Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!
Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Kat Zhang! We sat down* with Kat to chat about her new novel, THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS. (*emailed because geography and technology)
Hello, Kat! For our readers who haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, would you mind giving a brief overview of THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS?
Of course! The Memory of Forgotten Things is about Sophia, a twelve-year-old girl with some very strange memories–memories of things that never happened. Her mother passed away when Sophia was only six years old, yet she remembers celebrating her tenth birthday with her, or making a nativity with her the year she turned seven. For years, she’s lived with these confusing memories as she and her father struggle to cope in the aftermath of her mother’s death.
Then she discovers that another boy in her class has similar memories–only his are about a step-father whom he’s never met. When the two of them realize they were born on the same day, the day a partial eclipse shadowed their little town, they and a third classmate team up to figure out what these strange memories really mean–and if they have the opportunity to reclaim the people who are lost to them.
The concept of this story is amazing. What sparked the idea behind it?
Thank you! There were a lot of little things that went into this book, so it’s hard to pick out the one initial “spark.” I wanted to tell a story about grief, and how hard it is to move on from grief–and the ways, both big and small, that it can affect people. I also wanted to tell a story about the things in life, good and bad, that make us who we are. And how, even if presented with an opportunity to change our pasts–it might not be as easy a choice as it seems.
One of my favourite things about middle grade is the friendships. What was your favourite friendship moment between Sophia, D.J., and Luke. (That you can give in a spoiler free way. :D)
It’s probably the scene where the trio confront a bunch of older kids at Donway Shallows, an old mill at the edge of town. They’ve arrived there near the start of their acquaintance, trying to solve this mystery but still not entirely sure of their feelings toward one another. Sophia and Luke, especially, are still somewhat antagonistic. But when push comes to shove, they band together and look out for each other, and by the end of the scene, they’re much more a team than they were before.
When you sit down to write a book with alternate realities, what kind of planning goes into it? How do you keep everything straight?
I did a good bit of research into various theories about parallel universes while I was writing the book. Most of that research didn’t make it directly onto the page, but I think it’s useful information to have floating around your head as you’re writing. I won’t go too much into the “alternative” world (for fear of spoilers!) but it wasn’t too hard to keep things straight. It was really interesting to imagine how things might be different in an alternative version of Sophia’s life!
This is not like your traditional mystery story where the reader can follow along with a detective as they sort out the clues. How did you figure out how to pepper in clues in a way that would keep your reader guessing, but still create a path that makes sense when they look back?
For me, this is always the hardest part of writing a mystery, and the most satisfying part of reading one! It’s hard to know as a writer which of your clues are too vague and subtle, and which make the answer too obvious. I think having critique partners and other early readers weigh in is really important for this sort of thing. Often, I’ll think: “Wow, that line of dialogue was probably way too obvious and gave everything away!” but my readers won’t think so at all!
THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS is a mix of a few different genres. As a writer, what’s the most appealing part of a genre mash-up for you?
The freedom! While it can be really fun to write a book that sits squarely in one genre, I think there’s even more room to surprise your readers when your book mixes different genres. It adds a touch of something new and exciting, and hopefully the end-result is the best of all worlds!
You started out writing young adult novels. What made you want to dive into middle grade?
Writing for YA and MG audiences is equally wonderful, but different in many ways. On the whole, MG novels tend to be more family/friends-based, while YA novels often have a romantic storyline (or at least subplot). I also feel like MG novels allow a little more room for whimsy, and for telling stories that are very much contained in the main characters’ own immediate lives, rather than stories that are more about the larger world.
These aspects of MG were really important to me as I wrote my first MG novel, The Emperor’s Riddle, and The Memory of Forgotten Things. Certain stories make sense at certain ages, I think, and these books just wouldn’t have been the same if they’d involved older characters, or were directed at an older audience.
I appreciate middle grade books that help kids tackle heavy topics. Grief is an especially hard issue for people at any age. What was it like for you to create a world that dealt with such an emotional topic.
I think it can be really hard to try to tackle a big topic like “grief” or “love” if you try to write a story that encompasses all aspects of that topic. While writing Memory, I tried to keep larger themes in mind (and “grief” was definitely one of them!), but the main focus was always on Sophia’s personal story. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, and I knew I couldn’t cover each and every one of them–I just needed to write what was true and meaningful for Sophia and her father.
I think books are a wonderful way to introduce kids to heavy topics, or to help facilitate a conversation. And I think that kids usually have much greater understanding about these sorts of topics than adults give them credit for. I never felt like I had to hold back or “soften” anything in Memory because it was “for kids,” and I hope that young readers will see themselves in Sophia and her friends.
Our readers love discovering new books so tell us about one of your favourite recent reads?
This is a Young Adult book, but I recently finished Strange the Dreamer, and I can’t wait for the sequel! As for Middle Grade, I’m about to start Beyond the Bright Sea, which I’ve heard great things about.
And lastly, what’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Work hard, be brave, and be kind 🙂
Truly excellent advice! Thank you so much for joining us, Kat!
Kat Zhang spent most of her childhood tramping through a world weaved from her favorite stories and games. When she and her best friend weren’t riding magic horses or talking to trees, they were writing adaptations of plays for their stuffed animals (what would The Wizard of Oz have been like if the Cowardly Lion were replaced by a Loquacious Lamb?). This may or may not explain many of Kat’s quirks today.
By the age of twelve, Kat had started her first novel and begun plans for her life as a Real Live Author (she was rather more confident at twelve than she is even now). Said plans didn’t come into fruition until seven years later, when her agent sold her Young Adult trilogy, The Hybrid Chronicles, to HarperCollins. The series, about a parallel universe where everyone is born with two souls, concluded in 2014.
She is also the author of the middle grade novels THE EMPEROR’S RIDDLE and THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS and the upcoming picture book, AMY WU & THE PERFECT BAO.
Add THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS on Goodreads!
Click here to win a copy of THE MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN THINGS!
The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.
Tune in next Monday for a guest post from Casey Lyall!