Faith has been the common thread running through Melissa Pettignano’s life. Through the good times and the bad alike, her faith has been there to support her and remind her that there will always be light and love. She brings that message to people through her music, humanitarian work and writing. In her award winning book, Suzanne Lantana: A Collection of Short Stories, Pettignano included fictional pieces based upon real events in her life, including the loss of her beloved aunt in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. The lessons presented in Melissa’s book can help teens and pre-teens begin to develop effective life skills and coping mechanisms. We sat down in New Jersey to talk with Melissa about her inspiration for her music and writing, and her continuing faith.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: What inspired you to write your book, Suzanne Lantana: A Collection of Short Stories?
MELISSA: When I was in the six grade a teacher at school encouraged me to write and to consider publishing my collected tales as a book. And so I did. They are collections of short stories that have personal meaning and offer pertinent life lessons for young girls. The main character, Suzanne, is a fun-loving girl with a lot of heart. The book follows her from the fifth grade to eighth grade graduation. Each story demonstrates a learning situation and a different approach to situations meaningful to teens and pre-teens. Suzanne is a girl who sticks up for herself and wants others to learn to do the same. From experiencing jealousy to fighting, from rekindling friendships to losing loved ones, Suzanne begins to grow up with the help of her faith, family and friends.She has her own very strong points of view and her own unique mindset. These are the qualities that make Suzanne very special. Her approach and her attitude towards the situations life throws her way are revealed in such a way as to be a model for how young girls can effectively function in various situations and relate to the world in a positive manner.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: The stories are a mix of fact and fiction, illustrating different events in the life of Suzanne Lantana, including one very personal story dealing with 9/11. Can you talk a bit about that?
MELISSA: I lost my beloved aunt Arlene in the World Trade Center attacks. I wanted to write the story in a non-frightening way to help young people know that no matter what obstacles they face, they can overcome them, especially tragedy. Good always wins against evil. It’s been so many years, but it’s like it just happened yesterday. Everyone who went through that is still dealing with a lot of pain. It never goes away. You always miss that person. You have to live your life for your loved one and keep their memory alive. They’re in you. I wanted to included that message in the book to let every young girl or boy know that they can make it through anything and that the light is always at the end of the tunnel.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: How similar is the character of Suzanne to you and your values?
MELISSA: Suzanne definitely embodies a lot of who I am. Not an alter ego, but somebody with strength, tolerating no nonsense, loving people and wanting what’s right in the world.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: You do a lot of humanitarian work. Why is it important to you to give back to the community and help others to the best of your ability?
MELISSA: I’ve been doing humanitarian work since I was a little girl. My family and I would do a lot with the church and with different organizations, helping those in need and giving back. It is so important to me because I love helping people all over the world and I love being able to do God’s work, helping my brothers and sisters in their time of need and growing together in our love and support for one another.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: You also work on anti-bullying initiatives, inspired in part by your own experiences in school.
MELISSA: Growing up, I didn’t like seeing kids bullied. There were a lot of kids in school who said different things out of jealousy. I dealt with a lot of kids that were jealous of me and said things that weren’t so nice. I always stood my ground. I always prayed for them and wanted the best for them.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: Along with your faith, did music help you through this time in your life as well?
Very much. I started singing when I was two years old, and I started writing songs when I was ten. As a child I would sing along and dance to artists like Connie Francis, The Supremes, and various Doo Wop groups.
Where do you think your inspiration and love of music came from?
MELISSA: Definitely from my family. My father Raymond and aunt Annette were actually in the Doo Wop duo Rickie and Vickie. They released two songs titled “Joanie” and “Why Are You So In Love” on Angletone Records in the early 1960s.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: Speaking of family, you have written two songs with your father. Can you tell us about that?
MELISSA: Yes, we wrote a song entitled “Gave You One More Chance.” We wanted to create something that was heartfelt, positive and that would uplift the heart, mind, body, soul and spirit. We were fortunate to work with the legendary Grammy-nominated and multi-platinum producer Steve “Mr. Mig” Migliore on developing it into a remixed radio version. We also wrote “Dear Lord Jesus.” For this song we worked with Eric Copeland of Creative Soul Records, in association with Word Entertainment in Nashville and their team. This song is a thank you letter to my Lord Jesus. It is because of him and the gifts and blessings he has bestowed upon me that I am where I am today and I wanted to say give thanks and say thank you.