How do you write 24 books for kids in 20 years? Ask Kristin O'Donnell Tubb.
An admitted “eternal optimist,” Kristin moved to Nashville after graduating from Auburn. She worked for nonprofits for almost a decade before an epiphany. “I realized that the corporate 9-to-5 thing is wonderful, but it wasn't for me. I’d just gotten married, and my husband said, ‘Why don't you just take a year and try writing?’” Kristin’s husband, Byron, is the grandson of the late Ernest Tubb. “I was like are you kidding because if you say it twice … and I took him up on it. He’s my number-one cheerleader.”
The risk paid off. Kristin did freelance work for Highlights and other children’s magazines and eventually found a job with Dalmation Press. “Kathy Knight, my editor there, taught me about a writer’s voice and how to turn around a deadline quickly. She was a real mentor to me.” Kristin wrote many Scooby Doo, Strawberry Shortcake, Powderpuff Girls, and other books about familiar characters for Dalmation Press. Her first original work, Autumn Winnifred Oliver Does Things Different, was based on the Oliver family, who lived in Cades Cove before the National Parks Service took control.
When asked why she writes middle grade specifically, Kristin says, “Often people don't know what middle grade is, and it's that age 8 to 14 readership. I love middle grade because it's the first time kids read independently. They're selecting the stories themselves. Up until this age group, they’ve either been read to or been exposed to picture books where the illustrations tell much of the story. These are the first stories that they select on their own and read on their own. That's a big honor when you think about it, possibly being the first person to introduce a concept like service dogs to an eight-year-old. It's a big responsibility, and it's one that I take very seriously. I’m very thankful.”
Kristin’s most recent works are Luna Howls at the Moon, Zeus Dog of Chaos, and A Dog Like Daisy, a trio of books about the lives of service dogs; The Story Collector and The Story Seeker, based on a true story and set in the New York Public Library; and The Decomposition of Jack, which released in October 2022.
“The Decomposition of Jack is about endings and beginnings, encapsulated through the concept of roadkill, which seems like an odd jumping-off point, but works for some readers,” Kristin says. “It’s not for every reader, but for those who maybe need to learn the concept that an ending isn’t always an end. It’s about cleaning out new spaces for growth.”
After reading an article about roadkill years ago, Kristin researched and learned what scientists do with it. “Roadkill is one of the most important tools we have to study wildlife and wildlife conservation. Sometimes it’s moved from one location to another so it can be studied, and that reminded me of the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee. So I took that concept and married it to the idea of a roadkill scientist, and almost immediately … the main character came to my mind, scraping roadkill off the road to help his mom, but not for the reasons that people think. Not for food, but because she’s a scientist.
“Life cycles in the natural world are a really good metaphor for relationships. Jack’s parents are going through a divorce, and he has a lot of comparisons of what his life looks like to the decomposition cycle. Ultimately, I hope this book is a safe place to process grief.”
The Decomposition of Jack is available now, and signed, personalized copies can be purchased at Parnassus Books.