxwell jokingly said he can’t believe he put his name on his first book.
Alyssa: I started my book based on a dream I had. My advice is write about the things you dream about.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Melissa: First, I want parents to recognize that their children are very talented. If they can draw or write stories, let them. Find a way for them to share their talent. The children are the future and we have to empower them to believe in themselves. Second, I want all my readers to know that representation matters. I am doing everything I can to make each person feel represented.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Melissa: On my nightstand, I have “Interruption of Everything” by Terry McMillian. I finished Getting to Happy, which was the sequel to Waiting to Exhale.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Melissa: I can’t remember the first book I read. But I remember having lots of books. I had the entire collection of Golden Books and Charlie Brown Encyclopaedia. To be honest as a child I don’t remember if I enjoyed reading. Maybe because I could never relate to any of the characters. In high school I didn’t care for the school reading list, but I read all the Sweet Valley High books and Sweet Dreams books. I do recall enjoying the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I read in the 8th grade and reread this summer with Olivia Lauren who is now in 5th grade.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Melissa: I am very emotional. Seeing others cry is enough to make me cry. Seeing others suffer makes me cry. Thinking about deportation of children of undocumented immigrants or famine, wars and disaster by flood, hurricane, or earthquake breaks my heart. Hearing others laugh make me laugh. Kevin Heart, Issa Rae, Marlon Wayans, Martin Lawrence, and Jaime Fox make me laugh.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Melissa: I would have loved to meet Booker T Washington. I read his book and I think we share the same values. I want to meet Michelle and Barack Obama. They are a very inspirational couple and were able to have a scandal free presidency. I want the child authors in my publishing company to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, and Steve Harvey. They each have an audience that would bring more exposure to Lauren Simone Publishing House.
Olivia: I have two role models: Michelle Obama and Skye Jackson. Michelle and Skye have accomplished a lot and are positive role models for young girls. Michelle encourages girls to be healthy, active, and classy. Skye inspires me as an actor as she is funny, sweet, pretty and awesome. She wears her natural hair and shows girls to be themselves.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Melissa: Writing is my hobby. My day job is teaching and doing research. I also like to hike, bike and do yoga.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Melissa: Most of the movies or TV Shows I watch are dramas (such as Nashville and This is Us) and comedies (such as Blackish and Marlon). My entire family are Marvel fans.
Olivia: I like SpongeBob SquarePants and My Little Pony
Alyssa: I like The Flash and The 100.
Fiona: What are your favourite foods, colours, and music?
Melissa: My favorite food is Stew peas. My favorite colour is pink. I am such a girly girl. I like gospel and contemporary Christian music. My radio dial is stuck on K-Love.
Alyssa: My favorite food is pizza. Colour is purple. Favorite band is Twenty-one Pilots.
Olivia: My favorite food is ice-cream, my favorite colour is pink, and favorite music is pop.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Melissa: My goal is to have other’s write books for the Olivia Lauren series. I want to hire talented children to become writers and illustrators. I want to go to schools, museums, art galleries, and give workshops to develop children’s abilities and build their portfolio to be accepted in any college of their choice. My goal is to increase literacy and STEAM appreciation.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Melissa: I have a blog on Lauren Simone Publishing House’s website. I review indie author books and books I find at the library. Olivia and I do this together to increase her vocabulary and writing skills. You can visit at www.laurensimonepubs.com .
Fiona: What is it like writing with mum?
Olivia: It is very nice writing with mom. I love seeing the books come to life.
Alyssa: We work together nicely and find it easy to share ideas.
Fiona: Does mum listen to your ideas?
Olivia: Yes, my mom is very open when it comes to writing books.
Fiona: What are your favorite subjects at school?
Olivia: I love Writing and Science. Those are my favorite subjects.
Fiona: What do you want to do when you grow up?
Olivia: I want to be an actor and author.
Alyssa: I would like to become a TV/Movie script writer and director
Fiona: If you had one wish what would it be?
Olivia: To give books to children in need.
Alyssa: To achieve my life goals and help others achieve their goals.