Melissa Balick is a deeply unconventional nanny who lives in Oakland, CA with her partner Jon and her haunted, world-weary dog Willow. She spends much of her time hiking through California redwoods or scaling rocks on the Pacific coast, peeking into tide pools and imagining life as a hermit crab. Her work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, 101 Words, and will soon appear in Hungry Shadow Press.
You can find her on practically every platform, from Medium to TikTok, @melissabalick.
If you haven't read "Restaurant" yet, take a moment to explore this story and then come back to learn about Melissa and her writing.
-----interview by Sue Bradford Edwards-----
WOW: What was the inspiration for Restaurant?
Melissa: I’ve had acute climate anxiety all my life and I'm also a professional babysitter/nanny, so I think a lot about how much we hide these problems from children, who are too busy trying to figure out how to even be a person to get saddled with the weight of the problems of the world.
I remember in particular that I babysat a little boy the day after the 2016 election when I lived in Los Angeles. Everyone I walked past that morning looked downright zombified, and I was also suffering from feelings of profound dread and panic. The boy's parents and I exchanged broken, devastated looks with each other, and then their 2.5 year old son came to the door and I transformed instantly into a person who would not, could not allow the terrible news for our world harm even one morning of this child's life. I smiled, I played, I got downright cheery. He deserved to have his fun and play and enjoy childhood. I'm sensitive to how easily children pick up on our cues and reflect them back. So "Restaurant" came from that idea, the way that parents will pretend to eat the balloon, act like there's nothing to worry about, to rescue their children from the harsh realities of what is happening on our planet.
WOW: How did "Restaurant" change during the revision process?
Melissa: This one didn't change very much from when I first wrote it.
WOW: It is such a tight story. How do you tell which details deserve space in the brief word count and which have to go?
Melissa: First of all, thank you for saying it's tight. To be honest, looking back, I would add another sentence or two. I regret not including any sensory detail of the deflated balloon, because I find them to have a particular physical presence that would have evoked childhood in a visceral way.
In general, I tend to only like stories where, at the end, I feel like I understood the story and what it was trying to say. Most short stories that are well-received do nothing for me except make me throw the book against the wall because I did not understand the point of that story or often, even, what happened in it. But they get published and win awards so I suppose that's what other people want. Not me, though. I like a tight story. I don't want readers getting bored or confused at any point in my stories. So I write the kinds of stories I like, and hope for the best.
The whole process of writing is pretty much a mystery to me. You never know what other people will love or hate. All I can do is write what feels right to me, what captures the spirit of what I'm trying to say. Occasionally it resonates with other people and I can't control that. I can only write what resonates with me.
WOW: That's so true. You can't control the reader so write what you love. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
Melissa: I'm an erratic writer at best. If I'm inspired, I might sit down and bang out a story in a day, then revise it about 16,000 times. I find it literally impossible to make myself do anything I don't want to do and the consequences of not doing something will have to outweigh the benefit of getting it done by a lot before I'll actually do it. Even this interview request -- you can't tell me I wasn't the last one to respond and answer.
So, when it comes to writing, if I sit down and actually do it, I just do it. I don't know where it comes from or what it looks like. I can tell you that I don't do what everyone says to do, which is to vomit it all out on the first draft and fix it later. I suffer over every sentence the first time I write it, then suffer over it another dozen times, then put it away for a couple months, pull it back out, and suffer over it at least another five times. I can't recommend this method to others, but I'm being honest, this is what I do.
WOW: I'm glad you've found what works for you, but I have to admit, I slap the whole thing down before I fine tune it. What can you tell our readers about your current project?
Melissa: I don't exactly have a current project. I have a couple novels I wrote and haven't finished editing. I have a lot of ideas. I can't see myself pursuing literary writing with any seriousness. I read almost exclusively literary fiction but I hate rejection and part of me would rather crank out genre fiction for self-publishing than try to compete in literary writing and keep losing all the time. The whole question of whether or not I'll keep writing with any seriousness is very much undetermined at this time.
WOW: I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that you do continue to write as the mood strikes you! Because I for one will be looking for more of your stories since tight stories that don't leave me guessing appeal to me as well!