Updated: Jan 27, 2020
Tomorrow is the pub day for Shauna Holyoak's KAZU JONES AND THE DENVER DOGNAPPERS!! I love this super fun story and it's hilarious main character, who Publishers Weekly called "indefatigable heroine whose distinct voice and loyal canine companion contribute to her considerable appeal...[in a story filled with] diverse allies, plot twists, and delightful dogs." Kirkus also had a positive review of the book, saying, "The dognapping case and the go-get-’em attitude of Kazu provide just enough suspense and action without being too scary." I'm so excited that we've gotten such great praise for KAZU already and hope when you pick up your copy you'll love it, too!
So first off, tell us a bit about what KAZU JONES is about!
Kazu Jones is a papergirl who loves to solve crimes. So when a string of dognappings grips her Denver neighborhood, Kazu vows to track down the culprits. She can't stand to see more dogs go missing-especially once her neighbors' beloved pet is taken because of her gigantic mistake. With the help of her gang-including her best friend and expert hacker, March; and her ginormous, socially anxious pup, Genki-Kazu uncovers evidence that suggests the dognapping ring is bigger than she ever imagined. But the more she digs, the more dangerous her investigation becomes. The dognappers are getting bolder, and Genki could be next...
How did you come up with the idea for this story? What was your inspiration for the main character?
I got the idea while driving my kids around on their paper routes a few years ago. One of the houses on my daughter’s route was especially creepy, so as she slinked her way to the front door one dark morning, I wondered, “What if a bad guy with a secret lived there?” And before long, KAZU JONES AND THE DENVER DOGNAPPERS was born.
As for Kazu, I just wanted to write a spunky, fearless kid who was passionate about something, and with this particular conflict she needed to be passionate about detecting! I love that girl, and in many ways, wish I was more like her!
For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.
I’ve been writing since I was in high school. But until my senior English teacher told me I should become an author, I had never considered creative writing a thing that I could do. In college, I majored in English with a minor in creative writing, and then in grad school I studied English literature with an emphasis in creative writing. After my kids were born, creative writing came in the form of a mommy blog and then a humor column in a local paper. Eight years in a really difficult marriage and then five-years as a single mom provided little energy for more than that. It wasn’t until I remarried that I decided to tackle fiction again. Kazu Jones was my third completed novel.
How has the story changed from its first iteration?
At first, the story was about kidnappings, and the missing kid was sending an SOS through recycled newspaper bags. But the feedback I kept getting was that a contemporary middle-grade story with kidnappings was too scary and wouldn’t sell, so I tried it with dognappings instead.
What was your road to publication like?
For a couple years I wrote in a vacuum, plugging away all by my lonesome. I hadn’t really figured out Twitter yet and was clueless about the writing community there. After finishing my second novel, I stumbled upon a local writing group that introduced me to writing conferences and social-media communities, and I felt like my creative life cracked open, exposing so many amazing opportunities. I queried my second novel for a while before submitting it to PitchWars and was amazed at the generosity of mentors who shared valuable feedback (and donated their time to reading the first pages of my truly horrible YA novel). After finishing KAZU JONES I queried it for a few months, with no positive result. I submitted it into a handful of contests, and once again entered PitchWars. While I wasn’t accepted, mentor Brooks Benjamin gave me just the feedback I needed to rewrite my first chapter. Following PitchWars, I submitted Kazu into PitchSlam where I got 14 agent requests! That’s how I found the amazing Carrie Pestritto. Seriously, you have been the best agent for me, and I’m so grateful for these Twitter contests that give writers opportunities, not only to connect with agents, but often to get the valuable feedback they need to rework a manuscript so that it can be more successful.
What is one of your favorite hijinks in the story?
Once Kazu assembles her Scooby Gang, they sneak into an abandoned amusement park to follow a lead. There’s a chase scene that’s pretty intense, and it’s an experience that solidifies Kazu’s team. Plus, that setting is the perfect combination of spooky and enchanted, and I think it’s my favorite series of scenes in the book.
Although you're familiar with Japanese culture, you are not Japanese yourself and enlisted the help of a sensitivity reader to make sure all those elements were portrayed correctly in the story. What was it like working with a sensitivity reader and did she have any comments that surprised you?
When I first started this story, I mistakenly believed living in Japan for a couple years and then working as a Japanese tour guide in Hawaii had provided me with the necessary expertise to write a story about a Japanese-American girl. I’m embarrassed at that ignorant assumption: it definitely had not. My good friend, Yumi Seavey, read through two early drafts of the book. She helped me finetune language and cultural elements before it went to my Disney editor. On final edits, we enlisted the help of Misa Sugiura—a tremendous author herself, and her sensitivity read further helped me recognize remaining cultural short-comings in the book. The most surprising note from her was that Kazu would not likely mix languages in her thoughts and speech. She’d probably use English or Japanese, but not combinations of both. I’m extremely grateful to both Yumi and Misa for their frank and thoughtful feedback, and any remaining faults in the representation of Kazu as a Japanese-American character are completely my own.
What have you had to do to promote your book? What kind of social media do you think has been the most important in publicizing KAZU so far?
Let’s be honest—I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s all I can say about promoting my book so far. I’ve tried different things—a book trailer, arc giveaways, a preorder campaign, and posting routinely on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not working to sell more books. I think the best thing you can do is promote your book in ways that are fun for you and hope it works in your favor. One thing I seriously enjoyed doing was creating a mystery packet with puzzles and clues kids can use to solve the case. If teachers use it in their classrooms, kids will not only have fun solving the case, but they’ll be introduced to my characters in the process. It’s available on my website at https://www.shaunaholyoak.com/fun-stuff-1.
Do you have a Genki of your own?
Not a Genki exactly, but we have two dogs of our own and one that we’re fostering until his parents can find a pet-approved home. We love our dogs! They each have their own personalities and our family wouldn’t be the same without them. (P.S. It’s just as hard to get a good picture of three dogs as it is three toddlers—here’s Einstein, Chewie and Titan).
Do you have any quirks when it comes to your writing process (e.g. do you have to write at night or while wearing lucky socks)?
We have this room in our basement that would make a natural office—it has built-in desks and all these great cabinets. But I just couldn’t write down there. For whatever reason, I love sitting at the bar in my kitchen, although lately I’m writing in my dining room because that’s where I’ve hung these ginormous post-its with all my book two revision notes.
Oh, also, I write better when dirty Diet Coke, because science! (and caffeine, probably.)
Do you have any adventures planned next for Kazu?
The crazy notes hanging in my dining room are for Kazu, book two. And I am super excited about the case Kazu and her gang are trying to solve in that story. There’s a vandal targeting comic-book stores, and since March’s uncle owns The Super Pickle, a comic-book store Kazu and gang frequent, they want to stop the vandal before the store becomes a target. This book has comics, graffiti art, a ComiCon, cosplay, and a brief scene where the kids play an RPG! It’s super geeky and I can’t wait to share it with the world and all the geek-loving readers!