Reading Middle Grade is proud to reveal the cover of Claire Swinarski’s third middle grade novel, What Happened to Rachel Riley? This engaging mystery is bound to delight fans of middle grade mysteries! I chatted with Claire about the writing process, inspiration, and what it was like to craft a mystery. You’ll enjoy this conversation — and you’ll love the cover!
Interview with Claire Swinarski on What Happened to Rachel Riley?
Hi Claire! Welcome back to Reading Middle Grade. We’re so excited to reveal the cover of your new middle grade book What Happened to Rachel Riley? Could you tell us a bit about this book?
Thank you so much! What Happened to Rachel Riley? is a mystery surrounding the titular character. New girl Anna Hunt doesn’t understand why the entire eighth grade of East Middle seems to have it out for one particular girl. When she’s assigned an un-essay for her Social Issues class, she’s inspired to create a podcast asking the question…what happened to Rachel Riley?
It’s a book about friendship, feminism, and fierce loyalty. Some characters from The Kate In Between make brief appearances as well!
Sounds intriguing – so many mysteries! Your debut novel, What Happens Next had a touch of mystery, but this seems to have even more elements of the genre. Why did you decide to go this route/what inspired this story and how was the writing process different from your other two books?
I’ve been trying to write a mystery for ages, and I’ve always loved epistolary novels. When I was a kid, Letters From Camp by Kate Klise was one of my favorite reads. The idea of solving a mystery through documents has always seemed like a cool idea for a story.
At first, I wanted to make Anna more of an old-school private eye, but seeing how savvy preteens are with tech, I knew podcasts, social media, and email would play into the story in a huge way.
The writing process was actually very similar to my other books. I’m typically a chronological writer: I sit down and write a book from start to finish. I will say with a mystery, things had to be plotted out a bit more than usual, and in the end, I had to go back and sprinkle a few clues in!
The timing/pacing of this book was also super complicated, so that made it different as well. Making sure every email and text message is dated, plus news articles, podcast transcripts, website updates…it was bananas! My editor had me make a Google calendar where I could track every moment of the story, and that really helped. I’ll probably utilize that method going forward because keeping dates straight is far from my strong suit.
I love the idea of a podcast to piece things together. You have experience creating a podcast (I loved your Making a Middle Grade podcast). Were you able to draw on that while writing Rachel Riley?
Thank you for the kind words! I was a professional podcaster for a few years, and I was an early listener of podcasts back in the day. I absolutely love the way podcasts can do deep dive on complicated issues, let people speak in their own words, bring in old-fashioned radio show elements…I just love the medium. And as a parent myself, I know kids’ podcasts are becoming more and more popular. So the idea that a preteen would start a podcast isn’t too out of this world.
Being a podcaster myself did help me craft the main character, Anna. I knew what kind of shows she’d be into, what kind of equipment she’d need to make a show, and how difficult it can be to get people to open up. But Anna is a much better podcaster than I ever was!
Kate from The Kate in Between is my favorite character you’ve created, but I have a feeling I’ll love Anna too. It’s interesting because she’ll be revealing another character (Rachel Riley) to us. What are some things readers should know about Anna?
Anna is the daughter of an immigrant, and I think that influences her perspective and experience quite a bit. She knows what it’s like to be an outsider. Her family is super close because they’ve always had to be–they’ve been excluded in a lot of not-always-visible ways. But there’s a plus side, too: she comes from very strong parents and a wisecracking sister, and that gives her a lot of courage to ask tough questions and be herself. When your family has faced hard times and made it through all the stronger, all the braver, all the more themselves, it gives you a belief that you can do the same.
And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the cover reveal of What Happened to Rachel Riley?
How much input did you have on the cover design? What do you think about it?
I am obsessed. I’ve been so lucky with my book covers–I’ve never gotten one I disliked! I didn’t have that much input simply because I was creatively fried when it came time to discuss the cover, and I basically told the team to go for it. I love how many elements of the mystery are surrounding Rachel–things readers won’t even know the importance of until they read the book!
Claire, I’m so excited for everyone to get their hands on this book! When will it be available for readers?
Thanks so much, Afoma–I loved chatting about Anna and Rachel. What Happened to Rachel Riley? is available for preorder and will be released on January 10, 2023 wherever books are sold!
You can pre-order it on Amazon now!