Note: My answers may contain some spoilers for the book—please don’t read this if you haven’t finished the book!
How did you get the idea for this book?
I once met a little girl wearing a beautiful, hand-knit personalized sweater that said “Katie” on the front—and yet, when I started talking to her, she insisted that her name was actually Alexandria. I never found out the reason for the discrepancy. So writing The Girl with 500 Middle Names was kind of my way of figuring out a reason a kid might wear a personalized sweater with the wrong name on it.
Another factor that led to me writing the book was that my husband and I were part of a program through our church where we were tutoring disadvantaged children. The kids we were tutoring were about the same ages as our own kids at that point—kindergarten, first, second, third grade—just beginning school. But those kids’ school experiences were very different from my own kids’, and that bothered me a lot.
Did you ever really come up with 500 middle names for the book?
No. If you’ve read the book to the end (Spoiler alert!) then you know that Janie doesn’t actually have 500 middle names. In fact, she doesn’t have a middle name at all. But I did have fun coming up with several different names for Janie to wear on her sweaters. If I’d had to come up with a lot more of them, I would have had to get out the baby name book my husband and I used when we were trying to figure out what to name our children.