In our continuing effort to bring you great authors, we are proud to present an interview with Taylor Kitchings. The talented Kitchings is not only an author, he’s an accomplished musician and an English teacher. His debut novel, Yard War, tackles the topic of racism in Mississippi during the 1960’s and has received rave reviews. I recently asked him about his debut middle grade book.
Middle Grade Mafia: This questions is cliche but due to the topic I have to ask—what inspired you to write this book?
Taylor Kitchings: When I was eight years old our maid, Willie Jane, brought her son with her a couple of times and we got to know each other and threw the football a couple of times in the front yard. I clearly remember the night my mother told me the neighbors had called and complained and I could not play football with my friend anymore. My initial reaction was more confusion than anger because I honestly did not understand what the problem was. I guess that memory needed a few decades to percolate before it was ready to become a novel.
MGM: There are so many wonderful little details in the book that add to its authentic voice. How did you go about researching the time period for your book?
TK: For 1964 toys, snacks, TV shows, news events, slang, etc., I began with memory and verified with Google. It was a fairly demanding process to ensure that there were no anachronisms. Much of the novel is structured around October Saturdays in 1964, and I had to do precise research, not only on the 1964 Ole Miss team that year but also on topics like weather—I might have needed rain for my story, but I couldn’t let it rain unless it really happened on that day in Jackson, Mississippi in 1964.
MGM: Since the topic is about racism in the 1960’s, did you run into many obstacles in getting the story published?
TK: Luckily, the subject of racism was of interest to both my agent and editor, neither of whom are from the South–and the historical aspect was also attractive to them.
MGM: What do you feel is the best grade for this book and what do you want the kids to take away from it?
TK: I can see YARD WAR as an auxiliary text in a fifth or sixth grade history class. I also think it would be valuable summer reading for any middle school grade level. My hope is that it not only broadens young readers’ perspective about the racial crisis of the 1960s but also provides an inspirational story in its example of a determined twelve year old who thinks with his heart.
MGM: In your best English teacher voice, what is the best advice you can give to writers of middle grade novels?
TK: Class, if you would be a writer of middle grade novels, you must be willing to bring your passionate, fully engaged voice to the page every day, no matter how ordinary a day it is. The world is full of “willed writing”—the voices that stand out had no choice but to speak. Combine that urgency with something fresh to say—and never hand over your world to the adults.