PLATTSBURGH — Author Kate Messner’s thing for airports was the spark for her latest release, “Capture the Flag,” published by Scholastic Press.
“I love airports,” Messner said. “When I travel with my family, we like to people watch. We name people and make up stories about them. I think airports are fascinating places because everyone in the airport has a story.”
Setting a story in an airport promised a lot of fun.
Messner’s twin loves of the District of Columbia and the Smithsonian prompted her plot about the theft of a national treasure: the original “star-spangled banner” that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key’s anthem.
In “Capture the Flag,” heroine Anna Revere-Hobbs and cohorts Jose McGilligan and Henry Thorn meet by Silver Jaguar Society fate in the Washington, D.C., airport. Their bloodlines are their entrée into the secret society, which protects the world’s artifacts.
During a grounded-planes snowstorm, they are at the right place at the right time when they hear the broadcast about the theft of the famous flag from the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
“Anna came to me first,” Messner said. “Anna loves to write. We have some things in common. Jose and Henry are so different from her and each other. They seemed like a good trio.”
The Star-Spangled Banner exhibit is right around from the Philadelphia, the Lake Champlain gunboat.
Messner contacted a Smithsonian curator to get insight into how one would steal the flag, hypothetically of course, for the “harmless children’s book” she was writing.
The curator invited Messner and her family down for a tour. Afterward, the Messners brainstormed about how the flag heist could have gone down.
“The research was incredibly fun,” she said. “I really got rolling on it.”
She didn’t actually ride luggage conveyor belts and fall down baggage chutes, but she watched many videos about how baggage systems worked.
“Airport security was not nearly as amused by me as the Smithsonian. That was not a possibility. I interviewed some people who worked in baggage.”
Messner’s first two novels, “Sugar and Ice” and “The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.,” were driven more by character and setting.
Boys asked her if she wrote any books with a lot of action. “Eye of the Storm,” published by Walker/Bloombury, was Messner’s response.
“It’s a stand-alone novel for ages 10 to 14 set in 2050. Tornadoes are more widespread in the world and more powerful. Four kids at an elite science camp are researching why the storms are targeting one particular community. They find a scary secret about the main character’s father, who is a meteorologist.
In “Capture the Flag,” the first installment in the three-book Silver Jaguar Series, Messner fell in love with the characters and melding adventure and mystery.
COSTA RICO TRIP
The second book, “Hide and Seek,” set in Costa Rico, comes out in summer 2013.
“I was having so much fun with that. I’m interested in so many things. That secret society leaves the door wide open on different directions to go to do research and exploring. It’s been really fun for me.”
She and her family spent a week in Costa Rico’s rainforest — “hiking and encountering snakes, big spiders and a lot of things that appears in ‘Hide and Seek.’”
LEFT TEACHING JOB
This is Messner’s first year writing full time. A former Stafford Middle School English teacher, she found that writing and teaching were two full-time jobs on top of raising a family. She realized she couldn’t do everything anymore. Writing and teaching, she could handle. Throw travel and speaking engagements in the loop, and she was fried. She took a leap of faith and went for the writing life.
“The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.” garnered the 2010 E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Older Readers, a Bank Street College of Education Best Books of 2009 and an IndieBound Fall 2009 Kids Indie Next List.
“Over and Under the Snow” was the recipient of the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Children’s Book and a 2011 EB White Read Aloud Honor Book. Earlier this month, she attended the awards luncheon in New York City.
“I got to meet the illustrator, Chris Silas Neal, of the book this time,” Messner said. “It was a room full of booksellers. I got a chance to say thank you. Independent booksellers have been champions of my book, and the reasons why things are going well for me as a writer.”
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