The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Kate Messner

Today the mafia is excited to interview award winning author of multiple books for children including picture books, chapter books and middle grade . . . Kate Messner. Her mystery series the Silver Jaquar Society is one of my favorite and has broad appeal. I asked her how she accomplished this success.

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Middle Grade Mafia: Your award winning mystery, Capture the Flag, features three children, Anna, Jose and Henry. The book really appeals to both girls and boys which is a rare accomplishment. Have you identified your primary audience for Capture the Flag? Did you write this with an audience in mind?

Kate Messner: Honestly, I don’t really believe in the concept of boy-books and girl-books, so that wasn’t on my mind when I was working on CAPTURE THE FLAG. What I really wanted to create was a smart, funny mystery that would satisfy the craving for action and adventure that I felt as a kid. When I visit schools, readers of both genders tell me how much they enjoyed the action in these books, so that’s always gratifying.

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MGM: The action and pacing is terrific, even though the majority of the book takes place in one location over just a couple of days. Was this a challenge or a difficult sell?

KM: It was something that I worked hard on through the revision process. I had some younger beta readers take a look at my early drafts and asked them to note anyplace where they were starting to feel bored. I also like to make big-picture charts for my novels, to keep track of things like characters and themes. I also track the excitement level of the story on these charts, noting which chapters have those breathless scenes and trying to make sure they’re not too far apart.

MGM: Today’s middle grade category runs the gamut from deep and depressing to fun and silly. Is there a sweet spot for your writing style and how do find your own style?

KM: I’m probably not the best author to answer this question because I don’t do just one kind of book, so my style isn’t as easy to pinpoint as, say, Rick Riordan’s. I have realistic fiction and mysteries mixed in with a couple of science-fiction adventures and most recently, two novels that I’d classify as magical realism. I’d say that my “sweet spot” for middle grade is really about kids’ voices – capturing that authentic twelve-year-old voice, which is something that feels quite natural to me, since I remember being that age and also spent fifteen years teaching 7th graders. I think the best way to find your own style is to write the book that your heart wants to write instead of trying to be something in particular that you think someone else might want you to be.

MGM: You’ve also written books on writing. When doing school visits, do you teach about writing or just talk about your books? What do you like to accomplish with your school visits?

KM:  spend most of my school visits talking about research, writing, and revision, so they’re very much focused on process. My goal is always two-fold…the entertain kids and inspire them to be not only readers but writers of their own stories and to give teachers material to work with after I’m gone. Quite often, I’ll get a thank you note from a teacher months after the visit, letting me know that she was able to return to something I said in a presentation to get her kids excited about revising their writing. That’s the best.

MGM: Will there be more books in the Silver Jaquar Society series? What’s next for Kate Messner.

KM: Not right now. I’d always planned the Silver Jaguar Society series as three books — one focusing on each of the three main characters. I’m knee-deep in a new series with Scholastic now, a younger middle grade series called RANGER IN TIME, about a time-traveling golden retriever who’s trained as a search and rescue dog and can go anywhere in history where people need his help. So far, the books are about the Oregon Trail, Ancient Rome, fugitive slaves, Antarctic exploration, Viking Age Iceland, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It’s a research-intense series, so that keeps me pretty busy for now!

You can see all Kate Messner’s book on her website and make sure to follow her on Twitter.

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