Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Member Interview: Author Melissa Coffey

   Our Member Interview Series welcomes Melissa Coffey, author of debut picture book, FRIDGE-OPOLIS (September 2022, Little Bee Books). Following a career in journalism, she founded a freelance business, Coffey Creative, writing for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs and magazines. Now, Melissa is represented by Charlotte Wenger at Prospect Agency and is also a member of Kidlit Caravan.

Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I’ve lived in Texas, California and Georgia, but I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Go Pack Go!) I think my practical Midwestern upbringing definitely influenced FRIDGE-OPOLIS. Wisconsin is mostly farmland (we’re the dairy state), and my family always valued conservation, nature, wildlife and Mother Earth. My grandparents had a massive summer garden, and Friday dinner was usually fish caught from the lake. I learned as a child to respect the food chain and not waste our planet’s precious resources.

Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
It’s always been a lifelong goal of mine to be an author—it just took me 50 years! I was the kid with my nose always in a book, carrying around a Trapper Keeper and spiral notebook of stories and poems. In second or third grade, I actually wrote about pollution, so it’s clearly something I’ve always felt strongly about! Fortunately, I had teachers who said I had talent and encouraged me to pursue writing. I graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in journalism, and then spent the next 20+ years writing professionally. It wasn’t until my two sons were born, however, that I rediscovered my love of picture books and switched gears to children’s literature.

If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
I’m mostly at home, so plenty of half-caf coffee; a messy desk; two tabby cats (Jasper Bean and Queso) vying for my lap at said messy desk; school runs; family dinner; a visit at dusk from “my” doe and her spotted fawn; and tending my garden and compost stew. A great day includes a solo walk in the woods or getting together with my ATX author friends and critique group, both of which feed my creative soul.

Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
It was tough being new to Austin and sequestered away like a hermit during the height of the pandemic. It feels reinvigorating to be back again engaging in person with our local literary and SCBWI communities. And of course, connecting with kids! I’m really happy to have found a thriving, supportive group of like-minded creators.

I also have come to appreciate that there are many different ways of defining success on this journey, and no two paths look the same. To me, success is nurturing my sons and other kids to become lifelong readers, independent thinkers, and compassionate human beings. Every day, my boys see me pursuing and persevering at something I love. At school, my youngest made a sweet drawing/poem about me and my book, and this fills my bucket to the brim!

What surprises you about the creative life?
It’s easy to go with the creative flow. It’s a heck of a lot tougher to go with the ebb.

When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
Humor. Inspiration. Empowerment. Connection.

Quick-Fire Questions:

Most interesting piece/work from your journalism days? (Please tell us: who, what, when, where, and why?)
Oh, my. I’m going to go with a cover story I wrote for Atlanta magazine in 2004, entitled “Single in the City—How to Play the Dating Game.” It was at the height of HBO’s “Sex and the City” series. I was single, and apparently fancied myself a bit of a Carrie Bradshaw (minus the Manhattan apartment and collection of Manolos). When I read the article now, it’s a bit…cringeworthy. Ironically, that issue won awards at the time.

Favorite compost product/tool for kitchen/garden?
My 43-gallon backyard compost tumbler. Nothing fancy, glamorous or special. I love that it’s one, big, living science experiment.

What words would you spell out on your fridge today, using those cute, colorful magnetic alphabet letters?
Long answer: “All right effort bears fruit, whether we see the results or not.” —Peace Pilgrim
Short answer: You got this.