Kimberly Reid is author of the Langdon Prep series of YA novels about a girl detective named Chanti Evans whose mom is an undercover cop. Chanti lives in the hood but goes to a private school in a swanky neighborhood. The 2nd in the series, Creeping With the Enemy, pubs today!
A little of what people had to say about My Own Worst Frenemy, the first in the series:
“Chanti is smart and funny, and this multicultural cast is a welcome addition to the world of teen mysteries. The story is well paced and full of surprises…This clever mystery with a biting look at class and privilege is a breath of fresh air.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Reid’s debut, which kicks off her Langdon Prep series, perfectly nails what it’s like to be a scholarship student at a chi-chi private school, let alone being the new girl at school. Really apropos title. The amateur sleuth high jinks are fun. A great start to a promising new series.” – RT Book Reviews, 4 stars
Kim’s mother was a police officer and served as a detective on some of the Atlanta Child Murder cases. Kim wrote an award-winning memoir called No Place Safe about growing up in Atlanta during that time. I’m so happy to have her here today to chat with us about plotting and selling a YA series. Enjoy!
How did you develop your sleuth, Chanti Evans?
I stole from my life. I was watching an episode of Veronica Mars, a TV show about the teen daughter of a cop. Veronica learned a lot about crime-solving from her dad and was always playing amateur detective and getting into trouble. She reminded me of myself at 16, except I mostly avoided trouble and was not especially brave. My mother was a detective, I learned a lot about police work from her. With Chanti, I could create a character fearless enough to do all the things I wanted to as a teen but never had the nerve.
How did you know you had a series and not just one title?
Once I began writing, I knew I couldn’t tell everything I wanted to about the character in one story. Each book has Chanti solving a new crime, but her backstory also involves a mystery that at first she isn’t even aware of. But she begins to suspect her mother hasn’t been truthful about something in her past. That backstory mystery evolves with each book in the series. Besides that, I just have so many crime topics to explore. Not only was my mom a cop, my stepfather is a criminal attorney and my husband worked in a police department for over a decade and now works in the court system. In my old corporate job, my customers were cops. I’ll probably always be writing crime stories.
You must have to plot beforehand for a mystery, yes? How do you map out/plot a series?
Before this series, I always wrote as it came into my head. I needed to know how the story ended, but beyond that, I didn’t do much plotting. I was once a software project manager so I knew all about being organized but somehow I never considered applying those skills to writing. I guess it didn’t seem very arty to use Gantt charts as part of the creative process. But I got over myself and now spend almost as much time outlining as I do writing, which means I can usually get a very clean manuscript to my editor in only two or three drafts.
For draft one of the outline, I use a whiteboard or those big Post-it easel pads to flowchart the timeline of the story. I use a different color marker for the main storyline and the subplots. Since my books aren’t pure mysteries (crime happens at the start, now our hero has to solve it) but involve some thriller elements (the bad guy escalates his criminal activity and our hero must figure out who he is and what he’s doing before all hell breaks loose), I also use the flow chart to make sure the pacing is on target.
Then I break out the Excel spreadsheet for the second outline draft and write a single sentence synopsis for each chapter, color coded to match the flowchart. I use a spreadsheet because I find it easier to later move things around and add plot details like red herrings and clues. The color coding helps keep the main and subplots balanced. Once I feel good about the spreadsheet, the last draft of outlining involves turning the single-sentence synopses into one-page synopses. This draft is all about the action in each chapter. By the time I’m done, my outline is about 20% of the finished book in terms of YA word count. Once I begin the real writing, I develop and integrate settings, characters, and dialogue into the action I’ve already written in the outline phase.
And of course, I deviate from the outline as I write and the characters want to do something I didn’t anticipate or I realize the clues make no sense. Still, the outline keeps me from straying too much. This process is really helpful when writing under deadline.
When you pitched the book to your agent did you pitch it as a series? If so, how much did you need to know about the rest of the novels?
Yes, but by then, I’d been with my agent a few years so I didn’t have to worry about don’t ever pitch a series in a query letter! She wanted the first book to work as a standalone, but asked me to have a one-page synopsis of the next book ready before she took it out on submission, just in case an interested editor also thought it had series potential. For myself, I created a high-level outline of the third and fourth books.
What’s the scoop on the YA market? Is it as red hot as people seem to think?
I think so – it’s been red hot for a few years now and I don’t see it ebbing anytime soon – or maybe that’s just wishful thinking since I write YA. Publisher’s Weekly did a good article on this last fall called YA Comes of Age by Sue Corbett.