Julie Mata didn’t realize she was a humor writer until she started writing and it came out…sideways. She admits she has occasionally tried to force funny, which always hurts. Julie is the author of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, published by Disney Hyperion. Her second novel, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars, arrives in May 2015. Both books will also be published in German by CBT, a division of Random House Germany. Julie’s Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers fun 15-second filmmaking tips for kids, and you can learn more about Julie on her website, juliemata.com, or by following her on Twitter at @juliehmata.
About the Book (From IndieBound):
Night of the Zombie Chickens is supposed to be Kate Walden’s breakout film. But her supporting actresses-her mother’s prize organic hens-are high maintenance, to say the least. Thank goodness Kate’s best friend Alyssa is the star. She’s great at screaming and even better at killing zombies in creative ways.
But when Alyssa ditches Kate for the most popular girl in seventh grade, Kate suddenly finds herself both friendless and starless. Now, thanks to Alyssa’s new crowd, Kate is the butt of every joke at school and consigned to the loser table at lunch.
If movies have taught Kate anything, it’s that the good guy can always win-with the right script. And her fellow social outcasts may be the key to her own happy ending. Kate hatches the perfect revenge plot against her former best friend, but even though her screenplay is foolproof, Kate soon realizes that nothing-in filmmaking or in life-ever goes exactly as planned. Especially when there are diabolical hens out to get you.
Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens is your debut novel. Can you tell us a little about its journey from idea to book?
I knew I wanted to write a middle grade novel but I wasn’t sure what to write about. I was sitting in my kitchen one night and the familiar maxim came to mind, write what you know. My first reaction was, I don’t know much! As I thought more about it, I realized that wasn’t exactly true. My husband and I own a video production business and I once wrote and directed a short film, so I know about film and video production. It occurred to me that kids love to make movies with their friends. Why not write about a girl who wants to be a Hollywood director when she grows up? Of course, she had to be working on a movie. At the time, we were living on an acreage with a small menagerie that included chickens, so I knew about raising hens. Kids love zombies, so I decided that Kate would make a movie about zombie chickens. And Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens was born!
What advice do you have for kids who want to make their own movies?
Kids can learn a lot just by watching movies. For instance, how do the professionals frame their shots and how do they move the camera? They can also try Kate Walden’s method, which is to just do it—make a short movie with their friends. It’s okay to make mistakes because that’s a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. My Instagram, KateWaldenDirects, offers quick 15-second filmmaking tips on easy ways to create some cool shots. I cover everything from how to make blood to using a skateboard as a camera dolly. Lastly, I would advise kids to try writing a script instead of just winging it. And keep it fun!
What have you got against chickens?
Those evil creatures! Ha, actually I love chickens. I also think eggs are delicious. Some of the chicken behavior in my book came from our own hens’ antics, like roosting (and pooping) in the garage, or climbing into cars and pecking at groceries. For my story, I thought it would be funnier if Kate hates eggs and suspects her mother’s hens are trying to ruin her life. She has to work with them because they have roles in her movie, but she doesn’t trust them!
It looks like you’ve got a sequel lined up. Can you tell us about it? Are there more to come after that?
There is a sequel, and I’m thrilled because I recently finished final revisions on it and sent it off! It’s entitled, Kate Walden Directs: Slug Man from Mars. In this story, Kate’s classmates can’t wait to be in her next production…until a know-it-all new boy shows up who also likes to make movies. Kate hopes to impress him with her vast movie-making knowledge. Instead, they become rivals. But can Kate’s slime-spewing sci-fi flick beat the new boy’s gritty crime drama? The film wars are on!
I haven’t heard anything yet about additional books, but I certainly hope there will be more!
If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, what would it be?
In my story, Kate and her friend Alyssa have a huge fight and Kate is sure their friendship is over. She even does some mean things to get back at Alyssa. I hope readers take away that friendships are important and despite the confusion and frustration they sometimes cause. Even if mean things are said or done in the heat of a fight, just saying I’m sorry can go a long way toward healing hurt feelings. And, of course, if we want our friends to forgive us, we have to be willing to forgive them, too!
And if I’m allowed a second thing, it would be that it’s great to dream big, but you have to work hard to make your dream come true, and you can’t give up when obstacles get in the way. Kate runs into big problems trying to make her movie, including her fight with Alyssa, but she doesn’t give up trying to finish it.
What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed KATE WALDEN DIRECTS: NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIE CHICKENS?
The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes, is for a slightly younger audience but I think readers will really enjoy the quirky humor. The Wig: Crazy Summer by Renata Suerth is funny and a great story, and Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald is also loads of fun. There are so many good books out there right now that it’s hard to pick just a few!
What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?
I love that middle-grade fiction is more complex than early readers but more innocent than YA. Middle grade is perfect because it’s right in the middle. It doesn’t have to deal with boyfriend-girlfriend drama in the same way that seems to be expected in YA these days. MG characters might have similar concerns as YA characters, like friendships, family problems, a crush, but those themes can be treated in a lighter fashion. I love that middle grade readers are perceptive and smart and can read about weightier issues as long as they’re handled well. In fact, I think they appreciate real characters with real flaws. That’s why I love writing middle-grade fiction, and I love reading it for the same reasons.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?
I would advise reading A LOT, but especially new middle-grade fiction. Reading the old classics is great, too, but it’s important to study current styles to see what young readers like and what publishers are buying. I wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel before Kate Walden Direct: Night of the Zombie Chickens (it’s still sitting in my drawer!) and I didn’t follow my own advice. I wrote it in a style similar to middle-grade fantasies I had read as a child. After finishing it, I did the research I should have done earlier and realized that style was dated. Even worse, I read an agent’s description of overused plot elements she didn’t want to see, and almost every element was in my story!
I think it’s also essential to become a member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI provides valuable information and classes, as well as great networking and learning opportunities through their conferences. It’s a wonderful way to meet other authors, gain access to agents and publishers, and make friends!
Julie has generously offered to give away a
Zombie Chicken signed copy of Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens. Enter below:
Jacqueline Houtman learned her way around the insides of a chicken at the University of Delaware. Her next book is a middle-grade biography of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Quaker Press).