We’re pleased to have debut author Jill Diamond join us for the New Year. Her delightful middle grade novel Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery came out in October, and it found its way onto two of our reading lists (here and here). Jill is a regular Lunch Breaker, and she’s just as delightful as her book. Read on for a taste of Lou Lou and Pea, and for Jill’s wise reflections on her own writing process and strategies. You’ll find inspiration for your own writing along the way.
Perfect for readers outgrowing Ivy & Bean and the Nancy Clancy books!
Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl have been best friends since first grade. Every Friday afternoon, they get together in Lou Lou’s backyard garden for their PSPP (Post-School Pre-Parents) tea party. They chat about school, discuss Pea’s latest fashions, and plot the weekend’s activities.
But all plans go out the window when a series of small crimes crop up around El Corazón, their quaint and quirky neighborhood, right before the Día de Los Muertos procession. First, Pea’s cousin’s quinceañera dress is tragically ruined. Then Lou Lou’s beloved camellia bush, Pinky, suffers a serious blow. And that’s just the beginning! When clues start to appear in El Corazón’s outdoor murals, the best friends join forces, using Lou Lou’s floral expertise and Pea’s artistic genius to solve the mysteries.
KidLit Craft: What was your inspiration for LouLou and Pea?
Jill Diamond: My overall inspiration for writing a children’s book was my mom, who was an elementary school librarian. I started writing Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery when I was caring for her during a terminal illness. I credit my mom with my love of middle grade fiction because she was a true champion of children’s literature who always encouraged me to read and write, and was known to her students as “The Best Librarian in the Whole Wide World.” From there, I really wanted to tell a story inspired by the traditions and art in my community. And I’ve always loved mysteries, so that part was an easy choice.
Your characters have such creative names. How did you approach naming?
I adore naming things! So much so that names just sort of pop into my head, particularly quirky character names. That’s what happened with Lou Lou and Pea. The names “Lou Lou Bombay” and “Peacock Pearl” simply took root in my mind one day and didn’t let go. So, of course, I thought, I need to write a story about these girls with interesting names! Some of the other names – Danielle Desserts, Kyle Longfellow – were similar, organic ideas. However, for those, I had a character in mind first and then an appropriate name came to me.
What were your inspirations for the setting of the novel: the house like a ship, the candle shop, the parade, the Corazon neighborhood, the murals?
I really wanted Lou Lou to live in a house that was both odd and interesting, and that was the reflection of one of the character’s passions. Hence, the SS Lucky Alley was born!
Lou Lou and Pea’s neighborhood, El Corazón, as well as many aspects of El Corazón, were inspired by my own neighborhood, San Francisco’s Mission District. The Mission is a multicultural community that is known for its colorful murals. The candle shop is based on a real shop that no longer exists, but that was around when I first moved to San Francisco. At that time, I was looking for work so I bought a green job-seeker candle at the shop! Similarly, the Día de los Muertos celebration and procession were inspired by the traditions we have in the Mission. There is even a Lucky Alley in the Mission (although, I think its official name is Lucky Street).
What strategies did you use in introducing new info and referring back to info you’d already mentioned?
Because the book is a mystery that involves many small crimes, adding new info into the story came very naturally. I tried to add new info bit by bit and, with a couple of exceptions, introduce characters before they fell victim to a crime so there wouldn’t be too much of the “new” all at once for readers. I attempted to avoid information dumps as much as possible so as not to make the new info too overwhelming or boring.
The fact that the book is a mystery also meant that I had to summarize previously introduced info quite frequently so that readers wouldn’t lose the thread of the story and get confused about the big picture. Referring back to old info without being annoyingly redundant was challenging, so I did my best to keep these summaries brief.
You must have had a ton of research! On flowers, Spanish language, art, Dia de los Muertos, ships. What did you most enjoy researching? How did you approach including your research in the novel?
I love doing research, so this part was really fun for me. I did the research in an as-needed, piecemeal manner. When something came up in the story for which I needed more information, I’d go into research mode. My only problem was that sometimes I’d get so interested the research, I’d go way deeper than needed and actually ignore the book for too long. For example, I must have spent hours looking at nautical terms and names of camellia varieties online.
Every chapter ends with a sense of finality and anticipation. How did you do that? What did you look for your chapter endings to accomplish?
Well-crafted chapter endings are something with which I often struggle, so I definitely had to work hard on these. The manuscript notes from both my editor and my agent often included a suggestion to rethink a chapter ending or add a final line with a bit more oomph. I have an author friend, Brandi Dougherty, who writes great punchy endings, and I think that reading her work was helpful technique-wise. I really wanted chapter endings that built suspense and reminded readers of important story elements without sounding overwrought or too dramatic.
Can you give us a hint about what comes next for Lou Lou and Pea?
Stay tuned for the next Lou Lou and Pea book coming next year. I can’t reveal too much, but it involves a two-hundredth birthday celebration, Pea’s Abuela Josie, who is also a stunt riding vaquera, gazebos, a plethora of hats, and a lot of argyle print!
Anne-Marie Strohman writes picture books and is working on a middle grade novel. She is trained as a teacher, an editor, and a scholar, specializing in Renaissance Literature. She lives in the mostly-sunny city of Sunnyvale with her husband and two children. She is an active member of SCBWI. Find her at amstrohman.com and on Twitter @amstrwriter.