An Interview with YA Author Nicole Kronzer | Sara Biren

Photo credit: Nicole Kronzer, Instagram

Minneapolis author Nicole Kronzer’s most recent novel, The Roof Over Our Heads, has been named a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award in Young Adult Fiction. Her first novel, Unscripted, was also a finalist in 2021. This year’s awards will be held in St. Paul, Minnesota, on May 7, 2024. I chatted with Nicole about writing, teaching, historic homes, and what’s next for her.

Sara Biren: When–and why–did you start writing? Why did you decide to write YA?
Nicole Kronzer: I’ve been writing for fun since I was eight years old when my family took a week-long road trip. I wanted to go to Disney World and see Cinderella’s castle, but my parents told me we were going to see a palace in South Dakota instead. That “palace” ended up being The World’s Only Corn Palace, which, by itself, especially if you’re into corn art, is an amazing feat. But I’m afraid it does not hold up as a replacement for a magical seventeen-story cartoon dreamworld. I wrote “Nicole’s Guide to South Dakota” to warn future visitors not to get their hopes up. 

I switched to writing stories and plays and so much Baby-Sitters Club fan fiction as I grew older. My sisters and I wrote together, too. I basically always had something going in a notebook, but never shared those stories and plays with anyone–it was just something I did for me. Along the way, I somehow internalized that in order to be an author, you had to live in New York City, and since I didn’t want to live there, I decided it wasn’t a possibility for me. 

It wasn’t until I was a high school English teacher in my mid-30s and a bunch of authors had come through my school’s library that I put together that none of them lived in New York City. One in particular, Nina LaCour, was extremely encouraging when I confessed that I thought  I had a young adult book inside me. Quite frankly, I never considered another genre because I spend my days with teenagers. And the rest is history!

SB: How has your career as a teacher impacted your writing career? 

NK: I always say it’s sort of an infinite feedback loop situation. I think about my students when I write, and writing affects how I teach my students. 

In both of my YA novels, issues that I noticed affecting my students’ lives became plot points in my books. In Unscripted, it was the issue of girls being in emotionally abusive relationships, and thinking they were “too smart” to “let” something like that happen to them. In The Roof Over Our Heads, it was students who were planning on majoring in areas in college they weren’t passionate or even terribly interested in, but were career areas they thought their families expected of them. 

I also often ask former students to beta read early versions of my books and also borrow beloved students’ names for characters. 

When I teach writing now, I’m much more in touch with the gap between assigning writing and grading the product now that I spend my days living in that in-between myself. I model way more than I used to, and also prioritize the one-on-one conference, even though I have enormous classes and it can take such a long time to get through everyone. But it’s in that gap between the assignment and the product that so much learning can happen!

SB: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Is there anything unique about your writing process?

NK: Plotter, baby. I deviate wildly from that planned plot, usually, but I like a general idea of where I’m headed before I get stuck in the muddy middle to help me push through to the end.
I handwrite my first versions. I find it immensely helpful for several reasons:
  1. It keeps me moving forward. I still cross parts off for sure, but even when I do that, I see evidence of my progress in a way that’s really satisfying and can’t be replicated on a computer. 
  2. It gives me structure as I’m drafting. I use a new color each day, so when I sit down to write, I read what I wrote yesterday, make a few changes, and then keep going. The color change helps me stay honest about where I left off, and how much I managed to draft in a session.
  3. It keeps me off the Internet!
  4. It forces me to focus on what’s most important because I can’t handwrite as fast as I can think. (Fun fact: This is why it’s better for students to take handwritten notes, too!) As a result, my first drafts are really lean, so I feel a sense of accomplishment early on. I also prefer to add as I revise instead of cut, so “starting skinny” works for me on several levels.
  5. It keeps me from over-editing when I’m drafting because I know literally no person is going to read this version. I can’t send a notebook to my editor, so it’s a sure situation that I’m going to touch every word before someone else reads it. That lets me be more playful and worry less as I draft. 

SB: What has been the most difficult part of the writing and/or publishing process?

NK: Waiting. And the lack of on-going feedback. When you’re a teacher, you know immediately if that joke didn’t land, or if that lesson didn’t work, or if a joke did land, or which parts of a lesson worked better than others. When you’re a writer, so much of your work is putting words down and sending them into the void. There are gobs of times when I wonder if I’ve created something that’s even worth reading, and I start to tell myself terrible stories about what people are going to say or think with zero evidence. (That, by the way, is where author friends come in!) 

SB: What do you love most about being a YA author?

NK: Besides the permission it gives me to spend a ton of time writing, my favorite part is the people I’ve become connected to because I have books in the world. The Minnesota writing community is nothing short of amazing. So vast, so supportive–I absolutely would not be here without them.

SB: Tell us about The Roof Over Our Heads: What inspired you to write it and how has your experience been different from your debut novel?

NK: I’ve been obsessed with historical homes for as long as I can remember. There’s something about standing in the same place people did more than one hundred years ago that makes me feel connected to humanity and part of history myself. 

I teach high school creative writing. One of the projects I do with my advanced students involves historical fiction. Every other year, we either focus on the James J. Hill House or the Alexander Ramsey house, both in St. Paul. We research the family, what life was like for their servants, issues of class, gender, and race in 19th century Minnesota, language, clothing, food, and customs of the day, and then go on a field trip to the house. My students ask a million super smart questions thanks to all that research, and then we come home and write historical fiction. 

So after years of assigning this project to students, I was dying to do it myself. I wanted to keep the story modern, however, so I decided Finn and his family would live at the house and be caretakers. I’m also a former professional actor, so making Finn’s family full of theatre people was a logical choice for me.

My experience with this book has been enormously different from my debut. First of all, this book didn’t come out six weeks into a pandemic like Unscripted did! Being able to launch my book in a bookstore and participate in a plethora of in-person events has been excellent fun and so healing.

I handed this book in to my agent the day before my debut launched, so I can’t say the writing of it was that much different from writing my first book. It’s been subsequent efforts that have been colored by my post-publishing life! 

SB: What does it mean to you that The Roof Over Our Heads is a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award?

NK: I’m enormously proud. There’s so much writing talent in Minnesota, and I am deeply honored to stand among them.

SB: What’s coming up next for you? Are you working on another book?

NK: I have several irons in the fire, but nothing I can talk about yet. Rest assured, however, my pen is busy at work!

Thank you for your time, Nicole, and congratulations on your achievement! We’ll be rooting for you on May 7. 

The 36th annual Minnesota Book Awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday, May 7 at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tickets are on sale now. If you’re not in the Twin Cities area, you can register to watch a livestream of the event. 

About The Roof Over Our Heads:

In a family of theater lovers, Finn is desperate to be an actor, too. When a new artistic director threatens to kick his family out of the only home he’s ever known, his family puts on a show. But will it be too much for his mom Lula, who is recovering from cancer? Will Finn connect with his crush and deal with his long-time rival, Jade? Will saving the house save Finn’s acting career? 

About Nicole: 

Nicole Kronzer is the author of the young adult novels Unscripted and The Roof Over Our Heads. Unscripted was named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association, and both Unscripted and Roof were Minnesota Book Award Finalists.

Nicole is also a high school English teacher and former professional actor. She loves to knit and run (usually not at the same time). She lives with her family in Minneapolis.


  1. This book sounds incredible. And I can't tell you how much I love that your students are beta readers!

  2. You rock Nicole, Kronzer!

  3. Great interview. Best of luck with the book.


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