“Pick me, pick me!” was my response to the Mixed-Up Files request to interview Catherine Murdock. That was before I found out that her new book, Heaven is Paved with Oreos, is connected to the Diary Queen Trilogy – then I almost fainted. Dairy Queen was one of the first middle grade books I read as an adult and, well, I think it’s fair to say that the main character of the series, D.J. Swank, is the one who made me fall in love with the genre all over again.
Needless to say, I gobbled up Heaven is Paved with Oreos, which is told from the perspective of Sarah Zorn, D.J.’s younger brother’s best friend and fake girlfriend (yes, you read that right – it’s part of their “Brilliant Outflanking Strategy”). When I was done reading, I had tons and tons of questions for Catherine, which she graciously answered (as drool seeped out the corner of my mouth).
Thanks for joining us at the Mixed-Up Files, Catherine. As you can probably tell (ahem!) I’m a big fan of yours (and D.J.’s!)
It’s been four years since Front and Center, the last book in The Diary Queen Trilogy was published. You’ve written at two fantasy books in between, Princess Ben and Wisdom’s Kiss. What made you revisit D.J.’s family?
I love D.J. so much, and I really wanted to see her from another point of view — to let us understand her through someone else’s eyes. I also wanted to make sure that Curtis was okay. I worry about the boy, and I needed to see him through.
Reading the books, it’s obvious you love D.J. (almost as much as me) but I can understand why she could no longer be your main character – her story really did come full circle in the three books and it’s hard to imagine how you could have continued on such a dramatic arc. How did you choose which character in The Diary Queen Trilogy to put in the starring role of the follow up?
This relates to the next question — I’ve been to Rome several times and simply adore the city, and for about ten years I’ve been entertaining the thought of writing a book set there. I just didn’t know how to approach it. And I wanted to return to Red Bend, Wisconsin in some way … With hindsight the choice of Sarah was obvious, but it took me a long time to come to that realization — it took me a while to take her seriously as a character. I’d thought of her as rather mousy. But it turns out that Sarah isn’t mousy at all, she’s only mousy around D.J.!
You do a great job of dividing Sarah’s story between Red Bend and Italy – where she travels with her zany grandmother and unexpectedly learns a lot about her family (and her relationship with Curtis). Did you do a separate visit Rome to research the book?
As I said, I’ve been to Rome many times, beginning in, oh, 1987 … I am a huge architecture buff (as anyone reading Heaven is Paved with Oreos can tell), and I also love to eat, and to walk — really it’s the best of everything. I made one trip there as I was developing the book (curiously, I took loads of pictures of marble skulls even before thinking up that subplot with Curtis!), and another trip to fact-check it later. This last time I stayed in an old monastery, and it was magical. Simply magical.
Will you be writing more books set in Red Bend, Wisconsin?
I don’t think so — but I’ve said that after every Red Bend book. So who knows? At the moment I’m more focused on adult non-fiction, but the project is in the very early stages … Still, Red Bend is my home away from home.
Can you tell us a little bit about the difference between writing contemporary middle grade fiction versus fantasy? Similarities?
The wonderful thing about fantasy is that you can solve pretty much any plot or character problem with magic. I’ve spoken with other children’s authors about this, and we agree that it’s the best part of the genre — well, that and dragons. Contemporary middle grade, I feel, comes with an expectation of more character development, and possibly more of a moral — a learning experience, if you will. But in both cases, you need believable, sympathetic characters and a really good story. Simple, right?
Right! And no one creates them better than you (IMHO). Thanks for your time, Catherine. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I hope readers enjoy reading my book as much as I enjoyed writing it!
I have no doubt that they will – and thanks to Catherine’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one of you is going to win a free copy! Just follow the link to our Rafflecopter giveaway to enter to win a copy of Heaven is Paved with Oreos. Good luck!