Kelly Jones is the author of Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, a novel for children, and the forthcoming Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, a historical novel for young adults. She lives near Seattle.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, and for your main character, Sophie?
A: Unusual Chickens began as my notes on chicken-keeping, mixed with my lists of the superpowers I though my own new chickens would choose, if they could pick one. Running faster than the other chickens, hiding from things that looked scary, etc.
Then I wondered who would be taking care of these chickens? What if it was someone new to chicken-keeping, like me -- and someone who didn't already have the connections that would make this easier? That's when Sophie Brown came into my head, ready to tell her story.
Q: The book is written in the form of letters. Why did you decide on that format?
A: It wasn't so much a deliberate decision as the way the story came out. That said, I've always adored epistolary novels (the Sorcery & Cecelia novels by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer have been favorites for decades!), and when I was Sophie's age, my cousin in Australia was my pen pal. So I suppose it came naturally.
Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end before you start writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: I rarely know what will happen, and I change plot things all the time! However, I usually know a fair amount about the protagonist, and that person's core personality rarely changes. It's her wants and needs and strengths and challenges that shape the rest of the book.
Q: You have a new novel coming out later this year, a historical novel this time. Did you need to do much research, and was your writing process similar this time?
A: My second novel, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, is a completely rewritten idea I've been working on for years. That said -- I still didn't know what would happen in this version! So I guess it was still an exploration, just like Unusual Chickens. As I get to know my characters better, the plot changes to fit them.
I try to separate my research time from my writing time by making notes in brackets when I run into things I need to look up, such as [what do people in 1818 eat for breakfast?] and filling them in later. It helps me focus my research on the details I need most -- and there are a lot of them!
Then, the process comes full circle when I find an amazing detail or real person that absolutely fits this book and needs to find a spot.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A super-secret project for 2018 that I hope to announce soon! I can't tell you what it is yet, but I'm excited!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Just that I'd never have made it this far without the wonderful librarians, booksellers, teachers, and readers who've spread the word about my books. Do me a favor, and tell someone about one of your favorite books today!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb