Featured Mystery Author  

America's Youngest Mystery Author Kayla McGrady
by Joyce Dixon

On August 1, 2000, Kayla McGrady went on record as the youngest mystery novelist to ever be published.  This sixteen year-old high school senior from Virginia is realizing her dream.  Kayla has been writing stories since she learned to spell.  She wrote her first fully illustrated fantasy story in second grade.  

Dead Ball Foul is a perfect entry vehicle for Kayla.  The mystery follows an outgoing teenager as she solves a crime during her high school homecoming game.  She is skilled at weaving a complex tale with many twists and turns.

Gate City, Virginia had a state champion football team in 1997.  How much did that inspire your mystery? 

Well, I have always been a football fan.  I was raised with football on the television all the time during the fall and early winter months.  My Dad loves football, and I guess that rubbed off on me. He has transformed me into a die-hard Tennessee Vols fan, but it was Gate City that got me hooked on high school football. Football has always been treated with a great deal of enthusiasm at Gate City, and I have gone through high school in a world of dark blue jerseys, loud pep-rallies, bright flags waving from the stadium on crisp Autumn Friday evenings, the band playing their hearts out, and my fellow classmates screaming and cheering until all of our throats were numb...  It was all quite contagious, and I must admit that as I prepare for my Senior year of high school I am quite addicted to football. Tricia’s experience of attending a state championship football game derive from my own memories of the cold, cold afternoon of December 2, 1997 when I watched my team win their first state championship since before I was born. The idea of a town obsessed with football that became Judsonville, Virginia began with Gate City. 

Name some of your favorite books and authors. 

I enjoy reading all kinds of different books and I have been raised on a wide variety of fiction. Of course my fellow Silver Dagger authors are among my favorites because not only are they talented writers but also wonderful people and supportive friends. Besides mystery, I also read a great deal of fantasy.  When I was young, my Mom introduced me to the works of David Eddings and I was hooked. I have read all nineteen of his fantasy novels many times, including the new Rivan Codex and I must say that these are probably my favorite books, probably because I have enjoyed them for so many years and they continue to delight me no matter how many times I revisit them.  Another of my favorite authors is Charles Edwin Price, the author of many books concerning regional ghostlore. He also wrote two novels of which I am very fond:  Danger Train and the new Mystery in the Old Dark Attic.  I am a great fan of Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear’s series about early Native Americans, and Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  I also enjoy Rita Mae Brown’s Sneaky Pie Brown mysteries. 

Research is a major part of prep work for a novel.  How did you enjoy it?  What was the most interesting occupation/skill you learned about? 

Research was a very interesting adventure for me because felt at a bit of a disadvantage because as a teenager there were many worldly things I didn’t know about and wasn’t quite sure who to ask. Since I already knew a great deal about small-town high school life and learning about the football team was as close as a question to one of my football player friends, the biggest challenge facing me was learning about police procedure--how things are really done. My first information-gathering quest was to the Scott County Police Department. The cop I spoke to seemed a little confused when I said I was writing a book and was wondering if I could speak to someone about police procedure in murder investigations. He phoned up an investigator and sent me up to see him. Investigator J.P. Bledsoe admitted he had no idea why I was here, but cheerfully said he would try to be as helpful as possible. After I explained what I was doing he was very helpful, and the whole incident was not as scary as I had thought it might be.  I also was lucky in that one of my fellow Silver Dagger authors, David Hunter, is a retired Knoxville cop and he was very helpful in answering questions. I learned a lot about the complexities of police procedure that you don’t see on TV. 

Do you plan to do a series of mysteries with Tricia Lakely as the detective? 

My current plans are to start a series with Tricia, yes, and to follow her through high school and see where she takes me.... 

Do you feel a responsibility for the moral character of your teenage heroine (i.e. strong feelings about strong language, etc.) and how she may influence readers? 

I wanted Tricia to come across as a good role model.  She is for the most part quite non-violent and she has pretty good self-control.  I wasn’t looking for a bad-girl sort of character at all but more like the average ordinary small-town American girl who so often gets left in the background. Though she may not be drop-dead gorgeous or extremely popular, or know all the karate moves, Tricia is a heroine for all of us normal teens.  I also wanted her to be a positive influence in that she is a ‘good girl’ and yet gets the job done as well as the ‘bad boys’ that society so often puts before us. 

What has been the most interesting experience of publishing your first novel? 

One of the most interesting experiences would have to be the research episode at the Scott County Police Department. Also it was interesting picking up the everyday details around me and using them to create the world of Judsonville and Carrier High. Judsonville feels incredibly real and alive to me because so much of my life, my world, and my experiences are in it as well as those of my friends and classmates.  Even though no character in the book is based on a real person, those little traits of my friends that make up the teenager can be found in different places throughout the story. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’m not sure exactly when I knew for sure, but subconsciously I think the idea’s been there my whole life.  I started writing when I was in second grade--as soon as I could spell enough words--and from then on out I have spent a major portion of my free time writing. It was a hobby when I was in elementary school, but at some point it became more than that--it became a passion. I think the certain realization must have come at some point in my late middle school years, but I couldn’t exactly pinpoint when. But once I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life, it felt incredibly right, like something inside of me had clicked. 

Do you take creative writing classes outside of English class and/or do you go to creative writing summer camps? 

I am pretty much self-taught as an author. I have only had one creative writing course that I took in seventh grade because I chose not to take band and that class was the only alternative. I had been writing long before seventh grade, and I have never had any other formal writing instruction. I suppose I never had much problem with creativity--I had a hard enough time keeping up with my racing imagination as it was, and sometimes the words just seemed to flow through my fingers and onto the computer screen without much effort on my part. Of course, there have also been those times of struggle and painstaking editing, but the spirit of the stories I have written comes from a natural talent I was lucky enough to be born with but will probably never fully understand. 

What do you plan to major in college?  Where do you see yourself in ten years? 

I plan to major in English and minor in Art. In ten years I hope to see myself settled somewhere in a house way out in the country with a successful writing career and maybe even the beginnings of a family. My wish is not to write a bestseller or becoming incredibly rich, but rather just that my writing brings in enough money to support me so that I will be free to keep writing, because that is what I love to do. 


Dead Ball Foul, Silver Dagger Mysteries, 2000 

Visit the Silver Dagger Mystery site at http://www.silverdaggermysteries.com 

 

© 2000 Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved