Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Interview with Tina Wells, Author of The Zee Files

I (Holly Schindler, administrator of Smack Dab) was thrilled to chat with Tina Wells, the author of the utterly delightful Zee Files:

Let’s start with the elevator pitch. Short and sweet: Tell us what The Zee Files is all about.

The Zee Files is a coming-of-age series that follows Mackenzie “Zee” Carmichael from sunny LA to boarding school outside of London. She’s trying to balance a personal transformation with a lot of newness - new friends, new school, new home city.

Tell us a bit more about your protagonist. How did you go about crafting her? (As a side-note, I was instantly sucked in by the picture of her on the cover. I was one of those kids who got stuck in glasses early, and I never saw main characters in them. Even a little thing like glasses would have been so important to me as a young girl.)

I've been writing about Zee for almost 15 years. First in my series, Mackenzie Blue, and now in The Zee Files. What I love about Zee is that she is not perfect and she is not trying to be. She realizes she has struggles just like anyone else, and she’s just trying to manage while enjoying her life. Her style is unique and her approach to different situations is unique as well. 

And I’m glad you picked up on that! I’ve worn glasses since I was Zee’s age, and mine were not stylish at all! I still have nightmares about those hideous glasses! I have always wanted Zee to feel relatable to my readers, and I hope that she does.

I think all kids are afflicted by the fish-out-of-water feeling to some extent. Is that why you chose to send Zee on an international adventure?

Definitely. When I’m writing a series, I always think about the 40% of content that should feel very relatable and the 60% that should be fun and pure escapism. So you end up with fancy boarding school but just like me vibes.

You address some serious issues here as well. Did you find it difficult to address those issues without breaking the tween voice? 

Not at all. I just love tweens. I have a niece who’s a tween. She can have a very adult conversation in one moment and then need a bit of a boost in another. I’ve spent over 20 years marketing to a younger demographic and I always felt we shouldn’t talk down to them or make them grow up too fast. That’s the area I like to live in.

What’s your writing process like? Plotter or pantser?

Oh goodness! Depends on the day. For me, it’s characters first and creating the strongest group of personalities I can to keep the stories going for books and books.

How was it working with a writing partner? Does it change your approach to a book?

I’m on my 10th book with my writing partner, Stephanie Smith. She and I really work like yin and yang and she is just so brilliant and what she does. She has such great instincts and She takes my big ideas and builds beautiful stories and arcs. She is really a dream collaborator.

We have many authors who follow Smack Dab. They’re always curious: What was the acquisition process like?

Well, I have a very unorthodox path with this series. I partnered with Target and this series lived there exclusively for over a year. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to debut there (on the back cover of the weekly ad, no less!). It has been great to really build the audience there, but the highlight was the inclusion of the book in a holiday television ad! We took a chance on a big idea and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the partnership.

What’s next for Zee?

Oh, I have so many more stories to write for Zee. But there’s a lot of other things to explore, too. TV, film, merchandise…so much more to come. 

What’s next for you as an author?

More books to come in The Zee Files and Honest June, as well as the debut of a new series this fall, called The Stitch Clique. I really hope my readers enjoy all of these books as much as I do!

Where can we keep up with you online?

www.tinawells.com, @tinawells_ on Instagram.


  1. I can't wait to buy this book for my niece! Her name and her brothers' names all start with Z, so we often refer to them as Z1, Z2, and Z3, so the title alone does it for me! But I also appreciate that the author isn't trying to get kids to grow up too fast. Thanks for writing books we can feel good about giving to the kids in our lives!

  2. So great to meet you Tina! i will definitely check out these titles about Zee and her adventures.