The Body on the Beach by Chris Wieland
Interview with the Author:
Q. Congratulations on your new book! Can you tell us about The Body on the Beach?
A. Thanks so much (and thanks so much for featuring me on your site)!
Here’s what I can tell you about The Body on the Beach: it’s the second book in The Kat Dylan Mysteries series. It follows a tough, smart, tween girl detective named Kat Dylan and her smart-alecky skater little brother Alec, who solve mysteries in the small, down-on-its-luck beachfront town of Crabtree, Michigan.
In this book, it’s the middle of a cold, wet, harsh Michigan winter. Kat is approached by a middle school mean girl named Gabby. Gabby has a problem, but she hems and haws about talking it over with Kat, who is not part of the middle school “in” crowd. So Kat ends up putting her off because she can’t believe that Gabby’s problems could be that serious, let alone the basis for Kat’s next big mystery investigation. But then Kat’s Grandpa Nick, the town’s police chief, gets interested in what’s going on with Gabby, and Kat starts to regret blowing her off. Before long, Kat finds Gabby’s dead body on Crabtree’s frozen beach.
From there, Kat and her brother Alec put themselves on the trail of Gabby’s killers. Along the way, they learn that Gabby’s murder might be connected to another case – the kidnapping of a wealthy kid from Chicago. As they try to solve the murder, they find themselves at odds with kidnappers and killers, private eyes and cops, and more than a few of Crabtree’s adults and kids who would like them to stop what they’re doing and just go away.
Q. Why did you want to write this book?
A. I always planned to write a series of books about Kat and Alec. There are really a couple of reasons why: for one, I’ve fallen in love with them as characters. I love writing their voices, the back-and-forth of their conversations and the ways in which their clashing styles lead them to solve problems and puzzles. I wouldn’t want to miss out on another chance to put these two on the page.
Additionally, as a writer, I feel like a series gives you a great opportunity to really let your characters grow and develop over time. One of the things that I set out to do with this series is to never have Kat and Alec revert to a status quo when the adventure is over. They never go “back to normal.” Each case involves things that will change their lives, which means that they’re different at the end of the adventure, and then I get to pick up and see them grow more the next time around.
One other thing: part of the reason that I started this series is that when my kids were getting to the point of reading middle grade books, I noticed that I didn’t love the female protagonists out there. There were tough, smart girls who saved the day, but they mostly lived in fantasy or post-apocalyptic worlds. I wanted something with a girl hero who lived in a world that was pretty similar to the one where my kids live, but where there was still high adventure and danger lurking around the corner. I still feel that way with this book.
Q. Who would you recommend this book to? What type of reader would enjoy this book?
A. I’d recommend these books to kids (and adults) who like adventure, and who also like solving puzzles and getting to the bottom of a mystery. The stakes are relatively high in these stories – Kat and Alec face danger, and occasionally are in peril. But if you like excitement and a good set of thrills, I think you’ll like this. I definitely recommend these books to girls because I think it’s refreshing when you’re a tween to read about someone who’s smart and tough and gets results but could maybe be roaming the same middle school halls as you.
But boys and parents will enjoy the books, too. If you like a good measure of humor with your thrills, the dialogue between Kat and Alec is always a lot of fun.
I should also say – the book’s recommended for ages 8-13. It may be a little violent or intense for anyone much younger than that.
Q. How do you name your characters?
A. Great question! When I first came up with the idea that would become the Kat Dylan Mysteries, it was originally about two brothers. I brainstormed the names with a close friend back then, and the names that stuck were actually the names of people close to us. His little brother was named Alec, and I had a cousin I was super close to whose name was Tom. So originally, it was Tom and Alec. Dylan came from the singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, who my buddy and I both loved.
When I decided to make this a story about a girl detective, I had to change things up. I still liked the last name Dylan, and Alec seemed like a great little brother name. But I wanted a girl name that could go with someone tough, smart and ready for action. I tried out a bunch of names. There were some good ones, but they never felt quite right. When I got to Kat (with a K), it just rolled off the tongue.
By the way, there’s still a Tom – he’s one of Kat and Alec’s friends. My other characters are a mix of influences. Sometimes I ask my kids for names of kids in school, if I’m working on a kid character, and we workshop it together. Other times, I surf the Internet and just pay special attention to the names. It’s a mix.
Q. Do you plan to write more books in the series?
Yes! I’ve plotted this series out to the 6th book so far. That doesn’t mean that the series will end after six books, but I know what I’m doing at least to that point. Also, because I want my characters to change because of what they go through in every book, if I’ve done my job, it’ll be a different series by the end of the 6th book. At that point, I’ll want to plot things out based on who my characters are at that point.
Q. Are there any lessons you hope readers will take away from your books?
A. I hope my readers come away entertained, but there are definitely lessons and values that I hope they take from reading about Kat and Alec. I hope they see the value of working hard and never giving up, for one. I hope they value the way Kat and Alec (even though they bicker constantly) have each other’s backs, the way that you’d hope your sibling or your bestie might have your back. But most of all, I hope my readers are inspired by what I think is Kat’s most heroic characteristic – yes, she’s smart and loyal; yes, she’s tough as nails; but more than that, Kat is laser focused on doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. She is forced to make really tough moral decisions about the world around her, and she does what’s right, even if it costs her. That’s why I admire her.
Q. How does it feel to have a positive review from Kirkus? - https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/chris-wieland/the-body-on-the-beach/
A. It feels great! I’m thrilled by the Kirkus Reviews I’ve gotten, and by the ones from Children’s Book Review and other sites. There’s always a bit of a leap of faith – you write these books, you believe in them, but when you put them out into the world, you definitely hope they resonate with other people. It’s great to know this book has resonated with Kirkus.
Q. What did you like reading when you were a kid?
A. Wow. Literally everything I could get my grubby hands on! Tons of Marvel and DC Comics (especially Spider-man, X-Men, Teen Titans, Batman …). But I was that kid who went into a library and needed a shopping bag to carry out everything that I wanted to borrow. Sci-fi, slice of life, biographies, histories, books about sports or music, you name it. If my parents brought a book home, I generally tried to read it, too. But mystery was always my genre of choice. I devoured the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown when I was younger, and by the time I was a tween, I’d had family friends introducing me to more mature mystery novels – Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, for sure, but I really leaned into the American detective novels. My gateway author was Robert B. Parker, with his Spenser series. Reading him led to authors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Tony Hillerman and Ross MacDonald, and more. I’m still reading and re-reading many of those authors now!
Q. Do you have any pets?
A. I do! My family and I have a one-year old mini-poodle mix named Nova. We think she’s also part Australian Shepherd. She’s a ball of puppy energy! She’s mostly black with a white chest (like a tuxedo!), and she loves to play with us and other dogs. She’s a herder, always moving us around the house, trying to get us to play. She’s a great buddy to have around the office while I’m writing.
Our family also used to have a maltipoo named Penny, who passed away earlier this year. It was really tough, and we miss her.
About the Author:
Chris Wieland is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. He is also the father of two fierce children, including a tough, smart tween who helped him find the voice of his protagonist, Kat Dylan. He lives in Southern California with his family.
For more information, visit https://www.thesmartaleckpress.com/