ONE FOUR KIDS: Interview with Kate Hannigan, Author of CUPCAKE COUSINS

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I had the great pleasure of interviewing OneFourKidLit author Kate Hannigan, whose middle grade novel, CUPCAKE COUSINS, debuts today! About the book:

Cupcake Cousins Cover medium file“Meet Willow Sweeney and Delia Dees, cousins who are embarking on their annual summer vacation together to the sleepy beach town of Saugatuck, Michigan, and the old Victorian house called Whispering Pines. Willow and Delia love gathering with the aunts and uncles, grandparents and kids all together for one fantastic week every August. But this year is special. Aunt Rosie is getting married, and she’s asked Willow and Delia to be her flower girls.

“But who ever heard of fourth-grade flower girls? Willow and Delia want to avoid those babyish pink dresses at all costs. They’d much rather beflour girls instead and prove themselves to the whole family – and to the intimidating new caterer at Whispering Pines – by whipping up some amazing dishes in the kitchen. But their cooking plans have a tendency to go awry, and culinary chaos ensues.”

Order Cupcake Cousins now from your local independent bookseller. Or visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble to get your copy today!

CH: When did you first decide to pursue writing? How did you decide on middle grade books? What do you find most appealing about them? Do you write in other genres as well?

KH: I’ve identified myself as a writer since I was in grade school. I think I first became hooked on storytelling and creating my own worlds in Mrs. Tucker’s third-grade class, when we wrote our own Encyclopedia Brown stories complete with surprise endings. I was obsessed!

I write for the reader I was then, attracted to wacky characters and adventures. I think middle-grade is where the truths are. It’s full of heart and honesty and searching. I’ve tried my hand at picture books, but they are so difficult! I find it hard to distill my thoughts down to a few hundred words! I like how we can stretch out in middle-grade and have a bit more room to say what we want.

Dune staircase

Down the bluff staircase to the dunes and Lake Michigan near Saugatuck, Michigan, where the story is set.

CH: The setting of the story really comes alive—I would say it earns a place as honorary character. How did your own childhood vacations/experiences contribute to the story?

KH: It’s funny, there are many really important things in my day-to-day functioning that I should be able to remember but cannot. But I can recall the way our Volare station wagon smelled when I was a kid, and what the green plastic seats felt like in the summertime. I can remember what it was like to run barefoot on crabgrass when we played outside in the evenings in my neighborhood. So many things about summer vacations and being a kid are right there in the front of my mind. These memories do seem to make it into my stories.

I spent a great deal of time outside when I was growing up in Oklahoma. When I think of today’s kids, who spend much of their days indoors and experience the world via screen instead of their five senses, I feel like something is being lost. So when I wrote Cupcake Cousins, I wanted to conjure up those sensations. I want readers to think about watching a sunset or sunrise and maybe feel compelled to go do it themselves. By including a lot of tactile things – picking blueberries, playing on the sand, getting up before the sun rises – I wanted to remind kids that it’s all still out there for them to explore and experience.

malted milkball cake

Kate’s malted milk ball cake at Christmas

CH: Do you cook? If so, what’s your specialty? Are the recipes your own creations? Do you have a favorite dish/type of cuisine? Tell us about your worst kitchen disaster.

KH: I do love to cook! It’s the best time for letting my mind wander and sort of plot out my next project. I am not a big meat-eater, so I tend to cook a lot of Thai, Chinese, and Indian fare. My kids call my various pots “Mom’s veggie concoctions.” I’m more like the Willow character in the book, throwing things into the mix and winging it, rather than like her more precise cousin, Delia, who measures things and plans out.

For Cupcake Cousins, I messed around with recipes and tested them out on my kids, who were willing guinea pigs! They patiently endured having to eat multiple batches of cupcakes and whoopee pies and peach pancakes.

And like the cousins in the book, I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters. So many, in fact, that I don’t even know which to share here. Fires on the stovetop, explosions in the microwave, adding cooking oil instead of water and making a wide hockey puck rather than a chocolate cake. My best cooking disaster is probably the time I poked a wooden spoon into the blender and wound up with woodchips in my batter. That dish was for a young man whose heart I was trying to win, and since he wound up marrying me, I guess it wasn’t a complete disaster!

CH: Do you envision any more adventures for Willow and Delia?

KH: Plenty! And Disney-Hyperion has asked for two more, so Cupcake Cousins is officially a three-book series. Willow and Delia are very clear in my mind, so I feel like I can return to them again and again.

CH: Do you have a writing routine? What’s your favorite place/time of day for writing?

 KH: I am a weirdly superstitious person, so I have a few rituals that are much too embarrassing to share. But I do tend to sit in the same spot at my kitchen table when I write, using the same mug for tea or the occasional decaf (which I put in the same spot near my laptop). I have a desk in a downstairs office that I use to, so I choose one or the other for long stretches.

As an online writer and editor, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work from home. So I get everything done while my kids are in school, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. When I was working on Cupcake Cousins, that meant getting up sometimes at 4 a.m. to work on the manuscript before sitting down to the day job. Lately I’ve been able to shift to writing books full-time. But I still like writing in the mornings, when the whole house is asleep, even my dog. After 3 p.m., I run a chauffeur service.

CH: Any advice for aspiring writers?

KH: Read. Read everything. Read the books you want to write, and really study how the authors did it. Even take a passage that moves you, and write it down, so it flows from your head, through your fingers, and onto the page. You get a sense of how the author did it, and you can take that feeling and make it your own with your own words.

CH: What did you find most surprising about the process of getting published?

 KH: That. It. Moves. So. Slowly.

I used to work in newspapers, which was thrilling. The work you did in the newsroom was there in the next morning’s paper. You read it over breakfast! But with books, it can be a few years between an editor acquiring a book and the finished product sitting in your hands. The result is still a complete thrill! But the journey is a long one. And my personality is more like, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” So I wound up starting other projects along the way.

CH: Willow dreamed of becoming a chef. What would you tell a real-life 10-year-old who is having doubts or fears about pursuing a dream?

KH: Just stick with it! Sometimes it might seem that the people who are so successful got there quickly and easily. But that’s rarely the case. They were at it every day. And when you’re doing something you love and value, it doesn’t feel like work.

And do not be afraid to make mistakes. How does a baby figure out how to walk? She falls down. A lot. Babies fall down spectacularly. But before long, they get the hang of it, and they move on to skipping and jumping and galloping and running. The same will happen to you.

Kate Hannigan Head Shot smallLearn more about the fabulous and talented Kate Hannigan at katehannigan.com.

Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading about the creatures that curl your toes, the legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Christine lives near Chicago with her family, her dog, Chewie, and a house full of quirky vintage objects that she secretly hopes might be haunted. Her MG suspense novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, debuts spring 2015 with Roaring Brook/Macmillan. Follow her on Twitter.
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