Today I’m shining the Author Spotlight on Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski and their middle grade novel A HINT OF HYRA. A HINT OF HYDRA is the sequel to a book I loved last year, A DASH OF DRAGON.
Title: A HINT OF HYDRA
Age Range: 8-12
Please tell us a little bit about your book.
Lailu Loganberry just wants to hunt and cook “monster cuisine” and serve lots of customers in the restaurant she owns with her (somewhat unreliable) mentor. Unfortunately, due to the events in book one of this series, a war is brewing between the vicious elven mafia and a group of up-and-coming steampunk scientists, and Lailu is caught in the middle.
What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?
KATI: For the first book, I was actually inspired by a “throwaway” episode of my favorite anime, SLAYERS. The characters go on this whole quest to eat dragon cuisine, and I thought it would be really fun to write a story about a girl whose goal is to become a master chef of dragon cuisine.
HEIDI: I loved Kati’s idea so much that I pestered her until she let me write this story with her, and it kind of evolved from there. We set our chef up in a magic versus science world, where the elves used to have a stranglehold on all the people and their businesses, but now they’re being replaced by steam-powered science.
KATI: We knew the first book would be about setting up the restaurant and starting those tensions, and then this sequel would be where those tensions really build. The whole book takes place during the Week of Masks, which is basically like a giant, week-long Halloween party.
HEIDI: Halloween is Kati’s favorite holiday, so the idea of a week-long celebration of it really appealed to her.
KATI: You’d love it, too. 😉
HEIDI: Yeah…I would. Especially the whole masked ball thing. Always wanted to go to one of those.
Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?
HEIDI: Our process is a little different because there are two of us. This is the second book we’ve written together, and surprisingly our co-writing system has stayed the same. Basically we brainstorm about our overall story and then Kati writes these really detailed outlines, which I then ignore.
KATI: It’s extremely frustrating.
HEIDI: She loves it. Secretly. 😉
KATI: Anyway…we take turns writing sections. So I’ll write a scene and then I’ll send it to Heidi. She makes any changes she wants to my scene and then writes the next scene and sends it back. I make my changes to hers, write my next scene, and…you see where we’re going with this.
HEIDI: When we’re finished with a draft, we both go through it together and come up with a plan for revisions. Our goal is to make sure our entire story is a good mix of both of us so the voice will feel like one voice.
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?
KATI: Honestly I really struggled with writing when I was younger, until in my junior year of high school I started writing a story for fun about a girl samurai. I think that made me realize I could write things I enjoyed instead of just trying to write what I thought the teacher was looking for. I tested that out my senior year, and Mr. Degman, my English teacher that year, actually really liked my writing and gave me good grades on my papers. I think that was when I started to believe more in my writing.
HEIDI: Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer (aside from a brief period in second grade when I wanted to be a person who rehabilitated injured owls), and I was constantly writing these little stories until somehow, in high school, I did the reverse of Kati and lost my confidence in my writing. It wasn’t until I took a creative writing class in college that I rediscovered that confidence, and I owe a lot of that to Professor Berman. He could be brutally honest when critiquing our work, which was sometimes hard to take, but also meant when he told me he thought I had something good in my writing, I believed him. And when I told him I wanted to be an author, and he was very encouraging about it, I believed that, too.\
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?
KATI: We both loved Tamora Pierce’s “Alanna” series when we were kids, so we also wanted to write a story about a girl who has a very specific goal that she is willing to devote her whole life to. We’d read more than a few books about girls who had goals that they were willing to give up when they fell in love, because that love was the most important thing, and we were like, no.
HEIDI: So in our book, Lailu has a few potential love interests, and we won’t give away any spoilers here, but let’s just say her first love, her true love, will always be her cooking. We both think it’s important for kids to find something they are passionate about and willing to work toward. And to not feel constrained, either. Be creative, invent your own job if you can. In our world, there are no restaurants until Lailu invents the idea, and even though many people stand in her way, she works hard and makes it happen. Obviously there are different roadblocks for people living in this world than there are in our fictional one, but we wanted to show someone who doesn’t follow the conventional “chef” footsteps of getting a job in an aristocratic household, but instead wants to share her cooking with everyone.
KATI: Our sequel also deals with things like loneliness, or that feeling when your friends start growing apart from you, which we think is so relatable at that middle grade age. We wanted to show how friendships can change as you grow older, but that doesn’t mean they have to end. And also, we love creating characters who are morally gray. Someone can be a great chef, for instance, but a terrible mentor. Or someone can be loving, but unreliable. We’d love to see teachers highlighting those points.
I’m a little dog obsessed here at www.patriciabaileyauthor.com. Would you tell the readers about your favorite dog (real or imaginary)?
HEIDI: Well, my favorite dogs have to be my own. Gordy is a twelve-year-old heeler/border collie mix (we think), and he’s the best boy ever. We’ve taken him on so many adventures – he goes camping, backpacking, rafting, hiking, he’s been up mountains and swimming in rivers and pretty much anywhere in between. Super smart, very loyal. And then there’s Gomu…
KATI: Go on, tell us about Gomu. 😉
HEIDI: Well…he’s super cute, a corgi/Australian shepherd mix. And he can also be super sweet.
KATI: When he wants to be.
HEIDI: Exactly. His loyalty is sometimes questionable. ;D But when he is being affectionate, he’ll pull his ears back and wag his whole body, and it totally wins us over every time. Plus he’s got so much personality, he keeps us entertained always.
KATI: I don’t have any dogs of my own, but I love my dog nephews, too.
Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters with twenty years of experience in Judo. Heidi likes to fling food across her stove while attempting to cook new dishes, and Kati enjoys trying new cuisine at fancy restaurants. Between the two of them, they love creating characters that kick butt both inside and outside the kitchen. They are the co-authors of A DASH OF DRAGON and A HINT OF HYDRA. Find them on their website, www.HeidiandKatiwrite.com, or follow them on twitter @hidlang and @ktbartkowski.
While you’re at it, you might want to read A DASH OF DRAGON first. (It’s so fun!)
I loved this book! Heidi Lang places her super tough, super fun heroine into a great fantasy world – and adds cooking! The adventure is fun. The stakes are high. And there’s plenty of humor to keep you laughing along the way. Middle grade fantasy fans are going to love this one!
Thanks Kati and Heidi!