Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
Today, I am pleased to welcome to our site, someone who I have known virtually for a while, as well as a fellow member of Middle Grade debut year of 2017, and the author of the upcoming The Amelia Six, coming from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books next week, on June 30th.
JR: Hi, Kristin and thanks for joining us today!
JR: First off, I really enjoyed The Amelia Six. I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy, and it was such a fun mystery. For those who don’t know about the book, can you tell us a little bit about it and where the idea for this story came from?
KG: Hi, Jonathan. Thanks for having me and thank you for the kind words about The Amelia Six.
In the story, six STEM-savvy girls spend the night at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, and get swept up in a mysterious robbery. They settle in, expecting a night of scavenger hunts and sweet treats when Amelia’s historic flight goggles disappear.
I don’t know about you, but I have always loved CLUE, both the movie and the game. I knew one day I’d like to attempt my own cozy mystery, but the whole idea seemed daunting. The first task alone—choosing a setting—was nearly impossible. I wanted a real place kids could visit, and there are just so many cool sites! But when my family took a road trip to Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, everything clicked.
JR: Yes, I LOVE Clue. Could watch the movie over and over and over. You have six characters who all take center stage at one point. How difficult was it to veer back and forth between them during plotting?
KG: Very! Each of the girls has her own hobby or connection to aviation. Millie, the protagonist, is a Rubik’s speedcuber, vintage Nancy Drew collector, and daughter of a pilot. The story is told in her POV throughout, so I used her life lens to filter the mysterious happenings and understand the cast. My editor pushed me to make the girls distinct, and I’ll be the first to admit juggling that many middle-school voices was not easy. But I am proud of the end result. And of the floor plan I drew to keep track of where everyone was in the home and when!
JR: I love that you made a map to keep track of everyone! The book has Amelia Earhart as a central figure. How much research did you have to do about her, and what is it about her that fascinated you?
KG: Quite a bit of research, including two trips to the home, reading tons of biographies and articles, hours spent browsing the online archives at Purdue University, where Amelia taught as adjunct faculty. She really was ahead of her time and took on many roles from truck driver to social worker to columnist at Cosmopolitan magazine. But digging up interesting facts is one of my most favorite parts of the writing process. I felt like a treasure hunter!
JR: You’ve done both MG and Picture Books, do you have a preference, and what appeals to you about both formats?
KG: I was talking to a writer friend about this recently. I enjoy both, but each format presents its own challenges. Writing picture books is deceptively difficult. It can take years to distill a story into the best few hundred words. Drafting and editing (or rewriting) a novel can take years of work, too, but gives the writer more freedom . . . I tend to work on picture books when I’m stuck on a longer project or waiting to hear back from my editor. I’m always tinkering with a story. But it’s been a blast to have books available for a pre-K as well as middle schoolers.
JR: That is great. Picture Books are so daunting Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
KG: Sure. I wrote picture books for several years (back in the days of snail mail!) before one editor suggested I try writing something longer. My first middle-grade novel didn’t go anywhere, but my second novel’s opening garnered editor interest at a local SCBWI meeting. Encouraged, I took those same pages to another conference—Big Sur Writer’s Workshop—where I met and signed with my agent. That book went on to sell to Simon Kids/Paula Wiseman Books and became my debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge.
JR: I read on your website, https://kristinlgray.com/ , that you’re an expert cookie dough taster. Is that more of an honorary title, or something that you had to be certified in?
KG: Haha. I love cookie dough, especially if I’m on deadline or you know, quarantined! Tried-and-true chocolate chip is my favorite, though peanut butter is also good. I would love to be certified, if that’s a real thing. Is that a thing? Can we find this out, Jonathan? Maybe this needs to go in a book!
JR: Okay, more importantly, I also read that you love peanut butter cups. Aren’t Reese’s Cups the equivalent of manna from heaven?
KG: Absolutely! And weirdly, I think the mini Halloween-size ones taste better than the regular-size two packs. It’s all about the perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter.
JR: What’s your writing process like?
KG: Sporadic at best. Especially now with my children home. I don’t write every day unless I’m on deadline. Some days are reading days, or research days, or thinking days, or responding-to-email days, like today. I’m grateful for all of it.
JR: I’m glad this was part of your diversion! What’s your favorite book from childhood?
KG: Charlotte’s Web
JR: What’s your favorite childhood movie?
KG: The Goonies
JR: That’s a popular answer here! Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
KG: I’m a twin! (We didn’t get a picture of Kristin with her twin, so just make a copy of her picture above and hold them next to each other)
JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
KG: Best piece of advice: Pay attention to the world around you and write it as only you can.
To those looking to break in: Keep going. Find a few trusted writer friends. And always keep a stash of ice cream.
JR: That is great advice, and hopefully you mean pistachio ice cream. What are you working on next?
KG: I’m pages into what I hope will be my next middle-grade novel. Stay tuned!
JR: How can people follow you on social media?
KG: I’m @KristinLGray on all formats.
JR: Okay, lastly, as I mentioned, we were in the same debut year, so when you’re done with this, can you please send me a quick 20,000 word essay explaining how I was your favorite member of that debut group, and especially more than Melissa Roske?
KG: Haha! You know I’m a big fan of you and your books, Jonathan. Though I will say Melissa did buy me pancakes . . . 🙂
JR: That sounds like she was just kissing up.
JR: Thanks again to Kristin Gray, and make sure you go out and get The Amelia Six!