Author Q&A: Jackie Yeager – Spin the Golden Light Bulb
It’s the year 2071 and eleven year-old Kia Krumpet is determined to build her 67 inventions, but she won’t have the opportunity to unless she earns a spot at PIPS, the Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Kia, who has trouble making friends at school, has dreamed of winning the Piedmont Challenge and attending PIPS ever since she learned that her Grandma Kitty won the very first Piedmont Challenge. After she and four of her classmates are selected to compete for a spot at PIPS, they travel by aero-bus to Camp Piedmont to solve a task against forty-nine other state teams to earn their place at the best inventor’s school in the country.
Spin the Golden Light Bulb is the first book in The Crimson Five series, and the first book from author Jackie Yeager. We chatted with Jackie about her inspiration for The Piedmont Challange, her characters, and the wild inventions they come up with!
AJ: We LOVE the Piedmont Challenge! How did you ever come up with the idea for this grand scale competition?
JY: The idea for the Piedmont Challenge was actually inspired by the real-life creative problem-solving competition, When my daughter and son were in middle school, I spent seven years coaching their teams. One year, when my son and his four teammates were in fifth grade, they did incredibly well, earning the opportunity to compete in the World Finals. It was a complete surprise to me and to all of the families—definitely a whirlwind few months! We headed off together to the University of Maryland where over 850 teams from all over the world gathered for a five day competitive extravaganza. My team met some amazing kids—quite an experience for five eleven-year-olds!
At the time, I had been querying another middle grade novel, but on the drive home from the World Finals, I realized that the experience these five kids had shared could be the springboard for an even better story. I didn’t want to write it specifically about the Odyssey of the Mind competition, but something bigger, more over-the-top. In order to make the Piedmont Challenge as incredible as I could, I set the story in the future so that the possibilities for the inventions in the story would be endless.
AJ: What was your inspiration behind all the wonderful and creative inventions?
JY: Most of the ideas came literally out of nowhere, pretty much as I drafted the story. My mind is always spinning, thinking of ways that everyday objects could be made into something more fun. As each scene unfolded in my mind, I pictured objects that would make the characters’ jaws drop as they saw them—like the floating air purification sparkles in the girls’ bed chamber, the switching bunk beds and the sound beam board in the boys’, and Mabel, the robotic monkey assistant. It helped that at the time, I had two middle school kids at home and our house was always filled with their friends. I became pretty in-tune to what inventions the kids would love to have—if they could!
AJ: What is your favorite invention?
JY: It has to be the spinning food flowers! If I could sit at the dinner table with my family, where a circular object spins at warped speed, slows down as it opens up like a flower with petals, and then rotates—sliding a different delicious food from each of its petals onto our plates—well, that would be amazing because making dinner is not my favorite activity! And to have no clean up either because the petals would scoop the plates into the spinning food flower when we’re finished eating—that would definitely be the best invention ever!
AJ: We know that the team was inspired by real life students. Can you tell us more about how these kids helped you to develop your story?
JY: I’ve made it no secret that the kids behind the characters in Spin the Golden Light Bulb were modeled after the kids from my Odyssey of the Mind World Finals team. As I began to draft, it seemed foolish for me to create completely original characters when I had a group of kids with such fun and different personalities right in front of me! People have often asked me what it was about these kids that made them work so well together, where they were able to create such fantastic objects, costumes, and skits. I believe they worked together so well because they were so different from each other. Sure, they had their squabbles like any other team I had coached, but this team learned very early on how to play to each other’s strengths, overlook their differences, and motivate each other to create something special together. I knew this was a theme I wanted to focus on throughout the story.
In the early drafts though, the characters fell a little flat and I think that’s because I wrote them as true to the real-life kids as I could and used their real-life names. But then I received one very important piece of advice: Change the characters’ names! I resisted at first because I felt like I was betraying my team in some way. But once I changed them, it enabled me to embellish quite a bit. I could flesh out the characters in a way I couldn’t before and make them more interesting. The real kids were pretty perfect (in my mind!) but perfect doesn’t make for a great story. So once I changed their names, I was free to give them flaws and exaggerate their personal challenges to make them more relatable. I’m hoping that kids who read the book will see themselves in one of the characters, or even more than one.
AJ: What do you hope young readers will take away from this first book in the Crimson Five series?
JY: Oh, so many things! I hope readers realize that it’s okay to make mistakes when they’re trying to solve a problem, build an object, or tackle a new activity because some of the best results come from messing up at first. I hope this first book helps them to realize that when they work with other people they won’t necessarily like everything about every person, but they will most definitely like something about each of them—and that anything is possible when they work as a team. I hope that readers will think about the inventions in the story and someday try to invent their favorite—or an even better one. I hope this book reminds any reader, no matter what their age, that whatever their goal or wish happens to be, they can succeed if they think more, work hard, and dream big. And of course, I hope they love the characters so much that they want to follow them on their next incredible adventure!