1. Where did you grow up and what was it like? Your family, friends, school, neighborhoods, etc.? How did that shape you?

I grew up in Indiana, PA. About 45 minutes from Pittsburgh. Indiana is something of a small town, but the university there makes it seem a lot bigger. But you still have that small home-town feel. My Nana (grandmother) was a teacher at the high school, and so pretty much knew everyone around. Until I was in 4th grade, I lived out in the country and was a complete tomboy. I was never inside if I could help it. I was playing in the dirt, running through the cornfields behind my house. Anything. I had such an imagination. When I moved into town, I was a lot closer to my friends and we would ride our bikes everywhere. My mom had a lot of trust in me to be safe and to come home by dark, or when I got hungry—whichever came first. Family is incredibly important to me, present and past. My Nana is a big believer in keeping a good family tree, so I will always know my roots. School was both easy and hard for me. Easy because I have a good head on my shoulders. I’m smart and grasp concepts easily. Hard because I had a tendency to daydream, a lot. Even though I found out later that this was A.D.D., that wasn’t the ‘popular’ diagnosis. The only thing I think that truly kept me from getting labeled was the fact I was a good student and could catch up and learn without too many problems. I was always the quiet, shy kid who barely spoke in class. Stage fright, of a sort, ruled my life through my school years until about 9th grade when my two best friends practically dragged me into play auditions one afternoon. I got the part. And I started working on becoming more social.

2. What do you write and why did you choose the genre/stories? What inspires you?

I usually write whatever comes to mind. In high school that meant bad poetry. REALLY bad. My mom kept a lot of my things and I read my poetry book before I moved about six years ago. I had a good laugh. Now I like to write sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy. I love things that have to do with the paranormal, or create worlds out of nothing for people to live in and give me a place to tell whatever story I have in my head. As for inspiration? That’s a hard one. I don’t know that I could narrow it down to any one or a few things. I love characters that speak to me, the ones that almost write themselves. More often than not, I’ll come up with a person first and then he or she will tell me what they do, why (sometimes), and they’ll give me the story to write.

3. Tell us five random things about you that few people know.

Random, eh? I love watching old movies with my dad. I can still be painfully shy, especially in new situations. I cover up a lot of hurt/embarrassment/shyness/pain with humor—a lot of humor. Shopping for school supplies is one of my favorite pastimes; I love it! Until my senior year in high school, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist and work at Sea World.

4. What are you wearing, baby?

Jeans and a t-shirt. My standard attire if I can get away with it!

5. Briefs or boxers?

On me or on men? ‘Cause on men I can go either way.

6. What do qualities you seek in a life partner? What are important and what are not? Do you have/Did you have someone like that in your life?

Great smile, easy going attitude (to offset my often times type-A personality), honest, likes children, doesn’t mind just cuddling up on a couch and vegging in front of the TV some nights, likes sports, likes reading/writing, will put up with my love of sci-fi conventions and other kinds of activities where you kind of have to just get into the spirit of things (like Renaissance Faires), who can put up with my bad jokes and still have a sense of humor. Honesty and liking children are deal breakers for me. I thought I had someone like that a while ago, but not so much. He married someone else four months after breaking up with me (hence the honesty deal breaker).

7. "You are what you are" or "You are what you do"? And why?

“You are what you are”. We can all try or pretend to be something else. We can study, go to college for it, get a good job in that field, but will never truly be happy unless you are true to who you are. I always loved animals, so I thought bio would be a good fit, and I loved the classes. I went to Spain and fell in love with the language, so my senior year I changed my choice of colleges and majors and took Spanish for International Trade. Never EVER thought I wanted to teach, even though when I was a child I pretended to be a teacher all the time. My Nana was a teacher; four of my cousins are teachers (having something of a weird My Cousin Vinny moment here). And until I started teaching preschool ten years ago, I didn’t realize that was what I truly wanted either. I am what I am. I love kids, I love giving them the tools and skills to acquire new ideas, new thoughts, new… everything. I love that moment where their eyes light up as they ‘get it’. It’s awesome.

8. What was your darkest moment and what did you learn from it? (If it's too personal, you can skip this or tell us your less personal experience)

After working with the kids I have right now (at risk and troubled children who are in an alternate school program) my ‘darkest’ moments don’t even compare to the crap that these guys have had to put up with their entire lives. In fact my darkest moments are pretty darn full of light in comparison. But the hardest thing for me was something that actually had an impact on my whole family. My dad worked for the coal mines in western PA and was laid off my senior year in high school. He was the provider for the family. I was about to go to college and worried about the stress that would put on them because they would help pay for it even though they didn’t have the money to do so. My mom started working two jobs. My dad worked two part time jobs AND went back to school full time. It was stressful for everyone and scary. But here we all are. It is actually helping me now because I know that no matter how bad things might get financially, there’s always a way through it. It ain’t easy, but it’s possible.

9. What was your proudest/happiest moment and what did you learn from it?

The day my brother got married. I’m a big sister. It’s my job to worry about my ‘baby’ brother. I always tried to protect him as best as I could. But the day he introduced me to his girlfriend Valerie, I knew I didn’t have to protect him anymore. She is the sweetest person ever and I couldn’t ask for a better sister. I stood up there with them and was beaming the whole time. I still tease him about getting married before me, but I truly couldn’t be prouder of him.

10. If you have just one more day to live, what would you do?

Find the one person who I think I could have loved for the rest of my life and spend the day with them.

11. What is going through your mind right now?

My mind is a scary place sometimes. Right now I’m surprising myself by how much I’m saying here. I’m normally not this ‘talkative’. But even though many people will potentially see all of this, I’m also telling it to you. Talking to people who I consider my friends is the easiest thing for me to do in the world.

12. Describe your bedroom.

Unintended chaos. It’s a conglomeration of a variety of styles and interests. I have Celtic pictures, symbols and other related things on the walls and shelves. I have some of my favorite stuffed animals (the ones that have special meaning to me) displayed throughout. I have two shelves filled with books, my TV and DVD/VCR player with a selection of DVDs on the shelf too. My computer desk next to my bed and other odds and ends. A calendar to keep track of my sub jobs, two flags (Ireland and Scotland) on the wall, and other abstract kind of paintings to match my latest color scheme: kind of an Earth tone scheme, mainly rust/goldenrod/sage. Oh, and candles. I love candles.

13. Do you have a moment or event in your life that you can look back on and see that it changed your life? What is it, and how did it change your life -- for better or for worse?

The day I finally decided to go back to school to become a teacher. Like I said before, it is who I am and the payoff has been the best. I’ve met great kids, great parents, had great experiences. Definitely changed me for the better.

14. What makes Melissa unique? What unique experiences or qualities you have that make you realize your unique place in the world/history/community, etc.?

This is probably the hardest question for me because I am my own worst critic. But, I like to make people smile. I can’t stand it when people are sad or down on themselves. I’ll make faces, tell jokes (good and bad), anything to get a smile or a laugh. Because I truly believe that once that smile or laugh pokes through, it makes things better. It doesn’t fix what’s wrong, but it makes it better. I teach. Every day, even if it’s not an earth-shattering OH MY GOD I UNDERSTAND IT! day, I’ve still taught my kids something. They’ll take that knowledge and use it the next day, and the day after. I have kids that I baby sat, or taught in preschool ages ago that still remember me because of one reason or another. One of my first joyful/tearful moments in teaching was my first experience at a daycare center. I worked with three year olds and did the letters, the colors, the shapes, whatever. That Christmas I got a card from one of my students (I still have it now, almost 11 years later) that he signed himself. Using letters that I helped him learn. J-O-R-D-A-N. Six letters with amazing power. I seriously cried when I opened it.

15. Give me one good reason why I should buy you a beer.

Because apart from the fact that I love a good beer, it’s a great way to have a nice conversation. No pressures, no pretending to impress, we are who we are. Two friends, having a beer.