Welcome to our third TTI interview. We interviewed Kate Messner, author of Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek. We are trying different formats for our interviews. We wrote questions on Pages, then emailed the questions to Kate Messner. She answered them. Then we wrote our questions and her answers to post.
TTI TEAM: What is your favorite genre to write?
KATE MESSNER: That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I really love writing in lots of different genres — from quiet picture books about nature, to funny chapter books, to thrillers and mysteries. But right now, today, I’d have to say mystery because that’s where my brain is at the moment. When I finish writing to you, I’ll be heading downstairs to my writing room to work on MANHUNT, the third mystery in my Silver Jaguar Society series!
KATE MESSNER: My parents always encouraged me to write, so they were one inspiration. My other big influences were the authors whose books I read when I was a kid. I thought Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume were amazing — the way they could invent characters who felt as real to me as my flesh-and-blood classmates. They made me want to write stories, too.
TTI TEAM: What is the most challenging thing about being an author?
KATE MESSNER: For me, the most challenging thing is drafting a new project. When I’m researching and brainstorming, I’m all kinds of excited about the new idea. And by the time I’m revising, it’s in good shape and I feel like a really good writer because I’m making the manuscript stronger and better. But drafting? My first drafts are often messy, with lots of scattered ideas, and when I’m in the process of writing that first draft, I hate to even read what I’ve written sometimes.
And of course, the other hard thing is letting go of a project. When I’m working on a book, it only belongs to me, and there’s a certain joy in that — writing just for yourself. But when the book comes out and shows up in bookstores and libraries, it’s not just “my book” any more; it’s everybody’s book, and that means different people will react to it in different ways. Not everyone will like it, and that’s okay, but it’s one of the tough parts of being an author.TTI TEAM: When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
KATE MESSNER: Well, I always loved writing stories, but when I was a kid, I didn’t really understand that being an author was a job that you could have — like being a teacher or doctor or something. So when I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist. It was after I started teaching (and sharing lots and lots of books with my students) that I remembered how much I loved telling my own stories and started writing seriously for publication.
TTI TEAM: How did you get the idea of writing Capture The Flag?
KATE MESSNER: The reason I wrote this book might surprise you. It’s because I really love airports. I love how busy and bustling they are…and how everyone at an airport is going somewhere, and everyone has a story. Some people are having the best days of their lives and some may be having the worst. Airports are just super-charged with stories – and I couldn’t imagine a better place to set a mystery.
TTI TEAM: What was the most challenging part of writing Capture The Flag?
KATE MESSNER: Figuring out exactly HOW the bad guys could steal the Star Spangled Banner! Happily, I don’t have much personal experience with committing huge crimes like this, so that required some real work. As an author who travels to visit schools and libraries, I’ve spent a lot of time in airports, but the other setting for this book – the Smithsonian Museum of American History – required a special research trip. I spent a morning at the museum before it opened – I toured the flag exhibit with its curator, prowled the back hallways, and even rode one of the freight elevators until I figured out just how my make-believe bad guys might pull off their Star Spangled heist.
TTI TEAM: Why did you decide to make the Star Spangled Banner stolen?
KATE MESSNER: When I knew I wanted to write a heist story set in an airport, I sort of went “shopping” online at museum websites to find the perfect thing to steal. I considered Lincoln’s top hat and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, but ultimately, the flag seemed like a more super-charged symbol. Not only is it truly valuable in terms of monetary value; it’s priceless as a symbol of America, and that means the stakes for the mystery would be extra high.
KATE MESSNER: I went to Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication and majored in broadcast journalism. I was a TV news producer and report for seven years before I went back to school to get my teaching degree later on.