Friday, November 19, 2010

Big Boys Don't Spy

Today, I have a special treat for you. The author of "Big Boys Don't Spy" has stopped by to answer a few questions about her work.

I first met Karen at an SCBWI conference eight years ago when we were both placed in a peer critique group. We clicked and shared manuscripts for over two years. During that time I was privileged to read the first versions of "Big Boys Don't Spy." I loved the main character then and he remains with me still. I hope you enjoy him, too.

So, Karen, can you tell us your latest news?

Absolutely. I’m very excited to share the news that my second middle grade novel, BIG BOYS DON’T SPY, a humorous story about a twelve-year-old boy obsessed with spying, has just hit the shelves. Although this is my second book published, it was the first children’s book I actually wrote—with the help of my three boys. And I must add my eldest, Thomas—a huge spy fan at the time, worked with me every step of the way (Thanks, Thomas!!).  It is available at most major bookstores and online at, Barnes and and also in the UK— (as I am British, for me this is particularly cool. Finally, my mum’s pals can get to buy my book!).

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Easy answer. Timothy Roland, the author of the Comic Guy series (Scholastic, Inc). As well as being a great writer, Tim is hardworking, dedicated, a very supportive friend and an inspiration. I met Timothy at a SCBWI retreat where we participated in a Red Eye critique—you never know whom you will meet at these conferences and who will help you on your road to publication.

What was your first published title and what was it about?
If we’re talking about novel length, then that would be my middle grade humorous Civil War ghost mystery: THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE, about a sixth grade boy, Jake Salmon, who believes there’s a murderer prowling about in his basement. But, Jake soon discovers the crazy guy is in fact the ghost of Thomas Garnet, a Confederate soldier hanged as a Union spy on the oak in Jake’s front yard, and in the hope of reaching his next birthday, Jake has to find out what the ghost wants, and why now.

4. What inspired you to write your first book?

An old gnarly tree in the Manassas National Battlefield Park. I was there with my sons who had begged me to let them have time away from their Xbox in favor of some fresh air and a dose of history (we can all dream). And while we were there, I got chatting with the curator. Actually, I was trying to divert his attention from my boys who were reenacting the battle of Second Manassas over who could spit the furthest. We were standing under this wizened oak and the curator mentioned that any tree that has been around for a long time is called a witness tree because of all the battles it had witnessed. This struck a chord with me. So, I had a dilemma. Story about two brothers who break the world record for spitting, or a Civil War ghost story. I went with the ghost story.

 How long did your journey take to publication and what were some significant events along the way?
Wow, these are great questions. THE WITNESS TREE AND THE SHADOW OF THE NOOSE took me around nine months to write, three months, to edit and another six months to gain the interest of a publisher. Significant events would be the reams of rejections that to my surprise didn’t agree with me that Jake Salmon, my protagonist, was the next Harry Potter without the wand, the weird scar, oh, and the magical abilities. But, Jake had his own Civil War ghost as a roommate—and that’s pretty cool, right?

Another significant moment, at least for me, was that while I was reading the unpublished manuscript, one chapter a week, to my son’s then fifth grade class at Poplar Tree Elementary, I got the call from the publisher that they wanted to publish the book. This was so exciting, as I got to announce the news to the children, and it was wonderful to see they were almost as excited as I was. I acknowledge the whole class in the front of the book, so the kids all got to see their first names in print.

Who/what were your sources of inspiration along the way? How did it/ he/she/they help you the most?

I’d have to say my boys. They believed in me, all the way. Plus they were, and are, a bottomless pit of funny, gross, heartwarming, and at times fantastical stories.

 What was the best thing about getting your first book published?
Getting to give author presentations to school. I love, love, love talking to the kids, answering their questions and listening to their youthful creativity.

What was the hardest thing?
Letting Jake go out into the world by himself. To be judged and devoured without me by his side.  But, I’m sure he’ll be fine. He does have his little brother Danny by his side despite the fact that Jake thinks Danny’s obsession with the Civil War is kind of disturbing.

What is your most recently released book or upcoming book? What is it about?

Remember the injustice of being twelve, when five-year-old monsters were considered cute, no one cared about your opinion, and teenagers, like aliens from another planet, scared the pants off you? Welcome to Will Wand’s world.

Set in the Washington DC suburbs, with the CIA Headquarters around the corner, Will has his first assignment—to save the world, or at least to uncover the mole in his mother’s advertising company. Will strongly suspects his bossy, annoying cousin, Penelope, visiting from the UK, is a double agent, and when he finds her diary written in code, he knows he’s onto something. The story is full of suspense, cool codes, and lots of humor…but if I tell you any more, he’ll have to kill you.

How have you changed from your first published book to now?
Well, I’m older. Not sure if I’m any wiser (jk). I have to think twice about dying my hair different shades according to the weather since my bio picture is plastered all over my book.  Seriously, I don’t feel that different. I was a writer before I was published and I’m still a writer.

What are your current projects?

I’m trying my hand at Young Adult. With three teenage boys and a golden doodle named Portia who just turned two--which in dog years makes her fourteen--my house is overflowing with teen drama, so I kind of had to go there. I finished my first YA novel a couple of months ago and the manuscript is currently with my agent. I am now working on a follow up YA and have a zillion middle grade plot ideas fighting for my time.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Buy my new book. Hahah. In all seriousness, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for allowing me to share in your free time with my stories.

 Bit of wisdom to share:
Winston Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” And to that I would add: keep your sense of humor, your sense of priorities, and enjoy the ride.

 And for fun, something that not a lot of people know about you:
I LOVE to scooter. Not the electric powered ones, but the manual kick-your-foot-along as you go kind. True, I’ve fallen a few times—the last time I smashed my forehead on the curb—not a good look, trust me. But I was wearing a helmet—despite the fact it gives you terrible hat-hair, just terrible. But I don’t think anyone saw me, so I think I got away with it. Phew. 

Thanks for the info. Karen. Hope "Big Boys Don't Spy" is a huge success!


  1. Congrats, Karen! I might just have to pick this one up for my youngest. It sounds like his kind of thing. I'm always looking for good *boy* stories.

  2. Gwen:

    Pick it up. You'll really like it, and so will young readers, both boys and girls. Thanks for posting a comment.



Fall Frenzy Writing Contest 2020

 I entered this last year and it was a great writing experience. This year’s rules: 1. Choose a fall image from Lydia Lukidis’s blog