Melissa, on the left, and some friends, at a famous Chapel Hill spot.Great news after an unexpected break: I’m going to be hosting author guest blogs here now, every Wednesday (don’t hold me to that, but I’ll try)! Are you excited? I know I am! I’m also thrilled that Melissa Walker has agreed to write the first guest blog for Teen Book Review. Thanks so much for doing this, Melissa! Melissa is the author of Violet on the Runway and Violet by Design, two fabulous books that you really should read, if you haven’t yet. You can also check out my interview with Melissa here. Without further ado, here’s Melissa fantastic blog:

Oh, the places I have been…

Thanks for having me, Jocelyn! I wanted to touch on something close to my heart, which is, um, home.

Every fiction writer makes stuff up, right? Yes, but I bet if you ask them, they might admit to cribbing quite a bit from real life.

When I started writing my first novel, Violet on the Runway, I tried to set it in a small town in Tennessee. After a few chapters, I knew that I had to take a step back. This wasn’t a town I knew about, these weren’t places I’d been. So I brought Violet into my world, Chapel Hill, NC, the town where I grew up. Incidentally, Sarah Dessen’s books are based in Chapel Hill, too, but she calls her fictional town Lakeview. She made a video about that here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKYorL18sKc&eurl=http://lj-toys.com/?journalid=316975&moduleid=47&auth_token=sessionless:1207342800:embedcontent:316975%264.

People always ask me if my characters are based on my friends (or maybe enemies). And the answer is yes. Not in the way that the characters are exactly like my friends, but I definitely pick up little habits from real people I meet and put them into my books. For example, I have a friend who loves to order a Sprite and Twizzlers at the movies, and then bite two ends off a Twizzler and drink through the candy straw (Violet does this too). I also had a crazy boss once who was nosy and hilarious and lots of fun—so I put bits of him into Violet’s theater manager.

And while it may seem weird that Violet works where I worked (in a movie theater), walks the same high school hallways that I did (at Chapel Hill High School) and even ends up considering going to college where I went (Vassar College), it’s not that unusual. After all, there’s that old author’s adage, “Write what you know.” So far, I’m sticking with that path (except for the runway model part—that I’ve never done!).

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Violet by Design is Melissa Walker‘s second book about small-town-girl-turned-supermodel Violet Greenfield, and it’s just as great as Violet on the Runway. In this book, Violet has decided to return to the modeling business and she’s off to work the Sao Paolo runways. That’s right–Brazil! Violet is on her way to becoming an international star.

Of course, there was a reason she left it behind before. Modeling certainly has its ups and downs. Sure, she gets to travel to exotic places–but she also gets called “la gordita” (little fat girl) for not being afraid to gain five pounds and be normal-girl-skinny instead of anorexic-looking.  She’s in the tabloids, and anything she says can and will be used against her. Is the life of an international supermodel really worth leaving all of her friends and family at home behind to deal with so much pressure and superficiality?

On top of all of that, she’s got the typical teenage girl worries about her future, her romantic prospects, her friends, staying true to herself, and, like any recent high school graduate, balancing new with old. What’s a girl to do?

Yes, this is a book about modeling. But, as with Melissa Walker’s debut novel, it’s about so much more than that! It’s about life and friends and family and romance and knowing who you are and blindly feeling your way through an uncertain future the way we all do at some point.

As you can probably guess, I was pretty disgusted with the way already-super-skinny  Violet was always being pressured to lose five pounds, but that doesn’t detract from this book because Melissa Walker knows what she’s talking about when she writes about the fashion industry, and I do believe this is true-to-life. It’s not the book that horrifies me; it’s the truth of it, of the fashion industry, of that horrible negative body image that so many girls get from it. It’s relatively minor here–five pounds. But many girls are dozens or hundreds of pounds above the “ideal” weight in the fashion industry, and there’s nothing wrong with those girls. There is, however, something wrong with the fashion industry.

PSA over for the moment. Violet by Design  is an honest, funny, thoughtful, and intelligent book about one girl’s struggle to figure out who she is and stay true to herself despite the temptations to be someone else (like international superstardom and money and free stuff and exotic travel in this case, but there can be so many things that threaten us in that way).  I love Melissa Walker’s characters, and she is quite a talented writer. I can’t wait for the third book in the series, Violet in Private.