Author Spotlight : Briana McDonald

About the author :

Briana McDonald writes adventurous and diverse stories for young readers. Her debut, PEPPER’S RULES FOR SECRET SLEUTHING, will be available with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in Fall 2020. Briana is also the author of several published pieces of short fiction and is a book reviewer for The Literary Review. When she’s not writing, she is an Academic Advisor at Columbia University. 

Can you tell me more about the book.

My debut novel is PEPPER’S RULES FOR SECRET SLEUTHING, an action-packed middle grade mystery featuring overzealous amateur detective Pepper Blouse as she solves the mystery of her Great Aunt’s murder – and her new feelings for girls. 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved writing, and have been writing stories before I even knew the alphabet! I would draw and write scribbled lines meant to represent my stories. My love of stories never left me, and I’ve been an avid reader and writer my entire life. 

How long does it take you to write a book?

I’ll often have ideas for stories and characters in my mind for years until the right characters click with the right story in my mind. After that, I am a pretty fast drafter – it usually only takes me around 3-6 months to complete a full draft of a novel. From there, I’ll go into an extensive revision process with my critique partners and agent. 

What do you love most about writing stories for children?

Writing for children is important to me for various reasons. From a craft perspective, I love the opportunity to mix fun, adventerous stories with really true and heartfelt themes. I also love writing for a specific audience and being able to connect with my readers directly through classroom visits and readings. In general, though, as someone who was an enthusiastic reader in her youth, I know how transformative and impactful stories can be – not only to develop empathy for others, but also to empower readers who may not typically see themselves or their stories represented in mainstream media. 

Where do you get your inspiration from?

For PEPPER in particular, a lot of my inspiration came from the classic middle grade mysteries I read growing up. I would devour anything from the NANCY DREW series, or by Joan Lowery Nixon. It felt important to me to write a contemporary adaptation of the “classic” middle grade mystery with a cast of characters that represented me and my community. 

How did you get your first story published and what was it about?

I’ve published several short stories, but PEPPER will be my debut novel. I originally wrote PEPPER while finishing my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and took several months to revise before querying literary agents. From there, I signed with my incredible agent, Jennie Kendrick, and we sold the book to Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Since then, I’ve been working with my amazing editor, Amanda Ramirez, and the book will be available on September 29h, 2020. 

What topics do your stories cover and why are these important to you?

A few topics explored in PEPPER are grieving, loss, friendship, and sexual identity. Pepper has always followed the Detective Rulebook left by her late cop mom and solved mysteries to keep her memory alive – even at the cost of her friendships. As she tackles her latest case – her Great Aunt’s suspected murder – Pepper must learn to loosen her grip on the memory of her mother and become her own detective. A lot of my stories are about loss, whether of a loved one who has passed, or loss of a friendship, relationship, or stage in life. Learning to let go and accept change has always been a theme I’m drawn to, and have grappled with in my own life. It felt important to explore that in my novel, not only because the theme is so close to my heart, but also because I wanted to root Pepper’s interest in sleuthing in something deeper than a general curiosity or love of mysteries. 
At the same time Pepper is working to solve her latest case, she’s dealing with a personal mystery: her crush on her female classmate, and what that means about her sexuality. As a queer author, it’s important to me that young readers are able to see themselves represented in my stories, the way I would have loved to see myself represented growing up. It was also important to me that I write a middle grade book with queer characters that wasn’t just about coming out, so young readers can see themselves represented as the heroes in action-packed, adventurous stories. I’m so excited to see more diverse books being published in children’s literature, so young readers can see themselves represented across genres and identities. 

Who is your favourite children’s author and why?

I have so, so many! I mentioned that I loved the mysteries by Joan Lowery Nixon when I was growing up. Right now, one of my favorite middle grade authors is Sheila Turnage. The MO & DALE MYSTERIES series is so heartfelt and hilarious, and I can’t recommend them enough!

Why do you think it is important for children to develop a love of reading?

Stories can be empowering: the ability to tell and share stories fosters connection and visibility. I think it’s not only important to develop a love of reading in children, but to ensure all children have access to books, particularly diverse books that represent them, their communities, and foster empathy for their peers. 
What do you plan on writing next ?I’m continuing to write diverse and adventurous books for middle grade readers, and hope to share more stories with you soon!

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