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Author Interviews That Rock
THE WIG IN THE WINDOW
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Kristen deserves a humungous shout-out for WIG IN THE WINDOW! WIG made me laugh, brought
tears to my eyes, had me flipping pages like a mad woman, kept me up past my bed
time, and thoroughly entertained me! Huzzah. I loved it! This isn’t just for
Okay Kristen, please tell the readers a little bit about yourself & your book. What is the blurb on your book cover?
Fans of the humor and clever clues in the Sammy Keyes books will enjoy The Wig in the Window, first in Kristen Kittscher’s funny middle-grade mystery series. Best friends and seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game out of spying on their neighbors. On one of their midnight stakeouts, they witness a terrifying, bloody scene at the home of their bizarre middle-school counselor Dr. Charlotte Agford (also known as Dr. Awkward). At least, they think they do. The truth is that Dr. Agford was only making her famous pickled beets. But when Dr. Agford begins acting even weirder than usual, Sophie and Grace become convinced that she’s hiding something—and they’re determined to find out what it is. Soon the girls are breaking secret codes, being followed by a strange blue car, and tailing strangers with unibrows and Texas accents. But as their investigation heats up, Sophie and Grace start to crack under the pressure. Will solving the case destroy their friendship?
Just to get us started, how old are you?
Older than I look, I hope.
Where are you from?
I was born in Pittsburgh and lived in over thirteen cities while growing up. For the past fifteen years, I’ve called Southern California home—and it’s where The Wig in the Window is set.
What inspired you to write THE WIG IN THE WINDOW?
I’d long wanted to write but was always finding excuses and didn’t really have the confidence to complete something. 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?” With my seventh grade students as my muses, I charged forward.
How does being a middle-school English teacher affect your writing style? You do an amazing job getting into your characters heads. How did you develop your authentic kid voice/vibe?
My middle-school teaching gave me a bird’s eye view of the friendship ups-and-downs I remembered from my own childhood and inspired me to want to tell a story that explored those. I think that’s what helps me get into their heads! My kid voice is a work-in-progress—even when I was a kid, I didn’t always sound like one. Sometimes I slip out of it, and it takes me a bit to drop back in. However, simply taking the time to try to imagine my characters’ frames-of-reference and perspective helps it come out of me.
I love Sophie and Grace’s best friend dynamic. Does that come from your own childhood?
I did not have a specific one of my own friendships in mind when I wrote the story. Grace and Sophie’s friendship does exaggerate an uneven power dynamic I’ve felt, though—even as an adult.
Sun Tzu and THE ART OF WAR come up often in the story, do you have a special affinity for ancient Chinese history? Do you have a martial arts background? Are Sophie’s awesome fighting poses real?
I don’t have a special affinity for Chinese history or martial arts, but Sophie and I share the same enthusiasm and curiosity. As a kid I had serial obsessions: I loved reading about the occult for a while. Then I was really into engines and inventions. While my best friend was Chinese-American and I was interested in learning the language, I fortunately never took my interest as inappropriately far!Sophie’s fighting poses are all real, but I relied on YouTube and the generosity of author and self-proclaimed “martial arts geek,” Jenn Reese (ABOVE WORLD, MIRAGE) to help me with them.
WIG IN THE WINDOW is incredibly funny and sometimes very deep and insightful, even sad. How did you balance your emotions while writing?
I wanted the book to work as a fun mystery but also on other levels, so it’s gratifying to hear you say that. Thank you. I agree with James Thurber, who was famous for saying, “Humor is a serious thing.” Laughter is a great defense mechanism against pain, fear, and absurdity—and I think kids instinctively rely on it even more frequently than adults, sometimes. By injecting humor into the book, I could create some scary situations and thrills for kids, yet still give a feeling of safety, hope and relief. I’m still learning how to balance all the emotions, but I appreciate the vote of confidence. Essentially, I try to stay with the scene as much as possible, slow down time, and imagine it as a twelve-year-old would. Later, I do a lot of revising to make sure I get it right.
You use awesome-fun words like boobs and crappy! Did you wrestle with yourself the first time you typed them?
It’s funny, because I think most people who know me have probably never heard me say either of these words unless I’m reading out loud from my book. Boobs especially, is one of my least favorite words, right there next to fart, which also makes some appearances. I wrestle with myself now! It’s embarrassing! But here’s the thing: when you’re writing, you marry yourself to a character and try to channel the world truthfully through her eyes and voice. Sophie Young makes some flip judgments and broad characterizations—and like a lot of kids, I think she’s fascinated by appearances. I cringe at “boobs.” Sophie, not so much.
What made you want to write in the first place?
I wish I could answer this. Perhaps it’s corny to say, but it feels like trying to answer why I wanted to breathe in the first place.
Do you have a theme in WIG IN THE WINDOW that you find particularly important?
How much time do you have? It’s odd, when you start to write, you have no theme in mind—by the end, you can talk about it all day. It might sound high-falutin’ considering WIG is a fun mystery for the 8 – 12 set, but I was interested in the often uneven power dynamics in friendship, in the difficulty of trusting oneself, and the danger of making assumptions.
Feng Shui plays an important role in Sophie’s life, do you dig it too?
I can see myself becoming very interested in maximizing energy flow, but I’m too impatient to apply all the principles! I gave Sophie her interests because I noticed how many middle schoolers try on new identities and try to derive power from something outside themselves. It fascinated me to think of what tension that could introduce in a friendship when the other person actually did share that heritage.
You have cool FBI type stuff in WIG IN THE WINDOW, and lots of history and interesting facts about Chinese culture. How much time did you spend in research?
I don’t feel like I spent any time doing research, but looking back, I know I didn’t know any of that before. I would research as I went along, and it felt like procrastination. I’d watch Tai Chi videos on YouTube or look up FBI protocol. It certainly didn’t feel like work!
If you could transport yourself into your book who would you be? Why?
Oh, Trista Bottoms. Hands down. Wouldn’t it great to be that self-assured, funny, and smart? She’s a loyal friend, too.
Why Middle Grade?
Like my main character, who’s name literally means “wise” and “young,” I love that pre-teens are old and ‘wise’ enough to understand larger truths about the world but still have great enthusiasm and a sense of wonder. It’s also fun to be a little silly.
What keeps you writing?
A desire to tell better and better stories.
What is the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
I don’t think it was so much as advice as encouragement, but I think often of something author Sean Murphy said in the online course I took with him (Write to the Finish): he said he believed that if you want to write, you have a story to tell. I took that to heart and stopped worrying about whether I had “it” or not, and got on with learning how to tell stories.
What is the most important thing for a writer to remember?
That every book was once a directionless mess, and that time can work it all out.
Do you belong to any cool writerly groups on or off line?
I’m part of a very cool group of kids’ mystery authors who blog: Sleuths, Spies and Alibis. (You can follow us on Twitter, as well, @KidlitMysteries. I also helped start The Lucky 13s, an online group for authors whose first books are coming out in 2013.
Just for kicks… What are some of your favorite TV shows, movies?
Is it any surprise I like mystery shows? Colombo and Murder, She Wrote are particular favorites. It’s true. I’m secretly 85.
Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun? Hobbies?
I like to spend most of my time with words: crossword puzzles, Scrabble, reading. But, truth be told, lately I haven’t had time for hobbies, other than enjoying hikes with my dog, if that counts! I’m fairly social for a writer, so I dedicate spare time to hanging out with friends and family.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It changed all the time. My first dream was to be a cab driver so I could drive ALL DAY LONG!
I’m dying to know… Sequel?
Yes! The Tiara on the Terrace is in the works. Young & Yang go undercover in the Royal Court in their town parade to stop a murderer. It’s sort of a Miss Congeniality set in middle school.
Any closing words of wisdom for other author-wannabees out there?
If you can somehow find it in yourselves to stop worrying about whether you have talent and just get on with it, do! I still have trouble, but it’d be so helpful to embrace doubt as part of the process and just plunge forward.
Just Click the Links to Check Out WIG’s Fantastic, Fun Trailers
And there you have it! Personal and Real with Kristen Kittscher! Thanks for the super-cool, insightful interview, Kristen.
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