Q & A with Kell Andrews

Frequently asked questions for Kell Andrews, author of DEADWOOD

Where did you get the idea for DEADWOOD?

There is a wooded park behind my house with quite a few beech trees, and every one of them is carved with messages. Some of the carvings are quite old, and I always wondered about the people who put them there. Did KT still love JB?

So on the one hand, I found it a romantic, old-fashioned gesture, but still, carving a tree is worse than graffiti. It’s harming a living thing, and while I forgave KT and JB who carved the tree fifty years ago, I couldn’t forgive the fresher carvings. And it got me to thinking about how the tree felt about it, if trees could feel.

The tree in DEADWOOD does feel. Do you believe that?

I don’t believe trees feel or think as we do! But plants have evolved in amazing ways to ensure survival and reproduction of the species, and some of them have quite sophisticated systems, reactions to stimuli, and relationships with other plants, animals, and environmental conditions. It only took a little creative license to push those phenomena into the supernatural realm and come up with a tree that could communicate and send messages.

So is there a scientific basis for what happens in the story?

No, it’s magic! I always liked to read about magic and paranormal happenings as a kid, and I still do. And while I accept magic in stories, when I’m writing, I like to find an explanation that’s somewhat plausible – I want readers to feel like the events in the story could really happen. If a real kid came face to face with talking tree, they wouldn’t just accept it and talk back right away. It wouldn’t make sense. I wanted it to make sense in DEADWOOD.

You mentioned a park near your house. Is that where DEADWOOD is based?

The trees near where I live inspired the story, but Lower Brynwood isn’t a real place. But if it were, it would be somewhere near where I live on the border of Philadelphia and the suburbs. The history of the town is fiction too, although I based it on development patterns in Pennsylvania in the early years of the United States.

Brynwood Park, the park in the book, is much larger than the one near me too. When I was writing, I thought of Wissahickon Park near the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, where I lived as a kid. Running along a creek, the beautiful woodland is itself part of Philly’s Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the world. Even though it’s the city, I remember it as a sun-dappled forest filled with skunk cabbage and jack-in-the-pulpit in spring and crunchy with leaves in the fall. It was a little bit of wild for a city girl.

Another thing I wanted to capture is how an urban park can be scary too, and I don’t just mean the snapping turtles. There’s something spooky about a pocket of isolation amid a highly populated area.

You have two main characters: Hannah, who’s wants to be a scientist and is a star athlete, and Martin, who’s involved with gaming and fantasy. Which one were you like as a kid?

I sure wasn’t a star athlete! I participated in sports a little up until middle school, but very badly, and like all kids my age, I played video games a little, although they were very primitive ones by today’s standards. I was more of a book kid – now I’m a book grown-up. But I’d say my way of thinking is more logical, like Hannah’s. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed writing Martin so much!

So did you always want to be a writer?

Always. I started out majoring in writing in college but changed to humanities, with concentrations in U.S. history and writing.  There were just too many things I wanted to study and learn before I was ready to start telling stories.

I always planned to go back to fiction, but I got sidetracked. For years I wrote and edited all kinds of things, from textbooks to websites and how-tos and left fiction for “some day.” Then I picked up Harry Potter, and I knew that kids’ books were what I was meant to write. Middle-grade stories were the books that made me love reading, and I wanted to do that for other kids.