Author Interview: Daniel Kenney, Creator of the Math Inspectors, the History Mystery Kids, and Other Books
Who were some of your early inspirations as an author?
My favorite book as a kid was The Mad Scientists Club by Bertrand Brinley. That book about a group of boys with their own clubhouse who used science and their brains to cause mischief around town made my imagination go wild. When I first started writing, I thought about creating that same sort of feeling in young people.
How did you get started as an author? Did you start by writing books or something else?
I was a stay-at-home dad telling my children stories. One day they said I should turn one particular story into a book. Then they said they were serious. So I did.
You’re a prolific writer. How many books do you typically publish per year?
Between chapter books, picture books, and adult mysteries, I’ve written close to 50 books since 2014. But since I’ve gone back to work full-time, my productivity has slowed down. I’m on pace this year to publish one chapter book, one picture book, and 3 adult mysteries.
Now that you're working full time, how do you find time to write?
It’s really, really hard. At least it is for me. I usually write immediately after school at a local coffee shop while I wait for my sons to finish football practice. Then I find time on the weekend to escape the house and get some writing done. When I’m on deadline I usually write late at night as well.
How does your job as a teacher inform your writing?
First, along with being a dad, teaching is the other place where I learned how to tell stories. Second, both my kids and the students I teach are an endless source of energy and especially humor. They all make me laugh, and that helps my writing.
Ever think of quitting your job and writing full time?
YES! But . . . my wife and I have a shoe load of children (8), and we are currently in the thick of college tuition etc. So I have to work full time for at least the foreseeable future in order to make everything work.
The Math Inspectors was your first series. What inspired you to write it?
First, as I reference above, I loved the Mad Scientists Club, and I wanted to recreate that in some way for my own readers. I loved the idea of kids, with a clubhouse, going out into the community and using their brains to do something. But what? Solving mysteries seemed like a good idea, but I wanted to add a twist to it. I am a math teacher, so I thought it would be cool to feature a group of kids who happen to love math and mysteries.
You’ve also written a number of other series for middle-grade readers, including the History Mystery Kids, Lunchmeat Lenny, The Pirate Ninjas, The Big Life of Remi Muldoon, and The Not Quite Cool Kids, among others. What attracts you to write for this age group?
I have 6 boys, and I discovered early how naturally they were attracted to throwing stuff--any stuff--and playing video games. But I love reading and wanted my boys to love reading as well. So, I wanted to write the kinds of books that I thought would be attractive to young readers, particularly the 2nd-4th grade crowd, to really get them into reading, so hopefully they fall in love with it.
What led you to publish independently rather than going the traditional route?
I tried to get an agent with my first book, The Beef Jerky Gang. But after that I decided the odds of me making money weren’t great using either route, so I preferred going forward independently.
What are some of the biggest benefits of being an independent author?
I love being able to make my own decisions about what I work on. I love NOT having to wait to release a project. I love being able to write what I want to write when I want to write it.
What are some of the biggest challenges?
For me the business side of things can be a real challenge. My lack of attention to detail can really hinder me in things like advertising, which has been really hard for me to master. In general, there is so much to do, and there are times when it can be overwhelming.
Have you ever received offers to publish your books traditionally? What would it take for you to go that route?
I have published traditionally through the foreign rights market. I look at this as found money. I look at publishing traditionally in the English market differently. For my kids' books, I would want to guarantee that I could get close to a yearly teacher’s income from a property or series before I would publish traditionally. For my adult mysteries, I probably would NOT consider publishing traditionally unless it was silly money as I really like the income-generating potential of my adult genre fiction titles.
Can you talk a bit about your books for adults?
I write murder mysteries under the name Daniel Carson. These are considered “cozy mysteries”. For people familiar with the old tv show Murder She Wrote, these would be similar types of mysteries. Whodunits featuring amateur sleuths with little violence on the page. These are not hard-boiled mysteries. Rather, aside from the murder, these are typically light and fun with plenty of humor and feature a small town you’d love to visit.
What advice do you have for other indie authors who are just starting out?
Decide why you are writing. It's okay if that reason changes. If your reason to write is to make money while writing, that’s a great goal. If that’s your goal, I would advise you to choose writing some form of adult genre fiction (some category of romance, mystery and thriller, science fiction, fantasy etc.) as the most efficient path toward achieving that goal. The great thing about writing kids books is that if you happen to get lucky enough to have a hit, kids books can be really sticky and can produce income for many years. However, it’s really difficult to get a kids book to really hit. It is much easier to reliably produce income from adult genre fiction.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on the fifth book in the History Mystery Kids series of chapter books. I am also working on the second picture book in the How to Cow series. For my adult books, I am working on a cozy mystery and my first romance.
To learn more about Daniel, visit his author page on Amazon. His titles for adults can be found here.
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