Author Interview: Claudia Mills

Today, the Book Monsters are happy to welcome Claudia Mills, author of Zero Tolerance, a book that had me up all night reading! Stay tuned for a giveaway at the end!

What was the inspiration behind Zero Tolerance

I don’t usually draw my books from incidents that happen out in the world; they are typically sparked from things that happen in my own life. But Zero Tolerance did begin with an actual news story. Several years ago a local middle school near my home in Boulder, Colorado, expelled a student for bringing a knife to school by mistake in her mother’s lunch. I don’t remember any particular details of the story, although it triggered a media frenzy. But I do remember thinking at the time: what would it be like to be that girl? It wasn’t the blatant unfairness of rigid zero tolerance policies that struck me so much as the human dimension of the story, how an honor student might find her identity unsettled and her world view undermined in the aftermath.

Of all the characters in the book, which one reminds you of yourself the most and why?

I’d have to say Sierra, because like Sierra I loved school and was always a successful student. (Well, except in math. And biology. And P.E.) But Sierra was more of a model student than I ever was, because I always—ALWAYS—got in trouble for talking during class. I also identified strongly with Sierra’s close friendships with her girlfriends, particularly with her friend, Em. I had a friend named Suzy with whom I spent endless hours on the telephone analyzing every subtlety of every utterance of one certain boy. Who knew there was so much to interpret in how someone could say “Hi?”

Having written several books for children, how was Zero Tolerance different? Would you say it was more or less difficult to write than most of your books?

Writing Zero Tolerance was definitely different. Generally when I write a book, I know what has to happen to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion, and readers are going to know that, too, and read on with that expectation. So, if I’m writing a book about a third grader struggling with times tables, as I did in 7 x 9 = Trouble!, I know that the story has to end with Wilson passing all those pesky times table tests and earning the coveted ice cream cone. But with Zero Tolerance, I truly didn’t know what was going to happen as I wrote. Would Sierra really be suspended? If she was allowed to stay at Longwood Middle School, would she even want to stay? I wouldn’t say that the suspense I experienced as I was writing the book made it either harder or easier, but it did make it more interesting—for me, and I hope for the reader. I could hardly wait to sit down with my pen and pad of paper every day to find out what was going to happen next.

Are you currently working on or have plans for future projects?

I have a chapter book series that launched at the same time as Zero Tolerance, called Franklin School Friends, about a trio of third graders, each one with her own special talent/passion. Kelsey Green, Reading Queen is the first book in the series, out this past spring. Up next spring is Annika Riz , Math Whiz. Now I’m writing the third book of the series, Izzy Barr, Running Star. Kelsey’s story came most easily to me, because as a child I was a reading queen who captured many a reading contest prize. But I am most definitely NOT a math whiz or running star, so I had to work harder to imagine myself sharing Annika’s and Izzy’s love for these activities.

photo Snickers_for Book MonstersWhat is one quirky thing that most readers would not know about you?

I never had a pet until I was fifty years old, and now I’m the devoted slave to my cat, Snickers. She meows every morning at 4:30 a.m. to be fed, and I hop right out of bed to feed her, because I can’t stand if she’s sad even for a minute. But actually that works out well, as early morning is my best writing time, so Snickers doubles as furry companion and reliable alarm clock.

Who couldn’t love that adorable cat! Thank you Claudia for answering all of my questions!

Claudia Mills is the author of many chapter and middle-grade books, including 7 x 9=Trouble!; How Oliver Olson Changed the World; and, most recently, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen. She also teaches philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. To learn more, visit her
Follow Claudia on her her blog tour!
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Kristen is the co-blog owner of The Book Monsters. Kristen is an Elementary School Library Media Specialist in the Chicago suburbs who loves reading. Why else would she be a librarian?

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5 responses to “Author Interview: Claudia Mills

  1. Claudia Mills

    Thanks so much for hosting me today, Kristen, for the thoughtful interview questions, for the genersous review, and most of all, for praising the adorableness of my cat! It's an honor to get to be a guest on your blog.

  2. Jason f

    u.  Interesting you decided to finally write about experiences in society. Zero Tolerance has gone too far. I know safety, buts use commen sense society.

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