An Interview with Author Kate Messner
*Mr. Schu: I celebrate new books every week. What are you most looking forward to on Capture the Flag’s book birthday?
Kate Messner: Well, CAPTURE THE FLAG’s birthday on July 1st will also be my son’s 16th birthday – so mostly, I’m looking forward to our family cake-and-cookout celebration and taking him to get his learner’s permit and out driving (yikes!).
The next day, I have an afternoon book signing at The Bookstore Plus, a terrific independent bookstore on Main Street in Lake Placid, NY. They’re happy to take orders from far-away readers, so if anyone would like a personalized, signed copy of CAPTURE THE FLAG, or any of my books, they can just call the bookstore at 518-523-2950 any time before July 2nd to order.
*Mr. Schu: Most of Capture the Flag takes place in two locations: the Smithsonian Museum of American History and the Washington National Airport.
a. Did you conduct research at the Smithsonian?
Kate Messner: Yes! When I first started working on this book, I realized very quickly that a heist story needs a plausible explanation for how the thieves got away with the goods – in this case, the enormous flag that inspired our national anthem. Exactly how would one go about stealing a gigantic historical treasure from the Smithsonian Museum of American History? I figured the best way to figure it out would be to talk with the person in charge of the flag exhibit, so I called up the Smithsonian and asked how one might go about stealing the original Star Spangled Banner (hypothetically speaking, of course!).
The curator of that exhibit, Jeff Brodie, was absolutely fantastic, once he figured out that I was a legitimate children’s author with only good intentions. He invited me to spend a morning with him at the Smithsonian before it opened. My family came along, too, and together, we all prowled shady hallways, rode freight elevators, and brainstormed how my fictional bad guys might be able to get away with their heist. While I hope the details of the flag’s security system are plausible and realistic, they aren’t the real security measures in place to protect the flag. (I promised the Smithsonian that I wouldn’t write a how-to guide for actually stealing their stuff!)
b. You provide such detailed descriptions of the cavernous baggage room. Were you given a private tour?
Kate Messner: Whenever I can, I love to do site visits to experience the settings in my books, but this was one situation where that simply wasn’t possible. Airport security measures mean that strict rules are in place to control access to those behind-the-scenes baggage areas, so I had to rely on interviews with people who work in baggage handling and online videos that show how it all works. There was one really great TV news report about the new baggage handling system in Dallas that was super-helpful, but the video doesn’t seem to be online any more. Here are a few links for kids & classes interested in the kinds of things I used for research.
Video about a new baggage system in Los Angeles
From check-in to aircraft – This cool video show’s a “bag’s-eye-view” of the trip
*Mr. Schu: I love how Jose is obsessed with Harry Potter. I smiled whenever he quoted Dumbledore and you described his heavy backpack. What is your favorite Harry Potter book?
Kate Messner: HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE is my favorite. I stayed up all night reading it and have fond memories of sobbing over the graveyard scene at three in the morning.
*Mr. Schu: Famous quotations and idioms appear throughout Capture the Flag. Do you collect quotations and idioms?
Kate Messner: I’ve always collected quotes that I like, but I kicked it up a notch when I was getting to know Jose as I worked on CAPTURE THE FLAG. I had a special notebook to collect quote that I thought he would like. Many of them were the same as the quotes I like…but not all of them.
“It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
*Mr. Schu: Without giving away any plot details, the last chapter feels as if Anna, Henry, and Jose have more adventures waiting for them inside your head. What does the future hold for these clever kids? Will they star in another book?
Kate Messner: Yes! I’m thrilled to let you know that Henry, Anna, and Jose will be back with a new adventure in 2013. It’s called HIDE AND SEEK and is set in the rainforest of Costa Rica, where they learn more about the origins of the Silver Jaguar Society and try to hunt down one of its most sacred stolen artifacts.
*Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about…
I’m so excited about this book because it’s my first mystery, which made it really challenging to write. I had to use new strategies for planning and revising, and it’s a genre that I absolutely love and can’t wait to share with readers. I’ve developed a new school program based on these books, too, and look forward to working with student writers on mysteries of their own.
Thanks so much for this invitation to visit!