PICTURE BOOKS

MIDDLE GRADE

YOUNG ADULT

Nov 15, 2018

Writing Adorable Middle Grade Series with Flawless World-building: Interview with Jill Diamond

interview by Kristi Wright

We are so excited to welcome Jill Diamond back to the blog! (See our first interview with Jill, and our post on world-building in the Lou Lou and Pea books.)

Jill’s second book, Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza, came out in April. We wanted to look at the craft of both Lou Lou and Pea books and talk to Jill about her process for world-building and for writing a series.

KidLit Craft: When you first started writing Lou Lou and Pea, how did you approach bringing your fictional neighborhood alive?

Jill Diamond: I set out to write a book that was directly inspired by the Mission District, my neighborhood in San Francisco. I thought about what I love about the Mission–culture, art, colors, food–and then took those elements and used them as the foundation for the setting. Essentially, many aspects of El Corazón were already alive in the Mission and it was just a matter of translating them onto the page in a way that worked for Lou Lou and Pea’s story. I realized later that, given El Corazón’s small town feel, I was also directly drawing on my experience growing up in Central Maine. I really valued the closeness of my childhood hometown community and I wanted that tight-knit feel to come through in the books.

What came first when it came to your wonderful cast of secondary characters? Did the characters shape their settings or did the settings shape their characters?

A little of both! Some of the characters were definitely born out of the whimsy of Lou Lou and Pea’s community. For instance, Mr. Vila, the milliner in Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza who likes to repeat one-syllable words and drives a funny car, and Lou Lou’s nautical-loving dad, Peter Bombay, are characters who feel distinctly El Corazón to me and were definitely shaped by the setting. Some characters were inspired by real life people and thus influenced the world-building. Examples are Sugar Skulls Sarah, who was inspired by San Francisco artists, and Ella Divine, who is influenced by New Orleans-style performers. Of course, these characters had to fit into Lou Lou and Pea’s world, so even after drawing on real life influences, my characters were still very much shaped by El Corazón.

What were your influences (whether actual places, books, tv shows, etc) as you did your world-building?

As I mentioned, San Francisco’s Mission District and my childhood hometown, Gardiner, Maine, were major influences. The Heliotrope (Lou Lou and Pea’s favorite theater) was inspired by New Orleans, another one of my favorite places. I also definitely drew on books I love, particularly mysteries. For example, The Westing Game, which has a cast of interesting characters living in a small community (in that case, an apartment building) is a mystery that, while very different from LOU LOU AND PEA, I always think about when I consider my influences.

What world-building challenges did you run into when you started writing your second book in the series?

I had originally considered setting the second book in a different place altogether (a fictional British town), but my editor made the wise suggestion of keeping it in El Corazón. I think the biggest challenges for second book world-building are actually two sides of the same coin. First, making sure that you are keeping details consistent in each book and, on the flipside, writing the world in a way that is fresh and exciting to return readers. It is also challenging to both explain the world well enough in the second book so that a new-to-the-series reader won’t feel like they have missed something, while not repeating too many details so as to bore a return reader.

Do you have a favorite spot in El Corazón? If you could jump into your book, where would you hang out the most?

Probably Limonero Park. I love the idea of a park filled with lemon trees (it would smell so good) and, aside from the lovely lemon trees, it’s inspired by my beloved childhood park in Maine. A close second is Cupcake Cabana because who doesn’t adore buttercream frosting?  

Did you run into any consistency problems as you wrote your second book? How did you handle them?

I did a lot of checking back through the first book as I wrote the second book to ensure that there were no problems. I’m very detail-oriented so that type of consistency stuff makes me crazy if it’s not correct. There is also a series guide for Lou Lou and Pea, which includes fixed details about the characters and setting and is something that the copy editors use to double check that everything is consistent.

Do you have a system for keeping track of your world and all the specific details of each place?

I do have a map of El Corazón, but it was more of an after-the-fact thing that I made because it was fun and so I can talk about the neighborhood accurately in presentations. Honestly, I keep most of the details in my head and go back to check anything that I can’t remember. It might not be the most efficient system, but I know the books so well that I can usually track down the information pretty quickly.

What was the hardest thing about writing a sequel to Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery?

Because the sequel took readers back to the same setting and involved many of the same characters as in the first book, I definitely think the hardest thing was crafting a story that was intriguing enough to hook readers who were already familiar with the world. I had to keep myself interested as well, which was as challenging a feat in many ways!

What was the easiest thing?

The first chapter! The books both begin and end with PSPP (Lou Lou and Pea’s Friday afternoon Post-School-Pre-Parents tradition) so I was able to go back and rewrite a scene I’d written twice before (with quite a bit of variation, of course).

What are your best tips for writing a fictional world?

Even though it’s fiction, draw on your real world. The things that inspire your setting do not have to be big things, they just have to be things you love or that fascinate/interest you. After that, embellish, embellish, embellish to make it your own!

What’s next for Jill Diamond fans? Where can we find you online?

I am working on quite a few new projects, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can find me at www.jilldiamondbooks.com or on Twitter @jillinboots

Thanks so much, Jill!

Kristi Wright (assistant editor) is the Assistant Regional Advisor for the San Francisco/South region of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and a writing mentor for the non-profit Society of Young Inklings. She offers writing workshops at the elementary school level with a focus on point of view and sensory detail. Her indie-published futuristic middle grade adventure series, The Basker Twins in the 31st Century, raises funds and awareness for a rare, childhood-onset disease, Friedreich’s ataxia.

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