Author Interview: Kathryn Lay on Crown Me

Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay (Holiday House, 2004). From the flap copy: “Justin has always wanted to be a leader. He envisions himself as President of the United States–but he’ll have to start with the fifth grade class of Payton Middle School. He’s helped along by a new project in Mr. Bailey’s history class, where one boy and one girl are appointed king and queen for two weeks. The other students are their subjects who must obey or be punished. There are jesters and knights to be chosen. A dungeon to be built. Chaos erupts as Justin and his followers interrupts the PTA meeting. And a bicycle joust decides whether Justin will keep his crown, or lose it to the bully of fifth grade, Badger Crabtree. Look out world, here comes King Justin!” Ages 8-up.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Every year my family and I go to Scarborough Faire, a rennaisance festival. Several years ago I watched a kid, about 10, standing in front of the King, hands on hips and saying, “If I was King of my school, I’d make everyone obey me, we’d have pizza in class every day, and no homework on weekends!”

So, I got to wondering…what would a kid do if he was king of fifth grade for a couple of weeks and it went from there.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

About 6 1/2 years from when I got the idea until it was published.

After writing it, I entered the first chapters in a contest and it won. The judge, a published author, said she definitely felt it was publishable. I sent it out over a two year period, getting lots of good rejections, but no sale. Then an editor asked to see the whole manuscript after looking at a few chapters.

During a long year of waiting for response on it, an online friend kindly referred me to her agent. After she accepted me as a client, she worked on trying to get a decision from the publisher who had King of Fifth Grade. After a few more months of declared interest and promises to make a decision, my agent pulled the book.

With her wonderful insights, she suggested I change the book from third to first person. When we’d completed rewrites, she sent the book to Holiday House to an editor I’d met at a SCBWI conference and two months later we got an acceptance!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Making it funny with modern issues using medieval issues (jousting, feasts, a dungeon, and so on). Creating a character who is so into politics when it’s definitely not my area. The variety of rewrites on my own, with my agent, and after acceptance.

Overall, this was a fun book to write and plan, the final sale was smooth and rewrite suggestions from my editors (the original editor left before final rewrites were done) were helpful. It was a great first book experience.

Cynsational Notes

Kathryn is also the author of The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer ( Publishing, 2004) and regional advisor for NE/NC Texas SCBWI.

Cynsational News & Links

BookTalk with Lynn Rubright, author of Mama’s Window (Lee & Low).

The Brothers Grimm: a CBC teacher movie review by Katrina Kearney.

Greg Leitich Smith recommends Wizards at War by Diane Duane (Harcourt, 2005).

Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature: “The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children’s Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004.” From the Alaska Native Knowledge Nework.