I am a huge Katie Silvensky fan so I’m extra excited to have her here to day to answer some questions. If you haven’t read her 2017 debut, The Countdown Conspiracy, get on that right now. It’s perfect for summer reading! I also can’t wait to dive into her second novel, The Seismic Seven, which pits seven smart kids against a supervolcano with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Just that description gets my heart racing.
Let’s talk to Katie!
You write fast paced, science infused, high stakes thrillers for kids. Tell me a little bit about how that came to happen.
I’m lucky enough to have a career in informal science education, so I get perspectives from kids all the time about what is fun and exciting to them in the world of science. As it turns out, it’s usually what I’m super into, as well! Space travel. Giant volcanos. Prehistoric creatures. When I started pursuing publication seriously just under a decade ago, I knew that would be my angle: use what I was enthusiastic about (and what kids are enthusiastic about) to fuel my books.
My background as a scientist gave me the skillset to research with accuracy and speed to create the scenarios my books are founded on, and my lifelong love of action/adventure stories gave me the mold to work with to create my own. The only thing left to do was to practice, practice, practice, and revise, revise, revise!
Your books have ensemble casts with kids hailing from around the world and from various cultures, races and ethnicities. What kind of research do you do to make sure you get those different voices correct?
As authors, we have an incredible responsibility to our readers in this regard. I have personally made the decision to write only from the POV of my own cultural and racial background, while making sure that my ensemble cast of characters reflects the diversity of our world. I spend a lot of time working to get these varying voices to feel genuine, not perpetuate any harmful stereotypes, and stay respectful and unforced. It’s been a big learning curve—and I know I have much more learning still to do!
To accomplish the above, one thing I do is to read a lot of books by authors that share backgrounds with my characters. I have found this to be incredibly helpful way to get to know differing voices. I also do a lot of research into the modern history of each ethnicity/disability/culture/etc (as well as keeping up on current events). But these are really just first steps—getting voice “right” is as much about what you know and can put into the story as it is about what you don’t know or what should not be put in the story. Therefore, I seek out paid sensitivity readers to help me with characters whose backgrounds are different than my own. Hands down, this has been the most important and most helpful thing to do. I have received incredibly thoughtful feedback from sensitivity readers that has all served to change my narrative and characters for the better. I could not be more grateful for their honesty and work.
I tell everyone who will listen that The Countdown Conspiracy has the best ending of a middle grade book maybe ever! Do you work up a detailed plot outline before you begin writing or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I’m definitely a plotter, not a pantser. I create pages upon pages of detailed outlines, character arcs, maps, diagrams, everything! Messily, I should add. These notes aren’t neat or pretty in the slightest. They’re scribbles all over any type of paper I can grab when ideas hit, including junk mail envelopes, receipts, and napkins.
…Though, I have to say, I never wrote down the ending to COUNTDOWN on any of my plotting notes. I knew the ending, but I kept it in my head (or perhaps in my heart) for fear someone, somehow, would find it and get spoiled!
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
Both of my parents are readers and got me hooked on books from childhood. I was that kid who always carried a book with them. My imagination was enormous and books were like magic!
The first evidence I have of writing came from a notebook I had when I was about 4. (I wrote a story about a girl who got a cat as a present. Clearly, I was destined to be an author.) But it wasn’t until 2nd grade that my love for writing really kicked in. My teacher gave our class a creative writing prompt that I didn’t complete on time because the story wasn’t done. Rather than force me to hand it in unfinished, my teacher encouraged me to keep writing and even began reading it aloud to the room week after week as I added to it. My classmates were always tremendously eager to hear each new chapter. As the “quiet kid”, having attention on me in a positive way that built confidence was a new and exciting thing. Ever since then, storytelling has been a critically important part of my life.
Who are your favorite authors?
To name a few (because I could go on all day): Rick Riordan, Richard Adams, Ibi Zoboi, JK Rowling, Douglas Adams, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and Diana Wynne Jones.
What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?
I like to take nature walks and practice my photography. 🙂
What are you working on right now?
Ooooh, right now I have three projects I’m working on. Each very different, but all middle grade and adventuresome. Stay tuned!
How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?
Thank you so much for the interview, Beth! This has been fun!
Title: THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s
Release date: August 1st, 2017
Blurb: Miranda Regent can’t believe she was just chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. But as soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening messages…and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.
The Martian meets The Goonies in this out-of-this-world middle grade debut where the stakes couldn’t be higher.
****A Junior Library Guild Selection: Fall 2017****
Title: THE SEISMIC SEVEN
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s
Release date: June 5th, 2018
Blurb: Brianna Dobson didn’t plan to spend her summer saving the planet from total destruction—but what starts as an educational experience shadowing geologist Dr. Samantha Grier in Yellowstone National Park quickly becomes a race to stop a massive volcanic eruption the likes of which the humanity has never seen.
Seven kids. One supervolcano. One chance to save the world.
Katie Slivensky is an educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does presentations with alligators and liquid nitrogen (not usually at the same time), and runs the rooftop observatory program. Katie lives in a suburb of Boston with her two completely absurd cats, Galileo and Darwin, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find her online at www.katieslivensky.com, and follow her on Twitter at @paleopaws.