Keir Graff has been writing since he was 5 years old — that’s when he started filling notebooks with stories, songs, poems, ideas for books, funny names and random observations.
“I’ve often said that I would keep writing even if I weren’t being published, and the historical evidence supports my claim,” said the author of two middle-grade novels.
“I started writing for young readers by accident, when what was intended to be a bedtime story became my first middle-grade novel, ‘The Other Felix.’ It was the most enjoyable writing I’d done, but even better was the opportunity to visit schools and meet young readers, who have the best questions and the funniest insights. It was so energizing that I knew I’d keep doing it.”
Keir’s latest book, “The Matchstick Castle,” follows cousins Brian and Nora who discover a huge, wooden house in the forest. The house has balconies, turrets and windows seemingly stuck on at random, but to the strange group of characters who live there, it’s a castle.
The story was born out of Keir’s fascination with unusual homes. “At some point I had a vague notion of writing a story in which a house played a central role or was almost a character in its own right,” he said. “When I stumbled across an article about Sutyagin House, I had a seed of inspiration that started growing fast.”
The castle, which is as much a character as the humans in Keir’s book, is full of mysterious and exciting rooms, secret passageways and all sorts of eclectic objects. As you might imagine, it’s not hard to pick a favorite you might like to incorporate into your own home. For Keir, the decision would be easy, so long as he had final say.
“I know my younger son Cosmo would want the fictional Cosmo’s three-story room (which might require some negotiation with the neighbors above and below in our building), but I have to be boring and say the library. We’re well on our way but I haven’t quite managed to line every wall with books.”
“The Matchstick Castle” has done well with early readers, some of who have told Keir the book fills a need for books that boys will want to read. It also, they said, is a book that is “just plain fun, with no weighty issues attached.” Keir’s hope is that readers will find “The Matchstick Castle” unique and original. “When I fall in love with a book, my reaction is often, ‘Why hasn’t someone written that before?!’” he said. “I can only hope others will feel the same way.”
In addition to writing for young readers, Keir is the author of four novels for adults and is the executive editor of Booklist. Both, he says, have had an impact on writing for the younger set.
“Reading books and then distilling them to 175-word reviews [for Booklist]has taught me a lot about writing economically, and reading so many books so quickly helps me see through writers’ wonderful tricks to the underlying craft,” Keir said. “The demands of the job also make it hard to find time to write for myself, but I’ve been writing to deadlines for a long time and have learned to use my time efficiently. (Thought I always, always want more time to write.) Being surrounded by great books can sometimes make me wonder why I need to make my own contribution, but at other times it’s a source of genuine inspiration.”
Keir says the books he read as a youth continue to impact him even today. “I really feel like the books I read as a kid are still very much with me, whether it’s the Hobans’ Frances stories or Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain or, heck, Encyclopedia Brown,” he said. “But let me give a shout-out to Alexander, who deserves to be better known these days. I did some rereading recently (‘The High King’) and felt like I had been sucked through a time portal back to my childhood — that’s how much his books meant to me. Books are kind of like the sense of smell: inhale one page and memories come rushing back.”
Keir Graff is the author of two middle-grade novels, including the The Matchstick Castle, published in January by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers and Listening Library. Since 2011, he has been cohost of Publishing Cocktails, an occasional literary gathering in Chicago. By day, he is the executive editor of Booklist. You can find him on Twitter (@KeirGraff), Facebook (Keir.Graff.Author), and at www.keirgraff.com.
*Learn more about Keir Graff, including how writing for young readers differ from writing for adults, by reading the complete transcript of Cracking the Cover’s interview with him for “The Matchstick Castle.”