Interview With Melissa Clark

Cover of Swimming Upstream Slowly by Melissa Clark

About Melissa Clark

Melissa Clark is the creator and executive producer of the award-winning television series, Braceface, and has written for shows on the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Fox. She received a master’s degree from the writing program at U.C. Davis, and currently lives in Los Angeles. This is her first novel.

The Interview

1. Tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it.
"Swimming Upstream, Slowly" is a novel about Sasha Salter, who wakes up one day to find she is pregnant. Only problem is she hasn’t had sex in over 2 years. The doctor’s diagnosis is that Sasha’s body has been harboring a lazy sperm. Sasha must now open up the Pandora’s box of her past loves to figure out which of her exes is the father – and what the future holds in store.

The idea was born because I was having lunch with a friend and overate. I lifted my shirt to expose my bloated belly and the friend said, half joking, "Are you sure you’re not pregnant?" and I said, "Yeah, right, from a lazy sperm." I went home that night and started outlining the idea for a movie. I decided, eventually, to write it as a novel instead.

2. If you were in charge of casting the movie adaptation of your book, who gets the call?

Natalie Portman gets the first call. I think she could bring depth and humor to the character. If she’s busy making another movie or doing something wonderfully humanitarian we give Jennifer Gardner a jingle. She’s likable, vulnerable. If she’s having a baby then we try Drew Barrymore because she has nailed these roles in the past. There are lots of male parts in this movie, too. I’d love to see Emile Hirsch do a romantic comedy.

3. Could you please tell us a little about your writing background?

My dad is a writer, so I was always playing on his typewriter and writing on legal steno pads. I wrote short stories from the time that I could write. I studied writing and literature in both college and graduate school. In my 20’s to mid-30’s I worked as a writer in television. I created a kid’s show called "Braceface" which ran for 5 seasons. I loved that experience, but really wanted to write a novel, so I quit my own show and set out to write "Swimming Upstream, Slowly." It was the best risk I’ve ever taken!

4. Is writing your main job? If not, what do you do for your real source of income and how does it impact your writing?

I still consider writing my main job even though I’m now teaching at the college level. In between grading, preparing lectures, meeting with students, etc. I somehow manage to find time to write. When I wrote "Swimming…" it was my only job. I had the luxury of time and money from the TV show. Now, my writing time is more precious because it is limited.

5. What comes most naturally for you to write, dialogue? plot? character? And what’s hardest?

I love writing dialogue. I’ve written a few plays in the past and found it incredibly satisfying. I learn so much about my characters through what they say. I often have the feeling that they speak through me and I’m just listening and transcribing their words. I know a lot of writers feel this way. It’s hard for me to slow down and be descriptive – really describe a setting or something. I am very aware of this and tried to do it more consciously in the new book.

6. What is one of the nicest compliments that you have ever received about your book(s)?

"I read it in one sitting." Since it took a year and three months to write, I am amazed and flattered when someone tells me they zipped through it.

7. Did you have any input on the cover, and are you happy with the finished product?

I was actually very disappointed with the cover at first. I was under the false impression that I had a say in the cover. I suggested a few ideas and then showed them a piece of art I saw at the Venice Art Walk. They were all received with a lukewarm attitude. Once day I got an email titled, "Cover!!!!!!" There were so many exclamation points that I knew I was in trouble. When the cover downloaded, I broke out in tears. A girl blowing bubbles was NOT how I saw my cover. Who was that girl, anyway? Why was she blowing bubbles? After calming down, I phoned the editor and explained my dismay. They made some compromises, like removing the almost-exposed breast and some other things that irked me. Clearly I have not made peace with the cover yet, however, I do think it pops and people have told me that they bought the book BECAUSE of the cover, so I’m humbled by that.

8. What do you love most about this book?

I appreciate this question because I feel a little weird loving it so much. I feel genuinely tender toward my characters and feel very disconnected to the fact that I created them. I appreciate their personalities and foibles. Every time I reread the book, I enjoy going on the journey with them all over again. When I was writing the book I had that swoony feeling of romantic love. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I bumped into things all the time, etc. I’ve never told anyone this before!

9. What’s the most surprising thing that has happened to you on your publishing journey? Have you learnt things about the industry you never knew before?

I was invited to speak at the Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival. There is a famous food writer named Melissa Clark who writes for the NY Times and I was sure they meant to invite her. I wined and dined with the likes of Frank McCourt and Elizabeth Edwards. I gave a talk during which I explained that I thought they invited the wrong Melissa Clark. The audience thought it was hysterical. They were cracking up, but I was really venting my insecurity. The head of the program came up to me after the reading and said it was great, but never assured me… a few months later a friend, after hearing that story, told me she knew the other Melissa Clark – they had been in a wedding together – and gave me her email. I wrote about that experience and she replied, "That’s okay, everyone thinks I wrote the lazy sperm book."

10. Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you’d sold your first novel?

I have a crazy publishing story, which is far too long to explain here, but the short of it is that I knew through a third party that an editor was going to call me and make an offer. I had been talking to my parents along the way, when it was going to happen, but hadn’t yet. As I said earlier, my dad is a writer, so he was giving me advice, etc. When the editor finally called, I had to pretend I knew NOTHING. It was the best and only acting job of my life. When we finally hung up I phoned my parents and simply said, "She called," and then we all broke out screaming.

11. Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading "Bright, Shiny Morning" by James Frey and "Veronica" by Mary Gaitskill. A reader reads, just as a writer writes. You somehow find the time.

12. What’s next for you?

I JUST completed a draft of a new novel, "Imperfect". It is another medical anomaly type of story, but very different than "Swimming…" This one is more of a coming-of-age story. I sent it to my agent last week and am now on pins and needles waiting for her response.



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