Author Spotlight: Chris Lynch

Best known for his critically acclaimed, award-winning YA novels, including Freewill, a Printz Honor Book, and Iceman, Gypsy Davey, Shadow Boxer—all ALA Best Books for Young Adults—as well as Killing Time in Crystal City, Little Blue Lies, Pieces, Kill Switch, Angry Young Man, and Inexcusable, which was a National Book Award finalist, author Chris Lynch has ventured into the brave world of middle grade! His new middle grade novel, Walkin’ the Dog (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), bounds into the world on March 12. So, SIT back, relax… and STAY for this treat-worthy interview!

But first…

A Summary

In a family of strong personalities with very strong points of view, Louis is what his mother lovingly calls “The Inactivist”–someone who’d rather kick back than stand out. He only hopes he can stay under the radar when he starts high school in the fall, his first experience with public school after years of homeschooling. But when a favor for a neighbor and his stinky canine companion unexpectedly turns into a bustling dog-walking business, Louis finds himself meeting an unprecedented number of new friends–both human and canine. But is Louis ready to learn the lesson he needs most: how to stop being a lone wolf and become part of a pack?

Interview with Chris Lynch

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Chris—and huge congratulations on your first middle-grade novel!

CL: Thank you very much. I should probably clarify, some of my earliest young adult titles from the 90s might be considered MG by today’s standards as well. But fair enough, I think YA would rightly be considered my wheelhouse for much of my career. As I tell my own students, I generally have one of two protagonists in my head when a story occurs to me. One is 13, and the other is 17. I mostly let those two fight it out for ownership of the story.

Walkin’ the Dog: Inspiration

MR: Could you tell MUF readers a bit about Walkin’ the Dog as well as the inspiration behind it?

CL: Walkin’ The Dog went through countless transformations since I signed the book up way back in 2015. At one point I shifted to wanting to tell the story of a kid who was merely a bystander in life, wanting to keep to himself. Obviously, that would make for a fairly dull storyline. My editor, Kendra Levin, was rather insistent that the book also have a vehicle for delivering my ideas and the character’s journey to eventually being a citizen of the world. As it happens, I have long held the notion that dog walkers make the world go round (“…the dead body/crime scene/burning vehicle/stranded swimmer etc was found by dog walkers early this morning…”) and thought I might build a narrative on that. So, what better way to get a guy out of the house, interacting with people and society and adventures and canines, than that?

Meet The Inactivist

MR: Louis, the main character of your novel, is a risk-averse, self-described bystander. Because of this, his mom—an advocate at a women’s shelter—has nicknamed him “The Inactivist.” At first glance, this would make Louis an unlikable protagonist—but he’s not. How did you pull this off?

CL: Did I pull it off? Thanks. I suppose it has to do with the fact that I recognize Louis’ approach to life, having never been much of an activist type myself. But also, I think he is more broadly identifiable than that. He knows his flaws and weaknesses, acknowledges them to other characters and readers, and even tries to rationalize them as much as he can before we see the tide of human existence (and dogs) drawing him irresistibly outward. We can see that his resistance and isolationism are doomed.

MR: Louis has a lot going on in his life, including worries about his mom. When we first meet her, she’s receiving in-patient treatment for an addiction to pain pills, brought on by an injury she sustained during an altercation at her workplace. This would be disturbing for any child, but it’s particularly hard on Louis. Can you tell us more about that?

CL: While Louis has largely been in retreat from the world and his mother has been much the opposite (she is the one who gave him the nickname, The Inactivist), he has always admired and counted on her activism. Her getting knocked down, and knocked back by events is deeply unsettling to his own sense of security and confidence.

Understanding Addiction

MR: As a follow-up, what kind of research did you do to better understand the impact of addiction on children and families?

CL: Even casual students of the human condition cannot help to see the variety and intensity of addictions tormenting our kind. I feel as if I have been writing about this in various forms for much of my professional life. I find it hard to imagine any novelist not being pulled right in by this topic. Murder stories have their obvious fascination, but for me they don’t have the same power as the drive of addiction, the need for us to get outside of ourselves, get away from ourselves somehow, by any means necessary. Gambling, cigarettes, opioids, all have that same skeleton inside them.

Sibling Rivalry

MR: Louis has two siblings with whom he often butts heads: his younger-but-acts-middle-aged sister, Faye, and his tough-guy older brother, Ike. Like Louis, both characters are flawed but endearing. What were you trying to say about the nature of sibling relationships in general—and this one in particular?

CL: I loved Faye from the start. Just felt I knew her, her hard outer shell and soft inside, her humor most of all. Ike was a tougher sell, to myself. I think it’s a mistake to attempt to write a character you completely dislike, and with Ike I came dangerously close. But in revision I looked for more of Ike’s humanity, of his own frailty, and of Louis’ appreciation of that. That is reality. That is the nuance of human relationships, and a novelist must never lose that. Also, I am one of seven siblings.

Doggy Love

MR: Let’s turn our attention to the co-stars of this novel… dogs! Clearly, you have a strong affection for our four-legged (and in one case, three-legged) friends. What is it about dogs that makes the human heart go mushy? And what prompted you to explore the theme of human-canine attachment? Are you a dog parent yourself?

CL: This one is hard. I am a dog parent. Dexter, my close pal of 13-plus years, who is in the book’s author photo with me, had to be put down a week ago. I feel like I can remember every minute of his whole life. So this human heart is pretty mushy. I have a theory that the reason, generally, why we are such saps for them is that they utterly convince us that they adore and need us unconditionally. They are brilliant at it. Even if the reality is that it’s a wholly treats-and-comforts based relationship on their part, they are geniuses at making us believe in this entirely. And you know, it’s my theory, after all, and I still fall for it over and over and over, every day.

MR: I’m so sorry about Dexter, Chris. Would you indulge me another dog-related question?According to Louis’s sister, Faye, “All dogs are guide dogs in the end.” What did she (okay, you) mean by this?

CL: Dexter and his main predecessor, Chunk, guided us on an almost unbroken twenty-eight-year journey through these lives. Chunk was originally acquired to help my kids with the transition from one country to another. She shepherded us from the kids’ first weeks in Irish primary school, all the way through to Scottish university, the empty nest, the first grandchild. One month into the new reality for all of us, Chunk slipped away, mission accomplished.

Three months later I shocked myself—and everybody else—by concluding that I needed a dog beside me through the days. I needed the rhythm of the walks, the warmth, goofiness, fun of it all. So Dexter signed on and saw me through everything the next decade plus brought—car accidents, eye operations, heart failure, and what might be considered a professional period in the wilderness. Whenever I reached, I found Dex. He earned that spot in the author photo, on the book with all the dogs in it. I’m not going to say that it’s a shame he died a month too early to see it. He was far too modest to have cared about all that. And he didn’t much like dogs the last few years, either.

Middle Grade: The Journey

MR: As stated in the intro, you are best known for your critically acclaimed, award-winning YA novels. With that in mind, what made you decide to try your hand at middle grade? What’s biggest challenge when writing for a younger readership? The greatest reward?

 CL: I suppose I have been doing both all along—such is the fluid nature of categories, I suppose. As I tell my students, the greatest challenge with MG is to be able to touch and move young readers just as deeply as adults, while working with a much more limited linguistic palette. Otherwise, you’re cheating. The greatest reward is that the young readers who are willing to come along on the journey care so much about your story. It is a great motivator, not wanting to let them down.

Write this Way

MR: What does your writing routine look like? Do you have any particular rituals?

CL: I lost the most structured of my rituals when I became an empty nester. I used to write strictly around the kids’ school days. That was seriously helpful to my mental discipline. I drifted for a solid two years trying to adjust after that. My wife is a teacher, so I can sort of simulate that, still. But I’m onto my tricks. Even so, I have a lot of time and space to structure things to my liking, with dog walks and gym trips vital to keeping things ticking over. The early part of the day (my former strength) can be meandering now. But the odd nap is quite the tonic, after which I am newly charged. Between lunch and dinner hours are far and away my best these days.

Next Up…

MR: What are you working on now, Chris? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know…

 CL: Working on an adult novel which I cannot discuss too much because if it’s too early I tend to feel talking it out is the same as writing it out.

But I can talk about my next middle grade, since that’s more advanced. It’s called Badges, and it’s with Kendra Levin and Simon & Schuster again. It’s about a wild tearaway kid who finds himself in front of a judge who offers him an alternative sentence that requires him to achieve a certain number of Scout badges, directly related to the many offenses he has piled up.

Lightning Round!

And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack?

Corn cakes and hot salsa.

Favorite breed of dog?

So many, honestly. I’m all over the place on that, because so many breeds appeal in so many different ways. But since my remaining pal, Selkie, is a Lurcher (Greyhound/Saluki cross), and she’s always looking over my shoulder, I’m going to say, Lurcher.


Depends on whether you mean, 1) superpower I possess, or 2) superpower I would opt for if given the choice.

  1. I’m a good listener.
  2. Every writer would benefit from invisibility.

Favorite place on earth?

Anyplace with a dog and a deserted seashore. Also, Edinburgh.

 Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

Yea, bring it on. Humanity needs a start-over.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?

A solar powered radio with satellite or longwave or whatever I’d need for decent reception; a loaded eReader, likewise solar; a pizza.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Chris. It was a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

 CL: And thank you. It was tougher going than most of these things, but no less rewarding for that.


Chris Lynch (pictured here with his dearly missed pal, Dexter) is the award–winning author of highly acclaimed young adult novels, including Printz Honor Book FreewillIcemanGypsy Davey, and Shadow Boxer—all ALA Best Books for Young Adults—as well as Killing Time in Crystal CityLittle Blue LiesPiecesKill SwitchAngry Young Man, and Inexcusable, which was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of six starred reviews. Walkin’ the Dog is his new middle-grade novel. Chris holds an MA from the writing program at Emerson College and teaches in the creative writing MFA program at Lesley University. He lives in Boston and in Scotland.


Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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Melissa Roske
Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for J17 magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Company). Melissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.