Today I’m shining the Author Spotlight on Allison Hymas and her debut novel UNDER LOCKER AND KEY.
Title: Under Locker and Key
Genre: Middle Grade Crime/Mystery
Age Range: Ages 9-13
Launch Date: April 18, 2017
Please tell us a little bit about your book?
UNDER LOCKER AND KEY is about a 12-year-old “retrieval specialist” named Jeremy Wilderson who steals back things for the kids in his school. Since doing his job requires a certain amount of lying, cheating, con artistry, and straight-up burglary, Jeremy has made an enemy of the school’s private investigator, a girl named Becca Mills, who has made it her mission to personally take Jeremy down. When Jeremy accidentally places the key that opens every locker in the school in the hands of an aspiring eighth-grade kingpin, he must team up with Becca Mills herself to get it back.
What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?
I actually started this story as part of a class for writing for children and adolescents. I had to come up with a character and write a one-page introduction for the character in his or her voice. At the time I had been reading a lot of middle grade mysteries and watching TV shows about thieves and criminals. I realized that I had found many books about middle grade detectives, but not as many about the criminals they chased. That led to me thinking about what a criminal protagonist would be like, whether he would see himself as a thief or as a hero, why he’d do what he did, etc. I decided he’d see himself as a hero, not a thief, so I wrote the sentence, “First off, I am not a thief,” and Jeremy Wilderson jumped off the page. From there, it was easy to develop Becca, the straight-laced detective antagonist who opposes Jeremy but maybe has more in common with him than she thinks. It has been fun writing a story with a good-guy thief protagonist because I can have him opposed by both the law and by bad-guy thieves.
Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?
When I’m starting a new story, I tend to think about it a lot before I sit down to write the first page. I’ll do lots of prewriting, which I find very fun because it feels like solving a mystery to me. I’ll write up profiles for my characters and experiment by imagining them in different situations and seeing how they’ll react. I’ll start basic plotting for the novel before I write it by listing possible events that could happen in the story and why they would, based on my characters’ personalities and motives. Before I start writing, I will develop a very basic outline for the story; I know major events that need to happen, but am less sure about the details in between. Then I sit down to write, and when I write, those details come. I’m okay changing the major outline if the story works better in a different way.
My first draft is very rough. I write it fast, just to have something to work with later. Most of my good writing comes in revisions as I shape the story to fit what I want it to be best. I tend to discover more about my plot and my characters as I write, so that first fast draft is important for me to understand better what my story is about. As for research, I will do some preliminary research during the prewriting stage, but will research again as I need it during writing. For example, I may learn a little about picking locks before starting the story, but as I write the lock-picking parts I may look for research about what it takes to pick a certain kind of lock or try picking a lock myself so I know how it feels to do it.
We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?
My parents have always been very supportive of my writing, so I think they deserve a nod here. There were two teachers, my fifth grade teacher and my sixth grade Language Arts teacher, who encouraged my writing and told me I was actually good at it, so I credit them with the change from thinking, “I’d like to be a writer, but that’s just a dream,” to “I might actually be able to write as a career.” In college, Dr. Chris Crowe was a professor who really mentored me as a writer and encouraged me to eventually publish my work.
What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?
Well, since my book is about preteen criminals, this question is a little hard to answer! Jeremy has an elevated vocabulary for a 12-year-old, though not overly so for the age group, and he’s fond of language and words, so it could work as a book used to teach vocabulary to a middle grade audience. I’d prefer, though, for the book to be used more to discuss crime and justice, doing the right thing, and interacting with people who have different views on subjects than you do than just for vocabulary. The book deals with these things in a way that is (I think) appropriate and entertaining for young readers.
I’m a little dog obsessed here at www.patriciabaileyauthor.com. Would you tell the readers about your favorite dog (real or imaginary)?
Growing up, I had a dog named Snoopy. He was a beagle-basset hound mix and was very energetic and affectionate. We ended up giving him away, but I loved him and learned a lot about caring for another creature from having him. My favorite story about Snoopy was the time I came home to find that he’d caught and killed a rabbit in the back yard. We didn’t want him killing anything, and I had to clean up the mess, but Snoopy looked so proud of himself and was leaping around with a doggy smile on his face, so thrilled that he’d hunted a rabbit for me, that I couldn’t bring myself to say anything but a half-hearted, “Good job, boy,” as I disposed of the poor bunny’s remains.
As a middle schooler, I was a law-abiding citizen (except for the occasional offense of reading under my desk when I should have been listening). I now hold an MFA from Brigham Young University and currently live in Utah. Under Locker and Key is my first novel. I’m hard at work writing Jeremy Wilderson’s further adventures.
You can learn more about Allison and UNDER LOCKER AND KEY at her website, and you can visit with her on social media at the following links:
Thanks so much, Allison!