The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust, is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing, soul-searching questions. In the hot seat today: Melissa Ostrom, YA author of THE BELOVED WILD (Feiwel and Friends, 2018) and the forthcoming novel, UNLEAVING (Feiwel and Friends, March 26, 2019).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Enjoying a summertime dinner with friends on our screened-in porch, the table crowded with lovely indulgences—rustic bread, red wine, maybe a bisque and a Mediterranean pasta dish. Candlelight, laughter, music. Fireflies twinkling the night air. The kids running around outside in their pajamas. Some peach shortcake or a cherry crostata for dessert. Or both. More laughter. More wine.
What is your greatest fear? Something bad happening to my kids.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Being compulsively agreeable, maybe? I wouldn’t say I deplore it. In fact, it’s usually a good feeling, being agreeable. But sometimes, I wish I weren’t so quick to hand over, relinquish, submit—and let someone else’s wishes eclipse my own.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Meanness. I don’t understand mean people, why they would even want to be mean when it feels so good to be kind.
Which living person do you most admire? That’s a tough one. Oprah, maybe? I love Oprah. And Michelle Obama. And Hillary Clinton. And Dolly Parton. And Angela Merkel. Lately, I’ve been loving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s smart and brave. Plus, she can dance!
What is your greatest extravagance? Extravagances, guilty pleasures…I could go on and on, so I’ll just mention one of my latest obsessions: Boden. Sexy, glamorous, playful clothes from Boden.
What is your current state of mind? Searching, contemplative, curious, wondering…
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Certainty. I don’t trust it. Uncertainty, on the other hand, seems more honest. I associate it with humbleness and a willingness to stay open, be vulnerable, look at things from many sides, sympathize, empathize, change.
On what occasion do you lie? If the situation is personal and the truth not only is likely to hurt feelings but also serves absolutely no good purpose (like necessary improvement, for instance).
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I’m sure there are words and phrases I overuse, but what I can’t seem to master is my tendency to end half of my sentences with the exclamation mark! (You’ve seen me on Twitter, Melissa! I’m all: !!!) <Yes, Melissa!!! That’s why we’re friends!!! 🙂 –MR>
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? Fluency in many languages
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Probably this wonderful, whirlwind writing career. I think a lot of people believe that, in order to get published, a person needs an MFA or connections or a foothold in the publishing industry. I didn’t start out with any of these things. I just had a passion for writing and a knack for enduring rejection again and again. And again.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Person—and hopefully a writer, because WHAT A LIFE!
What is your most treasured possession? My children. Yes, they’re mine. All mine.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? I can’t bear the thought of my kids being harmed. Just…can’t.
What do you most value in your friends? Curiosity, kindness, integrity, sympathy, talent, stoicism, diligence, expertise, intelligence, and commitment to justice, all leavened by an enthusiastic willingness to be, at least on occasion, plain silly.
Who are your favorite writers? I love so many, including Melissa Roske! <There’s no accounting for taste. 🙂 –MR> Also, over the course of last year and the beginning of this one: David Sedaris, Rebecca Solnit, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Alexander Chee, Ann Patchett, Mary Ruefle, Maggie Nelson, Kevin Wilson, Leslie Jamison, and Celeste Ng. Their books delight, compel, and mesmerize me. As for YA writers, Rainbow Rowell and John Green are easily my all-time favorites.
Who is your hero of fiction? The inquisitive, imaginative, intellectual, eccentric, loyal, fierce, hot-tempered, lovably imperfect Anne Shirley
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Oh, gosh, I really want to say Joan of Arc, Emily Dickinson, Marie Curie, or Amelia Earhart. Hmm. Maybe Mary Wollstonecraft, if I’m having a really, really good day…? But otherwise, Julia Child. I cook and entertain A LOT.
What is your motto? “Be nice or leave.”
MELISSA OSTROM teaches English at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York, and is the author of the YA historical novel The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, March 2018). Her short fiction has appeared in The Florida Review,Passages North, The Baltimore Review, and Fourteen Hills, among other journals. Her second novel, Unleaving, is forthcoming from Macmillan on March 26, 2019. Learn more about Melissa on her website and follow her on Twitter.