I am happy to share in the excitement of the new doll and book series from American Girl® -Tenney Grant™ with this interview with author Kellen Hertz and book series giveaway!
Learn about author Kellen Hertz and her characters and stories by reading this series of questions and answers:
Kellen Hertz, author of the book series for American Girl’s new contemporary character, Tenney Grant, was raised by New Yorkers in Fresno, California, a combination which resulted in an overactive imagination and a yearning for bagels. She decided to become a writer at age 10 after reading L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” series, since the job of Princess of Oz was already taken. At 12, her unfinished first novel was tragically lost in a sea of library books on the floor of her room, forcing her to seek other employment. She’s been a screenwriter, an Emmy nominated television producer, a bookseller, and a staffer for a U.S. Congressman, which is exactly as boring as it sounds. Although she doesn’t play guitar like Tenney, like her, she has a creatively addled brain and a passion for all kinds of music. She loves vintage maps, rare names, strong coffee, and words and all the flavors they come in. Most of all, she loves her family. She lives with her husband and son in Los Angeles.
Kellen, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you live, a little about your family & your interests?
Sure! I’ve been writing since I was a kid, or nearly – I wrote my first play when I was thirteen or fourteen, and ever since then I’ve dreamed of being a professional writer so that I could tell all the stories that were bouncing around my head.
I grew up in Fresno, which is a town in the middle of California. My parents were both from New York City, though, so growing up there, I often felt like a fish out of water. I left for college when I was seventeen. Since then, I’ve lived in a bunch of places, but now I live on the East side of Los Angeles, with my husband, who’s a documentary editor and music composer, and my three year old son.
My interests mainly center around writing and reading. I love reading middle grade and YA books the most, but I also read a lot of scripts, because I still write scripts and pilots for TV and film. Other interests include COFFEE! :) And traveling, running, music, and hanging out with my family.
Please tell us about your career experiences (as a screenwriter and television producer) and how you found your way to writing the Tenney Grant series for American Girl.
I went to film school for screenwriting, and while I was there I wrote a script that got me an agent and some work as a writer, but after that I actually got writer’s block and really struggled for a while. I was pretty young and because I’d wanted to write since I was 12, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be GREAT immediately... which basically led to me never finishing anything.
So I took a writing break and went to work in TV, working on nonfiction and documentary shows, which allowed me to be creative without having to be in a vacuum. I always kept writing scripts and stories on the side, and I had some scripts optioned, but by and large I worked in TV production. When I had my son, I wanted to slow down a little and focus on him and also on my writing, because it was more flexible.
A fabulous woman I knew from UCLA Film School had just gotten a job being an Executive Producer for the online content at American Girl, and I just impulsively shot her an email about it, and told her congratulations and how much I’d always loved the AG books and content, and how I was trying to transition back into full-time writing. And incredibly, a month or so later she emailed me and said they were looking for a writer who could help out on a book very short notice, and could I send a writing sample. So I sent a script I had written with a teenage girl protagonist, and the editors at AG read it and really liked it, which was fantastic. So they offered me a job working on what turned out to be “Lea and Camilla.” I also worked with Lisa Yee on this book, as she was the primary author of the Lea series.
Everyone at AG loved what I turned in for “Lea and Camilla,” and Lisa loved it and was generous enough to give me notes and do some revisions (we share co-authorship on the book). A month or so later, AG asked if I wanted to develop Tenney with them! Which was a dream come true, pretty much!
Tell us about Tenney and the other characters in the series.
Tenney is for me a very interesting mix of introvert and extrovert, which I think you have to be as a singer-songwriter. She’s the middle child in a musical family. Music is how she expresses her thoughts and figures out her emotions. So she has this special skill of songwriting that’s really unique... but in other ways she’s very much a typical 12 year old. She has issues with her parents, and issues balancing school and family and music. She’s becoming very self-aware, the way teens do, which can make her self-conscious and insecure, but what drives her is her passion to create and her need to express herself through songs.
While I was writing her, I started to notice that everything about how she sees and views the world is filtered through her musicality. So when she’s excited, her heart’s pounding in a jitterbug tempo, or an idea crashes in her head like a cymbal. Those are bad examples, but you get the idea.
Tenney’s comfortable on-stage, but in life I’d say she’s less comfortable being the focus of attention. She’s not someone who fantasizes about being a star, she’s someone who fantasizes about playing her songs and feeling them connect to other people ... that’s an important distinction for me.
Logan is similar to Tenney, but also different. Tenney is by nature an optimist, because her family’s very stable and happy and her life is very focused. Logan’s family life is more unsettled, so his world view is a bit darker and more skeptical. Like Tenney, he has a passion for music, and his musicality is like an extension of himself. Also like her, he has issues with being able to communication. He can come off as harsh sometimes.
The ways in which Tenney and Logan are different and are forced to get better at communication as they collaborate musically was a key theme in how we developed the stories.
How did you develop the characters and stories? Did you have any particular inspiration?
For Tenney’s character, I thought a lot about Sara Crewe in “A Little Princess” - a character’s who is remarkable in her resilience and positive attitude, and Mary in “A Secret Garden,” who has this wonderful sassy tartness to her. I wanted Tenney to have a spark of each of those things. She’s kind, but when it comes to her music, she has a stubborn artistic vision and a need to protect and nurture her own voice ... to figure out what SHE wants to say, and say it.
I also drew a lot on my own memories of myself as an introverted kid who needed to write stuff down to really process my emotions and figure out how I felt about things.
As I started writing Tenney with Logan, I watched a lot of Hepburn/Tracy and thought about the banter between great film couples like them. For me, it was less about romance, though, and more about setting up and then exploring that “oil and water” dichotomy that a lot of professional partnerships deal with, too. What happens when you have to work with someone who communicates differently than you, and whose personality is completely opposite? How do you overcome that and find a way to work together.
What’s next for you?
I’m still finishing up Tenney’s 4th book! And I’m also working on a biopic miniseries about an American female spy in WWII for some producers. After that, I’m hoping to write up a book proposal for my own YA book.
Working for American Girl was seriously a dream come true. I had a fantastic time, and I really hope to continue collaborating with them on Tenney and potentially other characters!
Thank you Kellen for this insightful interview!
And now for even more fun! American girl if offering 5 sets of the first two books Kellen's Tenney Grant series to my blog readers!
To enter to win, simply leave a comment on this post. If your comment is selected by the random number generator, you'll win! Giveaway ends 3/10/17 7:00 p.m CST
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Thanks for entering! The winners are:
Jeremy, Lisa, Susan, Tricia & Peggy!