Can you tell us a little about your upcoming release, “Death of a Dancing Queen”?
My elevator pitch is that it’s Veronica Mars meets the George Washington Bridge. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a New Jersey private eye who is trying to balance a missing persons case with caring for her mother who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, as well as trying to avoid her sexy ex-boyfriend who recently returned to town. There’s humor and heat. And Yiddish.
How did your own Jewish heritage inspire you throughout the writing process?
So I grew up in the shadow of New York City, in a town full of displaced New Yorkers. My parents were from Flushing, Queens. My grandparents grew up on the Lower East Side. It’s rumored my great-grandparents knew Bugsy Siegal because they were from the same neighborhood. Half of the kids I went to school with had similar backgrounds. Most of us had been born in New York, our Jersey accents heavily influenced by Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Long Island parents. Where we differed was economics. My family was squarely blue collar, and my Jewish peers weren’t. While classmates had their Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties at giant catering halls, I had mine at home. At seventeen, it felt like everyone in my high school had been given a car. I distinctly remember a girl saying to me, “Maybe if you’re nice to your parents, like do the laundry and stuff, they’ll buy you a car.” And she meant it, as if ten grand (it was 1996) fell out of pants pockets in the dryer at everyone’s house.
Anyway, I knew that when I was writing about the Levines, I wanted to explore a family that defied the stereotype of wealthy Jews. Billie didn’t go to a fancy camp in the Catskills. Her mom struggled to pay the synagogue dues. Their roof is leaky. Billie has student debt. The Levines are a family of nurses, not doctors, just like mine (truth: my parents are retired nurses, my brother is an LPN). I wanted to write a Jewish family that felt familiar to me, so I did.
You’ve mentioned before that you love podcasts, what are some of your favorites?
Oh, man. How long is this interview? My favorites are (in no particular order): Wicked Words, Hollywood Crime Scene, My Favorite Murder, DNA: ID (this one is heavy, procede with caution), Crimes of the Century with Amber Hunt, and the outliers, Pod Save Americaand Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.
This book has the spirit of Veronica Mars, what made you want to incorporate this inspiration?
I freaking love the show! And after it had ended, I kept asking for Veronica Mars readalikes. I was gobbling up Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Janet Evanovich, Kristen Lepionka, and Rachel Howzell Hall. I wanted to read about women in male spaces who were crushing it and taking names. Eventually, I decided to have some fun and write my own PI story (I primarily write to entertain myself). And then I queried my now-agent with it, and she snapped it up. I’d say the rest is history, but that is not how publishing works.
You write mystery novels for both teens and adults, how do you write differently for these two age groups?
In my YA novels, my main character deals with adolescent problems – school, first love, trying to uncover a murderer when you have homework and a parent who wants you to clean your damn room already. Adolescence is so much about hovering in a space between childhood and adulthood, figuring out who you want to be and what stands to take, and asserting your power when you feel powerless. Adults, just by way of age, are in charge of themselves, and most teens are not. Also young adult literature tends to be more immediate, because teens are hyper-focused on the right now.
What were your favorite books growing up?
When I was a kid, my mom would go to the library and check out books she thought I would like, and they were mostly books she read as a kid. The Moffats by Eleanor Estes, for example, which I adored. As I got older, I read R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike. I once read an entire biography on George Burns. There wasn’t the young adult literature we have now. Man, today’s teens are so lucky. I can’t imagine getting to read John Green as a teen. I’m jealous.
You are currently a reviewer for BookPage, can you give us any recommendations?
Let’s keep with the New Jersey theme shall we…
I’m currently reviewing a young adult novel for BookPage that’s set in South Jersey. It’s called The Long Run by James Acker, and it’s about two boys who fall in love. I swear, I cry and laugh during every scene. Moving to Central Jersey, I really enjoyed Suburban Dicksand the sequel, The Self-Made Widow, by Fabian Nicieza. It’s set in West Windsor-Plainsboro and explores the doldrums of suburban life. The main character is a Jewish mom of five who drives a Honda Odyssey minivan and solves crimes. For a second, I thought it was my biography.
If you could have lunch with any of your fictional characters who would it be and why?
I want to hang out with Gramps. I write him funny. At least, I think I do, so I feel like he and I would share a lot of laughs. Plus, I really miss my grandpa. He was awesome. Everytime the weather was beautiful on a Jewish holiday, he would say, “it’s because we’re the chosen people,” which never failed to make me laugh. I’ll have to work that into my next book.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
I don’t feel like I can offer any advice that hasn’t already been given a thousand times – read a lot, and read in the genres you write – but also study sentence structure. Edit the hell out of your own work. Edit the hell out of other people’s work. I learned how to write in college. I was the news editor of our student newspaper. I did nothing but edit copy. I credit that experience with my ability to construct a sentence.
And finally, what are you currently reading?
The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais (highly recommend), and novels by Tessa Wegert and Mary Keliikoa are on deck.
About the Author
Kimberly G. Giarratano writes mystery stories for teens as well as adults. A former librarian, she is currently an instructor at SUNY Orange County Community College and a reviewer for BookPage. She is also the chapter liaison for Sisters in Crime. Born in New York and raised in New Jersey, Kim and her husband moved to the Poconos to raise their three kids amid black bears and wild turkeys. While she doesn’t miss the traffic, she’d give anything for a decent bagel and lox.