Milken virtually sat down with four alumni writers for a conversation about their book publishing journeys, creative inspiration, and reflections on their Milken experience.
Eliana Melmed '16, writer of the children’s book, Who Are Our Heroes?: A Reminder to Say "Thank You!" in the Time of Coronavirus and Beyond.
What inspired you to write this book?
It was back in March of 2020 when I got sent home from college and I was on an extended spring break because no one knew what was going to happen next. I was sitting there in my room when my younger brother was in his eighth grade class at Milken Middle School and he was sitting in my room on the floor, just doing his thing, doing school. And his teacher mentioned something about a sort of metaphor to talk about the pandemic and that kind of got the wheels turning in my head about how this must be a really tough time for kids, especially right now. And so, I wanted to think of a way that I could talk about the pandemic that would be not overwhelmingly scary, but something that kids could latch on to and use as a tool.
The first draft of my book was actually all about what is a virus and why should we wash our hands? But I soon realized that I wasn't the right person to write that book, because I'm not a medical professional, but also that wasn't the book that I felt like I needed to be writing. And so I thought about the people in my life who were really my heroes at the time. And one of those people is my dad who is a doctor and medical researcher who was working with COVID patients, working to develop different kinds of things that would help them. And then I thought of my uncle, who's a truck driver who was delivering toilet paper across the West coast during those early pandemic days. And I thought, these are the people that kids need to be learning about-these are the people that we need to go the extra mile to appreciate-these are the people who deserve to be in a children's book. That's how Who Are Our Heroes was born.
What has the publishing process been like for you?
It's been a really wonderful whirlwind of a process. I wrote the manuscript in about two weeks and then a month later, the illustrations were done and the book was up on Amazon. And so from start to finish, it was barely two months from the idea in my head to the book in my hands. And I never ever expected that I would be a children's book author, but it's been a really wonderful experience.
When did you discover your love of writing?
I always loved reading and writing. I loved Ms. Mansfield creative writing class when I was at Milken. And that really started a process for me of writing and creative writing. I wrote so much poetry in her class. Writing poetry was always my favorite and working on rhyme scheme and rhythm and meter is something that I find really enjoyable and beautiful to see it all come together.
Looking back, what stands out to you about your Milken experience?
Thinking back to Milken, the thing that really stands out to me are the incredible educators and teachers that I was able to learn from really across the board. I feel so lucky to have had such a wonderful education in English and humanities and history and Jewish studies. And I really felt like I came to college prepared for everything in terms of writing. I cannot speak more highly of the English and language arts education that I had at Milken. I was so lucky to have Mr. Moran as an English teacher for three years-those were the best years of English education, better than my humanities education in college, because he really helped us go so deeply into texts and he was able to help analyze my writing and give me really helpful feedback and teach us concepts and skills that have helped me beyond my English classes. I feel lucky to have had such wonderful people to learn from and to be mentors for me, really across the board at Milen.
What have you learned from the experience of self-publishing and what advice would you give to those looking to try something new?
If I’ve learned anything from this book and passion project of mine, it's that if you have an idea and there's something you want to do, just do it. I had no clue what it meant to publish a book. I didn't know anything about anything in this world. I had something I wanted to do so I took the time to Google how to do it-and that is how that happened.
I think what I've taught myself through this process and what I hope that other people can learn from it too, was that a lot of things seem a lot harder than they are. So I think it's also important to enjoy your life and not always need to drive and push forward, but when you do feel that drive to push forward, just do it and see what happens.