Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interrogation Room Suspect #9: Kim Harrington

This week we've hauled in Kim Harrington to face the glare of the Interrogation Room spotlight.
The Kim Harrington File: 
Kim's debut young adult novel, Clarity, was published in March 2011 by Scholastic and is now available in paperback. The second novel in the series, Perception, will be released on March 1, 2012 -- soon! Clarity and Perception are mysteries featuring a unique young sleuth; Clarity comes from a family with psychic powers (though somewhat limited ones) and has uncomfortably close encounters with mysteries in her small Cape Cod town. 

Kim's a busy writer; she's also launching a new mystery series (Sleuth or Dare) for middle grade readers this year (also from Scholastic). Partners in Crime is the first, releasing on May 1, 2012,and it will be followed by books two (Sleepover Stakeout) and three (Framed and Dangerous) in June and July of this year.
Kim lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. When not writing, she's most likely reading, watching one of her favorite TV shows, or fantasizing about her next vacation. She has no psychic powers and is cool with that. 

Here's a summary of the soon-to-release Perception:

When you can see things others can't, what do you do when someone's watching you? Everybody knows about Clarity "Clare" Fern. She's the psychic girl in school, the one who can place her hands on something and see hidden visions from the past. Only Clare would rather not be a celebrity. She prefers hanging back, observing. Her gift is not a game to her. But then someone starts playing with her head . . . and heart. Messages and gifts from a secret admirer crop up everywhere Clare turns. Could they be from Gabriel, the gorgeous boy who gets Clare's pulse racing? Or from Justin, Clare's hopeful ex-boyfriend who'd do anything to win her back? One thing is certain. Clare needs to solve this mystery, and soon. Because the messages are becoming sinister, and a girl in town has suddenly disappeared.

And here is the transcript of our interview: 
Diana Renn: In both Clarity books so far, Clare's personal life is as just important as the mystery plot. Even as she’s following clues and puzzling through crimes, she’s also wrestling with the day-to-day mysteries, such as how to find friends, how to relate to her mother and brother, and how to decide whom to love. How do you achieve this balance, or this intertwining, of the mystery plot and Clare's personal life? Does it happen organically, or do you plan it out in advance? Do you use outlines, charts, or any visual aids in your planning?
Kim Harrington: For the most part, integrating Clare’s personal life into the story happens organically, except in areas where the plot overlaps it. However, what I did use visual aids for was organizing the two simultaneous mysteries in Perception. I wanted to make sure storyline A didn’t get dropped for several chapters while the characters pursued storyline B, etc. I wanted them to carry equal weight. So I created a color-coded outline. It was my first time trying that, and it did help!

Diana Renn: The paranormal aspect in the Clarity books is handled in an interesting way: each family member has a slightly different – and limited -- psychic ability. I love how these limitations help to develop plot (for example, a psychic vibe at the right moment can reveal a clue). Yet they don’t take over – the whole mystery can’t be magically solved. Good old-fashioned sleuthing and thinking still come into play. Can you share some of your thought process as you developed the paranormal angle in this mystery series? Did you always know you wanted this blend? 

Kim Harrington: Yes, I knew the paranormal abilities were going to be keys to solving the mysteries, but I didn’t want them to go so far as to be cheats. I still wanted limitations, hard work, and regular brainpower to come into play. Most of all, my goal in crafting the paranormal angle was for the abilities to seem realistic. Creating each gift with a specific set of rules definitely helped in that respect.

Diana Renn: Did you originally conceive of the Clarity books as a series? How many will there be?

Kim Harrington: I did want Clarity to be a series, but the kind where each book seems complete. So I crafted it in a way that the big mystery of each book would be solved in that book, but other things—like Clare’s personal life—would carry from story to story. I would really love to write more Clarity books. I know exactly what the next mystery would be (and fans of the series can probably correctly guess this). But it sold as a two-book deal. So we’ll have to wait and see.
Diana Renn: Your new Sleuth or Dare series is for middle grade readers. And this series has no magical element. Do you find this series easier or more challenging to write compared to the Clarity books?

Kim Harrington: I actually found it more challenging. I didn’t want to write a ‘who stole the ____’ mystery, but I also couldn’t have a serial killer with a trail of bodies. There had to be something in between. So I worked hard to craft plots that were age-appropriate yet also edgy, intriguing, and complex.

Diana Renn: Your books contain precise details about everything from police procedure, to psychics, to high school life, to the psychology of stalkers. How much research do you do for your books, and at what stage in the writing process do you do this research?
Kim Harrington: For the most part, I do the research while in the drafting stage. Sometimes it’s as simple as an email to a qualified person. Other times it’s more involved. For example, I visited several psychics (including one family business) to get a feel for the industry and how readings are run. And, for Perception, I read a TON about the psychology of stalkers. I know way too much about that now. *shivers*

Diana Renn: What mystery novels did you read as a kid or as a teenager? Which writers have influenced you the most?
Kim Harrington: As a kid, I used to get the Scholastic book flyer from school and I would circle every book with a dark or scary looking cover. If it was about a ghost or haunted house, it was an AUTOMATIC BUY for me. Thankfully, my parents were always on board. As a teen, I read a lot of horror and had a deep love for gothic mysteries, especially Barbara Michaels.
Diana Renn: Do you think you will stick with mystery writing over the long haul, or would you consider testing the waters in a new genre someday? (Like romance perhaps – your romance scenes in Perception are steamy! Or some other genre?) Would you consider writing a mystery for adults?

Kim Harrington: I think any book I write, whether it’s horror, romance, etc., will have a mystery element to it. It might not be a traditional angle (like a murder mystery), but there will always be some mysterious question that must be answered. I don’t have any interest in writing for adults right now, but I’d never rule it out!

Diana Renn: What writing secret will you reveal only under the harsh light of this Interrogation Room?

Kim Harrington: Read your drafts out loud at some point. I find a lot of issues that need to be fixed when reading out loud that my brain sort of skipped over while reading silently.

Diana Renn: Thank you, Kim; your name has been cleared and you are free to go! 

Kim Harrington: Thanks so much for having me!

1 comment:

  1. "I worked hard to craft plots that were age-appropriate yet also edgy, intriguing, and complex." This is my principal difficulty in writing middle-grade mysteries, too. It's hard to get that right level of thrills without it getting too dark. Very tough -- and I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who struggles.

    What an enlightening interview! Thanks for this, Diana and Kim.


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