Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Interrogation Room #25: Kimberly Reid, author of the LANGDON PREP series

Today, I'm thrilled to interrogate Kimberly Reid, author of the Langdon Prep series (KTeen/Kensington), including MY OWN WORST FRENEMY, CREEPING WITH THE ENEMY, and the upcoming SWEET 16 TO LIFE. These are fun, funny mysteries with an urban edge and plenty of high school drama and romance to keep readers entertained in between plot twists. We brought Kimberly in to find out about her inspirations (yay, Veronica Mars!) and her writing process.


A bit about Kimberly Reid: 
Kimberly Reid grew up in Atlanta where she lived some of the same experiences Chanti Evans does in the Langdon Prep series: she attended a prep school where she did not fit in, her mom was a police detective and she always wanted to help her solve crimes. Like Chanti, she has lived most of her life around law enforcement types. But that's about where the similarities end. Kimberly is way too conflict-averse (scared) to be a detective although she did give her two cents on some of her mother’s cases whether asked or not. She now lives in Colorado, which is why she has Chanti solving crimes in the beautiful city of Denver. It’s a lot like any other big city except the mountains make it feel like you’re home but also on vacation.

A bit about the LANGDON PREP series:
Fifteen-year-old Chantal Evans is the new girl at Langdon Preparatory Academy. Her mother, an undercover cop, calls in a favor to get Chanti into the posh private school. The plan was to keep Chanti out of trouble in her tough Denver neighborhood, but her mom got it twisted. Within a week of starting Langdon Prep, Chanti is accused of a string of thefts at school. When the crimes she's accused of grow more serious, Chanti must race to clear her name before her life becomes so much more complicated than being the new girl and getting Marco Ruiz to notice her.

What inspired the concept behind this series?
It was a combination of my real life and watching an episode of Veronica Mars. I had a lot in common with Veronica when I was growing up – my mom was a police detective and I learned about crime-solving from her. She didn’t sit me down and give me lessons on how to work a crime scene or interrogate a suspect. But when all your family friends are cops and come over for barbecues, or you attend PAL (Police Athletic League) football games on weekends, or you hang around police stations after school waiting for a ride home, you hear a lot of police talk. After all those overheard conversations and actually seeing cops at work, I picked up a few crime-solving skills. So I decided to write what I know, from the perspective I know: a fifteen-year-old kid of a cop.

Do your family members in law enforcement read your drafts? How have their experiences or insights informed these books?
I’m very protective of my writing process (maybe that’s the cop-wannabe thing or having taken a lot of writing workshops) so no, they don’t read my drafts, but what I’ve learned from them definitely plays out in my work. Lucky for me, I have family on both the law and the order side of an investigation, and I can call them up and ask if what I’m plotting makes sense, or brainstorm how a crime will play out, or whether the defense attorney would think the way I’m making him think.  At one point, my mom was a criminal investigator for the district attorney and my stepdad was a public defender. As you can imagine, the conversations over the dinner table were pretty interesting. I learned to see both sides of an investigation – the prosecution’s conviction that the bad guy did it, and the defense’s determination to prove he didn’t. It was like my very own TV show, with less drama and no cable bill. In my corporate days, I worked for a company started by two former cops, and some of my customers were police officers. Then there’s my husband who has worked many years in both a police department and a court system. The poor guy is constantly getting sanity-check questions from me.

Chanti can't resist a good mystery, even when playing sleuth gets her into trouble. Were you a teen sleuth as well?
I was, but not like Chanti, who acts on her desire to sleuth. I was not fond of violence or danger, so my sleuthing remained mental for the most part. Like Chanti, I lived in a not-so-great neighborhood and attended a private prep school on the other side of town, though the series is set in Denver and I grew up in Atlanta. I commuted via the city bus system for all of my middle, high school and college years. Between the bus rides and working a fast-food job downtown in a city considered the murder capital of America at the time, I witnessed several crimes-in-progress, from street-fights to a police officer being attacked to a guy pulling a gun on my crowded bus.  As the crimes happened, like everyone else around me, I was more concerned with not becoming collateral damage and staying safe. But later, I’d discuss it with my mom or play the crime over in my head and attach all kinds of stories to it – like who the bad guy was before he resorted to crime, what made him do it, and how the police would find him, since bad guys tend not to wait around for the cops to arrive. So my experience is very much in line with Chanti’s, except she gets involved and I hid or ran. I suppose she’s the girl I wanted to be – fearless. Chanti and I would both sneak peeks at our mother’s case files and come up with our own theories. Unlike Chanti, I can’t say that I helped my mom break any cases wide open, though.

Everyone in her life has secrets, it seems, or a past they are trying to escape. Did any of your characters' secrets surprise you as you wrote the books?
After I turned in My Own Worst Frenemy, the first book in the series, my editor asked why I never mentioned Chanti’s father. I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten about him. I knew he wasn’t going to be part of her day-to-day life, but I saw an opportunity to make him Chanti’s biggest mystery – the ongoing storyline behind each book’s closed storyline. So I introduced him in the second book, and we’ll see some of his backstory in the third installment. With each book, Chanti will uncover more of his secret, and in turn, why her mom kept him out of their lives.

So far, what are the joys and challenges of writing YA mystery?
It’s been mostly a joy to write. My first published book was nonfiction about how my family was affected by my mother’s work on a long serial murder investigation. It was dark and serious, and although I knew I wanted to make the switch to fiction, I thought I had to keep writing dark and serious. When I showed my first YA manuscript to my agent, she said it didn’t work. After some time away from it, I realized she was right. I was trying too hard to be dark and serious when my wheelhouse was really mystery/suspense with some humor and a little romance thrown in. Once I figured that out, I sold my second YA manuscript – the first book in the Langdon Prep series.

The biggest challenge is suppressing this fear at the start of every book that I’m too old to be writing YA and that my young readers will think I’m a fraud. I spend a great deal of my writing time getting into the head of my fifteen-year-old self and letting her tell the story without the filters of being a grownup.

Who are some of your favorite mystery authors, YA or otherwise?
I’m still discovering mystery authors because I rarely read mysteries until I realized that’s what I wanted to write, even though mystery/suspense/thriller have always been my favorite genres of TV and film. It’s great because I have this whole exciting reading world to discover and keep me busy for a while. But so far, my I’ve enjoyed YA mystery writers Marlene Perez, Ally Carter, and Linda Gerber. Adult authors I like include Walter Mosley, Janet Evanovich, Laura Lippman and Lee Child (I love a mystery-thriller combo). But I have a lot of catching up to do.

When does the third book drop, and what can we expect from Chanti?
Sweet 16 to Life will be out February 2013. The voice and style remain the same, but I want Chanti’s cases to grow in complexity and her skills to match. She’ll be busy trying to prove a friend’s innocence, figuring out what her mom’s hiding about her mysterious father, and getting more involved in the criminal activity of her neighborhood bad guys.

What else are you working on?
I’m plotting the fourth Langdon Prep book and starting a new series that I think will be more thriller than mystery and instead of a solo detective, it will have a team of crime-solvers.

Now for our signature SSA question: What writing secret will you reveal to us under the harsh light of the interrogation lamp?
I’m a huge movie fan so before I begin writing a chapter, I have to imagine it beginning to end the way it would play out in a film. It makes the story too dialogue-heavy in my first draft, but it’s perfect for laying out the action. Fortunately I have a vivid mental movie projector. I usually run through the scene at night before I go to sleep, then wake up and write the scene before I do anything else. I like to imagine I dream of plot turns and red herrings, but that’s probably all in my head.

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  1. Thanks, Kim, for a great interview!

  2. Thanks for inviting me Elisa -- I had fun!

  3. I LOVE Veronica Mars, and really mystery/crime shows in general, so that automatically puts these books on my to-read list :0)

    I'm also a huge fan of books that take place inside academies/prep schools!

  4. Terrific interview. I know from both her Langdon Prep series and her non-fiction book that Kim is extraordinarily talented - I'm looking forward to more mysteries and I like how she pictures scenes playing out like a film. Thanks for the interrogation!

  5. Id love a mystery with an urban twist! thanks for the chance to win!


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