The Craft of Kid Lit: Author Interviews
In this series of posts, I aim to shed light on the creative process of KidLit authors. Every other week, check this space to gain insight and perspective on the craft of writing for kids.
Author of The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane
1. What initially inspired you to write for kids, and what motivates you to continue to write for that audience?
I started writing books for kids because that’s what I read. I loved reading KidLit and couldn’t even imagine writing something aimed at adults. I still write for that audience because there is so much freedom for imagination while still addressing deeply personal issues of friendships, family, and love. That combination of heart and imagination is intoxicating to me!
2. Give us a peek into your brain before you've settled on a project. How do ideas come to you, and how do you begin once you’ve got a great one?
Ideas usually come to me when I’m not trying to think of an idea. Most often it’s when I’m outside. Ideas just seem to carry themselves on the breeze! Once an idea has popped into my head, I start asking questions to try to tease it out—who might get involved in something like this? What would motivate them? What would get in their way? I ask myself questions for months and months before I even start outlining, because those questions bring things to life for me.
3. How much is your chosen idea for a story influenced by what is "marketable"?
That is a really tough question, because the answer is both “not at all” and “a lot”! I don’t write stories based on trends—I’m a slow drafter, so by the time I get the story down the trend will have passed. At the same time, I do write with readers in mind—will they connect with these characters? Will the plot drive them to turn the page? I’ve never been someone who can just write for myself, I’ve always wanted my stories to find a readership. Does that mean I’m thinking about marketability? I’m not sure! But I definitely want readers to connect with my stories in a real and tangible way.
4. How detailed does your outline get? Do you leave space for changes, or are plot points written in stone?
I am a super-outliner! Before I start writing I put everything into an outlining tool that I developed based on a three-act structure with mystery and thriller plot points thrown in. This outline is very detailed when it comes to character development and motivation, so it is not just about plot. Then I create an outline for the first act, and then I create an outline for each chapter in the first act. Yeah, I’m a little obsessive! However, as I’m writing, the whole outline starts to shift. Once I’ve actually written the first act, the other acts start to change. Once I’ve written the second act, I usually go back and create a new act one outline that I’ll use when I’m revising. So I guess that means I’m an obsessive-outliner where none of those outlines are written in stone!
5. What's your personal technique for connecting to the younger person inside you and writing from that place?
Knowing the character inside and out. I want to know her so well that I am thinking inside her brain while I’m writing. I like to imagine her in tons of scenarios that will never end up in the book just so I get to know her better. Imagine, imagine, imagine—I guess we’ll call that a technique!
6. What are three or four books you would tell any writer to read who wanted to write for middle grade? Why?
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
Love, Sugar, Magic by Anna Meriano
These books all have that perfect combination of character, plot, and heart that make them quintessential middle grade, and they’re great examples of the most distinctive and illusive part of writing for MG: the middle grade voice.
7. How do you involve outside readers in your process? Do you keep your work to yourself? Do you share it with any kids to get their take?
I actually work with my husband through the entire writing process, because he is literally a narrative genius. Then I have some writer friends that I share my work with to get feedback, as well as some people who don’t write, but read lots of KidLit. When I was writing The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane I asked my niece for feedback, as she was just in the right age group and was extremely well-read. Now she’s 20, so definitely not a kid anymore!
8. Do you start with character or plot, or do you see them as indistinguishable? Why?
For me character and plot are completely interwoven throughout the whole process. It’s really important to me that the plot is driven by the characters’ motives, choices, wants, and needs. If a plot idea comes to me first, I’ll ask myself who would get involved in something like this? If a character idea comes to me first, I’ll ask myself what would someone like that be driven to do? If I separate the two, they won’t drive each other, which is what I always want to happen.