Happy book birthday to Jill Diamond for her latest middle grade novel, Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza. We asked Jill about her path to publishing.

Middle Grade Mafia: Where did you find inspiration for Lou Lou and Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza and the diverse cast of characters?

Jill Diamond: Lou Lou and Pea’s community of El Corazón is based on the Mission District in San Francisco. I have lived in or near the Mission for nearly seventeen years and many of the characters are inspired by my neighbors and friends in San Francisco and beyond. For the BONANZA plot, I drew inspiration from my own love of fashion (aligned with Pea’s), stories with classic exaggerated villains (there is a very obvious one in the book!), and my interest in local history (although the history in BONANZA is imagined, not real).

MGM: Since your Lou Lou and Pea series is illustrated middle grade, is your writing process any different from other novels?

JD: When I wrote the first book, LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY, I didn’t know the series would be illustrated. That was an exciting decision made by my publisher. For BONANZA, I wouldn’t say that the writing process was different in a practical sense, but I definitely wrote scenes with Lesley’s illustrations in mind. As I was drafting, I would think about how she could work her fun magic to turn the words into visual art. I also occasionally modify the text to match the illustrations if Lesley’s art differs slightly from my initial vision in a way that makes more sense for the characters or scene.

MGM: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding writing?

JD: I have received so much good writing advice, it’s hard to choose! I’m going to go with a quote I love from Ursula K. Le Guin that really resonates with me:
“[B]efore I know much of anything about the story I have to see the place, the landscape, and I have to know the principal people. By name. And it has to be the right name. If it’s the wrong name, the character won’t come to me. I won’t know who the person is. The character won’t talk, won’t do anything.”
This is true for me as well. I need to be well-acquainted with my setting and my characters before the story can come to life. And the right names are so important to me. I came up with Lou Lou and Pea’s names before I thought of any other ideas for the book or even knew what sort of characters they would turn out to be!

MGM: How long from when you started writing until it was published.

JD: Five years, forty-three days, ten hours, and twenty-one minutes. Or, at least, about that long!

MGM: What age group would you say is ideal for your mysteries and where do they fit on the bookstore shelves?

JD: I think the ideal age range is 8-11, but I know older kids (and even adult kids) who have enjoyed the books, as well as kids younger than eight who have read Lou Lou and Pea on their own or as a read aloud. I hope you’d find Lou Lou and Pea hanging out in the bookstore among friendship stories, books featuring multicultural communities, fun and whimsical stories, and other mysteries, of course!

MGM: Can you share a fun photo?

Here’s a book selfie.