When Melanie Conklin ’00 walked onto NC State’s campus in 1996 as a member of the first class of Park Scholars, she was excited to start her journey to becoming a veterinarian. Little did she know, a chance meeting with a landscape design professor, an interest in pursuing a literature minor and support from her fellow Park Scholars would send her in a new direction, towards becoming a writer.
Conklin grew up in Summerfield, NC, (the setting for her second middle-grade novel, Every Missing Piece!). As a first-year student, she had aspirations to become a veterinarian after participating in Young Explorers and working at a veterinarian’s office. NC State’s veterinary school drew her to NC State and she was part of the first class of Park Scholars in 1996.
“Coming from the first class of Park Scholars, we really got to lead ourselves because no one else had done it before,” Conklin said in an interview in 2014. “I would say that has seriously influenced everything I’ve done in my life, because the Park Scholarships program was an opportunity to take my ideas and put them into action.”
Conklin explained that the Park Scholarships program both challenged her and fostered independence and confidence, in addition to providing access to resources and opportunities that helped her “fail forward.”
In her first semester, Conklin met a professor in landscape architecture through the Park Scholarship Program. He invited her to come work on an art project where the team created a garden in the Student Union. Each of the pieces of the garden was created at 10x scale.
“An ant- 10 times bigger. A flower- 10 times bigger. A chair- 10 times bigger. We made it all out of hot glue, cardboard and paint. It was so magical,” Conklin reminisced. “After working on that project, I had to have this heart-to-heart myself. I like making things, I like creating things.”
Conklin decided to take a different direction and change her major to enroll in the College of Design, with a special interest in product design. She also minored in English literature.
“Becoming a designer was the key to me becoming an author,” explained Conklin. “It taught me the creative process. In the design school, I learned how to take a problem, identify all of the factors and work my way through it to come up with a solution. I worked in product development for over a decade, and when I retired to raise my children, I had this unused creative energy. When you’re used to solving problems that are fun, your brain craves that. One day, I woke up with an idea and I thought, ‘I should start writing during nap time when the kids are asleep.’”
To Conklin, each book she writes represents a new “problem” she aims to solve, combining her love of the creative process with a desire to push her characters to their limits just as society does, another lesson learned through Park, “stand up and say more.”
Conklin’s third and latest book, A Perfect Mistake, is a middle-grade mystery about friendship, growing up and life after being diagnosed with ADHD. It was inspired by her husband and her son, who both have ADHD.
“I knew I wanted to write about a boy who had experiences similar to my husband and my son when navigating ADHD,” said Conklin. “What happens after you’ve been diagnosed? What is that like for a teenager, just living your life? I wanted to show this character going through a tough time, but ultimately learning about himself and growing.”
Conklin was excited to share that the night before this interview was conducted, she submitted the first draft of her fourth book to her publisher. Crushed, a middle-grade book, will explore real middle-grade issues including harassment, bullying and social media.