Middle Grade Mystery Maven Kristen Kittscher and I met three years ago at the SCBWI Working Writers Retreat, and we’ve been friends since then.
Kristen’s charming sense of humor was one of the reasons I enjoyed the retreat. We belonged to the same critique group so I was lucky enough to have read WIG IN THE WINDOW before it was published (back then the title was Young & Yang). Just like its author, Kristen’s manuscript oozed with wit and humor and left us clutching our sides with laughter. I was sad whenever the critique session ended because I wanted to read more of her story. Kristen had a natural gift for storytelling. I knew it was just a matter of time before she got published.
And I was right. The year after the retreat, Kristen attended the Big Sur Workshop where she met her agent, Jennifer Laughran from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Jennifer quickly sold Kristen’s manuscript to HarperCollins, and this June, WIG IN THE WINDOW was published.
I love bumping into Kristen at various book signings and SCBWI writing events. I always have such wonderful conversations with her every time we meet, and now I’m excited that I finally get to interview her and introduce her to you.
Kristen Kittscher was a child neighborhood spy but (allegedly) grew up to be an upstanding citizen, seventh grade English teacher, and writing tutor. A graduate of Brown University, she lives in Pasadena, California with her husband, Kai, and their hyperactive lab mix. Her debut novel The Wig in the Window, the first in a new mystery series from HarperCollins Children’s Books, comes out June 18, 2013
Visit kristenkittscher.com to investigate more about her and Young & Yang’s next adventure, The Tiara on the Terrace.
Interview with the Author: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3NHHiX9XHo&list=UUBTeCHmWyv8ro1EkhbaXewg&index=5
Author Page: http://www.kristenkittscher.com
HarperCollins Author Page: http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/books/Wig-Window-Kristen-Kittscher/?isbn13=9780062110503&tctid=100
The Wonderful Kristen Kittscher
1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.
- I lived in 13 cities before the age of 18
- I can touch my tongue to my nose
- One summer as a teenager I learned to fly a WWII-era plane!
2. What books and movies inspired your love for mystery?
I loved Nancy Drew and Stephen King as a kid—and I have to admit that The Wig in the Window is basically my attempt to write Murder, She Wrote for kids. Big J.B. Fletcher fan over here! Did you know they have a website just to sell imitations of her fabulous East Coast-y fashions?
3. What day jobs did you have before you became a full time author?
I’m still not a full-time author, though I’d love to be. I run a small tutoring business in Pasadena, California. Before that, I taught seventh grade English at an all girls’ school for a good long while. I’ve had other jobs earlier on: I worked in the film industry in Germany and Hollywood, as well as for a translation company. I love languages!
4. What inspired you to write THE WIG IN THE WINDOW?
For years, I wanted to write fiction, but I lacked the confidence. I’d dabble here and there, jotting down notes for story ideas and writing character sketches. Inevitably, though, I’d put my scribblings aside. I told myself I was not creative enough — that my seventh grade English students needed all my time and attention. One day, though, I stumbled across a free-writing exercise based on my exploits as a middle school “spy” with my best friend in my seaside suburb of Los Angeles. It struck me: why hadn’t I ever thought of writing for kids? That tiny paragraph had all the makings of a story that would entertain the funny, precocious students I taught. I scrawled a note: “Rear Window meets (edgy) Nancy Drew: two savvy, bold girl sleuths exposing adult hypocrisy?”
A little while later, I was making a very messy beet salad and it occurred to me the remnants looked like a murder scene. That’s where the beets came in…
With my students as my muses, it was so much easier to forge ahead. It’s no surprise I ended up writing a story about a kid who has so much self-doubt to overcome!
5. THE WIG IN THE WINDOW merges action with tons of middle grade humor. How did you go about developing your awesome middle grade voice?
Thank you! It’s my natural immaturity. But, more seriously: I think that my many years as a seventh grade teacher kept me in tune with the perspective of that age. It’s fun for me to amplify my own insecurities and self-consciousness and channel it into middle grade humor.
6. Your main character Sophie Young and her best friend Grace Yang are smart, spunky and very believable characters. Are they based on anyone you personally know?
I’m so glad you think so. Sophie and Grace are both very much fictional, but there’s no doubt I’ve given my own middle school feelings to Sophie Young. She’s an alter ego of sorts, though that’s risky to say – because her flaws are not necessarily my own. And I am not twelve! I did have her curiosity and self-consciousness, though.
I had a childhood neighborhood spy partner, but she bears no resemblance to Grace Yang other than sharing her ethnicity. Grace is purely invented. Of course—all the characters are exaggerated versions of me or sides to myself—even my potential villains, I’m afraid to say!
7. Are you a plotter or pantser? What writing tricks or techniques did you employ for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW?
There are tricks?! People have been holding out on me!! I demand a refund!
I am a plotter, but WIG was originally written in pantser-fashion…which means I threw it out and started over again, basically. I think mysteries can’t really be pantsed. You can certainly be messy and meandering and discover things as you go along in a first draft, but you’ll have to totally rewrite for pacing and weave in the clues. They are delicate machines and pacing is very important. (Still working on that!)
8. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?
I gather that my path to publication was fairly standard, other than the fact I did not write any novels before The Wig in the Window—instead I kept working on this manuscript and tried to learn about the business. What’s the cliché about success and perspiration and inspiration? I don’t remember the percentages, but I agree: perseverance and developing confidence are the main ingredients.
As for the coolest thing about being a published author? Oh, there have been so many wonderful highlights! The coolest thing is connecting with people. There’s nothing like having a stranger far-away read your book and really enjoy it. You find so many kindred spirits. I feel very grateful to have made so many new friends through the process, and I love being able to inspire kids to have more confidence in their own stories.
9. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?
I don’t write full time, so I don’t really have typical writing days – but rather cram it in when I can. Late at night tends to be a nice quiet time when I can think clearly and not be too anxious about how long it’s taking me. I do have quirks – I get very superstitious about energy. If writing went well in one spot one day, I’ll take note of it and make sure to set up my laptop there again. A dear friend gave me a little figurine of a knight that was on her dad’s desk when he was still alive. He was a writer, too, and she wanted me to have it. It means a great deal—and I believe in its energizing powers, so I like to keep it near! On a scale of 1 to 10, how crazy do I sound?
10. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies, sports, crafts you like to spend time on?
Oh, I’m terrible with crafts—I definitely better stick with writing. My main sport is hiking with my dog, if that counts. I have a secret love of golf and kickboxing, though, to. Most of my free time I spend with friends—hanging out is my main hobby!
11. Are you currently working on any other projects?
A sequel to The Wig in the Window is slated: The Tiara on the Terrace. Young & Yang go undercover in their town parade’s “Royal Court” to stop a murderer. It’s set around a fictionalized version of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses, where I live.
12. What writing tips could you give to writers who wish to write mysteries?
That’s a great question! Obviously, reading a lot of them helps quite a bit. There are some great craft books out there, as well. James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Mystery is one of them. (And it’s not the James Frey who made up A Million Little Pieces and passed it off as his own – this one just happens to share his name!)
13. What advice would you give to writers on the road to publication?
I don’t know that I’m seasoned enough to give advice, but if pressed, I’d say: if you love words and telling stories, follow that passion and enjoy! No sense worrying about whether anything will “come of it.” I wasted a lot of time doubting myself and not spending time on my writing because I was too focused on whether it was worthwhile. Writing is worthwhile, period. So is all art.
14. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?
I’d advise them to listen to their instincts and not listen to old people like me, unless what they say makes sense for them! I think everything I’ll want to say to young readers is in what I write, so I’ll just give them a big wave – and a thank them for reading!
Come back this Friday for the final part of the Spotlight Week, where I give away a signed copy of WIG IN THE WINDOW
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