Although we focus on young adult literature here on Teen Lit Rocks, we also think Middle Grade Rocks! My 9-year-old daughter is particularly invested in books aimed at 8-12 year olds, and we are big fans of author-illustrator Marissa Moss‘ MIRA’S DIARY series. It started with LOST IN PARIS, continued with HOME SWEET ROME, and earlier this year released a third installment, BOMBS OVER LONDON. The book follows young Mira, who believes her mother has disappeared until she realizes her mother is actually a time-traveler and so is she! Mira can be in the same time and place as her mother, but they’re not supposed to interact, even as they separately work together to solve a mystery or stop something from happening.
My daughter and I worked together in the same time and place to come up with some questions for Marissa Moss, who was just here in Washington D.C. We wish we had been able to see her, but getting her answers to our questions is thrilling too!
I love history and the diary format, so it made sense to put the two together. I’ve written historical journals before but hey were from the point of view of people living during those times (like a pioneer girl, a girl living in 1776 Boston, during the 1930s dustbowl, etc). I thought it’d be fun to have a contemporary character experience the past and the only way to do that is using time travel.
2. Do you pick the time period for each story first and then which famous people Mira will meet, or the other way around?
Each book is different. With the first one, Lost in Paris, I wanted to spend time with my favorite Impressionist artist, Degas. Doing research on him, I came up against his anti-Semitism, which led me to the Dreyfus Affair, which led me to Emile Zola. That’s one of the fun things about research — you never know where it will take you.
3. Why do you think the WWI period in London is such a fascinating time for Mira’s fans to read about?
I chose a specific time during the history of WWI dealing with the question of whether the U.S. should enter the war at all. That’s one of those big time travel, what-if kind of questions. What if American hadn’t entered the war? What if Germany had won? What would the world be like today?
I picked London because of the conflict between women’s struggle for the right to vote and still support the war effort. It was a time where women’s work became vital. They proved their worth, so they were rewarded with the vote. Much sooner than in our country.
4. How much research do you do to write about real historical figures and events in the Mira’s Diary series? How do you organize your writing?
I do a tremendous amount of research since I never know exactly what will end up in the book. As I read, I take notes about people and events I might want to include. A lot of that doesn’t end up in the story, but it helps me know more fully the world I’m creating.
5. We want to travel to Europe even more now after reading your books. Have you been to the places you write about? Which are your favorites?
Yes, and I’ve been lucky enough to live in both Paris and Rome, so I know those cities very well. I’d have to say Rome is my favorite because walking down the streets is like time-traveling — you see layers of history in the buildings. Bits of ancient Roman sculpture embedded in a medieval wall next to a Renaissance arch by a Baroque church. There’s a visual richness like no other place I know. Plus, of course, pizza, pasta, and gelato!
6. We love middle grade books, but it seems like middle grade books don’t get as much publicity or an adult audience as young adult books. What do you think middle grade books have to offer grown-up readers?
I read mostly middle-grade books myself because they tend to be better written than adult fiction. Kids are highly critical readers and if you don’t write well, they put the book down and find something more interesting to do. Adult readers are more patient and they’ll plod through 25 pages of mediocre writing, waiting for the story to get better. By then, they’ve already invested a chunk of time, so they keep on reading, hoping for improvements that aren’t likely to happen. Because if you’re going to write well, wouldn’t you do that from the start?
Also I think the issues that attract middle-grade readers are interesting. They have a keen sense of justice, of what really matters, and a great sense of humor. Those things are sometimes lost or dulled in grown-ups.
7. What authors and books have influenced you as a reader and a writer?
That’s a very long list, so I’m not sure where to start, but of course, J.K. Rowling. Also E.B. White, A. A. Milne, Roald Dahl, Sharon Creech, Jonathon Stroud, Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Draper, Louis Sacher, Jennifer Holm, Gennifer Choldenko. To name a few.
8. Are there any plans to make a movie or TV show based on your books?
I wish! There’s an animated Amelia video on my website, www.marissamoss.com, from when the books were published by American Girl, and there’s been interest in several other books, but nothing’s ever come of it. Publishing is tough, but Hollywood is even tougher!