There’s nothing like a mystery to keep kids riveted to a book during these long days of summer vacation. Today, I’m thrilled to interview Taryn Souders about her new middle-grade mystery, Coop Knows the Scoop, which released this week. Once you read all about the book and Taryn, don’t forget to write in the comments section for a chance to win an autographed copy (USA only). I’ll pick a winner on Saturday, July 11, at noon and announce shortly after.
The whole town is talking about what’s buried beneath the playground . . .
Windy Bottom, Georgia is usually a peaceful place. Coop helps his mom at her café and bookstore, hangs out with his grandpa, and bikes around with his friends Justice and Liberty. The town is full of all kinds of interesting people, but no one has ever caused a problem. Until now.
And somehow, Gramps is taking all the blame! It seems like there are a lot of secrets that were buried in their small town after all . . .
Will Coop and his friends get to the bottom of the mystery and clear Gramps’s name before it’s too late?
Taryn has written both picture books and middle-grade novels. Her books have taken part in Battle of the Books, been named to state reading lists, including the Georgia Children’s Book Awards and the Sunshine State Young Readers Awards, and have been Crystal Kite Finalists.
Taryn is a member of both SCBWI and Word Weavers International, and is represented by Sally Apokedak of Apokedak Literary Agency.
She currently lives in Sorrento, Florida with her husband, David, their three children, and two cats—an overly fuzzy Ragdoll named Mordecai, and a polydactyl Hemingway named Sebastian—who like to terrorize flies (the cats, not her husband or children). While she’s somewhat decent at math, she is terrible at science and has an intense dislike of tarantulas.
What was your inspiration for Coop Knows the Scoop?
I’ve always loved mysteries—they were pretty much all I read as a kid. I also love watching them on TV. Writing a mystery was something I wanted to try, but I didn’t want it to be “gory” so I thought the discovery of a skeleton would be perfect. And an unexpected place for a skeleton to be found was a playground!
You’ve been praised for your depiction of small-town life in the novel. Is Windy Bottom based on a place you’ve lived in or visited?
I’ve lived a good chunk of my life in small towns in Ohio, Florida, and Texas. They really are THE BEST! They have their own personality—which is usually displayed through its citizens. Windy Bottom, Georgia, is a blend of Denton, Texas and Mount Dora, Florida—two of my favorite small towns. But the creation of A Latté Books—the bookstore/coffee shop (that sells new books, not just used books), is birthed from a cute café called The Horse’s Mouth in Buffalo, Texas. I’ve been there a couple times when visiting family and it was such a fun place to be—I knew I wanted to put it in a book.
Now I want to go there! Your characters are often called “quirky.” What’s your secret to creating such characters? Are they based on real people? You don’t have to name names :).
Quirky characters are also THE BEST! LOL! They aren’t based on anyone—just imagination. I create them to let loose and not feel restricted. What I mean by that is with main characters I need to know their weaknesses and strengths, conflicts, relationships, and so on. It can get pretty intense and sometimes, it’s not that fun (at least for me). With my “quirky characters” I can just get crazy. Typically, they’re there for comedic relief and I don’t worry about their arc or growth too much. My favorite one from Coop Knows the Scoop is probably Burma—who runs the Cut ‘n Curl. He is the town prankster and a lot of fun!
You’ve written two other middle-grade novels: Dead Possums are Fair Game and How to (Almost) Ruin Your Summer. Do you find that there are themes that you keep returning to in your work?
Yes. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes.
There was only one perfect person to walk this earth and it’s not us! Particularly for middle grade, there’s so much pressure to act or look a certain way—to try to achieve a perceived level of “perfection”, whether that be in school, sports, relationships, physical beauty, etc. It’s unattainable and unfair for kids (or adults) to put that on themselves. I want my readers to understand none of us are perfect, and that’s okay. None of us are going to be perfect, and that’s also okay.
What makes you want to write for the middle-grade reader?
I LOVE writing for middle-grade readers. They are at the age where they understand a lot of different types of humor like wit, sarcasm, and even dry humor. Their conversations are the best to listen to! They are energetic and funny and up for anything!
What would you like those readers to come away with after reading your novel?
The main theme of the novel is forgiveness. We all make mistakes, particularly when we’re young. Let’s face it, who we are now is not necessarily who we were “back then.” We’re constantly growing and changing—hopefully for the better. Fun fact: the original title of Coop Knows the Scoop was Remains to Be Seen. I loved this because it worked on two different levels. #1—Tabby’s remains needed to be seen in order for the truth to come out and for her to receive justice. #2—it echoed the theme of the story: who we ultimately become remains to be seen. We can learn from our mistakes of the past, but not let them hold us prisoner. The title got changed to Coop Knows the Scoop, which I also love, but the theme remains the same—and those concepts of redemption and forgiveness are what I hope readers take away.
That’s a great takeaway! Can you give our readers, who also write, one of your best pieces of craft advice, particularly for writing a mystery?
Plan it out ahead of time! Know your red herrings, clues, suspects, motives . . . everything before you get too far into your story. I am usually a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants) but I had to outline Coop Knows the Scoop to make sure I didn’t introduce a clue or a suspect before it made sense to. And of course, read a lot of mysteries (if that’s what you want to write). Study how each author lays out their story and take notes!
Thanks Taryn for a great interview and great advice!
READERS: Don’t forget to write in the comments section before Saturday at noon for a chance to win a signed copy of the novel!