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June 22, 2018

A Real Girl in An Unreal World
by Beth C. Aplin (, published online 11-02-2007
Park Slope Author’s Young Adult Novel Takes on New York’s Modeling Scene

By Beth C. Aplin
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
PARK SLOPE — With her graceful carriage, sea-green eyes and lightly freckled skin, author Melissa Walker has a striking resemblance to Violet Greenfield, the protagonist of her debut novel.

Titled “Violet on the Runway” (Berkley Publishing Group, $9.99), the book for young adults is about a shy teenage girl who is discovered by a high powered modeling agent and whisked away to the runways — and pitfalls — of the New York modeling world.

Sitting with Walker, 30, in a Park Slope café near her home, her long legs crossed under a baggy knit dress, it begs the question: Did the author draw on her own modeling experiences for this book?

“No, I don’t have any modeling experience myself,” she said, sipping on an iced coffee. “I’ve just been on the magazine side of photo shoots and stories.”

She explained that it was her access to models while working at teen magazines that inspired her first novel.

“Working, especially at ELLEgirl, I interviewed a lot of models for stories and profiles, so that made me really interested in their world. I got a lot of standard answers — ‘I love the travel and the clothes’ — and I always wanted to get the deeper, off-the-record stuff from them.”

In one article for ELLEgirl (now closed), Walker spent a day in a male model’s apartment, observing little details like the bunkbeds crammed into the bedrooms and the bread plates they ate off of to keep their portions small.

“[I thought] it was the perfect world for a character to come into and react to,” she said.

At first, Violet Greenfield seems a long way from model material. Insecure about her looks, she has been teased for being too tall and too skinny for most of her 17 years. She wears wire-rimmed glasses, works at a dinky movie theater in her hometown of Chapel Hill, N.C., and has two goals for her senior year of high school: “(1) Get into college, (2) Don’t grow.”

It takes everyone aback — Violet included — when an alternately sweet- and sharp-talking New York agent insists that wallflower Violet “could be IT. And I mean IT.” Within weeks, Violet is in New York with a new makeover, a chauffeur, knee-high Prada boots and a slew of fashion shows booked. But with every perk comes a problem, and as much as Violet wants to believe that this fashion fairy tale is real, her better judgment keeps cropping up.

As interested and familiar as Walker is with the world of teen models, what seems to truly drive her is how an average middle-class girl would react to the bright lights and big pressures of the billion-dollar fashion machine.

She told the Eagle that she had read a lot of young adult novels while working at teen magazines, some of them inspiring and some of them “lousy.”

“One thing I really didn’t like was that a lot of the glamorous-world books had really questionable morality. Not to get all high and mighty about it, and I don’t want to name names, but there are definitely books out there that portray bad things as glamorous.

“What I really wanted to do was get to that same audience of girls … but then give them a character that they could see themselves in — a real girl in the middle of all this, not a girl who is super wealthy or super bitchy. So that’s what I hope, that [the book] is a glamorous package on the front and then inside you’ll get a Judy Blume-like character.”

Teen Girls — The Best Audience
Walker, like Violet, grew up in Chapel Hill. She attended college at Vassar in upstate New York, and after a stint back home waiting tables and a brief move to London, she moved to the city at age 23 and started working at Rosie. Within a year she moved to Park Slope and found herself at magazines like Cosmo Girl, Seventeen and Teen Vogue, in addition to ELLEgirl.

“I think teen girls are the best audience that you can have. … Their reactions are really raw. That’s the kind of feedback I always wanted for my writing and for whatever the editorial mission of the magazine was. We’d get these collaged envelopes and poems about what we had written. You don’t get that kind of feedback from adults.”

Three books are currently planned for the “Violet” series; the second one chronicles Violet’s international modeling adventures and the third follows her first year in college. Both books are due out next year.

© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2007
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