Hi Claire, and welcome to MG Book Village! It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that we were chatting about your debut novel, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, so you’ve been very busy! Can you tell us a bit about your new novel, THE KATE IN BETWEEN, which is scheduled to be released on May 18, 2021 with Quill Tree Books?
THE KATE IN BETWEEN is about what happens when 12-year-old Kate goes viral for saving her best friend Haddie’s life. Only, just like so often happens in our digital culture, what actually happened isn’t what it looks like. Kate had actually recently ditched Haddie for a more popular crew, and the reason Haddie needed saving in the first place was Kate’s fault. It leads to all kinds of questions: who is Kate, really, when nobody’s looking? Who is Haddie? Are they good, are they bad? What do those words even mean? It’s about friendship conflict, which I had a lot of in middle school, but more importantly, it’s about discovering who you really are and what you really stand for. And we’re back in Wisconsin again–only this time, instead of the Northwoods, Kate is living in my hometown of Madison!
What’s one thing you learned from writing your first published book that you did differently while writing the second?
Writing KATE was a very collaborative process with my editor, which I’m not used to! I usually write by the seat of my pants, so having to have things plotted out ahead of time was out of my comfort zone. But I learned from WHAT HAPPENS NEXT just how important a great editor is, and I was really thankful to work with Alyssa Miele at Quill Tree once again.
What three things can you tell our readers about this story or its inspiration?
First of all, I went through some incredibly difficult friendship conflict in middle school, as I mentioned above. It’s easy to write this off as drama, as if it’s something shallow and inconsequential to the rest of a girl’s life. But the truth is, middle school is a very formative time, and things that happened to me during those years are things I continue to wrestle with and mull over today. It’s the time of life when we’re really deciding what we believe about the world, so the interpersonal complexities we walk through at 12 are anything but inconsequential. Secondly, Kate’s mom is wrapped up in a multi-level marketing scheme. MLMs are really popular among women my age and I wanted to write about the effect being in one can have on someone’s family members. Thirdly, when I started the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about how differently kids are growing up now than they were in the 90s, when I was growing up. We simply didn’t have the access to share media the way middle schoolers do now–how is it changing the way they act and react to things? That was really interesting and fun to explore.
OK, let’s talk about the cover. I really love the colors that were chosen. Who was the illustrator, and did you have any input in its development?
Richie Pope illustrated the cover. Let me just say this: I have heard horror stories about writers not really liking their cover and having to do all of this awkward back-and-forth, and that has never happened to me. Both times I’ve seen my book covers, I have been in awe of the illustrator’s talent and the way they were able to bring the story to life! I was asked for input this time around but I told them the truth: I honestly had no vision in my head of this cover. I wanted the illustrator to be free to create something he thought would tease the story and expose a bit of the message. I think Richie hit it out of the park!
Let’s do the big reveal!!
Wow, it’s so eye-catching. When I look at it, the first word that comes to mind is “secret”. If you could describe it in one word, what comes to mind, and why?
I would say “conflicted”. Kate just looks so unsure, and I love that, because so much of the book rests on that feeling–that I-don’t-really-know worry. She truly looks like a Kate who’s in between versions of herself.
Releasing one book and writing another during a pandemic are far from ideal conditions for any author, so let me first say congratulations for hanging in there. How have you managed to juggle all of your different hats during such an uncertain time?
Oh, my gosh. KATE was written before the pandemic hit, but I did all of the editing with absolutely no childcare! I have two very little kids so it was definitely a juggling act. Thankfully, I have an amazingly supportive husband who has a flexible job as well, so we were able to kind of pass the baton and balance everything. I also had to give myself time limits of how long I could look at the news. It was easy to read COVID horror stories and then be distracted while I was supposed to be living in Kate’s world!
Are you working on any other writing projects you can share with us at this time?
I’m dabbling in a bit of ghostwriting at the moment, so it’s very hush hush! But I would love to return with another middle grade book under my own name soon–I’m constantly thinking of ideas and scribbling stories.
Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
You can head to claireswinarski.com–I particularly love visiting classrooms virtually, so teachers, please feel free to reach out!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Claire, and I can’t wait to read this book when it’s available!
Thanks, Kathie! May can’t come quickly enough.