Monday, June 2, 2008

Introducing Melanie Little

Melanie Little decided she wanted to be a writer roughly around the time she became conscious. Or, to be more exact, around the time she became conscious of words. Her first book, self-published when she was three years old, was about a family of bank robbers (though she called them "banque" robbers, proof, perhaps, of the bilingual nature of northern Ontario, where she grew up). The book was well received, though there were some problems with production (Melanie had a habit of stapling things up the wrong side).

She was born in Peterborough, Ontario, but when she was two weeks old, she and her parents moved north to Timmins, where her father became a reporter for the Timmins Daily Press. A trip to the Timmins library--a beautiful stone building that's since been replaced by a newer, shinier one--was the best part of her week. Her parents had begun reading to her when she was still a baby, and they showed her that libraries, even a small library in her hometown, could contain the whole world.

Melanie still reads just about everything she can get her hands on, which is what she advises all aspiring writers to do. Particular influences have been Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, and Alice Munro. She's also an avid film fan, and thinks directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Abbas Kiarostami, and Robert Altman can teach you more about good storytelling than a whole army of how-to books.

No one writer was more responsible for making Melanie want to write books of her own than Dr. Seuss. She particularly loved The Sneetches, a story about a strange race of creatures, some of whom have stars on their bellies ("stars on thars") and some of whom don't. She hopes that at least a sliver of what she's learned from Dr. Seuss has made its way into The Apprentice's Masterpiece (Spring 2008), which is also a story about discrimination arising from ludicrous ideas of what is "different."

Melanie has won numerous awards for her essays and short fiction. Her highly acclaimed short-story collection Confidence was named a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2003 and was short-listed for the Danuta Gleed Award. The Apprentice's Masterpiece is a book of firsts: it's her first novel, her first book for young adults, and also her first book written in verse. Melanie was the 2005-2006 Markin-Flanagan Canadian Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary, and she continues to work with other writers through workshops, classes, and consultations. She also reviews books and plays for newspapers and magazines. She is currently working on a new novel, a book of short stories, a poetry project, and a book of essays--all at the same time!

Melanie has moved around a lot, living in Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary. She loves cities, but no particular one has really seemed to stick to her yet. Her idea of "home" is, instead, a person: her husband, Peter Norman. Peter is also a writer, and they have many conversations about writing (which is not as pompous as it sounds: most of these consist of moaning about how hard writing is). Their cat, Catso, also loves writing, but she generally expresses her appreciation by sitting on it.

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