Hello people! Today I have a interview with the one and only Kellen Hertz for you guys! She is the author of Tenney's series, as well as Lea and Camila. Here we go!
KH- Kellen Hertz
AGDN- How did you find out about American Girl?
KH- I first learned about AG when I was 14 or 15.W e got an American Girl catalog in the mail. I remember looking at it and thinking that Samantha Parkington reminded me of Sara Crewe from “A Little Princess,” which is one of my all-time favorite books. I secretly wanted to get her, but I was a teenager, so of course I was too cool for that. :) I also read the early Samantha and Kit books from the library. After that, I got busy being a teenager and it fell off my radar, but I've always really appreciated American Girls' devotion to creating characters, not just dolls, and using history as a backdrop, since I love anything historical.
AGDN- How was it like working with Lisa Yee on Lea and Camila?
KH- Working with Lisa was great! She is the nicest and most generous person and writer. I co-wrote the third book in the Lea series, “Lea and Camilla.” I got that job because they were looking for someone to help Lisa Yee as she was very busy with the other two books. The editors at AG read a screenplay of mine about Queen Elizabeth I as a thirteen year old. They really liked the plotting and dialogue and characters and thought my voice was a good fit with American Girl. Also, I happen to be a huge middle grade and YA fan, so although I had never written a book before, I knew the genre very well. I read the first two Lea books and then wrote an outline, which Lisa and the editors really liked. Then I wrote the draft of the book and Lisa gave me notes and did some tweaks to the manuscript. In general, though, everyone was really really happy with the story I told …which was directly inspired by Lisa's great writing in Lea's first two books. So it was a fabulous way to be introduced to writing for American Girl!
AGDN- How did you come up with Tenney's story?
KH- Well, American Girl had decided that they wanted to make a doll who was a singer-songwriter, who played the guitar and was from Nashville. When they pitched this to me, I was immediately interested, because even though I wasn't a musician as a kid, I've acted since I was ten, and I've been around performers of all kinds my whole life. I started writing my own stories when I was about 12-13, too … so I thought I could really relate to Tenney's need to express herself creatively and how difficult it is to do that when you're young (and when you're old too! :))
AG completely allowed me to go away and think up Tenney's character and her family and world and gather together ideas for the plots of the first three books (originally there were 3, the fourth came later… but I was always thinking in terms of how I would grow her character across a lot of books.
I really wanted to touch on the idea of authenticity - of being true to yourself, to your own musical sound, to your own voice and to what you want to say in the world. Our culture’s become very fame saturated, especially the entertainment business. But music is and will always be part of people’s everyday lives. Songs have real, specific emotional meaning to people’s lives … even more so when you write the songs. So I wanted Tenney's story to be able learning how to express her true self through music and also figuring out who she is as a performer and a young woman.
I came to Wisconsin and walked them through my ideas for Tenney as a character, what I wanted to avoid with her and what I thought her stories should center around. They loved it, which was fantastic. The process was extremely collaborative from the get-go, I think the design team making Tenney and Logan and their collection had much of the same instincts that I had.
AGDN- Was it hard writing four books for Tenney quick?
KH- Well, I had a long time to work on Book 1, which I needed because I wanted to make sure I listened to Tenney's voice in my head and stayed true to her, and made her specific and unique. I figured out pretty quickly that she was earnest but also that she had a good sense of humor, and that she was really observant of people around her (because she's a writer), and that she was really aware of her own emotions … but not always great at communicating them verbally. Once I figured out all that, I was able to write in her voice faster. The 3rd book I had the least amount of time with, but that was okay. The fourth book I actually had six months on, which was almost as long as I had on Book 1. I've actually been writing Tenney for nearly 18 months! So the books weren't THAT quick. :) Luckily I write fast naturally so that helps.
AGDN- If you got called back to do another contemporary doll or Girl of the Year's books, what would her story be like?
KH- That is tough! I have a bazillion ideas for historical doll characters I would like to see them do, of course. I'd love to write a book from Logan's POV, actually, because I love his relationship with Tenney… growing up, I had friends who were boys … not best friends who I could tell everything to, but boys who did theater or sang in choir like me, or had the same sense of humor as me, and sometimes those friendships got weird because we communicated really differently and or same-sex friends had expectations about the way we should or shouldn't act as friends who were different genders. Sometimes when I had tension with my guy friends, it was hard to tell WHY we were on conflict … if our different genders had anything to do with it or if it was just the fact that we were different personalities… And that wasn't dealt with in many books I read at the time, so I didn't feel like I had a lot of guidance there. So I'd love to write from Logan's POV.
I'd also LOVE to write about a girl with an interest in both school AND local government - because I think being a public servant is really underrated and SO needed right now in our society. We need more girls and boys to grow up caring about working for the greater good and figuring out how to fix what is broken in our towns and states and country. I'd also love to write about a girl from California, since I am from here and grew up here, and a girl who runs, since I am a big runner, and a girl who lives in other countries, since I did that as a kid and it had a big impact on my world view.
Thank you Kellen!
AMERICAN GIRL TRIVIA: Lea was the first doll to have 2 authors work on her. Gabriela will be the second!
COMMENT DISCUSSION QUESTION- Have you ever met a AG author?
MY ANSWER: I met Mary Casanova in 2015. I hope Kellen comes to the American Girl store in Charlotte soon so I can meet her!