Swanky Seventeeners Leah Henderson and Mary Lambert recently chatted with Jill Diamond about her debut middle grade, LOU LOU & PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 18, 2016).
Meet best friends, Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl! Lou Lou loves horticulture and Pea loves art. Every Friday afternoon, they get together in Lou Lou’s backyard garden for their PSPP (Post-School-Pre-Parents) tea party. They chat about school, discuss Pea’s latest fashions, and plot the weekend’s activities. But all plans go out the window when a series of small crimes crop up around El Corazón, their quirky neighborhood, right before the Día de los Muertos procession. First, Pea’s cousin’s quinceañera dress is tragically ruined. Then Lou Lou’s beloved camellia bush, Pinky, suffers a serious blow. And that’s just the beginning! When clues start to appear in El Corazón’s outdoor murals, the best friends join forces, using Lou Lou’s floral expertise and Pea’s artistic genius to solve the mysteries.
Jill Diamond has loved children’s literature for as long as she can remember, thanks to her school librarian mother and the long, cold winters in Maine. When she’s not writing, Jill practices law, dreams about her next travels, eats soft serve ice cream, and wears cowboy boots. Jill now lives in San Francisco with her husband and their son.
Leah and Mary: We had so much fun reading this book! What was your inspiration for writing it?
Jill: LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY was inspired by my mom, Nancy Diamond. I started writing Lou Lou and Pea’s story when I was caring for my mom during an illness. She was an elementary school librarian who was known to her students as “The Best Librarian in the Whole Wide World.” My mom was a true champion of children’s literature, and she’s the reason that I love to read and write.
Leah and Mary: El Corazón is such a wonderful community where Lou Lou and Pea can walk freely and know many of the people in town. Was it based on a particular place?
Jill: Absolutely! El Corazón is based on my neighborhood, the Mission District in San Francisco. The murals, the sugar skulls studio, the Día de los Muertos procession, and the candle shop are all inspired by real places and things. We even have a Lucky Alley in the Mission (I think it’s official name is Lucky Street), but unfortunately there is no SS Lucky Alley nautical house (I wish!). Lou Lou and Pea’s El Corazón isn’t intended to be an accurate portrayal of the Mission, but instead is an imagined version.
Leah and Mary: What was one of the most surprising things you found out about yourself or your writing when working on this book?
Jill: I discovered that I love revising! I know that a lot of authors hate revisions, but revising is one of my favorite parts of writing. I find it really satisfying to cut and clarify bits of my book. The revision process is also when I get to go back into the manuscript and add a lot of the fun little details to the story.
Leah and Mary: Lou Lou has so many dynamic friendships (and frenemies) in this book. How did your childhood relationships influence this story—did you have anyone like Pea or Jeremy or Comet Cop Kyle or Danielle Desserts in your life?
Jill: My childhood friendships were, and still are, extremely important to me. I am an only child so my good friends have been my lifelong surrogate siblings. I remain very close to them today, even though we are scattered across the country. I was fortunate to have many friends like Pea in my life, and, although PSPP belongs exclusively to Lou Lou and Pea, we had plenty of our own rituals, secret hideouts, and fantasy worlds. I didn’t have many frenemies like Danielle to make things interesting, but there was one girl who was both my close friend and my biggest competitor in elementary school. We lost touch after she moved schools, but I’ve reconnected with her as an adult, and she’s lovely and hilarious.
Leah and Mary: Lou Lou is extremely passionate about horticulture and her father is just as passionate for ships at sea. What are some of your passions?
Jill: I’m passionate about baking things that take way too much of my time to make. I’ve made two wedding cakes, blue ribbon-winning muffins, a contest-winning pie, and a giant flag cake for a friend when she became an American citizen. I’m also passionate about traveling, particularly to not-very-touristy destinations in Eastern Europe. I also love swimming and collecting piggybanks, red lipsticks, and cowboy boots!
LIGHTNING ROUND QUESTIONS:
What’s your favorite character name (either one of your own or from someone else’s novel)?
I adore naming things. The names Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl actually came to me before any other ideas for my book. I love them (of course, I’m biased), but I also really like Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones from the Alice Miranda books by Jacqueline Harvey.
What is your favorite outdoor mural and where is it located?
There are so many amazing and beautiful murals in the Mission, it’s impossible to choose just one! Also, murals do change, or new ones are created, so there are always fresh works of art to love. The most famous mural alleys in the Mission are Balmy and Clarion, but if you look, you can find gems all are over the neighborhood. To check out some of the murals visit:
If you had a special power what would it be?
I’d like to be able to fly, have the power to heal, and the ability to grant wishes. But if those were all taken, I’d settle for being able to make sour gummy candy magically appear at any time.
Do you have a favorite line from Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery?
“I’ll be the sweet in your beignet.” This line is from Ella Divine’s song, Feathered Fedora.
At one of Lou Lou and Pea’s PSPP (Post-School Pre-Parents) tea parties what dessert would you choose?
Oh dear, how to decide? I think I’d go with blueberry scones. I’m originally a Maine girl and we love our blueberries.
Do you like something salty or something sweet when writing?
Both! One of my favorite treats is ice cream and pretzels are one of my favorite things to put on ice cream.
What is your favorite piece of writing advice or motivational phrase or quote?
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Madeleine L’Engle
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWERS:
Leah Henderson has always loved getting lost in stories. When she’s not scribbling down her characters’ adventures, she’s off on her own, exploring new spaces and places around the world. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University and currently calls Washington D.C. home.
Her debut MG novel, ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, is set in contemporary Senegal, laced with magical realism, tough choices, and friendships. It comes out June 2017 from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Mary E. Lambert is the author of FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES, which is her debut novel. Mary has an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Arizona where she teaches middle school English. Mary divides her time between grading her students’ essays and writing novels. You can learn more at maryelambert.com or find her on Twitter @MaryUncontrary.
Annabelle Balog is determined to keep all friends and non-family members at least five miles away from her home, which is so full of her mother’s “collections” that it can be hard to see the floor. But, maybe, some rules are meant to be broken… (Out February 28, 2017).