Today, I welcome author/publisher Dr. Melissa-Sue John to my blog. Her children’s book, A Guide to Things We Wear, came out in September of this year.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Dr. Melissa-Sue John. I am a professor of Psychology with expertise in Social Psychology. I conduct research on academic achievement and intergroup behavior. One of my projects is about the development and testing of an engineering curriculum for diverse, often economically disadvantaged, pre-k school students. The curriculum uses literature to teach problem solving. My research team noticed that children’s books are not very diverse in that there are few representations of girls, persons of color, and disabled or gifted children. Rather than complain, my daughters and I decided to become a part of the solution. My daughters, Alyssa Simone and Olivia Lauren, and I established a publishing company called Lauren Simone Publishing House to recruit diverse writers and illustrators to tell their stories and help close the diversity disparity, especially in STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art and math).
Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in a beautiful island called Jamaica. I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 years old. I lived in NY and then moved to Connecticut, where I have made a home with my husband, Matthew and our two beautiful children. Alyssa Simone was born in NY and Olivia was born in CT.
What or who inspired you to start writing?
In addition to the lack of diversity in children’s literature, my daughters inspire me to write. My first book Occupations A to Z was inspired by my daughter, Olivia Lauren, who is a working child actor and model. During her auditions she met people of many different occupations. The occupations were uncommon to us since I led a very academic life and my daughter attends a STEM academy. It was lovely to learn about all the different professions in the entertainment industry. Olivia Lauren inspired me to write a reference guide for children to explore both traditional and contemporary professions and jobs.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Although I write empirical articles, I did not consider myself a writer until I saw my first published book on Amazon and held a printed copy in my hands. This was February of 2017.
How much of yourself, your personality, or your experiences, is in your books?
A lot of our personality is in the books. The main character is based on my younger daughter, Olivia Lauren. But the style of writing is that of a teacher. Although they are stories, they are educational and cultural.
Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?
This year we published 5 books in the Olivia Lauren series. I have other books written, but I am not ready to illustrate or publish them as yet. Right now, we are focused on publishing the works of other kid authors: Imani Ariana Grant, Brazil Dowe and Princeton Dowe (twins) and Madison Bishop and Elijah Bishop (siblings). I enjoy helping others realize their potential and making dreams come true.
What is the best and worst advice you ever received?
Many people have stories to tell. Many people may have drafted several novels but perfectionism, fear, lack of confidence, laziness, or busyness may prevent them from finishing their manuscript. The best advice I ever received came from John Maxwell (I think!) and I am paraphrasing, “Your last book will be better than your first.” You will never have a last book until you write the first. Writing is a talent that gets better with practice. So, we shouldn’t wait on the perfect book to publish, but do our best and put it out there.
What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?
I enjoy writing the story, researching the characters and the accuracy of the content. I even like formatting the books. Basically, I love putting the book together from start to finish. What I dislike is marketing and promotion. I do not have a business degree and am not much of a sales person. I believe our work is high quality, but I struggle knowing how to get others to see that too. This is why some people seek an agent or publicist to do the harder or “worst” part.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I read all my book reviews and share them on our website. Not everyone will like your product or services. That is part of life. Most of my reviews are positive, mostly 5 stars and a few 4 stars. Once I got a 3 star and it actually motivated me to reflect on what I could do different to make my books better. Constructive criticism helps us to grow and make progress. It may hurt your feelings for a bit. It hurts more if the review is from a family or friend. But eventually the hurt dissipates.
Please tell us about your current release.
The last book is entitled Things We Wear. It was published September 13, 2017. It was written because I love culture and different cultures don’t always wear the same things. One day Olivia Lauren, Alyssa Simone, and I were coming from a park in Brooklyn, NY. We had passed Muslim women wearing hi-jabs and Orthodox Jews. I overheard a child ask their parent, “What is that the women have covering their hair?” The mom was either embarrassed or ignorant to answer. I thought since we live in a multicultural and diverse world these are things kids ought to learn in school or early learning at home. So Olivia and I wrote it, and kid illustrators Simonne-Anais Clarke and Zachary-Michael Clarke illustrated it.
Did you base any of your characters on real people?
The main characters of Olivia Travels is based on our family of 4- Mom, dad, Olivia Lauren and sister, Alyssa Simone. As the book teachers different modes of transportation using rhyme and rhythm most of the illustrations are based on our actual holiday vacations.
Do you have an all time favorite book?
My favorite book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read it in the third grade. This past summer, Olivia Lauren who was entering 5th grade and I read it together. It took us 3 days. After reading it, we watched the part 2 edition on Hallmark.
Olivia Lauren’s Things We Wear is a story about a child model and her friends exploring the different things people wear. Olivia Lauren and her friends tell us about the when, where, and why regarding the things we wear. Children will increase their vocabulary and curiosity about fashion, tradition, and the significance of clothing.
About the Authors
Melissa-Sue John, Ph.D. is a wife, the mother of Alyssa Simone and Olivia Lauren, and psychologist. She is a Jamaican born and proud Alma Mata of Harrison’s Preparatory School and Holy Childhood High School. After high school, she moved to the U.S. where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College, CUNY. She then later pursued her Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. Currently, she teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University and works as a Research Associate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. These professional roles led her to write children’s literature with her two daughters and she now serves as the Chief Executive Operator of Lauren Simone Publishing House.
Olivia Lauren, born November 5, 2007 in Farmington, CT, is the co-owner of Lauren Simone Publishing House. She enjoys acting, modeling, reading, and writing. She is an intelligent and hardworking student who loves science, technology, engineering, and math. Her most recent achievement is the establishing of Lauren Simone Publishing House with her sister, Alyssa Simone.
Alyssa Simone, born October 31, 2001 in New York, NY, is the co-owner of Lauren Simone Publishing House. She is a teen actor, model, violinist, athlete, author, and kid publisher. She was also a Girl Scout, a member of her school’s Drill Team and Stage Crew, working behind the scenes for camera, lights, and background. She has been playing violin since the third grade, and participated in over dozen orchestra recitals. She enjoys running indoor and outdoor track and field. Most recently, she co-authored a book with her mother called Olivia Connects. Olivia Connects is the 3rd book of the Olivia Lauren series. She also works as editor and literary critic, helping Olivia and her mom review manuscripts submitted to their publishing company.