Monday, October 3, 2011

Graffiti Wall Interview: Author Kris Yankee

The Graffiti Wall is pleased to welcome a wife, mother, editor, and middle grade author to share her splats with us and leave her mark in the Alleyway. AND she's no ordinary mom--she's a hockey mom!! We're also part of Shannon Whitney Messenger's MMGM!! So head over there after and take a peek at the others celebrating the art of writing Middle Grade Literature!

Author Kris Yankee

How did you start writing chapter books? 

Originally I was signed by my agent, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency, on a women’s fiction manuscript. I worked to get it in great shape for submissions, but she wasn’t able to sell it. This was a few years ago, and the women’s fiction market was flat. She asked me to try a different genre. Middle grade came easily to me since I have two young boys at home. Saving Redwind was the first middle grade chapter book that I’d written.

What is the targeted age range for chapter books? 

There are two types of chapter books – early readers and middle grade. Early readers are usually targeted at high-first grader readers up to third grade readers. Middle grade chapter books are targeted at 9 – 12 years old. Some of my chapter books are targeted at the lower spectrum of MG, and one that I just finished is targeted at the higher spectrum.

Is the vocabulary, tense, person used in chapter books different from stories geared more toward MGers? 

Early reader chapter books use lower level language skills than MG books. Typical tense in young readers is past and 3rd. In MG, you can use past or present, and 1st or 3rd person. 3rd person omniscient is not advised at either level. Kids just don’t get the whole omniscient pov. I can’t say for sure that there’s a trend for one tense or one point of view. I can say that I love writing in 1st person. I feel as if I’m the character and I think it brings the reader closer to understanding what the character is going through.

How does a writer approach an agent/publisher with a chapter book or series? Is the query process the same?

A writer should first verify that the agent indeed represents chapter books and that they are accepting queries. A quick check that a publisher accepts unsolicited/unagented queries should also be done. When querying a agent about a series, there is no need to send information about all books. The best is to state that the query is for a book that is first in a series about xxxx (in my case, a boy who is swept into a wallpaper world). I don’t believe that it’s necessary to describe all the books in the series. The first book has to capture the audience’s attention. If it doesn’t, it won’t matter what the other books are about.

How did you get your start as an editor, and can you give advice to any writer thinking of becoming a freelance editor? 

I work for a small press in Michigan, so I’ve got an advantage over other writers who want to become editors. But that doesn’t mean that a writer can’t become an editor. Before I was hired, I took a few refresher courses: Grammar, Fiction Writing Basics, Advanced Fiction Writing. These classes helped me as a writer and as a editor. I would highly recommend any of the fiction classes at through Writer’s Digest University.

Fabulous information! Thanks for sharing that link.

Signature Graffiti Wall question: You're stuck on a subway for hours. The passengers want you to tell them a story, but you must use one of these reference materials - a phone book, dictionary, and physical map. Which resource do you use? Give us three items you'd include in that story.

Oh, Lord, you’re going to make me think on my feet (or butt, in this case!). Immediately I’m drawn to the map. Not sure why, but that’s what I’d use. The three things I’d include would be a hockey-player main character (of course) who’s a boy, a fellow teammate, another boy, and finally a rival player who’s a girl. They’d all be traveling, maybe on a train (no, not Harry Potter!) or in chartered buses, and there would be an accident. They’d have to use the map, since they have no phones or cell signals, to get to their destination, maybe State finals.

You have a fabulous BLOG--Adventures That Score. What do you highlight most?

You’re so sweet to say that! Insider Tip: The jerseys, hockey and lacrosse sticks belong to my oldest son. Cool, huh?

I have a mixture of topics that I talk about on the blog, but it’s mostly writing and editing skills. I give a writers’ workshop through the press I work for, and I find that many of the attendees have no clue about story question/problem, point of view, and scene and sequel. If I can help other writers, or at least entertain them once in awhile, then that’s good. I do love to join blogfests. I try to tailor those posts to writing, or my other favorite subject, hockey! J

Tell us a bit about Saving Redwind. 

Saving Redwind is a story that came to me when we first moved into our home. My oldest son’s bedroom was covered in a horrible wallpaper- huge gray and pink flowers. When I say huge, I mean HUGE (like three feet in diameter). As I tore down that wallpaper, I started thinking about a boy who moved into a new house and how the wallpaper sucked him in. I’m not entirely sure I wasn’t under the influence of wallpaper remover fumes, but I can tell it was blistering hot in the room while I worked! Anyway, the story idea rumbled around for a few years –remember, I was writing women’s fiction. When I got the green light to start something new, I soon realized that MG was what I should be writing and this story came back to life. I developed the characters based on people and kids we knew, and I just had to include a hockey element. I’m a pantser, so I had a tentative plan as to how the story would flow. And flow it did. It turned out way longer than I expected! The next book will most likely be 50-60 pages less.

Can you give us a hint as to your next project?

I’ve just finished a story about a hockey team who goes on a team-building camping trip and their team-building activities includes surviving a forest fire. This would be the first in a series with this particular hockey team, so you know they all survive. I’m also working with a screenwriter on a YA book about a boy who learns to play hockey – what a surprise, right? 

Thanks so much for hosting me, Sheri! It’s been a blast answering your really tough questions!

It's been my pleasure!

Interested in Redwind. Here's the official blurb: All eleven-year-old Nick Stevenson wants is an adventure like his dad's. Oh, and for the creepy ceiling in his new bedroom to stop storming and spinning. When he's asked to help save a world that exists inside his bedroom's wallpaper, Nick thinks he's found his very own adventure. But he has no idea it will involve talking rocks, dream-stealing birds, and
becoming friends with wizards. Can Nick save Redwind and his new friends before his mom calls him home for hockey practice?

Find Kris on Facebook and her WebsitePurchase Saving Redwind: A Wallpaper Adventure at Createspace and At Amazon.


  1. Great interview. Kris, I'm from Michigan too. How awesome to meet another Michigan author.

    It's interesting how the POV changes for lower middle grade to upper middle grade. You seem to really have a handle on the differences. Your book sounds great. Good luck.

  2. Natalie~I love meeting other Michigan authors!

    POV is so important for those young readers. We don't want to scare them away, but get them sucked into the story so they can't put it down.

  3. What a great interview! I had no idea about tense and pov in chapter books vs. MG. Saving Redwind sounds like an awesome book--the premise is so simple, but there's so much fascinating stuff there!

  4. Great interview! The pov and tense change is new to me, too. I'll have to look for your books for my son (and me). :)

  5. Great interview. I love 1st person POV for MG. To be honest, after teaching middle school for years, I know kids at that age like the word "I". The world still kind of focuses around them at that age, so the first person POV works well.

  6. What a great interview! I wouldn't know where to start writing a MG novel. The best I can do is YA.

  7. Oh, I've heard about Saving Redwind Before, and I think it looks amazing! Funny thing, I was drawn to the map (in the subway scenario), too. We're linked. ;p And yes, thanks for that link. I'm always looking to polish my skills, and I think it's cool your agent encouraged you to try another genre. Gotta love that faith~ :o) <3

  8. Great to see Kris again! Great interview. :)

  9. I know that sports fan! Interesting you switched genres like that, Kris.

  10. Hi Sheri and Kris! I have this book "bookmarked" and wondered if Kris thought it would be appropriate for my 7 yo and I to begin reading sometime soon?

  11. Sarah~ I think a lot of people mix up early readers and MG chapter books. At one time, I think they were all referred to as "children's books". But that has changed. There are so many sub-genres within "children's books". It's good for us writers!

  12. Alison~ I'm glad that I was able to give you some helpful information. I would love to hear what your son (and you) think of Redwind!

  13. Kelly~ I agree with the whole "I" this and "I" that. Plus, for me as a writer, I get more into the character when I write in 1st person. I think the story comes across deeper.

  14. Clarissa~ I feel the same with YA, but I'm sorta in the middle of writing a YA. I'm always conscious of my voice - hoping that it's not too young.

  15. LTM~ Well, I have been around...hee hee (and I mean that in the nicest possible ways!). Many of the MG/YA bloggers have been gracious enough to let me take over their blog for a day. My agent is super cool. I love her! I'm so fortunate to have someone who believes in my writing, even at times when I don't.

  16. Lydia~!!! Hi, there! So glad to see you here. : )

  17. Alex~ Hi!! (waves) I actually started out dabbling in picture books, but thought that genre wasn't for me. I think MG suits me - guess I want to be a little kid. : )

  18. Christina~ I would definitely recommend Saving Redwind for you and your 7-yr-old. There's not much scary stuff in it (some rock guys were are huge, a bit of fighting, but nothing outrageous). I'm pretty sure someone in my lit agency read it with her 9-yr-old and he enjoyed it. Would love to hear what your kidlet had to say. : )

  19. Thanks, everyone, for coming to support Kris! And thank you, Kris, for sharing your writing experience with us!!

  20. Great interview! Loved hearing about chapter books since all I know is JBJ and Magic Treehouse.

  21. Great interview! We have a lot of early chapter books in my house, but I've never thought of writing one. Yours, Kris, sounds great.

  22. Hi Kris! Congrats to your success!

  23. Alleged~We've read those books in our house, too - but mostly Magic Treehouse. Those boys don't like JBJ that much!

  24. Stina~ I think I always knew that kids books were what I should've been working on. I just sort of fought it for some reason.

  25. Great interview and great advice Kris! We are starting to get more middle grade in our house (kids are finally into them).

    So excited for your book!

  26. Carolyn~ Thanks so much. MG books are a ton of fun.

  27. Kris, your chapter book sounds awesome--so imaginative! Wishing yo loads of success!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse


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