Interview with Katryn Bury, Author of Drew Leclair Crushes the Case
Thanks so much for joining us at Smack Dab, Katryn. I always start with the obvious: Please tell us a bit about your latest book, Drew Leclair Crushes the Case (and also the Drew Leclair series).
Thanks for having me! The Drew Leclair mysteries started as a seedling of an idea: what if Harriet the Spy was reimagined in the age of social media? From there, Drew Leclair was born--a highly observant seventh grader who dreams of being a criminal profiler for the FBI and creates profiles on her classmates as if they were notorious criminals.
In the first book, Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, Drew is reeling from her mother suddenly leaving the family after running off with the guidance counselor from her daughter’s middle school. When an anonymous cyberbully releases the rumor with a mean post about Drew and her family, she sets out to unmask the bully. In Drew Leclair Crushes the Case, we find Drew making up for some of the mistakes she made in her first mystery. She’s promised herself that school mysteries are too much trouble, but gets sucked back in when her best friends ask her to solve the mystery of a nasty locker thief at Ella Baker Middle School.
With the Drew Leclair mysteries, I really tried to create books that deal with social issues as well as mysteries. I wanted a real kid dealing with real problems—growing along with the series, learning more about herself, and finding ways to correct past mistakes.
As a true crime nerd (and with degrees in sociology and criminology), I’d think you’d be a perfect fit for adult crime fiction. Why MG?
It’s funny you should ask, as I just finished writing an adult crime novel that I’m really passionate about! I tend to read more children’s books as a lifelong fan of books for the 8-18 range. Truthfully, I don’t find as many adult mysteries that suit my tastes, as I love books with a strong sense of humor but also a literary feel. I love Agatha Christie, of course. And, if they wrote a series of Benoit Blanc mysteries, I’d read them in a second! I’m excited to write books in the future that look like the books I’d want to find in the adult section but, in the meantime, I truly love middle grade. One of the main reasons is that I love writing about kids discovering who they are. Often, YA is presented as the real age category for “coming of age.” I actually think the real start comes in middle school. It’s at this age that you face some of your biggest social challenges as you define yourselves outside of your family unit for the first time.
I’m a sucker for voice, and Drew Leclair’s voice immediately sucked me in. It’s just a perfect mix of having personality and being youthful without sounding like an adult trying to write like how they think a kid would sound. It’s such a hard task to master–voice is actually maybe the the hardest aspect of writing. How did you tap into Drew’s voice?
I think it comes down to two things. First, as I said, I love reading middle grade. I’ve made it a habit to read as much as I can, studying the voices that I find the most authentic. Second, I was a school librarian at this level for many years before switching to public libraries. When I was writing Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, I was still working at a middle school and always taking notes about how kids that age speak--always observing, just like Drew!
What’s your writing process? How do you approach series writing?
I think that a part of me always hopes the books I write will turn into a series, for the same reason I read series books: I get too attached to the characters! That said, I have to approach each book as if it might be a standalone or the last in the series. I would never want to leave readers with too much of a cliffhanger. Of course, my third-grade daughter was very upset when she got to the end of Drew Leclair Crushes the Case and there wasn’t a book three yet. She wanted to see how a certain relationship panned out. I can’t say which because it’s a big spoiler!
As for my writing process, I’ve changed a lot since getting a book deal. Before, I would labor over a chapter over and over until it was perfect. Now, I like to write a draft as fast as possible so that I don’t end up polishing something I’ll cut later. It’s really hard to leave bad writing behind, but I’ve found I shine in revisions and write much better books because of it!
I have to ask about the attempt to ban Drew Leclair. This issue hits home for me first because I’m also a writer and also because I’m a Missourian, where a law was recently passed that could put librarians in jail for providing “sexually explicit material.” I’m just going to give you the floor on this one and ask you to speak about it a bit.
Ending book bans is a passion of mine on two fronts since I’m both a queer kidlit author and a librarian. When I found out that Drew Leclair Gets a Clue was facing an active challenge for LGBTQIA+ content, I was shocked. The representation in the books isn’t front and center and Drew (who questions if she is ace or bi, and finally settles on bi) isn’t remotely interested in physical content. While her straight friends are suddenly interested in holding hands and kissing, Drew is pretty grossed out by it all. In book one, all she says is that she has crushes on fictional characters from more than one gender. Pretty tame!
When I saw the news, it hit me hard. I only recently came out, and this kind of response is exactly why I didn’t for so long. And if it hit this hard for me, how would it be for kids? The amazing Kelly Yang, spoke recently about book bans and how people often respond by saying it’s a “badge of honor,” or that your “sales will go through the roof.” This last statement isn’t true (a book that is already a bestseller will do great, but not a book that is still finding its audience), but it’s also about so much more than that. Librarians and teachers may not carry these books out of fear for parent backlash. Those parents will claim that it’s not a real ban, simply a removal. But what about the kids whose parents can’t afford to buy books? More importantly, what will kids learn from the books on these lists? Like I felt growing up, they might feel the sting of shame and erasure. Kids listen to us, and the last message I want them to get is that they are not enough. In my day job and my writing job, I want to uplift kids for exactly who they are.
In addition to writing, you also host a podcast in which you pull back the curtain on the publishing industry, giving tips to those who are just beginning their publishing journey. What inspired you to start the podcast?
My critique partner, Eva Des Lauriers, and I decided to do the podcast because we were both struggling with where we were in our process (I had just published my first book, and she was about to go on submission after her first book with our agent didn’t sell). While we saw a lot of helpful blogs and videos about the nuts and bolts of the industry, both of us felt that we wished we were more mentally prepared for the struggle of being in this industry. For me, my debut year was one of the hardest of my life, and I wanted to be really transparent about that for other authors who may feel the same way. Now that she’s a debut with an impressive two-book deal with MacMillan (our amazing agent, Chelsea Eberly is just the best agent two ladies could ask for!), we’re both learning and growing with the process. When we realized that our journeys were helping other authors with their mental health through this process, we knew we had to keep going.
Do you have any words of advice for authors who have found themselves with a challenged book?
I think it will vary from author to author, but I would definitely say to give yourself a few days to feel the entire roller coaster of emotions you’ll go through. When you emerge, be honest about those feelings and fears. I think so many use the “badge of honor” line and, in a lot of ways, it’s true! We know we’re on the right side of history here because what we’re doing is telling the truth. But sometimes boiling it down to a simple slogan can diminish the other feelings involved. I want to be very clear about the possibly catastrophic impact that book bans could have on our youth. These groups really hang their hat on “protecting children” as a way to bolster their argument, and we need to be honest about how what they’re doing is hurting children in so many ways. Showing a kid that other types of kids exist (in books dealing with racism, queer issues, and more) will build empathy. Showing kids their reflection in a book could save their life.
What do you hope that young readers will take from the Drew Leclair series?
I think that I always approach a story because I see an injustice. Drew Leclair is a fun character and solves mysteries that are equally fun! But, there is always a bit of a social story happening too. In Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, I would want the readers to learn that making mistakes is an opportunity, and that standing up to bullies sometimes means standing up to the systems that create them. In Drew Leclar Crushes the Case, I pull the curtain back on wealth disparity (a big problem in my/Drew’s hometown of Oakland and how the wealthy sometimes use their money against people who don’t have it. With both of these stories, I wanted to write a satisfying conclusion to social stories that often don’t have neat endings. Truthfully, I just love comeuppance!
What’s next for Drew?
I have a whole plan for Drew that continues her friendship with Trissa, Zora, and Alix on spring break at a sleepaway camp for nerds. I just hope they let me write it! I think, because I make Drew age, there can only be so many mysteries for her (it certainly won’t be in the hundreds like my other favorite detective, Nancy Drew) but I do have more stories in me in the Drew Leclair universe!
Where can we find you?
I’m most present on Instagram, but you can find me on Twitter and Tiktok as well, all under @katrynwrites. Also, check out my website (katrynbury.com) for events, a subscribable newsletter and other updates. I would also love if people would check out me and Eva on Spotify, Apple, and most other platforms in our podcast, Write Where it Hurts. I don’t quite have a cover yet, but I also have a new book coming out next fall, We Are Not Alone. I’m so excited about this one as it has big contemporary middle grade feels and deals with kids who look for the secrets of UFOs and aliens. Find me on Goodreads and add it while you do!