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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kirsten Miller: The Mysterious Writer Behind Kiki Strike

sidewalk art by Hani, corner of 79th and 5th Avenue, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 23, 2007


HOW TO PREPARE FOR AN INTERVIEW WITH KIRSTEN MILLER

1. Read Kirsten Miller's books. This can be more of a challenge if you have a nine-year-old who thinks the book covers are cool and loves the stories. And if said daughter notices a Kiki Strike book on the kitchen table, she'll stash it away, even if she knows her mom is reading the book. And if you run around the house thinking you misplaced the book, until you find four books--two copies of each book (library and own copies) under daughter's pillow during a laundry run, you know this nine-year-old may very well be on her way to becoming an honorary Irregular. (The Irregular's logo is both sassy and graceful--see side picture. Betty Bent "designed it to look like a girl in motion.")

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, Kirsten's debut novel, was released in June 2006. If you yearn to read a clever story about a group of misfit girls, who use their talents and smarts in dangerous but productive ways, look no further. This book takes resourcefulness, mystery, urban intrigue, and action to another level for girl books...so much that boys will enjoy reading the Kiki Strike books as well.

Plus when you add ingenious lists to be savored at the end of certain chapters, you've got a creative How to Be a Dangerous Super-Sleuth Mastermind Survival Guide that kids and adults will love to study and put to use in their daily adventures.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City has been recognized as a Washington Post "Best Book of the Year" 2006, a Teenreads "Best Book of the Year" 2006, a San Francisco Chronicle "Best Book of the Year" 2006, a Girl’s Life Top Ten Read, an ALA "Best Book for Young Adults" 2007, and an International Reading Association 2007 Children’s Book Award Notable Book.

The second book in the series, Kiki Strike: The Empress's
Tomb
was released in October 2007. This is one of the few times I enjoyed a second book in a series more than the first book. To be fair, I read The Empress's Tomb first, which by the way works very well as a stand alone story.

This book was what made me ask Kirsten if she would agree to an interview with me. How she managed to combine giant squirrels, a haunted mansion, secrets, a love interest, an estranged father/daughter relationship, underground tunnels, New York City, school, art, six quirky friends and a whole lot more in a story that is so fun to read, is beyond me.

2. Check out the Kiki Strike website. Try not to drool as you view a kick-butt website that is an amazing resource of odd and fascinating information. There are also fun sound effects, a Shadow City Store where you can buy cool t-shirts, and an interactive quiz to find out if "you have what it takes to be an Irregular." Try not to be surprised when you take said quiz and come out as Kiki Strike three times, no matter how you answer a few of the questions.

Make a note to tell people about Kirsten's new contest. Create the best portrait of Iris McLeod for Ananka's Diary Two Year Anniversary Contest. Deadline is March 4, 2008. Details here.

3. Marvel at how the only author information you can find on said website is fine-tuned to one sentence. Follow the link to a great interview.

4. Google Kirsten Miller. Note how many Kirsten Millers are out there, including a South African author, an actress, a dancer, and an attorney. Hmmm...kind of like Kiki Strike. Very mysterious.

All I can say is Kirsten Miller has a fantastic imagination and I look forward to her next book. I am totally hooked on the Kiki Strike series and would recommend them to anyone.

When I checked my library system, which covers 35 towns, I found that a good 75% of the libraries shelved the Kiki Strike books in the YA section. The other 25 % shelved the books in the MG section. I didn't have a problem with my nine-year-old reading the books. While she needed help reading the books at times, the parts she loved most about the Kiki Strike books were the underground tunnels, the lists and the mystery. And if my reluctant reader was willing to sit and read these books...I'm just saying.

Without further ado, it is my pleasure to welcome Kirsten Miller...
-----------------

HWM: What made you realize you wanted to write children’s books? How did you get your “break” into getting published?
Kirsten:
I write children’s books? Kidding. The truth is, I never set out to write fiction for young people. I started writing Kiki Strike to entertain myself. (As you might have guessed, I’m a little strange.) In fact, I wish there were more cross over between the worlds of “fiction” and “young adult” fiction. A good story should appeal to everyone.

As for my “break,” it was pure, dumb luck. Once I realized I was writing a book, I sent the first few chapters to a friend of a friend who was working at Bloomsbury. They ended up publishing it. From what I’ve heard, it almost never happens that way. I just got lucky.

HWM: Tell me what inspired the Kiki Strike series.
Kirsten:
The series is the result of a million little inspirations. People I’ve known. (My best friend in the sixth grade was a girl named Linda Strike. We were convinced that one of my neighbors was a serial killer.) Places I’ve been. (I always try to visit any underground sites whenever I travel to new cities or countries.) Skills I’ve learned. (My siblings and I used to lock each other in rooms, so I learned how to pick locks at a fairly early age.)

But I suppose the biggest inspiration was New York City. I moved here when I was seventeen, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. It’s one of the few places on Earth where you never know what you’ll find around the next corner.

HWM: I love Ananka’s voice (the narrator of the Kiki Strike books). When did you know you had the right voice for her?
Kirsten:
Thanks. I wanted her to feel like an older friend or sister—someone who knows the ropes but is still young enough to encourage a little “naughtiness” here and there. When I was younger, I often felt as if many kids’ books were written by adults who were pandering to their readers. (Or trying to teach them a lesson.) I wanted to avoid that at all costs.

HWM: My apologies ahead of time if I'm all wrong on this, but I have to ask you this since I've read criticisms where people have thought Ananka sounded too old to be a twelve-year-old. I was surprised because I thought an 18-year-old Ananka was remembering the past six years as she told the story.
Kirsten: No, you're absolutely right. Ananka is narrating the book as an 18-year-old. It goes back to that "older sister/friend" voice. I thought 18 was young enough to stir up some trouble yet old enough to possess a more sophisticated view of the world.

HWM: Did you test out Ananka’s lists of how to’s?
Kirsten:
Of course! And I use them every day. But I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you. I wouldn’t want to tip-off my enemies.

HWM: I understand you’re working on a third book featuring Betty Bent. What can you tell me?
Kirsten:
It’s going to be amazing! (Seriously. I’m really excited.) Kiki must fight the forces of evil in order to claim the throne of Pokrovia. Betty gets a few lessons on what it means to be a “lady.” Eventually, the two plot lines collide in the tunnels under Paris.

The book will feature secret societies, etiquette lessons, escargot, potential cures for female baldness, and at least one love triangle.


HWM: What are the challenges in writing a series?
Kirsten:
I think it’s easy to become dependant on a “formula” when writing a series. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that the first book in a series is usually the best. But I’ve tried very hard to ensure that each of the Kiki Strike books is able to stand alone. In fact, there are quite a few people who’ve said that The Empress’s Tomb is even better than Kiki Strike. (I think it’s just different.) But I do believe that Book 3 will be the best of the bunch. And it will certainly be quite different in terms of plot and structure.

HWM: I love your website. It’s creative, very cool and also mysterious since there isn’t any information about you in it. Most authors want to have their name linked with their books. Why did you decide to forego this?
Kirsten:
I’ve always been a “behind the scenes” kinda girl, I suppose. I’m happy to let the Irregulars bask in the spotlight. Besides, I was given the gift of a truly “anonymous” name. (Have you ever googled Kirsten Miller?) I’m intent on reaping the benefits!

HWM: What other projects are you working on?
Kirsten:
I’ve been writing a book for a slightly older audience. It’s a dark thriller / romance that follows a girl who begins to discover some rather unusual things about herself. And it’s probably one of the few stories that bridges the worlds of Appalachian trailer parks and New York society.

HWM: What do you like writing the most: the beginning, middle or end? Why?
Kirsten:
With each book, there’s always a magical day when you feel as if you’ve finally built up the perfect amount of momentum. You know your characters inside and out, you know where they’re going, and all you need to do is put it all down on paper. I love that feeling!

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?

Kirsten:
Discovering that I wouldn’t get to choose the covers of my books! (I think that comes as a shock to a lot of authors.) For a self-professed control freak, it was a painful realization.

HWM: If you could share any unique writing tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Kirsten:
First, convince yourself you can do it. Then sit still long enough to get it all down on paper. See, the true secret to writing is what I call “butt power.” It’s the ability to sit on one’s butt for extended periods of time, just staring at the computer screen. If you sit there long enough, a fabulous idea is bound to come your way.

HWM: I love Ananka’s Diary. How long does it take for you to research interesting things for this blog?
Kirsten:
Thanks again. I put a lot of time into the blog. (Too much, one might say.) But I generally write about things that have always interested me. (Aliens, ghosts, carnivorous plants, giant squid, Bigfoot, graffiti, underground worlds, etc.) Some posts require a bit of research, but for the most part, I’m usually quite familiar with the subjects.

Of course, my readers also send me some pretty amazing tips. No matter how much you think you know, there are always new things to learn about!

HWM: I discovered The Columbia Conspiracy, written by Ananka as an eighteen-year-old, on your website. How often do you add to the Chapters? Are you creating the backstory for the end of the series?
Kirsten:
I haven't been adding any chapters lately. It began as an experiment in writing a serialized short story on the AD blog, but I got a little too into it, I suppose. I may very well add more adventures at some point.

The Columbia Conspiracy isn't technically backstory. It takes place long after the Kiki Strike and Empress's Tomb adventures, when Ananka's an 18-year-old freshman at Columbia University. I thought it would be fun to jump back and forth in time a bit, and reassure readers that Ananka and her friends didn't get boring in their old age.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Kirsten:
My sister. She has the most ribald, disgusting sense of humor imaginable. Whenever we would sit down for a family dinner, she’d have everyone (literally) choking with laughter. I try to pay her back by adding little details into my book that are designed to make her pee her pants. (The reference to an unfortunate disorder known as Black Hairy Tongue for instance. We were obsessed with it as kids.) HWM note: pg. 154, Inside the Shadow City.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Kirsten: Actually, the superhero I’ve always admired most is Batman. 100% human, he wasn’t born with any special powers. He didn’t fall into a pool of nuclear waste or get bitten by a radioactive arthropod. Rather, through ingenuity and courage, he manages to accomplish the impossible. That’s the kind of power I’d like to have.

Thank you, Kirsten!
---------

Some other places to find Kirsten Miller:
Kiki Strike website
MySpace readergirlz 31 Flavorite Authors Chat
TeenReads interview
A Fuse #8 Production interview: Part One and Part Two
Look Books interview
Miss Erin interview
Little Willow interview
Book Chic interview


Read excerpts about Kiki Strike and the Irregulars:
Kiki Strike
Betty Bent
Oona Wong
Luz Lopez
Deedee Morlock
Ananka Fishbein

20 comments:

m. thompson said...

Holy Batman! Thanks for a great interview. I know I'm looking forward to Kirsten's future books.

slayground said...

Great interview.

{ In fact, I wish there were more cross over between the worlds of “fiction” and “young adult” fiction. A good story should appeal to everyone. }

I agree, I agree.

Go Batman and go squirrels!

jama said...

Thanks for this wonderful interview! Must go visit the blog and website now, and then, of course, read the books!

PJ Hoover said...

Awesome interview! And Batman is way cool!

karli said...

That's so cool your test said you were Kiki Strike. Which is probably one of the coolest girl names ever.

Kelly said...

Fab interview, HWM. I really admire Kirsten's work with Kiki and the gang. A wonderful, entertaining series.

Jen Robinson said...

Great stuff, Vivian! Last I heard book 3 was still a maybe, so I'm glad that's crossed over into the definite. Thanks for the news!

Felicity said...

Nice interview! Thanks for the link!

laurasalas said...

OK, I'm one of the few folks in the world who hasn't read the Kiki books--even though I kept seeing them referred to on Fuse 8.

Your fantastic interview totally convinced me. Off to put them on reserve!

Patty P said...

Ooh! I've never heard of Kiki before! I'm rushing out today to get a copy. I, too, have a 9 year old daughter. Sounds like something she might like to read.
Thanks for introducing me to this intriguing series.

Erin said...

Kirsten's interviews are always so unique and fun and informative. She rocks.

jules said...

What a great and good-looking interview! We're about to start a co-review over at 7-Imp of the latest book (which I'm slow in getting to). Thanks for this! (and I saw the web site for the first time the other day -- you're right. It's amazing).

Kris Bordessa said...

Great interview! I love these books and reviewed the latest in a forthcoming issue of a magazine which I shouldn't yet name. As an aside, Kiki Strike can also be found on Facebook with a simple search...

Shelf Elf said...

Fantastic interview! So happy to hear that Book 3 is underway. Just about the only possible way to make Kiki Strike any cooler would be to set the next book in Paris, and lo! Ms. Miller has complied.

Cannot wait.

daphne grab said...

thanks for the awesome interview! i can't wait til my daughter is old enough to read these books!

earthiegirl said...

I really enjoyed Kiki Strike. The rats creeped me out and I love being creeped out by good books

Doret

Haley said...

I love your books! Its one of those I can read over and over agian(and I do just ask my friends) Ananka is my favorite character she and I are just alike. I love to read but cant stay awake in class. Keep it going Im not sure how Id take it if you stoped...lol...thanks!!!!!!

Patty P said...

I'm in the middle of "The Shadow City" and had to comment on how much I love this book. Thanks for introducing me to Kiki and The Irregulars!

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I just stumbled over Kiki Strike, and now I'm fascinated! Thanks for a great interview--kudos to you for pinning down the seemingly elusive Kirsten Miller!

sassy117 said...

Wow. Great interview!

I love the books, by the way. I read "the empress's tomb" the day it came out. I am so excited about the upcoming "betty" book! hope it turns out well!