GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Kate Kelly, author of RED ROCK

Today we’re interviewing Lucky13 author Kate Kelly, whose debut novel RED ROCK hits the shelves today! A little about the book:

Red Rock CoverThe ice caps have melted. The coastal areas we once knew are gone, and only scavvers now live in the flooded towns. The world has changed, but as 14-year-old Danni Rushton soon discovers, it isn’t the first time… Living with her uncle after the tragic death of her parents, Danni s world is turned upside down when her aunt is assassinated. With her dying breath, she entrusts Danni with a strange, small rock. Danni must not tell a soul that she has it.

But what is the rock for, and to what lengths must Danni go to keep it safe? This action-packed adventure takes the reader from the barren terrain of Greenland, to the flooded ruins of Cambridge, and on to a sinister monastery in Malta. In her effort to save her uncle and evade a power-hungry space agency, Danni discovers that friends aren’t always what they seem, and a rock isn’t always just a rock.

Welcome, Kate, to the OneFour blog, and kudos on the publication of RED ROCK! Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication? How did you get your agent? How long did it take before she placed your novel at Curious Fox?

Most agents find their clients through the slushpile, but I am one of the minority that took a different route. When I spotted that Julia Churchill, an agent at A.M. Heath, was offering 1-2-1 surgeries at a local literary festival I made sure I booked myself a slot. It was too good an opportunity to miss. I had just finished writing Red Rock and I thought this would be great to get some industry feedback before I started submitting.

Of course things never quite work out how you think they will. Julia loved my opening chapter and wanted to see the full. Weirdly she remembered an earlier effort of mine that she had rejected on a full about a year before and we ended up chatting about why that one hadn’t worked and not about Red Rock very much at all. Needless to say I was over the moon when she subsequently signed me. But that was only the beginning. The submission process is nerve racking—out your novel goes into the big wide world and then…you wait…and you wait…..

But at last the call came and I’ll never forget that moment. I was out on my mountain bike when my phone went with the news that Curious Fox wanted to acquire, and I took the call sitting on a grassy bank outside a farm watching the swallows skim back and forth between the outbuildings. It was a magical moment.

RED ROCK rocks as a MG sci-fi/thriller! What authors influenced you in writing these genres?

I have always been a huge fan of science fiction, and so many of the authors who have influenced me in this respect are the well know sci-fi authors – John Wyndham, Isaac Azimov and Ray Bradbury among others. But at the same time I have always loved a good adventure and none did this better that the Victorian novelist H. Rider Haggard. I used to seek out his books in second-hand bookshops and I loved the blend of lost civilizations and the age of exploration. I guess I wanted to capture something of this magic in my own work.

Global Warming causing ice caps to melt is at the heart of your story’s premise. Why did you select this environmental theme?

In a way I didn’t select it, it selected me. The fact that the Greenland ice sheet is retreating is fundamental to the plot, but you can’t just melt an ice sheet without taking into account the ramifications. Perhaps it is the scientist in me talking, but I then had to look at what effects this would have, and the more I investigated the more worrying the whole issue became. The sea level doesn’t need to rise by very much to have a devastating effect on large areas of the world. Not to mention the disruption of the ocean circulation patterns and the weather systems.

The settings are fascinating–Greenland, Cambridge, and Malta. Have you been to these places? What made you choose them? How did you research your settings?   

I always like to set my stories somewhere I’ve actually been. Admittedly these days you can do an awful lot of research online – you can even get right down to ground level and explore a place in google street view. But for me to write authentically about somewhere I need to be able to feel it, smell it, sense the atmosphere and the only way I can really immerse myself like that is to actually go there. I’m fortunate in that I’ve travelled quite widely to some fascinating places so I have a lot of experience to draw on. And should I decide to set a story somewhere that I haven’t been—well now I have the perfect excuse to go there.   

What will you be doing for a launch?  

I’m holding a party in my local village hall, and the theme is Red. I’ve asked the guests to wear red and I’ll be dishing out red cakes and red wine, (and cranberry juice for the younger guests).

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a child.

Well I’ve already mentioned H. Rider Haggard, and of course he is best known for his children’s book King Solomon’s Mines, so I reckon that one has to go on the list. Then, like so many kids, of both past and present generations I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton, especially the Famous Five books, but I really don’t think I could single out any one, so I’ll just say all of them. Finally The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff brought Roman Britain alive for me, and I’ve been fascinated by archaeology ever since.


Lucky 13 debut author Kate Kelly has a love of the sea and literature. She was born in Scotland but grew up in rural Devon. Coming from a long line of seafarers she succumbed to the ocean’s call, studying geology and then oceanography at the university, and pursuing a career as a marine scientist. Kate’s passion for science and the sea influences many of the themes she explores in her fiction. Find Kate online at Twitter and Goodreads.

Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Waterstones | Foyles | Kenny’s

Christine Kohler worked as a political reporter covering the West Pacific. Her YA novel is set on Guam during the Vietnam war: 15-year-old Kiko finds out that his mother was raped during WWII. When Kiko discovers a WWII Japanese soldier is hiding in the jungle behind Kiko’s house for 28 years, will Kiko take revenge? NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, Merit Press, Jan. 18, 2014.

Mad For Middle Grade: Why?

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

This month, we’re digging deep into our writerly souls to find our purpose. Our place in the universe, the meaning behind our existences. Okay… we didn’t dig quite that deep, she says as she strokes her imaginary philosopher’s beard (à la Professor Dumbledore, of course).

Question: Why middle grade?

Robin Herrera
Amulet Books
When I first started writing fiction in college, I was strictly YA. I’d read a lot of MG, but all my ideas for books seemed to be about teenagers. That all changed when I got a job tutoring kids at an elementary school. I ended up working in schools for the next six years, and the more I talked and played and interacted with my students, the more I wanted to write books for them! While I no longer work with kids, my love for middle grade hasn’t faded.
Skila reading
Skila Brown
Candlewick Press
I have always been a big reader, but the period of my life when I read the most was probably between the ages of seven and twelve. Looking back, I’m not sure I did anything but read. I’m not surprised that even now I’m still thinking about stories for readers of that age. It’s a magical time for readers – that moment when you first become absorbed in books all by yourself.

Ryan Gebhart
Candlewick Press
In the middle grade years, one minute it’s all, yay funtimes CRAYONS AND SANDBOXES AND GOGURTS!” and then your voice changes and your best friend is all… GIRLS. And you’re all, you’d rather talk about girls than Gogurt? Do I even KNOW you anymore? And then it’s, ermahgerd, I think I kinda like girls too. Maybe they’ll make me wear a suit and tie next and maybe not eat so many Gogurts. I’m thirTEEN not thirty.

It’s asking a lot of kids to be grown ups, when all they’ve ever known is how to be a kid. It’s a thing that still resonates in me, even now that I AM thirty. Wait, you’re asking me to pay my bills ON TIME?

So in conclusion, that’s why I wrote a middle grade book.

BTW: I’ve never had a Gogurt. They look disgusting.

Kate Kelly
Curious Fox/Capstone Young Readers
For me it’s because I never fully grew up. I still view the world with that thrill of excitement. I play in the sea and build dens in the woods (I build the best dens –you just watch me) and I wish to fill the world with excitement and adventure.

Patrick Samphire
SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMBpatrick-samphire-large
Christy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan
So here’s what happened. Back when I was about eight or nine, I picked up a book*, and by the time I put it down again, I was eighteen, and everyone thought I should be grown-up. Except I didn’t want to be. I was having way too much fun in that book. I’d fallen through magical doors, fled from goblins, flown into space, and been a pirate. So I decided to stay. Middle-grade is funny, magical, exciting, and full of wonder. The real question should be, why wouldn’t I want to write it?

* There may have been more than one book…

Rachel SearlesRachelSearlesEars
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
I write middle grade because I’m still that bored little girl sitting in an ice rink with a stack of library books, waiting for her brother’s hockey game to finish and daydreaming about suddenly having the ability to fly up into the rafters and amaze the crowd with feats of supernatural acrobatics.

Lauren Magaziner
Middle graders understand funny. If I wrote a scene in which a character has to eat a raw moose, an adult would cringe, but a kid would find it hilarious. Okay, maybe kids would cringe too, but then they’d find it hilarious. (Maybe.) Hmm… perhaps Matilda of MATILDA fame can phrase it better: “Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.” Yes, they love laughter and raw mooses. Meese? Moosen? Mooseronis? Also, don’t ask me why said character has to eat a raw moose. It’s not like I’m the writer… oh, wait…

Michelle Schusterman
I HEART BANDMichelle-Author-2
Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin
I’ll say it: kids are smarter than adults. Their view of the world is untainted, so much less convoluted, simpler in the best possible way. Kids are honest, which is what makes them the best readers (and the best critics). That’s part of why I write middle grade – that’s the audience I want to reach. But the other reason is that I want to get my head back in that place again, when you can see things the way they really are, yet still find magic in everything.

Tara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARSTara Dairman face
Confession: I dislike the phrase “middle grade”—there’s nothing middling about it! I didn’t even know that term existed until I started querying agents and had to categorize my book. All I knew while I was writing it was that it fit in with my favorite reads from childhood (Roald Dahl, Judy Blume) and adulthood (Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket), and that it wasn’t quite young adult (no angst/kissing!). Turns out that that magical category full of laughs and self-discovery is called middle grade…but I think that “awesome grade” would be a better fit. 🙂

Gayle Rosengren
Putnam/PenguinGayle Rosengren 100x100
I don’t remember the books I read as a teen, but I do remember–vividly–the books I read when I was ten. They whisked me away to places I’d never been and introduced me to friends like Jo March, Anne Shirley, Trixie Belden, Tom Sawyer and countless other characters and stories that made lasting impressions on my heart as well as my mind. They are what inspire me to write middle grade–to try to make the same magical and forever difference in readers’ lives.

Rebecca Behrens
Fact: I am the world’s oldest living tween. And the older I get, the more I realize that they way I observed the world as a middle-grader—with wonder, optimism, and curiosity—is the way I should try to look at it now. The middle-grade years are the age of discovery, and they are magic—even though it’s the time when we start to realize magic isn’t real. (Except it totally is. See, I really am not a grown-up.)

Thanks for tuning in! And here comes the PSA: Have a MG question/topic you’d like us to talk about? Let us hear it in our comments—we’re open to discussing (almost) anything.  Or you could just say hello! We always love hearing from you!

We’ll be back on Monday, July 1st!  See you later, alligator!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who secretly becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous witches who love Toecorn—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.

Mad For Middle Grade: Cue Evil Laughter (Muahahaha!)

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

Welcome back, folks!  We’ve have more more MORE Middle Grade authors joining the fold, which means we are one step closer to world domination muahahahaha!  *achem* *cough cough* *looks around sheepishly*  Speaking of evil laughter, we’re here today to talk about the BIG BAD BADDIES: the most fearsome, loathsome, intriguing, wonderful, horrible MG villains in existence!

Question: Who is your favorite Middle Grade villain, and why?

Kate Kelly
RED ROCKthe-golden-compass-book-cover
Curious Fox/Capstone Young Readers
We need strong female role models, but although Mrs. Coulter is both female and strong, if you see her as a role model then I sincerely hope we never meet, for beneath that surface veneer of beauty and sophistication is a woman unutterably wicked and cruel. But even when she is at her most charming and bewitching her demon, a golden monkey, betrays her thoughts and cannot conceal her wickedness. It is her total belief in her own actions—cutting children from their demons for instance—that makes her so dangerous. Fear her.

Lauren Magaziner
I love antagonists who act like the protagonists of their own story. The Warden from Louis Sachar’s Holes is dangerous, selfish, conniving, calculating, temperamental, and just plain scary. But the thing I love about her is that she isn’t acting evil for the sake of being evil. She has a singular, clear ambition—one that was hammered into her brain as a child. After learning her story, we can truly understand how she became the villain that she is. The Warden is someone I understand and empathize with—but I don’t hate her any less for it. An excellent example of a realistic human villain—flawed and awful and glorious—on the page.

Michelle Schusterman
Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin
How can you not love an antagonist who’s also the protagonist? Artemis Fowl has the logic and forensic science know-how of Sherlock Holmes, the cool gadgetry of James Bond, and the evil brilliance of Lex Luther, all combined into one Armani-wearing teenage mastermind. And over the course of his 8-book series, Artemis exhibits some of the most incredible character growth in any middle grade novel I’ve ever read – particularly in The Time Paradox,when Artemis travels back in time to outwit his ten-year-old self, and learns how evil he truly was.

Rachel Searles
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
Joan Aiken is one of my favorite middle grade authors, and I adore her Wolves Chronicles, with their plucky orphan heroes and sinister Victorian villains. To me, none is more deliciously wicked than Miss Leticia Slighcarp from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. A governess who turns out to be a greedy and vicious con artist, when left in charge of the two heroines she proceeds to dismiss the staff, wear Lady Willoughy’s dresses, and lock the girls into closets for discipline. Her outrageous, blatant thievery makes it all the more satisfying when she finally receives her comeuppance!

Rebecca Behrens
The evilest villains aren’t the ones who cackle and swashbuckle, but those who pretend to be caring and good to sway their victims. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy’s saccharine Principal Lucretia Trapp smells like lilies and provides bottomless bowlfuls of candy for her dear students. She’s described by the main character, Lorelei, as “one of those adults who got kids. She really cared; it was there every time she looked at me.” I won’t tell you why Principal Trapp lures kids to Splendid Academy with delectable meals and crazy-fun playgrounds and zero rules, but I will tell you that her reason is totally wicked.

Robin Herrera
Amulet Books
The thing about the Wayside series is that there are so many great villains to choose from: Mrs. Gorf, Mr. Gorf, and Mrs. Drazil are all wonderfully terrible in their own right. But Miss Nogard is my favorite because no one knows she’s a villain except for the reader! And Sachar added just enough tragic backstory to make you feel sorry for her, if not openly root for her. Plus, she has a third ear and psychic powers! And like all great villains, she’s brought down by the power of love. D’aaaw.

Skila Brown
Candlewick Press
I’m going to have to go with Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. He’s just the right mix of tall, dark and evil, with a dash of comic relief.  Such a great character to read aloud! His voice has a sinister cadence to it, and you can’t help but laugh at every “DON’T BE AN IDJIT, SMEE!” as you’re reading. Prequels are always fun, and it’s great in this one to watch Captain Hook become a one-armed, Peter-Pan-hating, island-living villain.

Tara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARSa series of unfortunate events lemony snicket children young adults fantasy novel books
I’ve never been a big fan of stupid villains. If a villain is clever and creative, he forces the heroes to up their own games…and almost no one is more creative than Count Olaf in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events! He’ll do anything to get his greedy paws on the Baudelaire fortune—dress in drag, attempt to marry a 14-year-old, murder people—and while you kind of have to root against him, it’s undeniably fun to see what scheme or disguise he comes up with next.

Who’s your favorite (or least favorite) middle grade villain?  Which MG villain scared the living daylights out of you?  And which MG villain gave you nightmares for ALL TIME? Leave us a comment!  And remember: be sure to mention any future MG topics you want us to cover or MG questions you want us to answer!

Thanks for tuning in! Find us again on June 3rd! Muahahahaha!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches entirely too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like very chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those things is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her currently titleless MG debut—about a boy who secretly becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous witches who love Toecorn—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.