If you’re pining for the loss of summer reading programs on Tuesday afternoons, you’re in luck! We have one more program at 2:00 pm next Tuesday, August 1, featuring middle grade author Allison K. Hymas, whose book Under Locker and Key debuted earlier this year. Come learn about Allison’s start as a writer, her insights on writing and getting kids to read, and a Q&A session.
Check out this exclusive interview from Allison before the program:
Tell us about your most recent book. What’s it about, and how did it come to be?
My most recent book is Under Locker and Key. It’s a middle grade mystery about a 12-year-old boy named Jeremy Wilderson who is a retrieval specialist (think thief with a conscience) at his school. He retrieves objects that have been stolen from his classmates, and dodges the school’s private eye, 12-year-old Becca Mills. When he botches a job, he needs to team up with her to protect the school from a crime spree.
This book started as an assignment in a writing class. I had to write a 1-page introduction of a middle grade character. At the time I’d been reading a lot of mysteries, and when I looked at the protagonists of middle grade mysteries, I noticed a lot of stories about detectives but not as many about the thieves they caught. I got thinking about what a middle school thief would do and how he’d see himself, and Jeremy Wilderson was born. After that, I wrote a short story about Jeremy, which turned into a full novel.
Tell us about the first book that really grabbed you. What was it? What was it that captured your imagination? How did you find it?
That’s tricky. I read a lot as a kid, so I don’t know what the first book that really grabbed me was. I’d say some of the books I latched onto were From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and the Chronicles of Narnia. But I’d have to say the Harry Potter books were the ones that really arrested my mind and thrilled me, more than the other books I’d read up to that point. My third-grade teacher read us Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in class. That’s how I learned about the series and came to love it. I loved the magic and adventure, and just the whole new world with new sports and foods and everything. I wanted to go to Hogwarts and learn magic so badly that I half-waited for my owl when I was eleven.
Let’s say one of our library patrons would like to become a writer. What advice would you give? How do you start?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was little, I started writing my own picture books because I was bored by the books my teachers gave me to read (they didn’t have much of a plot and there was a distinct lack of time travel and shrink rays). As I got older, I kept writing, and one day a teacher told me I was good at it. That made me think I could do it as a job one day.
I’d say the best advice for starting to write is to read and write as much as you can. Practicing the craft, and also reading books and considering why you like them or don’t like them, can lead to creating some great books. It’s also important to let yourself learn. I started by writing a very bad novel that contained magic and adventure, like in the books I enjoyed reading. Even though it wasn’t a good book, writing it taught me a lot about pacing, plotting, and character development, so when I wrote my next novel, it was much better.
What are some of the books that make you want to write?
Again, a tricky question. I have to give the Harry Potter books their due here, as well, for just thrilling me with storytelling. However, books that made me want to write were books like The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles and The Phantom Tollbooth, because I wanted to create magic worlds like those, full of wordplay and adventure. I also liked mysteries then and they made me want to create twisted stories where the truth was always there but never visible until the end. I loved any clever story, and I wanted to one day be able to write like that.
Tell us a little about your process and habits as a writer.
I finish pretty much everything I start, but it takes me a little while to start my projects. After I have whatever “What if” thought that starts a book, I’ll think it over for a while. The idea will churn in my mind and I’ll ask and answer questions to myself about the characters, world, plot, and logistics. I’ll even pull out notebooks and write down basic descriptions of characters and the overall plot. By the time I sit down to write, the whole story has been outlined, and I want to see it to the end.
My usual writing time is mid-morning or late afternoon, though I’ll write whenever I have time or the mood strikes me. Sometimes I stay up late because I just need to get the ideas down before they’re gone! I don’t have any writerly superstitions, but I do have rituals. When I start writing, I’ll play some music that puts me in the right mood for the story, and I’ll just enjoy the music for 5-10 minutes and think about my story. When I get stuck, I’ll go for a long walk and do the same thing: listen to the right music for my story. It tends to help.
If you could take a month-long vacation in any book, which would you choose, and why?
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Because I’d love to visit the Shire and enjoy some adventure. I think I could be happy in Middle Earth for a month.
Who are some of your favorite characters in literature?
I love Jane Eyre, because she’s a good girl who knows her own mind. Elizabeth Bennet and Mina Harker, for similar reasons. I like smart women who don’t feel like they need to compete with men to be strong. More contemporary, I like Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, Sam Vimes and Moist Von Lipwig from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, and pretty much every character in Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles.
What literary world would you most like to be real?
Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world from the Harry Potter books. It’s not a perfect world, but I’d love to learn magic and visit Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. I’d also want to see all the magical creatures.
Are you a library user? Tell us some of your favorite things about libraries.
Absolutely! I love libraries. I could go all day about my favorite things about libraries, but I’ll just say I love how I can access books and movies for free. There’s a wealth of knowledge and entertainment, and I can access all of it!