Interview: Taryn Souders

Hello, Taryn! Thank you for stopping by the MG Book Village to talk about your new novel, COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP. But before we get to the book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure! I live in Florida, but I’m originally from Texas. We have three awesome kids and two mentally unstable cats (Mordecai and Sebastian). I’ve been writing for the past few years, and I’m represented by the amazing Sally Apokedak of The Apokedak Literary Agency.

You’ve written picture books AND middle grade novels. Does the process for them differ at all? Is there anything about writing for middle grade readers that you particularly like?

The process is similar, but you definitely have to dive deeper for novels. You can’t rely on illustrations for novels as you can with picture books. Illustrations carry so much of a story’s weight and help an author out with keeping their word count low. They do awesome things–like showing a character’s emotion or the setting or a total catastrophe unfolding. That’s not an option for middle grade. You got into the nitty gritty of description and emotion and so forth. Oddly enough, I find picture books harder to write!

I LOVE writing for middle grade readers. They are at the age where they understand a lot of different types of humor like wit, sarcasm, and even dry humor. Their conversations are the best to listen to! They are energetic and funny and up for anything!

All right, onto the MG novel we are here to discuss — COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP! Can you tell us what it’s all about?

I LOVE this book! Coop Goodman lives with his mom and his paternal granddad in Windy Bottom, Georgia. (His dad was a marine in Afghanistan who died when Coop was five.) Windy Bottom is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business. When the town council decides it’s time to renovate the old playground, a skeleton is found buried under the slide! The identity of the dearly departed shocks the town, and Coop’s beloved Gramps becomes the number one suspect. Coop takes on the role of detective as he tries to clear his granddad’s name—and discovers there’s more than just a skeleton buried in Windy Bottom . . . there are lots of secrets.

This is your fourth novel, but your first mystery. Have you always wanted to write a mystery? Did you read a lot as a kid? Do you now? How was writing this mystery different from writing your other books?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Very Different. Next question.

Just kidding. I have always wanted to write a mystery—mainly because I LOVE mysteries. They’re pretty much all I ever read as a kid. I devoured Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, and more. As I got older, I flew through Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, PD James, and so many others.

Nowadays I read middle grade mysteries—for a couple reasons. #1 They are super fun to read. #2 As an author, I think it’s important to read the genres and subgenres you write or want to write. I study them—see how other authors introduce clues, suspects, red herrings, etc.

Writing Coop Knows the Scoop was definitely different from how I approached my other books. Mainly because I HAD to outline everything ahead of time—and I was a pantser when it came to writing. So, writing “by the seat of my pants” was thrown out the window. The reason I needed to do that was I had to get all my clues and red herrings sorted out. I had to make sure I didn’t introduce someone or something out of order, which in turn, might screw up how the mystery was solved.

COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP deals with some heavy issues. Why do you think it’s important for kids’ books to address and explore such issues? Are there any benefits to doing so in fiction, as opposed to or in addition to non-fiction?

There’s a place in both fiction and nonfiction in dealing with heavy issues. Nonfiction can run the risk of being too “cold and clinical” in its deliverance of facts. However, facts are needed and are important. But sometimes we can lose readers if they can’t relate to what they’re reading—and that’s where fiction fills gap. Fiction allows the reader to believe there are other people in the world dealing with the same issues and/or feeling the same way they feel. Fiction builds relationship and empathy—which are also needed and important. So, yeah, I think a reader should read both fiction and nonfiction.

Some of the issues Coop deals with are the loss of a parent, deception and dishonesty from a “parental figure”, the loss of trust, drinking, gambling, and jealousy. I put jealousy in the “heavy issue” category because if it’s not dealt with it can lead to some pretty terrible things.

I know it was important to you to depict and explore the characters and culture of a small Southern town. Can you talk about the creation of Windy Bottom? How does setting more generally factor into your writing and storytelling?

Setting is super important to me and Windy Bottom was so fun to create! While the town is a character in and of itself, the citizens are the ones that show off its personality and quirkiness. I’ve lived in small southern towns and do they really do have a life of their own. As an author, it’s important to me that the reader be grounded in the story—to know where they are and what’s around them. If that can be accomplished, I believe the adventure or mystery or whatever, is enjoyed even more.

What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP?

The main theme of COOP is forgiveness. We all make mistakes, particularly when we’re young. Let’s face it, who we are now is not necessarily who we were “back then.” We’re constantly growing and changing—hopefully for the better. Fun fact: the original title of COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP was REMAINS TO BE SEEN. I loved this because it worked on two different levels. #1—Tabby’s remains needed to be seen in order for the truth to come out and for her to receive justice. #2—it echoed the theme of the story: who we ultimately become remains to be seen. We can learn from our mistakes of the past, but not let them hold us prisoner. The title got changed to COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP, which I also love, but the theme remains the same—and those concepts of redemption and forgiveness are what I hope readers take away.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP to their classrooms and libraries?

There are some great “extras” that Sourcebooks Kids offers. There is a free downloadable Activity Kit filled with all sorts of games and activities related to the story. There is also a fantastic Discussion Guide that can help facilitate classroom discussion. I recommended teachers, librarians, and parents check them both out! Just click on the links.

When can readers get their hands on COOP KNOWS THE SCOOP?

It releases July 7! Wohoo!!

Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?

They can visit me at my website: www.TarynSouders.com or find me on Facebook: Taryn Souders – Author, or on Twitter @TarynSouders.

Taryn has written both picture books and middle-grade novels. Her books have taken part in Battle of the Books, been named to state reading lists, including the Georgia Children’s Book Awards and the Sunshine State Young Readers Awards, and have been Crystal Kite Finalists. Her fourth middle grade novel, Coop Knows the Scoop, releases July 2020. Taryn is a member of both SCBWI and Word Weavers International, and is represented by Sally Apokedak of Apokedak Literary Agency. She currently lives in Sorrento, Florida with her husband, David, their three children, and two cats—an overly fuzzy Ragdoll named Mordecai and a polydactyl Hemingway named Sebastian—who like to terrorize flies (the cats, not her husband or children). While she’s somewhat decent at math, she is terrible at science and has an intense dislike of tarantulas.

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