Interview With Niki Lenz, Middle Grade Author of THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP
June 16th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

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From Goodreads:

After Grace’s mom died, she and her dad grew extra close. They have special nicknames and are always busy with new projects-like building a puppy condo for their dog, Potus- and they love learning random facts about the US presidents. Grace thinks her little family of two is perfect.

Then some committee members at church suggest it’s time for Dad to start dating again. And Dad agrees! Grace knows that adding a new member to the team will end in disaster.

No problem! She and her best friend have a plan: Operation Stepmoom Shake-Up! But what if a little shake-up is exactly what Grace’s family needs?

Reverse PARENT TRAP-like antics offer a hilarious and heartwarming look at what it means to be a family.

Q & A:

  • Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP went through a much bigger transformation than my debut novel, BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN. I did a huge round of edits with my agent, then another before acquisitions, and then a big round of edits with my editor. At this point, I thought the manuscript had to be close to its final form. Haha. How wrong I was. The next round of edits involved a whole new outline. I cried every time I opened that thing. It involved several brand-new scenes, and one morning, in a moment of desperation, I grabbed my eleven-year-old daughter by the shoulders and with wild eyes asked her “How would you get two grown-ups to fall in love?” She replied, “I’d give them one milkshake with two straws.” I rushed off to write the scene and later was surprised and delighted that the title changed to THE STEPMOM SHAKE UP, and the cover was also inspired by that scene! I feel like my daughter should get her name on the book.

  • Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

I think the thing readers wouldn’t know about the book just from the flap copy is that it is chocked full of presidential trivia, particularly stuff about the coolest president we have ever had: Teddy Roosevelt. When I first started writing this book, I knew that Grace and her Dad would have a shared love of presidential history. What I didn’t know is that Teddy Roosevelt and his daughter Alice added a stepmother to their duo after Alice’s mother died just like the family in my story! It was one of those very happy accidents that can only happen when the universe is on an author’s side.

  • Writing about a step-mom—step-parents—can be a huge challenge. What was your motivation for writing about this topic?

I am a teacher, and so I know that my students come from all kinds of different family structures. I didn’t feel like I’d seen very many books with blended families. And also, I have been obsessed with The Parent Trap since I was a kid. I always loved the idea of the kids getting involved in the parent’s dating life. I just never liked the part about the parents separating and lying about the twins. So, I thought to myself, what if I wrote something like the Parent Trap but without the creepy twin aspect??? And a story was born.

Bonus round:

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn? Mmmm… Fries, with campfire sauce.

Ideal vacation: Beach, major city touring museums and landmarks, national park, skiing, staying at home? Beach all the way. The more remote and quiet the better.

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction? I read a lot of middle grade and young adult, and when I do read books for adults, they have to be happy reads. I can’t handle books that make me worried or scared at this point in my life. 

Rock ’n roll, classical, soft-rock, jazz, a cappella, punk, R&B, country, hip-hop, music theater? Oldies music is my jam. We listen to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Supremes and Johnny Cash at my house.

About Niki:

Niki Lenz lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband and children. She studied elementary education at Southwest Baptist University and taught kindergarten for six years. She enjoys reading, travel, glamping, polka dots, red lipstick, and oldies music. She is the author of BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN and THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or visit her website: nikilenz.com.

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