With her 2016 debut novel for American Girl, Lea and Camila, Kellen Hertz quickly established herself as a talented children’s writer with a unique voice. In her Tenney series, which follows Tenney Grant, a rising young star in the Nashville music scene, Kellen brings readers into Tenney’s world and creates a compelling, relatable character readers can root for.

We talked with Kellen about what fuels her passion for writing and how she brings her experience in writing for TV and film to bear when writing novels for children.

AUTHOR SNAPSHOT
Earned a BA in Theatre Studies and English Literature from Yale University and an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA.
In addition to writing fiction for young readers, she’s been a producer, playwright, screenwriter, and director.
Has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award and a Tribeca Film Festival Jury Award for Best Narrative Short.
Lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
IN HER OWN WORDS
(Q & A with Kellen Hertz)

What would you most like the adults in your readers’ lives to know about you?

I want them to know that I’m very aware of the trust that they place in me by allowing me to tell stories to their kids, and of the responsibility I have as a children’s author. My son is nearly four, and ever since I had him, I’ve had a new awareness of just how intensely children experience books and stories of all kinds. They absorb the actions of characters and themes of what they’re reading so deeply. I knew that I did that, but seeing my son have that same experience and seeing how the stories he reads shape how he interacts with his peers especially really brings it home to me how delicate and important the work is.

I always try to remember that I’m not just writing something to entertain my readers. That’s important, of course, but I also want to use my characters’ journeys to show the challenges we all face growing up, and how crucial it is to be brave, open-minded, curious, and imaginative as you get older. It’s not something I take lightly.

You’ve said you wanted to be a writer from a young age. What inspired you to follow this path, and how has your relationship with writing evolved over the years?

My relationship with writing has changed so many times, in so many ways over the years.When I was 12 I briefly wanted to write books, and tried to write one…which I promptly lost. Then when I was 13, I wrote a play, and it won a young playwrights’ contest and got performed, and that changed my life. I felt like I had a voice and could say what I wanted about growing up and life in general. It set me on a path to wanting to write for film and TV, and I went to graduate school. Trying to make a living writing in Hollywood is very different from just being a writer for yourself, however. I found it a bit disheartening, because many of my ideas (which are mostly female-centric) were dismissed as “not having an audience.” I paid the bills doing other stuff like TV producing, but I still wrote my own stories. When I ended up getting hired to write my first book for American Girl, though, it was incredibly validating and invigorating! Writing for AG has really helped me fall in love with writing all over again.

Music plays a big part in Tenney’s stories, and it’s also an interest of yours. Have you ever considered writing songs, and are there songwriters that have influenced or inspired your writing?

As with visual art, I am singularly untalented as a musician. I mean, I can carry a tune, but I quit piano after about five minutes. But I love poetry, and I think writing a story is quite musical in its own way. You have to be very attuned to pacing in a story, which is a lot like a tempo in music, and a good story builds emotionally, the way a song or a symphony does.

I LOVED writing about Tenney’s songwriting process. I actually wrote lyrics for all the songs in all the books so the real musicians could sort of see what the song should be about emotionally. I wrote the lyrics for both songs in Book 4, which was satisfying. My favorite musicians from a personal place, like Paul Simon, U2, Beth Orton, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline, also talk about bigger themes. Music in general continuously inspires me.

Describe your idea of a perfect day.

I’d want to do way too much stuff! Probably get up, go for a run, then hang out with my son and husband and have a mocha latte and a muffin, then go see a movie together. Then have my son take a really long nap (which he never does), and get to READ a great YA book (or write), then afterward magically be in Paris so we could all take a long walk around the city and I could have more delicious coffee, then magically be home so we could go to my favorite restaurant for dinner with my whole extended family, including my mom who passed years ago. And then have my son magically be tired and go to bed early so my husband and I could hang out and watch something delightful on Netflix. Lots of magic. Lots of coffee.