Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Q&A with Briana McDonald




Briana McDonald is the author of the new middle grade novel The Secrets of Stone Creek. She also has written the middle grade novel Pepper's Rules for Secret Sleuthing. She works at Columbia University, and she lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write The Secrets of Stone Creek, and how did you create your character Finley?


A: I’ve always wanted to write a mystery in a secluded setting where all the characters were potential suspects - so in a way, I created the setting of The Secrets of Stone Creek and the rest followed! And through the protagonist, Finley, I wanted to explore the light and dark sides of what it means to create a legacy.


Finley is desperate to be a great adventurer like the real female explorers (from history and present) who are featured throughout the book. But she’s heavily motivated by a feeling she needs to achieve something great in order to earn the love or respect of those around her.


It was important to me to explore and challenge how that kind of pressure to be perfect in order to be deserving can look great on the surface - like the way Meggie’s epic, lasting legacy appears to be - but can have really detrimental effects internally. 


Q: How would you describe the relationships between Finley and her various family members?


A: Complicated! Finley’s father left the family a few years back and it has a significant impact on the family dynamics. Her mother is always turning to her older brother, Oliver, when she needs things, so Finley feels overlooked by her mother and micromanaged by Oliver.


Finley tends to treat her younger brother, Griffin, the same way she feels Oliver treats her, but she really struggles to break out of that pattern because she’s so focused on regaining the control she feels her mother and Oliver are taking from her. 


Finley’s relationships with her brothers and mother are one of the most central parts of the book. She’s forced to try and get along and compromise with her brothers because they’re working together to solve the mystery - but spending so much time together leads to a bit of tension as well. Still, at the heart, the story is really about Finley discovering herself through coming to understand and reconcile with her brothers.  


And then there’s the fact that they’re staying with an estranged cousin during their time in Stone Creek - one that Finley creates a bond with, but who is also a prime suspect in Meggie’s disappearance! 


Q: The novel is set in a town in Vermont--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Setting is always important to me in my stories, but it takes on more of a life of its own in The Secrets of Stone Creek than in my previous work. I approached writing the story with the thought that Stone Creek itself was a character, made up of the town’s history and the way its residents have responded to - and, oftentimes, warped it - over the decades.


In a way, the town itself goes through a character arc of its own as the sensationalized mystery surrounding Meggie’s disappearance is explored and critiqued over the course of the novel.


And, of course, the remote, woodsy setting allows plenty of fun opportunities for Finley and her brothers to go exploring!


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I had a general idea of how the story would end - particularly around the mystery, and what Finley’s emotional arc would look like as well. But through writing the story and fleshing out the various characters and layers of internal and external conflict, the ending definitely evolved.


I see plot as a tool to fuel character development, so these changes added a bit more emotional depth to not just Finley’s arc, but her brothers’ and Jeff’s as well. I’m grateful for the feedback from my agent and editor that helped me push deeper into the characters’ arcs and the setting of Stone Creek in order to reach the ending found in the final version of The Secrets of Stone Creek


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on my third book with Simon & Schuster BFYR, which is another middle grade adventure…but this time, set in space! I can’t say too much yet, but I’m very excited about this story and can’t wait to share it with readers soon. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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