On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Melissa Ostrum

On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Melissa Ostrom

teaches English at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York, and is the author of the YA historical novel The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, March 2018). Her short fiction has appeared in The Florida Review, Passages North, The Baltimore Review, and Fourteen Hills, among other journals, and her second novel, Unleaving, is forthcoming from Macmillan on March 26, 2019.

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write fiction?

I’ve written poetry since high school, but I didn’t start writing fiction until after my first child was born ten years ago. I wonder if her birth inspired that shift in my writerly focus. I was certainly conscious that my life had changed utterly, from my body, suddenly equipped to nurse a baby, to my happiness and fears abruptly hinging on the state of another human being. My world had widened, become less me and more us. Motherhood had rewritten my life. I became a new narrative. Maybe that got me interested in storytelling.

  1. Who introduced you to fiction?

Though I’m sure my elementary school teachers shared wonderful books with me, I didn’t particularly “take” to reading until I was eleven years old when I discovered Anne of Green Gables. That series by L.M. Montgomery was a gateway drug. I became a passionate reader after tearing through those books.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

I write in my office before dawn. I love the stillness of the early hours, the crackle of the fire in the woodstove, the moon in the sky, a cup of coffee at my side, and whatever world I’m building with words before me. Even if I don’t manage anything else, writing-wise, for the rest of the day, if I can fill a page or two in those wee hours and inch along a narrative, I’m satisfied.

  1. What motivates you to write?

Usually a question. What if this happened? Who would do such a thing? In the event of some strangeness or crisis or upheaval, how might so and so feel?

  1. What is your work ethic?

Well, though I’m committed to writing just about every morning, I’m not particularly ambitious as far as how much I’ll accomplish. Finagling five hundred words or so a day suits me fine.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Probably greatly. That Anne-of-Green-Gables game changer that I mentioned earlier made me hungry for more protagonists I could admire. After Anne, I discovered Elizabeth Bennet, Jo March, Janie Crawford, Bridget Jones, Cathy Earnshaw, Tita de la Garza, and Meg Murry. I still adore these strong young characters. I suppose that admiration is one reason why I mostly write YA lit.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Oh, gosh, so many! David Sedaris, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Mary Ruefle, Alexander Chee, Ann Patchett, Kevin Wilson, Maggie Nelson, Leslie Jamison, and Celeste Ng.

As for YA writers, Rainbow Rowell and John Green are easily my all-time favorites. Their novels have so much humor and heart. These authors are good at making me fall in love with their characters.

  1. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

A writer’s life is a lucky life: present, hopeful, creative. Wordsmithing keeps a person curious and attentive to others, from their gestures and speech to their weaknesses, fears, strengths, and needs. I think writing also keeps me tender: sensitive to hurt and hardship, conscious of beauty, and determined to piece together words in a way that might do some good for a reader and maybe even effect positive change in the world.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read voraciously and widely, and write regularly without self-censorship, without worrying about publication, without any hope of success or monetary gain or public attention or praise. I wrote six novels before I found an agent and saw hundreds of my short stories rejected before I finally received an acceptance from a literary journal. I learned to tell myself that no matter what—even if I never saw a single work published—I would still write. Maybe I needed so many years of failure to fully accept this: that I was writing for myself, that I was creating because I had to.

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m currently revising a YA fantasy. It’s the first in a series about a fictional land in crisis, six scattered teens in grave danger, and a binding spell that goes awry.

And I’m also looking forward to the publication of Unleaving. It’s my second novel, a YA contemporary, forthcoming from Feiwel & Friends on March 26, 2019. Here’s a description of it:

After surviving an assault at an off-campus party, nineteen-year-old Maggie is escaping her college town, and, because her reporting the crime has led to the expulsion of some popular athletes, many people―in particular, the outraged Tigers fans―are happy to see her go.

Maggie moves in with her Aunt Wren, a sculptor who lives in an isolated cabin bordered by nothing but woods and water. Maggie wants to forget, heal, and hide, but her aunt’s place harbors secrets and situations that complicate the plan. Worse, the trauma Maggie hoped to leave behind has followed her, haunting her in ways she can’t control, including flashbacks, insomnia and a sense of panic. Her troubles intensify when she begins to receive messages from another student who has survived a rape on her old campus. Just when Maggie musters the courage to answer her emails, the young woman goes silent. 

In a book that is both urgent and timely, Melissa Ostrom explores the intricacies of shame and victim-blaming that accompany the aftermath of assault.



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