I’ve had this blog post scheduled for a while. Long before the chaos of COVID-19 hit. I debated if we should hold off, but after talking to Wendy, we both feel the world needs some non-COVID-19 things to talk about and enjoy. Wendy is so fun, and I hope you enjoy this fabulous interview!
Today is going to be awesome! I’m so excited to have Wendy McLeod MacKnight here on my blog!
Wendy is the author of THREE amazing Middle Grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press, 2017), The Frame-Up (Greenwillow Books, 2018), and her most recent release The Copycat (Greenwillow Books, 2020), which came out last week!
Wendy and I met as middle grade authors through the debut group the Sweet Sixteens, and bonded over kindred-spirit characters. When I was on the hunt for a new agent, a happy twist of fate landed me with Wendy’s, and I’m just thrilled to have an excuse to ask all the questions and to get to know her, and her latest book, even better!
I’m just going to jump right in, but as always, I’ll be in green bold.
Thanks Janet! I’m going to try and explain the concept without any spoilers! THE COPYCAT tells the story of Ali Sloane, whose family has moved WAY too many times during her short twelve years. To survive all these new schools, Ali has learned to adapt; whatever the popular kids are doing, so is she. When she and her parents move to Saint John to live with her great-grandmother, Ali hopes that she can finally set down roots and make real friends. But it isn’t easy to be yourself when you’re not sure who yourself really is. Throw in a family feud and a mysterious fog and things get way more complicated for Ali!
A family feud and mysterious fog are sure-fire ways to complicate anyone’s life! I love it! So what inspired you to write THE COPYCAT?
My own life! I moved five times before I was sixteen, twice between the time I was fourteen and sixteen years old. The last two moves were incredibly hard, and I struggled. I was so lonely, and to make friends, I would try hard to be like them instead of myself. It was painful, and I definitely wanted to write about how hard it can be to be your authentic self when you’re just trying to survive socially.
I knew the book had to be set in Saint John, New Brunswick because a) the fog is really something; b) it’s such a cool port city; and c) the character of Gigi is (very) loosely based on my grandmother, Huia Ryder, who was a force of nature, and from who I inherited my love of all things gaudy and sparkly!
I think you nailed how painful it is when you’re trying to be just like everyone else, and it just isn’t you. This idea of being true to yourself is a major theme in your book. Did you ever struggle with fitting in as a kid?
Um, see above! Honestly? I am a total goofball and people pleaser, so it was hard to find my people sometimes. But I’m also totally lucky: my best friends from grade one are still my friends, and the group of friends I acquired after our last move are still my friends. But I have no idea where any of the kids are that I befriended when I was fourteen, so that kind of tells you that they were never real friends, and the first batch of friends I made in Fredericton didn’t totally stick either.
I’m a people-pleaser, too. I totally get that. (And the goofball bit is probably why we get along so well!). Not all childhood friends stick, but I’m always amazed that the best ones keep coming back, even after years of separation.
So now that you have all kinds of wisdom and hind-sight, what advice would your adult self give to your past self?
Advice? I was a sensitive, drama-prone romantic who felt awkward a lot of the time. I’d love to tell younger me to hang in there and be true to herself, but I don’t think she’d believe me. I’d also tell her to keep believing in magic. That I think she’d believe.
Haha! Yeah, I didn’t believe the adults much either, but they were right. And amen about the magic!
Taking a little turn here . . . one of the things I loved about your book were all of the side notes, like “Ali’s List of Schools (So Far).” I am a BIG fan of lists. Did you include these with the original manuscript? How did these become a thing? (Which I’m so glad they did!)
I love lists, too! Those lists were always there, though I think my agent, Lauren Galit, really encouraged me to go for them!
She’s a wise one!
The lists were a shorthand way to impart information, but they were also a way to give the reader a sense of how much Ali tries to control things in a world in which she has very little control. She loves her parents, but the moves are painful for Ali, and they’ve caused a huge amount of bitterness. I didn’t want to shy away from that; when we moved, I was furious with my dad for months. I basically left the Pig Face neighborhood and had no friends for months and it was awful. Later, I got that my dad had no choice, but when you’re a kid, you don’t think of your parents as sometimes being helpless.
So true! And then it’s a shock when you become an adult and realize the truth, that we’re all just doing our best. But I love that you let Ali express her bitterness, because it’s HARD being a kid, and having to deal with the consequences of choices we didn’t make.
So let’s talk characters! I know this is a cruel question, but do you have a favorite character from your book? I’m kind of partial to Alfie with his cool British accent, and mysterious life. And I love how important family is to him. I think we would have been friends.
I love Alfie. I’m kind of partial to Gigi, who is (very) loosely based on my grandmother. In the end though, I think I love Digger best, because he really is trying, despite all of his pain!
Putting bits from people we love into our characters is one of the best parts of being an author! And isn’t it interesting how we love the characters who hurt the worst? I feel the same way about my own characters.
Okay, you know I have to ask. If you were a Copycat, what would be your favorite thing to turn into?
In no particular order: A goldfinch, Batgirl, Amal Clooney, and Adele.
Gah! I really want to know why on all of these . . . okay, except Adele, because she’s AMAZING . . . but that might be a long detour, so I’m letting you off the hook. But fascinating answers!
Okay, I would love to learn more about you! Being an author is a second career for you. Can you tell us about your past life, and also, why you decided to become an author (and particularly a middle grade one!)?
In my past life, I worked for the Government of New Brunswick, and ended my career in charge of the Department of Education. All of my positions in government were about supporting children or vulnerable people, and it was so rewarding.
I decided to become an author when I was eight or nine years old, and that desire never wavered. Finally, I got up the courage to try! I only ever wanted to write middle grade fiction, because the books I read when I was that age are the books that have stuck with me for my entire life. They’re the books I read over and over. It’s such a magical time of life for reading and it’s a privilege to write for middle grade readers!
Amen, my friend! It is a huge privilege. Anything else you want to share? Random facts, things that are important to know about you . . .
Other things about me: Sapphire is my favourite colour, I’d walk for hours for a piece of chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting, I feed every kind of critter (although raccoons are my favourite), I adore science fiction TV series and movies, consider Jaws the perfect movie, am petitioning to adopt Baby Yoda, and never turn down cheese.
You Canadians are so cute the way you spell ‘favorite’! I love it! (haha!) And this is a wild coincidence, but when I went to Canada last year, I came face to face with a raccoon. I think it wanted me to feed it. Maybe it was one of yours! But oy, on Jaws. I saw it when I was super young in the theaters, and that movie still gives me nightmares. I’m a total wimp.
Are you ready for this next bit? Speed round!
Cadbury vs. Hershey’s?
Cadbury! Canada is a Commonwealth Country!
PB&J vs. mac & cheese?
I’m allergic to nuts, so mac ‘n cheese all the way!
Christopher Robin. He always suspects he’s going to grow up and he sucks the marrow out of his time in the hundred-acre wood. Fortunately for me, I haven’t grown up yet!
Campfire & S’mores vs. Symphony & Crème Brûlée?
Definitely campfire and s’mores. But if I can eat Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris, I’m there!
What?! I had Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris just last week, and you totally weren’t there. I now feel cheated. And that is bad news on the nuts! But when you come visit, I will forgo my usual PB&J and whip you up some mac ‘n’ cheese. 😊
Okay, final question. License Plates. I always have to ask. What would Ali’s personalized license plate be if she were old enough to drive? You have 8 letters, and GO! (P.S. do you have personalized plated in Canada?)
We sure do have personalized license plates in Canada!
Hmmm, I think Ali would go with FAMILY. Corny, but true!
I don’t mind corny! I mean, aren’t all personalized license plates just a little bit corny? As they should be. Thank you so much for indulging all my questions and visiting us here on the blog! And wishing all the best for you and THE COPYCAT!
Thank you so much for asking me to visit your blog, Janet! I am a huge Janet Sumner Johnson fan!
Awww, get on with you. 😌💓
As for the rest of you, thanks so much for stopping in and reading! You can find all the links for following Wendy on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of THE COPYCAT!
Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a small town with a library card as her most prized possession. She is the author of three middle grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press), The Frame-Up (a fantasy that asks “What if every original piece of art is actually alive?”) and The Copycat (both from Greenwillow Books). In her spare time, she gardens, hangs with her family and friends, and feeds raccoons.