Catherine Murdock’s Wisconsin-based series of middle grade novels was supposed to be done by now. But after the Dairy Queen trilogy concluded, Murdock couldn’t let the characters go.
The series, which started with the novel Dairy Queen, related the experiences of a high school girl named DJ Schwenk, who played high school football and basketball in the fictional town of Red Bend.
DJ Schwenk returns – in a supporting role – in her new book, Heaven Is Paved With Oreos.
The central character in the story is actually the would-be girlfriend of Schwenk’s younger brother Curtis. It brings readers back to central Wisconsin as Sarah Zorn works to figure out her relationship with Curtis, and with her grandmother, whom she accompanies on a pilgrimage to Rome.
Murdock herself returned to real-life Wisconsin recently, where she spoke with some real-life school students in Hartland to inspire them to read and consider becoming authors.
She says she wants to give students the chance to be able to meet an author face-to-face, to break down the idea of authors being immortal. She says when she was the same age as the Hartland students, she would have given anything to meet an author. When her school librarian got the chance to meet author Robert Cormier, Murdock recalls touching her librarian as if she had touched Elvis.
Murdock is often asked where she gets her ideas from, but says writing stories is about craft more than a single idea. She says according to her calculations, comparing how many words there are in the story total to how many pages, she found that 1% of the story is based on inspiration and 99% is from hard work.
That said, she does get inspiration - sometimes from some unique places.
"I was in Whole Foods a couple of years ago and there was a woman in the check out line – an older woman – and I looked at her and thought, 'What makes you tick?'" she says. "And that was where (Grandma) Z started, a woman in the supermarket."
Murdock’s books are aimed at readers in the 4th grade and up, around the same age as her preteen and teen characters. As the characters grow up, the readers can grow with them. Murdock says she's especially gratified knowing the characters are relatable and serve as role models for her readers.
“I think that’s why characters stay with kids,” she says. “It’s because ‘Oh, I know how Harriet the Spy would handle this situation,’ ‘If I could be more like Hermione…’”
Watch Murdock's book trailer below.