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Why do you write juvenile fiction? What draws you to it?
First and foremost, I write middle grade books because that's what I like to read! I so vividly remember what it felt like to be that age. Being a tween is equally frustrating (too young for teen privileges, but old enough that adults have more expectations of you) and magical (capable enough to do things independently, but still young enough to have a sense of wonder, creativity, and idealism). I think this creates a lot of interesting opportunities for characters to have independent adventures while still seeing the world differently than adults do. It also presents some unique challenges. An adult character is in charge of their own money, schedule, and transportation. They don't need permission to do things. Even if their decisions might have negative consequences, doing what they want is still a matter of simply choosing to. Kids have a lot more restrictions, which creates more interesting plot hurdles for the characters to get over. I'm also not terribly interested in reading or writing romance, which tends to be a big focus in young adult writing, so middle grade is the perfect sweet spot for me.
I have a mantra I try to apply to all my writing: I want to create stories where kids succeed because they're kids, not in spite of it. I want my characters to show off the superpowers kids have, the skills adults forget about, rather than pulling off their successes "okay for a kid, I guess". This is a major focus in The Secret Benefits of Invisibility, where the kids find out that being ignored and underestimated makes them ideal candidates for spy duty!
What books were your favorite as a youth and why?
I mostly read mysteries. For some reason I had a lot of trouble finding mysteries meant for kids that were not too simple or too spooky for my tastes, so I ended up with Agatha Christie novels! There is a middle grade renaissance going on right now, and I'm so glad today's kids have more relevant reading options.
My favorite middle grade authors from my childhood were Ellen Raskin (The Westing Game), E.L. Konigsburg (The View From Saturday), and Barbara Robinson (the Herdmans series). I love how all three captured a perspective and writing voice that felt so true to being a kid. Reading these stories made me feel respected, understood, and seen. All their characters carried on without needing adults to save the day or walk them through tough decisions.
What book is on your nightstand currently?
I'm slowly working my way through Kate Milford's The Raconteur's Commonplace Book. I'm a huge fan of her Greenglass House series, and the next book I'm working on writing has a story-within-a-story device, so I'm hoping a book all about storytelling will give me some inspiration. There's also usually at least one volume of R.A Spratt's Nanny Piggins series sitting out because they're my kids' favorites for read-alouds. Nanny Piggins is perfect for this because each chapter is a self-contained short story, so you can read them in any order. Plus, they're hilarious. I love reading out loud with my kids. I even do some character voices!
Favorite TV show from your childhood?
I have really vivid memories of watching Duck Tales as a kid. Besides the mysterious clues and wacky adventures, it probably had the best cartoon theme song of all time. When they rebooted the show a few years ago I made my kids watch a couple episodes of the original series with me before I let them move on to the new version! They liked the new one better, but whatever. The old theme song is still better.
Favorite hot beverage. Why?
YES, food questions! I love talking about food.
I don't drink coffee and I've never found a tea I
liked, so when I want a hot beverage I go for cocoa. I like to sprinkle some
chai spices in the water before I heat it up, and I usually use less of the
cocoa mix than the package calls for so it's not too sweet. No marshmallows.
Whipped cream would be for a real dessert cocoa, not for a breakfast or bedtime
Now that I think about it, steeping spices in the water and mixing it a bit weak makes it sort of like a chocolate tea. Is that a thing? I guess it is now!
Favorite pizza toppings.
I'm not a huge fan of tomato sauce, so my
favorite pizza would have a roasted red pepper sauce or garlic butter sauce for
the base layer. And I'm originally from the Midwest, so I prefer the crust
styles they do there: either a thick deep dish or thin cracker-style crust,
nothing in between. Lots of cheese. Then green onion, black olives, mild
pickled jalapeños, and bacon.
Sadly, no one else in my house likes olives, and they have no problem with tomatoes. So I have never actually eaten this pizza, but it sounds delicious. I really ought to name this concoction… the Italian Cowboy, maybe?
Create an ice cream flavor. What’s it called?
Coconut lime ice cream—it's got to use real lime juice and zest, not like a lime-flavored popsicle—with chocolate peanut butter cup chunks mixed in. I have no idea what to call this, but if someone invents it, I want to eat it! I guess you could replicate your own with regular coconut ice cream, Reese's cups, and a lime… if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the kitchen now! No reason, just got an idea I want to try…
When a security breach interrupts a school field trip, the siblings find themselves locked out of the Resistance base. With the adults trapped inside, it's up to Tuesday, Zed, and their friends to save the day. And for once, being ignored and underestimated is coming in handy. After all, who would suspect a bunch of kids are capable of taking down the intruders that captured their families, let alone the murderous dictator that put them into hiding in the first place?
Turns out invisibility might just have its benefits.
Read an Excerpt
"You ducklings get a good night's sleep," Obaachan called from her bed. "We've got a big day tomorrow."
This was news to everyone, including the captain. "What's happening tomorrow?" Solomon asked, squinting suspiciously at her. On the hammock tree, heads popped up all over the upper branches.
"Our next operation, of course."
Solomon laughed, but it didn't strike Tuesday as a "what a great joke" kind of laugh. More like a "the thing you just said is so ridiculous I must have misheard you" laugh.
"I appreciate your enthusiasm," he said, "but half my agents are still off checking the other safe houses. I won't be making any new plans until they report back."
Now it was Obaachan's turn to laugh. "Good thing your agents aren't invited, then. I have a few plans of my own. Don't fret yourself, pigeon—the children and I will handle it."
"My Operations team is leading this—" he started, but Obaachan cut him off.
"Don't forget I outrank you," she said sternly.
Solomon and Corvus exchanged a glance. "Does she?" Corvus mouthed silently.
Solomon shook his head.
"Call it seniority, then. Can't argue with me there!"
Solomon folded his arms. "And this plan involves the children how, exactly?"
"Well we can't exactly show up in Anduvia with a bunch of well-trained, competent-looking people, now can we? You'd have Tyrren's informants on your tail the moment you set foot in town. Obviously, this operation calls for a more specialized skill set."
Orion cut in, speaking slowly while his tongue caught up to his thoughts. It was like he was trying to puzzle out the answer to Q minus Purple. "You need the specialized skills…of people with no training whatsoever?"
"Exactly," said Obaachan, rolling over and fluffing her pillow. "You can't teach someone how to be invisible."
About the Author:
She recently settled in the high desert of rural Utah with her husband, their three children, and a noisy flock of orphaned ideas. Someday she will create literary homes for all of them. (The ideas, not her family.)
Relatively Normal Secrets (Cinnabar Moth Publishing, Fall 2021) is her debut novel. She writes fantasy novels for tweens, picture books for children, and short stories and poems for former children. Her work will appear in numerous anthologies in 2021. She is also a frequent guest presenter at writing conferences and club meetings, which helps her procrastinate knuckling down to any actual writing.
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