Laura Ojeda Melchor grew up in Montana and can’t get it out of her mind, so she writes middle grade and young adult fiction steeped in the mountains and valleys of her childhood. In 2017, she graduated with a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She loves to spend time with family, friends, and the outdoors, and she always has more books checked out from the library than she can finish before they’re due. She also leads a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) critique group in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley, where she lives among towering spruce and birch trees with her husband and son. She is represented by Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary.
I was lucky enough to grow up a half-Cuban, Spanish-speaking, gymnastics-loving bookworm on the campus of a Seventh-day Adventist academy near Bozeman, Montana. My mom taught at the high school and I attended the elementary a third of a mile down the road. My sister and I walked or rode bikes to school most days. Often our German shepherd dog accompanied us all the way to the elementary and then ran home after we went inside. When I wasn’t in school, I was either doing gymnastics, exploring my yard and the fields and woods beyond it, or tucked in a tree somewhere reading a good book. (I was also often reading a book during science and math class, much to my teacher’s dismay.)
Sometimes, I also wrote books. They were about five pages long, written on notebook paper and stapled together and sold to my parents for twenty-five cents apiece. (Thank you, Mom and Dad, for being my first customers!) I wanted to write and publish real books but I knew it was too hard. Books were so long! How could anyone possibly write a whole one? I lost sight of that dream during high school, but I kept on reading. By the time I hit college I knew I had to write a book and I thought I just might be ready to tackle the job. So at eighteen years old, I wrote 200+ pages of a middle grade novel that, despite its length, mostly only had a beginning and failed at having a middle, and end, or a plot.
While I’d started college planning to strike gold in the medical field, I knew once I attempted to view cadavers for an anatomy and physiology class that I was not destined for that world. The cadavers had once been people with stories and families and feelings, and I couldn’t forget that. So I became an English major instead. I spent lots of time reading and writing, which gave me the skills to try to revise that terrible novel I’d written the year before. So, at nineteen years old, I rewrote it.
It was still awful. But it was better. For my senior thesis, I revised that same novel yet again and gave it a real name: AND THE BLACKBIRDS MOCK (nicknamed BLACKBIRD). After graduation I sent the manuscript to Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) as part of the application packet for their low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. The college accepted me and I attended my first residency in 2014. Before leaving I went to a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in southern California, where the first ten pages of BLACKBIRD won the Editor’s Pick award from a Farrar, Straus, and Giroux editorial assistant. So by then I thought BLACKBIRD was pretty much perfect and I decided to send it in for my first VCFA workshop because people were bound not to give me too many negative critiques.
Well. My kind and knowledgeable critique partners and leaders tore that book apart. Which turned out to be a fantastic thing, because it was the beginning of my realization that I still had–and have–a lot to learn about the craft and art of writing. During my time at VCFA, I didn’t work on BLACKBIRD at all. Instead I wrote a whole new middle grade manuscript, LUCY RUNNING, which is from the point of view of a dog. And started a young adult epistolary novel called SHOW ME HOW TO SEE THE SHADOWS. And began to write CARRIE CLOVER AND THE SILVER LOCKET, a middle grade historical/fantasy/time travel novel that I hope will become a series.
That MFA program taught me so much about the creative process, the importance of a strong and supportive writer’s community, and the inevitability of lots and lots of critiques and lots and lots of rewriting. I had a baby a few months before I graduated in January of 2017, and while that baby was still immobile and teensy I sent out queries to twenty-five literary agents, eventually landing the fantastic Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary.
All of my stories incorporate threads of my background into them: my Latina heritage and my Norwegian one, too; my love of gymnastics, basketball, and volleyball; my deep appreciation of nature and the mountains and beautiful old barns. Here on this site I’ll be blogging about the writing life, books I read and love, and other things related to writing and publishing.
I hope you’ll join me as I continue my journey as a writer of books for children and young adults.