Fresh Voices: Q&A with Kayla Whaley, author of A TO Z ANIMAL MYSTERIES #1: THE ABSENT ALPACAS

Young clue hunters Abbi, Daniel, and Lydia sniff out the mystery behind a group of missing alpacas in this chapter book inspired by Ron Roy’s beloved A to Z Mysteries series!

What was your greatest inspiration for writing A to Z Animal Mysteries #1: The Absent Alpacas?

When I first started working on The Absent Alpacas, I had just finished writing a string of dark and/or emotionally taxing short stories. They were all capital-A About disability in one way or another, and I was feeling strangely…distanced from my own writing? I felt an immense external pressure (both real and imagined) to perform disability in my writing and I was, frankly, exhausted. So when I got the chance to work on this series, I let myself approach it as a sort of internal reset. This was a completely new-to-me age category and a new-to-me genre (I’d written suspense, but never a proper mystery before), so I focused on those elements first and foremost. I wanted to write something fun, something cute, something memorable, something warm. I wanted to trust that my voice and interests–including but not exclusively disability-related–would emerge naturally. Which is a long-winded way to say my greatest inspiration was chasing whatever felt the most enjoyable to me personally at the time! It was a very selfish way to write a book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book? What part was the easiest? 

I’m not a particularly visual writer. I often have to actively remind myself to describe what people or places look like. For whatever reason, I’m much more likely to reach for any other sense before sight. The fact that this book was going to be fully illustrated made it even more imperative that I not only add visual descriptors but that I also pay attention to blocking the action in a way I never quite had before. That was definitely the hardest part in terms of the actual writing.

Weirdly, the easiest part was the plot. I’m a writer who operates purely on ~vibes~ when I’m drafting. But this time, because it was a mystery, I needed to have an actual plan before diving in. I expected it would be excruciating, but I had the entire thing plotted out in under an hour–and the final product is surprisingly close to that initial outline! I have no idea why it came so easily, but I’m certainly not complaining.

What character or element of the story do you identify with the most and why? 

I’m sure most people would guess Abbi, but honestly? She and I aren’t very much alike; I’m sad to say. Trust me, I wish I was as curious and passionate, and clever as Abbi! Of the three main characters, I think I’m arguably the most like Daniel: cautious, a rule-follower, always eager to help, somewhat more reserved but still fiercely protective of those he cares for.

What do you want kids today to take away from this story? 

I honestly don’t have an answer for that! I hope they enjoy the time they spend with the story and the characters. But beyond that, I want them to take away whatever it is they need and want from it. For some readers, that might be seeing an alpaca in a mermaid costume (check!). For others, it might be seeing the difficulty and annoyance of dodging tree roots on the page (check!). For others still, the takeaway might be that nature conservancy can’t exist within a capitalist society without communal support (also check!). I mostly just want them to have fun. Anything they can take away beyond that is just the…tiara on the proverbial alpaca? 😂

 What are you currently reading? 

Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones. One of my former MFA professors recommended it after I told her I’ve been in a massive reading slump. It’s one of the first memoirs I’ve read since graduating a few years ago, and it was an excellent choice. I’m only halfway, but it’s already a beautiful meditation on disability, motherhood, aesthetic, art, desire, and so much more. Highly recommend!

The Fresh Voices series is in coordination with the RHCB DEI Book Club Committee.
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