I’m excited to welcome author Kristin L. Gray to Cynsations today. Her latest middle-grade novel The Amelia Six (Paula Wiseman, 2020) has been hailed by Kirkus Reviews as “A cozy whodunit that cheerfully affirms girls’ and women’s contributions to aerospace.” In the above photo, Kristin is in Amelia Earhart’s childhood bedroom.
Congratulations on The Amelia Six! It’s being hailed as a celebration of women in STEM. Can you share your inspiration to write this story?
Sure! Thanks for your kind words. I’ve been a Cynsations reader for some time, so this interview is a thrill.
The Amelia Six is the result of a few things: my love of locked-room mysteries, my son’s competitive Rubik’s speedcubing, and a family road trip to the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas.
Originally, I had set out to research a nonfiction picture book idea, based on a little-known Amelia fact, but after talking to the caretaker, and falling in love with the historic Gothic Revival house, I knew this story was larger and more layered than my initial vision.
Regarding STEM, Amelia Earhart joined the faculty at Purdue University as a women’s career coach. She tirelessly championed for women to seek out careers in science and mathematics traditionally held by men. She encouraged women to try flying commercial. She lectured and wrote books and articles saying, “women must try to do things as men have tried.”
Around the same time as our trip to Atchison, I attended a few Rubik’s Cube competitions with my son. Imagine two hundred or more elementary to teenage boys crowded into a room, laughing and trading puzzles. Then, off to the side, two or three girls sit quietly, waiting for their race to start.
At one competition, one girl in particular stood out, and I thought, I want to write a book for her. And Millie was born.
The Amelia Six is your fourth published book for young readers, following the picture books Rover Throws a Party, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Knopf, 2020), and Koala is not a Bear, illustrated by Rachel McAlister (Sterling, 2019), and middle-grade novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (Paula Wiseman, 2017).
Tell us about the creation timeline. Did you write them in the order they published, did you work on more than at a time?
I did write them in the order they were published. The Amelia Six sold on a partial, so my editor had to wait for me to produce a full draft. I wrote Rover while waiting to hear if my editor would acquire Amelia!
I usually try to have one big project going with a couple of shorter stories on the side. You never know which project will find a home first. Plus, if I get stuck on the novel (it happens), I can always work on a picture book text. Small progress is still progress.
How has your writing evolved over time?
Like many new writers, I started out in picture books. I would check out a tall stack at my local library (usually books by Grace Lin, Tammi Sauer, Ame Dyckman), lug them home, and study, study, study.
Picture books are deceptively tricky. Fitting a whole story arc into so few words is not an easy task.
And after a rejection on one revise-and-resubmit, an editor kindly nudged me to try writing something longer. It took me a bit to work up the courage, but as it turns out, middle-grade stories are my sweet spot. Lesson learned: Try new things!
What is your best advice for debut authors?
Congratulations! Celebrate each success. Find a small circle of trusted writing friends; they will be your saving grace. Start your next book now, don’t wait. It was much harder for me to begin Book Two while promoting, and seeing reviews for, Book One.
I struggled (still do) with comparison but distancing myself from social media helped. There is no right or wrong way to write a book. Remember to take breaks as needed. Writing is not an easy path, but my gosh, we are beyond lucky to do what we do.
Read books, in and out of your genre. Classics are great, but to understand the current market, pay attention to recent works.
What interests you? What sets your heart on fire? Write about that.
Rubik’s speedcubing is definitely not trending in literature. But it’s a quirky hobby my kid loves. No one else (I don’t think) would have thought to mash that skill set with a mystery about Amelia Earhart.
What I’m saying is: Your story is as unique as you. Only you can write your ideas in your voice. So, keep going. I have written books which won’t see the light of day. Some of my stories need reworking but hold promise. It’s all part of the writing life. Embrace it.
Kristin L. Gray is the author of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (which Publishers Weekly called a “sensitive and uplifting coming-of-age journey”) and The Amelia Six. Kristin loves to read, walk her dogs, and eat cake for breakfast. Her fourth-grade self would never believe she has five children, two dogs, one fish, a bearded dragon, and a shy gecko. She lives in northwest Arkansas. To learn more about Kristin, or to send her a cake, visit her online at KristinLGray.com.
Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.