Thursday, January 22, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: KATIE SPARKS (author of Reality Natalie)

Hello readers: I'm so excited to bring you my interview of Katie Sparks––a wonderful middle-grade author who also happens to be my friend and amazing critique partner! I had the pleasure of reading this book in all stages––from inception to publication. It's soooo super cute, funny, and authentic - just like the author herself!

Where did you get the idea for Reality Natalie?

About 5 or 6 years ago, I was completely enthralled with all of the reality shows that were popping up on TV. They ranged from singing competitions and talent shows to cooking or bake offs and clothing designer contests. The list became endless. But one thing I noticed was that none of them were for little kids. At the time, I believe the youngest person who could audition for American Idol, had to be 16. However, I knew that despite these rules, some of those watching these shows were kids!  From that realization, I thought about a girl who was obsessed with reality television.

Thus, Reality Natalie was born!

Describe how you created characters that speak and act so authentically.

I combed through my story several times and tried to find areas where I explained something in my voice instead of how an 11-year-old might see it, and tweaked them. For example, every time Natalie notices her parents look at each other in thought, she wonders if it’s some sort mind-reading skill you get when you are get married. 

People always say that kids say the darndest things and it’s true! The hardest part is getting yourself to remember what it was like at that age and to see the world through their eyes. Finding your character’s voice and keeping it consistent throughout helps make your story stronger and more authentic sounding.

What type of revisions did you make after FIREDRAKE acquired it? Were there any you didn't agree with?

My publisher and I went through several rounds of edits looking for various things at each time. The first time around we looked for the global, large-scale edits like red herrings, loose ends or plot points that didn’t work or make sense. Natalie has a blog that she enjoys so I had to make sure the timing for each of her posts were correct and made sense.

At one point in the revision stage, we had a conversation whether or not one of my characters was being too hard or too soft on another. My publisher and I talked it over and I decided to revise it based on some of our talking points. What came out of that is a stronger, well-rounded scene that satisfied both my publisher and myself, and rang true for the characters.

What advice do you have for other middle-grade authors seeking publication?

My advice pertains more to the writing than the act of trying to get published. Middle grade is a tough audience to write for. Your characters are out of the “baby stage” but not quite a young adult. Their main focus is typically their friends and family and the surrounding world around them. It’s also very important to keep in mind the middle grade voice.

What are you working on now?

I always have several projects up my sleeve. It helps me to bounce and back forth between them so I don’t get too stuck on one. Plus, it helps drum up ideas. For me, and I’m sure for many writers, taking a break from one WIP for a bit and then coming back to it later with fresh eyes can really help. Right now, I’m working on a couple new middle grade novels, one possibly with series potential. They are very different concepts; one is serious and the other is more fairy-tale related. I also am trying my hand at a few different picture book ideas. It’s always been a big goal of mine to publish a picture book! 


What do you love most about being published? This might sound cheesy, but I really like seeing my name on a published book. There are a million other exciting things about being published but since I was a little girl I’ve already wanted to experience that moment where I held a book in my hands and this time, my name was it.

Who was your favorite character and why?  I relate a lot to Natalie since I share many of her qualities, but I grew to love Robbie Lovelton, a secondary character in the book. He isn’t quite a class-clown, but nonetheless, is a boy in Natalie’s class that enjoys getting on her nerves. Despite his quirks, he is endearing and even funny at times.  I’ve even begun thinking of writing a story from his perspective, but that’s just a thought right now!

Where and when do you write?  I don’t have a specific time that I write, but I have found that middle of the day works well for me. I also try to carve out time after work at a coffee shop to write. It forces me to focus and there are fewer distractions than home. Otherwise, I enjoy getting up early on the weekend, making coffee and writing before the craziness of the day begins.

Do you have a muse, music, or certain drink you must have while writing? Coffee, coffee, coffee! I wish could listen to music but that ends up being a distraction for me. I’ll start singing the words and totally lose my train of thought!

Katie Sparks and her cat, Moe
Dogs or cats? Why? I love dogs, but I’m going to have to go with cats. I have a very vocal cat, Moe, at home who actually acts more like a dog. She’s crazy, but I love her!

Favorite recent MG books (besides yours of course!) from past three years: I really enjoy reading the books listed on the Rebecca Caudill list each other. I don’t get to all of them but I try! Some that have really stuck out for me recently include Every Soul a Star, Mockingbird and Out of My Mind.

Favorite MG of all time: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babitt (turned 40 this year!). I read this book when I was younger and just fell in the love with the characters and the story.  Who wouldn’t want to be immortal? 


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