Posts Tagged Author Interview

Author Spotlight: Natalie C. Parker + a GIVEAWAY!

In today’s Author Spotlight, Natalie C. Parker, author of the acclaimed young adult Seafire trilogy among other YA titles, chats with me about her MG debut, The Devouring Wolf. Hailed by Kirkus as “An easily devoured, chilling, and suspenseful adventure,” the fantasy novel is out now from Razorbill. Plus, scroll down for a chance to win one of THREE copies! 👇

But first…

A Summary

It’s the eve of the first full moon of summer and 12-year-old Riley Callahan is ready to turn into a wolf. Nothing can ruin her mood: not her little brother Milo’s teasing, not Mama N’s smothering, and not even Mama C’s absence from their pack’s ceremony. But then the unthinkable happens—something that violates every rule of wolf magic—Riley and four other kids don’t shift.

Riley is left with questions that even the pack leaders don’t have answers to. And to make matters far worse, it appears something was awoken in the woods that same night.

The Devouring Wolf.

The elders tell the tale of the Devouring Wolf to scare young pups into obedience. It’s a terrifying campfire story for fledging wolves, an old legend of a giant creature who consumes the magic inside young werewolves. But to Riley, the Devouring Wolf is more than lore: it’s real and it’s after her and her friends.

The Interview

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Natalie! Thanks for joining us today.

NCP: Hi Melissa! Thank you so much for having me.

MR: Anne Ursu describes The Devouring Wolf book as “A compulsively-readable, big-hearted story,” and I concur. Can you tell us what inspired you to write it? Also, what is it about werewolves that fascinates you?

NCP: Inspiration is always such a sprawling, semi untraceable thing. I feel like I could give you twenty different answers that are all true; I was inspired by mythology and queer families and the love I have for my home state of Kansas! But in this case, I have to say that the inspiration to shift from writing for young adults to writing for middle grade readers belongs to all my nieces and nephews. I wanted to write a story for them.

As for werewolves, I have adored many over the years, starting with Wolfman from the timeless classic, The Monster Squad. As I started thinking about what kind of story I wanted to tell for middle grade readers, I realized that the majority of werewolf stories I was familiar with seemed to focus on adults where the metaphor of shapeshifting was something about the animal inside. When I considered what the metaphor looked like if kids on the verge of puberty were the ones learning how to shift, things got really exciting and the story sort of unraveled from there.

Message to Readers

MR: The novel centers on a community of werewolves, yet Riley, the 12-year-old protagonist, experiences feelings that are universally relatable: the desire to belong; the need for friendship; the importance of family; the fear of the unknown… What was the message you wanted to convey to readers?

NCP: When I was Riley’s age, I was very concerned with what was happening to my body. I was also worried about falling behind my peers and I struggled when things turned out differently for me than they did for others. A lot of this was wrapped up with being a queer kid and not having the language for it. I poured all of those feelings into this story and into Riley’s experience in particular who struggles when she doesn’t shift in spite of having an incredibly supportive family and community. There’s no guidebook for what she and the other four kids are going through, not even the adults can explain it to them. It’s scary and hard and ultimately something that Riley and the others have to figure out for themselves, and that is something I hope readers take away from this story. That sometimes our experiences align and sometimes they don’t and there are many ways of belonging.

Interview with a Werewolf?

MR: While we’re on the subject of werewolves, what kind of research did you do for the book? I’m pretty sure you didn’t interview a werewolf. 🙂

NCP: I wish! But alas. At the time of writing this book, no werewolves were available for an interview. The majority of my research was actually historical, most of which will never show up on the page. But because I was crafting communities of werewolves (and witches!) who reside alongside everyone else, I needed to approach the book as something of an alternate history, of the country and more specifically of the state of Kansas. The werewolves in the book are based in my own hometown of Lawrence and while I know a lot about our recent history and present state, I wanted to make sure everything I set up about the werewolves felt like it could be true.

Diversity and Representation

MR: The characters in your book are diverse in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation—something that’s desperately needed in children’s publishing. Notably, Riley has two moms, and her friend Kenver is nonbinary, using they/them pronouns. What do you think needs to happen to make diverse representation the norm rather than the exception?

NCP: I think we need books that tackle questions of identity politics head-on and we need books that reflect a diverse world without demanding that authors or readers explore their pain on the page. Along those lines, queer normativity is intensely important to me and my work, so while Riley has two moms and is starting to crush on another girl, those things are woven into the fabric of her life as “normal.” She may have a little anxiety about her crush, but she never questions whether or not she should have those feelings.

We also need to keep finding ways to support our gatekeepers who are currently fighting to keep diverse books in libraries and schools.

Writing for Middle Schoolers

MR: You’ve written novels and short stories for young adults, but The Devouring Wolf is your first foray into middle-grade fiction. What prompted you to write for this age group? Did you encounter any specific challenges while writing the book?

NCP: When I think about who I’ve been as a reader, I have never felt as transported or taken care of by books as I did when I was reading middle grade. Books were an adventure, but they were also a deeply important refuge. I have always wanted to write a book that does for someone else what Madeleine L’Engle and Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander did for me. But it was intimidating to think about. I knew I had to wait for the right story. The one that landed with so much clarity that I had no choice but to try. And that’s exactly what happened with The Devouring Wolf.

MG/YA Switcheroo

MR: As a follow-up, is it tricky to switch from YA to MG? From MG to YA…?

NCP: I actually find it refreshing. Both YA and MG require precision and clarity, but it’s different for each and I find the challenge of moving between the two rewarding and enlightening.

Built for Speed

MR: The book moves at a speedy, page-turning clip. What is your secret to writing fast-paced prose?

NCP: This is one of those things that I didn’t realize I was doing until people started to tell me. So, sadly, there is no secret, but I can say that I never start a chapter until I know what the emotional movement will be within it. Whether I’m building anticipation little by little, or tipping that over into a moment of major disappointment, each chapter puts something new in place. That way, no matter what is happening with the plot, there is a feeling of forward momentum. At least, that’s how I think I do it. Another answer could just be that I love coffee and drink copious amounts when I write.

Secret to World-Building

MR: Also, please tell us the secret to fantastical world-building—something you nailed in The Devouring Wolf. How do you create a setting that feels other-worldly and earthbound at the same time?

NCP: That description makes me very happy because that’s exactly what I was trying to do. I think this answer goes back to what I was saying about research. I wanted this world—the werewolves and witches and hunters—to land so close to ours that it felt possible. I wanted young readers to finish reading and imagine that the next patch of woods they passed was secretly hiding a community like Wax & Wayne. I wanted them to reach for a silver bracelet and wonder if it was a wolf cuff. I wanted them to look at the first full moon of summer and hold their breath to see if they could hear the call of First Wolf. I built every piece of the world on top of something that was already familiar from history to mythology so that the magic felt like it was within reach.

Natalie’s Writing Routine

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

NCP: I am mostly a chaos person when it comes to writing rituals, by which I mean, I am envious of them, but have never managed to keep any for myself. I love the idea of writing rituals, but am ultimately too Sagittarius to make them stick. I’m also easily distracted, so one of the best things I’ve discovered are writing sprints. I find a buddy (and honestly, this only works for me if there is a buddy in the picture), then we agree on the starting time, the sprinting time, and the rest period and get to work. And who knows why, but it really works for me. There is something about setting the timer for twenty minutes and typing “GOOOO!” that engages the productive part of my brain and for that I’m grateful.

Up Next…

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

NCP: I am hard at work on a follow-up to The Devouring Wolf along with my next YA project, both of which will come out next fall. We should be releasing titles and names of each very soon, so keep a look out!

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

Preferred writing snack?

Coffee!

Coffee or tea?

Coffee!

Werewolves or vampires?

How could you do this to me??? Okay, okay, okay. Werewolves.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

I’m a Sagittarius and you cannot convince me I wouldn’t survive the zombie apocalypse so I say BRING IT ON.

Superpower?

Telekinesis!

Favorite place on earth?

Kyoto!

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

A water purifier, a knife, and shovel. (And on the off chance you were looking for a less Sagittarian answer: an eReader, some SCUBA gear, and fuzzy blanket.)

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Natalie—and congratulations on the recent publication of The Devouring Wolf. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!

For a chance to win one of THREE copies of THE DEVOURING WOLF, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends on 9/18 at 12am EST.) U.S. only, please. 

About Natalie

Natalie C. Parker is the author and editor of several books for young adults, including the acclaimed Seafire trilogy. Her work has been included on the NPR Best Books list, the Indie Next List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List, and in Junior Library Guild selections. Natalie grew up in a Navy family, finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan. Now, she lives with her wife on the Kansas prairie. The Devouring Wolf is her debut MG novel. Learn more about Natalie on her website and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You may also subscribe to her newsletter here.

STEM Tuesday — Ecosystem Recovery– Author Interview with Nancy Castaldo

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Nancy Castaldo, author of THE WOLVES AND MOOSE OF ISLE ROYALE: Restoring an Island Ecosystem. “Stimulating reading for young naturalists and eco-activists,” says Kirkus.

Mary Kay Carson: How did you come to write The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale?

Nancy Castaldo: This is a book project that began decades ago in my college ecology class. That is where I first heard of the important predator/prey study on Isle Royale. I was intrigued by this long study and have followed it ever since. When I found out that wolves might be released on the island I started to formulate the book project.

MKC: Care to share a favorite research moment from your time on Isle Royale? 

Nancy: Spending time on the island was wonderful. I truly can understand why so many people return to the park after visiting. Photographer Morgan Heim and I stayed on the island, got up super early every morning, and hiked well past 10 pm each night to complete this book. The remoteness of the island provided some travel challenges, but they were well worth it.  It is an exceptional place that deserves protection. I only wish we had more time there.  It was a great experience. My favorite moment? Perhaps when we were in the forest with Cara as she was investigating wolf pings and we came across a spot where a moose had bedded down. We could see where it had folded its legs to rest. And beside this spot we found one where a wolf had bedded down. They were side by side. Of course, it is highly unlikely they were there at the same time. I couldn’t resist curling my body up to fit in those spots where they had rested. And then, I coaxed Cara and Morgan to do the same. It filled me with lots of feelings of connection and also fun. Those moments were so unexpected.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Nancy: Wolves and moose are two of my favorite animals and I’m sure many of my young readers feel the same way about them.They are wildlife icons. Aside from writing this book for my young readers, I’m sure my ecology professor would have loved to see that his words mattered to me so much that I held on to them all this time. I know I thought of him often as I was writing this.

Nancy Castaldo has written award-winning books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy is a certified National Geographic Educator. Visit her at www.nancycastaldo.com or follow at @NCastaldoAuthor.

MKC: Did you chose a particular angle or slant or the book? Why?

Nancy: I loved following the Scientists in the Field first person-travelogue format for this book. It is one of my favorite book series and I’m so pleased to have a book included among the rest. This approach enabled me to bring my readers along on the adventure with me.

Wolves have always been maligned throughout history and I love sharing their importance with my readers. All wildlife is essential, including these predators. I chose to show their importance while providing the science and alternative views around their reintroduction to the Park. I hope my readers can develop their own thinking about these issues with a broad amount of information.

MKC: Any book suggestions for kids who loved The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale?

Nancy: If readers enjoyed The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale, they will probably want to dive into some of the other Scientists in the Field titles. Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry, Pax by Sara Pennypacker, and Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate would be great fiction companions.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Kirsten: I have a STEM background, having double-majored in biology and chemistry during my undergraduate college years. Aside from writing, I’ve worked as an environmental educator and substitute science teacher. I’m also a National Geographic Certified Educator. I love writing books for curious kids.

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Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of The River that Wolves Moved, Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

How To Write Chapter Books with 8 Chapter Book Authors

From the Mixed Up Files writer Samantha M Clark here, and a couple weeks ago, my debut chapter book series, the GEMSTONE DRAGONS, was released by Bloomsbury. Moving from writing my middle-grade to writing chapter books has been a lot of fun but also had some challenges. So for this post, I chatted with some other chapter book authors about their experiences writing for this category and want to share what we said.

Before I get to our chat, a few quick notes about chapter books, in case you don’t know what they are:

  • While the sweet spot for MG readers is 8 and up, chapter books are generally appropriate for ages 6 and up.
  • They’re shorter than middle-grade too. My shortest MG, AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD, is 20,000 words. Chapter books, however, are usually between 8,000 to 12,000 words. My GEMSTONE DRAGONS are each around 10,000 words, laid out in the book with lots of spacing between the lines and a bigger font size.
  • Also, although MGs sometimes have interior illustrations, chapter books always have them. For example, the first GEMSTONE DRAGONS book has 16 illustrations sprinkled throughout the 111-page story.
  • And finally, chapter books are nearly always designed to be series; quick, multiple-read books that hook young readers into becoming lifelong readers.

So, how do you write them? In this post, you’ll hear from the following authors:

Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party by Saadia FaruqiSaadia Faruqi, whose brand new MARYA KHAN AND THE INCREDIBLE HENNA PARTY launches from Abrams Kids on October 18, with a second book, MARYA KHAN AND THE FABULOUS JASMINE GARDEN coming out March 28

Kelly Starling Lyons, whose first two books in the MILES LEWIS series, KING OF THE ICE and WHIZ KID, came out from Penguin Workshop in July

Kathryn Holmes, whose CLASS CRITTERS series from Abrams/Amulet added the third book, MADISON MORRIS IS NOT A MOUSE!, on August 16

Jennifer Torres, whose CATALINA INCOGNITO series published by Aladdin, is adding its fourth book, SKATEBOARD STAR, on November 22

Debbi Michiko Florence, whose fifth JASMINE TOGUCHI book, BRAVE EXPLORER, comes out from FSGBYR/Macmillan on October 18

Rie Neal, whose third and fourth books in her ASTRID THE ASTRONAUT series, published by Aladdin, are coming soon: HYDROPONIC HIJINKS on October 11 and ROBOT REBELLION on February 28

Lyla Lee, whose eighth book in her MINDY KIM series, MINDY KIM MAKES A SPLASH, came out this past July from Aladdin/Simon and Schuster

(And by the way, all these authors and two others are offering books in a giant giveaway right now here. Ends Aug. 20.)

Samantha: What did chapter books mean to you as a kid and what were your favorites?

Rie: I loved chapter books as a kid! I think I especially enjoyed the predictability of the setting and characters, the fact that I could read them so quickly, and … they had pictures!! I kept reading chapter books even when I was older, sometimes, when I wanted a quick dose of comfort. My favorites were the Polk Street School Kids and Babysitter’s Little Sister.

Samantha: Same here on the comfort. I loved the illustrations in chapter books and would scour them for every detail that had been in the text. When I saw the illustrations for my GEMSTONE DRAGONS books, I did the same.

Mindy Kim Makes a Splash by Lyla LeeLyla: As an immigrant and child of immigrants who came to the US at a young age, chapter books in English were my first exposure to “American culture.” In order to understand the new country I lived in and also catch up on the stories (fantasy or contemporary) my new friends in the US liked to read, I read a lot and even taught myself English through these books. I had quite a few favorites but I especially loved the Ramona Quimby books and The Magic Tree House series.

Samantha: I love that, Lyla! Why did you all want to write a chapter book series?

Saadia: I have a very popular early reader series called YASMIN, perfect for kids upto second grade. Once those readers grow a little older, they want something more advanced and complicated, but they’re not ready yet for middle grade novels. After several requests from parents and teachers about this gap, I decided to write a series for YASMIN fans who are older now.

Miles Lewis: King of the Ice by Kelly Starling LyonsKelly: Growing up, I loved to read, but I didn’t see chapter book series with Black kids as the stars. That invisibility sent a message that our stories didn’t matter. I knew that they did. My mom wrote and acted in Black theater. Our home was filled with books about heroes like Mary McLeod Bethune and Malcolm X. I didn’t realize it then, but a seed was being planted that I could help make a difference through writing books that centered Black children.

It was like coming full circle when my debut, NEATE: EDDIE’S ORDEAL, a chapter book in a series created by Just Us Books was published. I enjoyed coming up with a plot for their wonderful characters and dreamed of one day having a series of my own. A decade later, a Penguin Workshop editor invited me to write an early chapter book. Here was my chance to create the characters I longed to see. At every school and library I visit, there are children who are unsung. They need to know that they’re seen and loved. Toni Morrison famously said, “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” My MILES LEWIS and JADA JONES series are tributes to kids who dare to shine by being who they are.

Catalina Incognito: Skateboard Star by Jennifer TorresJennifer: Chapter books meet kids when they are beginning to see themselves as readers. To me, there’s something so special about that moment. Like Kelly, I want children, especially children who are newly devouring words, to see themselves and their stories in books. To be able to picture themselves having magical adventures like Catalina, who reflects my own Mexican-American background and experience.

Samantha: Such great answers. Chapters really are a great bridge between early readers and MG, and as the sweet spot — I think — for helping kids become life-long readers, it is SO important that all children are represented. When you first set out to write a chapter book, what did you do to prepare?

Kelly: My best advice is to read mentor texts. That’s where I started. When I was writing for Just Us Books’ NEATE series, they sent me the first three titles to study. That helped me understand how to draw readers in, the way chapter books are put together, what elements help establish characters and aid in their growth and development through the story. I did the same when writing my JADA JONES and MILES LEWIS series. I read other chapter books to see what styles resonated with me, what innovations I could bring and learn some structural tips. Read the mentor texts for the joy of the story and then take them apart and figure out how the writer made them sing.

Class Critters: Madison Morris Is Not A Mouse by Kathryn HolmesKathryn: Like Kelly, I did a lot of reading of the chapter books that were already on shelves. I’d previously published YA (and had written MG, though my first published MG will not release until 2024), so I needed to get a sense of both the younger voice and the rhythm of a story of this length. Additionally, my daughter was a toddler when I started working on the CLASS CRITTERS series, and when I took her to the playground, I found myself observing young elementary schoolers. How were they interacting with one another? What kinds of conversations were they having? What issues were they dealing with that I could potentially tackle in a story? Being a fly on the wall, so to speak, gave me a lot of inspiration and insight.

Rie: ASTRID isn’t my first chapter book series (I did a write-for-hire series for Little Bee Books before this), but I wanted to put my two cents in for this one! Yes to mentor texts for sure! And in terms of getting into the language level for chapter books, one tool I’ve found really helpful is to use a service that will scan your draft and give you a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score (or any other similar metric). My tendency is to write my first drafts at more of a middle-grade reading level, which is too complex for chapter books. So, after I go through developmental edits, I use the Flesch-Kincaid (it’s available through MS Word in Editor–Document Stats–Insights), and I go through sentence by sentence until I’ve simplified the language down to between a 1.0 and 2.0 grade level rating. It sounds super tedious, I know, but it has really helped me!

Samantha: I analyzed mentor texts too! I bought some and borrowed a bunch more from the library, then I looked at everything from chapter breaks, number of chapters, sentence structures, voice… I broke down some of the stories into outlines so I could see how they were different of the same to my MG. And I did have the problem of making some of my language too MG when I was working on books 3 and 4, which come out on Dec. 27. I’ll have to remember the Flesch-Kincaid tip, Rie! It seems like a lot of us also write MG. Outside of language, how is writing chapter books different from writing MG?

Saadia: In some ways, it’s the same. You still have to write the best possible story, develop your characters, and take care of your craft. But in other ways, writing a chapter book is very different from middle grade novels. The plot has to be much simpler, and the main character takes center stage in a very obvious way. I think it’s so much fun writing chapter books!

Jasmine Toguchi: Brave Explorer by Debbi Michiko FlorenceDebbi: I agree with Saadia! As a writer, you still need to know and develop the characters just as deeply in chapter books as in novels for older readers. But because chapter books are for newly independent readers, it helps to create characters that have memorable personalities, quirks, and phrases so that the reader can anticipate some things and feel successful. Like how Jasmine Toguchi always says “Wowee zowee” when she’s excited and “Walnuts” when she’s disappointed. And also, chapter books are often part of a series, so it helps to be able to carry those things through all the books.

Samantha: Great tips! Speaking of series, how did you approach that aspect of chapter books, ie. creating characters and a world that would continue?

Kathryn: Because each book in the CLASS CRITTERS series has a different protagonist, I spent a lot of time world-building their classroom. I knew as I wrote book one, TALLY TUTTLE TURNS INTO A TURTLE, that every kid Tally interacted with was a potential protagonist down the line. I took the time to name every child and come up with an animal that they could transform into, as well as a possible reason for the transformation. I made a spreadsheet! With 24 kids in the class, I also had to think about how to introduce them in a way that would make them (and their idiosyncrasies) feel familiar in subsequent books without the number of characters ever becoming overwhelming. David Dixon (narrator of book 2) and Madison Morris (narrator of book 3) both appear in Tally Tuttle’s story, and Tally features in their books—but David and Madison’s stories also introduce kids that aren’t in Tally’s story. So, with each book, the classroom feels a little more fleshed out. No kid is just a side character; they all have the potential to be the hero of their own story one day.

Jennifer: While each of the books stands alone, I knew I wanted the main character, Catalina, to grow and change over the course of the series. So I kept track of the skills she develops from book-to-book and spent a lot of time thinking through how her relationships with others would shift as she learns and responds to challenges. I also had some threads I wanted to pull through all four books: Cat’s Stitch and Share lessons at the library, her best friend’s latest telenovela obsession, a magical disguise. I think that helped create a consistent and familiar world.

Astrid the Astronaut by Rie NealRie: For Astrid, I wanted to use the breadth of the series to especially show how she’s growing as a team player and as a friend. Teamwork is SO important for astronauts (and for so many other professions, and just for life in general! Ha!), and it’s something that Astrid doesn’t really factor into her plan in the beginning–she’s too focused on doing things her way. So while each book has its own plot and character arc for Astrid, the greater arc of the series also shows her friend circle slowly expanding with each book–often with characters only mentioned briefly in previous books later becoming Astrid’s friends (instead of just acquaintances–or in the case of Pearl, enemies!).

Lyla: With MINDY KIM, I wrote books about topics that I myself cared about/found interesting when I was a chapter book reader myself. Getting a puppy for the first time (and proving to my parents that I am responsible enough for one), feeling singled out and sometimes like a downright outcast when I was the new kid at school that packed food from my culture for lunch, trying to find ways to preserve ties to my family and culture as a child from an immigrant household (but still have fun, too!), or even something as seemingly simple as learning how to swim. Even though the series isn’t strictly autobiographical (Mindy’s family and mine are very different, for example), putting myself back into Kid Me’s shoes really helped me develop the series and the world of the books.

Samantha: Wonderful! What’s the biggest thing you have learned from writing this chapter book series so far?

Debbi: Chapter book readers are the best! These are newly independent readers, and there’s nothing like the feeling of pride, success, and joy of reading an entire book yourself, alone, for the first time. And because of this, these readers are extremely loyal and enthusiastic. I get the best reader mail from readers who fall in love with Jasmine Toguchi and I love recommending other chapter book series to them.

Lyla: For me, the biggest lesson I learned was definitely that the most seemingly random and specific experiences in life can actually resonate with a lot of people. For example, when I first wrote the first MINDY KIM book, MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS, I thought: “Okay, so I had this not-so-good experience in third grade where I was the new kid and the other students made fun of the lunch I brought from home” and for the third book, MINDY KIM AND THE BIRTHDAY PUPPY, I thought: “Well, in third grade I was so obsessed with dogs that getting a dog was all I could think about/was my ultimate goal in life.” These (and other plot points that I didn’t mention here) are seemingly arbitrary things that I pulled from my own life, but I still get emails today from both adults and children telling me they could relate with these parts of the stories.

Samantha: What was the biggest challenge creating this chapter book series?

Kathryn: Writing a series with different protagonists means coming up with a new, distinct voice for each book. It was a challenge to make each protagonist sound like themself—rather than a third-person omniscient narrator telling everyone’s stories. But it’s a challenge I’ve loved! For instance, David Dixon was my first time ever writing a boy narrator, and it was a delight to get inside his head. (I channeled my five nephews…) One of the most satisfying moments in each book’s process has been when I can fully hear the character in my head, speaking in their own unique voice as they experience their adventure.

Gemstone Dragons: Opal's Time To Shine by Samantha M ClarkSamantha: Different voices would be a challenge! For the GEMSTONE DRAGONS, I used third person because it had the classic feel of the chapter books I had grown up with, so that has been easier. But I’d say the biggest challenge has been separating myself from the MG mindset when I’m working on chapter books. As Saadia said earlier, there are a lot of similarities. I plot the stories the same way as my MG, just with fewer subplots. But I have to keep the readers’ age in my head much more when I’m writing and revising for both the language and story. For example, book 3 in the series has spooky elements and it was challenging to find just the right level of spookiness for this age group. What’s your best tip for writers who want to get into chapter books?

Saadia: Read a ton of chapter books! There is a lot of variety in the books already out there, in terms of word count and reading level. You want to make sure you absorb all that variety before making up your mind about where your book will fit.

Jennifer: I agree with Saadia! In developing the CATALINA INCOGNITO series, what most helped me get a feel for the voice, pacing, and plot structure of chapter books, was reading lots of chapter books. Luckily, there are so many good examples (many of my favorites are represented here!) and studying them is a joy. I also think it’s good to spend some time understanding chapter book readers, and who they are developmentally. Many of them are exploring new kinds of independence, discovering strengths and interests, and navigating their roles in friend groups and teams. They’re kind and inquisitive and often hilarious. All of that can inform and enrich your writing.

Samantha: Yes! Great advice. This has been such a fun conversation. Thank you to everyone! And readers, good luck in creating your own chapter books.