Category Archives: Author Interviews

Interview with Middle grade author Greg R. Fishbone and a Giveaway!

I amgfishbone_headshotsquare delighted to be able to interview one of the Mixed Up File’s very own! Greg R. Fishbone is a very talented author and has an awesome new book to share with us today.

Who is Greg Fishbone? 

A lawyer by day and author/illustrator by night, Greg fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and fun. He and his wife live in the Boston area with their daughter and two cats of varying temperament.

Tell us about your latest book. Was it fun to write?

51qltyqq1tl-_sx311_bo1204203200_ My latest book is The Amorphous Assassin, the second book in the Galaxy Games series. It’s a blend of sports and science fiction with an international cast of all-star kids and one very dangerous alien.

 This is the first time I’ve written a sequel, being able to build off an existing world with a known backstory. I wanted new readers to be able to pick this book up and quickly get oriented and invested in the story, but I also wanted readers of the first book to remember the ongoing story lines and deepen their understanding of characters they already knew.  It was a challenging balance to create, which made it a whole lot of fun for me to write.

Where do you get your ideas?

 Everywhere! Places I’ve lived, things I’ve done, people I’ve known, books and articles I’ve read, TV shows, movies, those weird insurance commercials with the talking lizard, daydreams, nightmares, randomly-firing neurons… Sometimes it feels like it all sloshes around in my head until it comes out like a story-flavored smoothie. Everyone can do that, but each person’s story flavors are unique and special to them.

Why do you like writing sci-fi?

 Science fiction is the genre of what isn’t, but could be. And since we humans keep advancing our scientific knowledge, our technology, and our society, science fiction is a constantly moving target. Writing science fiction means, first, defining what science fiction means today, then redefining it for tomorrow.

And what draws you to write for middle graders? 

 I was in that range is when I got drawn into books and read some great authors who permanently expanded my mind—Madeleine L’Engle, Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ellen Raskin, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Babbitt, Piers Anthony, Arthur C. Clarke, and others. Plus my eldest daughter is in third grade now, so I especially like the idea of paying it forward to her and her generation.

It seems that you have always been drawn to superheroes. Can you tell us about some of the ones you have created in the past?

 Ages ago I had a superhero team that called themselves the Super Seven, with the joke being that they weren’t very super and there were only six of them. Or eight. Or three. Or a hundred. The Super Seven were always adding or subtracting members, but they could never quite get their membership to stabilize at seven.

 I also had a kid superhero team made up of Sporkboy, Spoongirl, and AquaRegia. They were a lot of fun.

What would be your ultimate super power? 

 Having an undo button for the real world. It would give me the ability to say, “No, that thing didn’t just happen, but here’s the better, cooler, and more interesting thing that happened instead.”

When did you start writing? 

 I used to write for fun with my friends after school, all through high school and into college. We’d take turns alternating chapters in a convoluted story that lurched in random directions and never reached an ending.

Why did you become an author?

 Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed, and I found that liked it even more as worked to get better at it. I’m still learning new things, refining my technique, and constantly being blown away by what some other authors are able to do. Besides, if I can’t have an undo button in the real world, being able to do it in a fictional world is the next best thing.

Can you name one teacher that inspired you to write or had an effect on your life? 

 Rabbi Wohlgemuth, who was a Holocaust survivor and taught at the Hebrew high school. He was such a spellbinding storyteller that his words still resonate in my memory as a general background buzz of warmth, wisdom, pain, and laughter.

What is your favorite part about being an author? 

 As an author, I’m part of a select group that gets to enrich the lives of people we don’t know and usually never get to meet. Except when we do meet them, which is the very best part of all.

Anything else that you’d like to add:

 Thanks for doing this interview, and also to everyone who took time to read it.

My Galaxy Games series isn’t from one of the biggest publishers around. It doesn’t have a huge buzz about it, and you may have to go out of your way to find the book online or to order it from your local independent bookstore, but finding just the right read is worth a little effort. I know kids will have a lot of fun reading this series, and it’s been a labor of love for me to create books that fill a gap on the shelf where nothing like them currently exist.

And if you enjoy these books, or any other books, please share them with friends, recommend them to other readers, and drop a note to the author. We always love hearing from you.

Thanks so much, Greg! If you’d like to learn more about Greg’s books or just drop him a line, check out his website HERE

Greg has generously offered to giveaway an autographed copy of his latest book.

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*****Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and author of over 25 books for kids. You can learn more about her at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

An interview with author Delia Sherman on her latest middle grade fantasy

imgres-1Congratulations to Delia Sherman on the recently published The Evil Wizard Smallbone, and thanks for joining us here at the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?
It began with a short story I wrote for an anthology called Troll’s Eye View, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. The theme of the anthology was to retell a classic fairy tale — from the point of view of the villain. As I always do when I want to build a good, juicy fairy tale retelling, I went to Fairy Tales From Many Lands, a book I’ve had ever since I can remember. I’ve long wanted to retell the story of “The Wizard Outwitted,” a Russian fairy tale full of shapeshifting and trickery and wizard’s duels (because, I ask you, who doesn’t love a good wizard’s duel?), so I did that. In 3500 words. Which didn’t actually leave me room for the wizard’s duel. Or, indeed, many of the things I wanted to say. So I thought some more about Nick’s training and development and went to the Blue Hill Fair (the very same fair Wilbur attended with Fern in Charlotte’s Web), where I talked to a trapper about gray wolves and coyotes in Maine and to a pig-farmer about pigs, and it all came together somehow.

There’s quite a bit of shape-shifting in this novel, and the descriptions are so vivid. Did you research wolves and coyotes, for example, to capture them so well or perhaps you have observed or spent time with these animals?
It was all research. My terrible secret is that I’m horribly allergic to all animals, and can’t have one and breathe at the same time. Which is why I suppose I almost always end up putting animals in my books—they’re guaranteed to be hypoallergenic. But I digress. I read a lot about wolves and spiders and rats and coyotes (and some other animals that I ended up cutting out because the book was getting too long. Nick turned into a crow once. I was sorry to see that go.) But I think my best source ended up being nature video on You Tube, where I learned what a rat sees and what the fox says, pretty much first hand.

What was the hardest thing about writing about wizards?
Figuring out the magic. I didn’t want it to be “Alakazam, wave my hand, you’re a frog”-type magic. And I didn’t want it to be too formulaic and scientific. I wanted it to seem as if it could really work and still be mysterious and wonderful. So I read about folk magic (think horseshoes for luck and salt to keep evil away) and formal magic (pentagrams and chants) and mixed them with things I personally think are cool (books that talk back to you and magical snow-blowing).

What was the easiest thing writing about wizards?
Stuff that is magic as well as used to do magic, like Smallbone’s coat and hat, Fidelou’s pelt-cape, enchanted bookstores and talking books. I’m sure I borrowed many of them from folk lore, from old fairytales, from books I read as a kid and don’t even remember reading, but they all felt as if they just showed up when they were needed, demanding to be added. So I did.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A little bit of both. When pantsing leaves me without anywhere to go, I plot for awhile until I can see my way forward, and then I go back to making it up as I go along. That’s the first draft, though. For all other drafts (Evil Wizard took seven), I have to make a plan, or I just make things worse.


There are so many surprises and unexpected reveals. How did these plot twists come about?

Now that I come to think about it, it has to be fairytales again. You read enough of them, you realize that one of the patterns is this: The hero has an adventure, which leads to another adventure, which develops a side-quest, which gets him embroiled in another adventure altogether. I guess I’ve read so many fairy tales over the years that that kind of thinking is just part of the way my mind works.

How much were you aware of both following the wizard apprentice tale type and how much did you consciously deviate from it?
Well, I was working off a fairy tale, and I have seen Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and read The Sword in the Stone, although the Wart is not really Merlin’s apprentice. Setting the story in modern (more or less) Maine was a big deviation, as was Nick’s original complete lack of interest in being a wizard—or even believing that magic exists. I think what really happens when I retell a fairy story is that at some point the story I’m writing takes off from its roots and grows into something slightly different. Except for the wizard, the shape-changing, and the wizard’s duel, there are not really a lot of similarities between Nick’s story and the original.

This is set during a hardscrabble winter in New England, and it’s very cold and described so well. Is this a climate/area you know first-hand?
I began to write this story when I started staying at my friend’s house on the coast of Maine. I’ve never been there in winter, mind, but I’ve read books set there (also in Finland, which is very like Maine in many ways). I spent one of the coldest, darkest, and most uncomfortable years of my life in an inland town a long time ago, and I lived in Massachusetts for a long time, some of it in a house heated by a wood stove. So I do know plenty about snow, wind, cold, and even chopping wood.

Why did you write this book?
I haven’t the foggiest notion. All the time I was writing it, I kept thinking maybe I should be working on something else, that it wasn’t really the kind of book I write, that Nick was difficult and I don’t know anything about motorcycles or small towns (I grew up in New York City, after all). And yet, I kept working at it. I guess the real answer is that I’m a lot more like Nick than I thought.

The wizards in this novel are quite idiosyncratic. How did you come up with the idea for such a grumpy wizard (SmallBone) as well as his nemesis (Fidelou, the wolf wizard).
There are lots of grumpy wizards in literature. Even good wizards like Gandalf and Merlin and Dumbledore and Chrestomanci can be plenty crabby and short-tempered. Another thing wizards have in common is that they tend to be loners. You don’t read much about wizards with lots of friends and family (except in Harry Potter). So I just took that crabbiness to its logical extreme. Fidelou, on the other hand, is only interested in power. He wants it all, no matter what he has to do or who he has to hurt to get it. That, in my opinion, is what real evil is.

The main character, 12 year-old Nick Reynaud, can’t really read at the beginning of the novel. One of the main changes is that he learns to read and grow in confidence as well as security. How did the choice for Nick to be such a struggling reader come about?
Well, he says he can’t read; he can actually read perfectly well, and has a taste for science fiction and fantasy, just like his Mom. Still, I suspect he hasn’t read much until he gets to Evil Wizard books, partly because Uncle Gabe doesn’t have any books in the house and partly because he can’t see the point of the books he’s expected to read in school. He’s indignant when the bookshop gives him E-Z Spelz For Little Wizardz, but he reads it because he really, really wants to learn magic. I guess I believe that having a reason to read something is more motivating than just being told that it’s good for you.
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Hillary Homzie is the author of the Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.

Pete Hautman: Interview and Giveaway!

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Pete Hautman is the author of more than twenty novels for adults and teens, including the 2004 National Book Award winner Godless, Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner The Big Crunch, and three New York Times Notable Books: Drawing Dead, The Mortal Nuts, and Rash.

His “young adult” novels range from science fiction (The Obsidian Blade) to
mystery (Blank Confession) to contemporary drama (Godless) to romantic comedy (What Boys Really Want.)

With novelist, poet, and occasional co-author Mary Logue, Hautman divides his time between Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Stockholm, Wisconsin.  His latest books are the YA novel Eden West, the story of a boy growing up in an isolated doomsday cult in Montana, and the middle-grade novel The Forgetting Machine a sci-fi comedy about, among other things, censorship in the age of ebooks.

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From IndieBound: People all over Flinkwater are losing their memories and it’s up to Ginger to figure out what’s going on in this sequel to the quirky, dryly funny (Booklist) The Flinkwater Factor. Absentmindedness in Flinkwater, a town overflowing with eccentric scientists and engineers, is nothing new. Recently, however, the number of confused, forgetful citizens has been increasing, and no one seems to know why. Ginger Crump figures it’s none of her business. She has her own problems. Like the strange cat that’s been following her around a cat that seems to be able to read. And the report for school due Monday. And the fact that every digital book in Flinkwater has been vandalized by a fanatical censor, forcing Ginger to the embarrassingly retro alternative of reading books printed on dead trees. But when Ginger’s true love and future husband Billy Bates completely forgets who she is, things suddenly get serious, and Ginger swings into action.

What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?

There is an openness, an innocence, a hopefulness in middle-grade characters (and readers) that I like. The characters are less self-conscious, less brittle, and more about who they are rather than who they want to become.

How is writing middle-grade fiction different from writing for young adults, or “old adults?”

I get to tap into my goofy side—that part of me that enjoys scatalogical and banana peel humor. My middle-grade characters and I are not constantly striving to be cool. “Also, I get to use lots of adverbs,” he said adverbially.

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Which do you prefer to read, digital books or dead trees?

I love paper books. I love the way they feel, the way they smell, and the sound of a turning page. But they do take up a lot of space, so I do about half my reading on my iPad. I like the search function on ebooks, and that you can adjust the font size and page brightness. I guess you could say I LOVE dead tree books, but I find digital books to be quite useful.

If your dogs could talk (as some of the animals do in Flinkwater), what would they say?

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My dogs are quite small and very talkative. They have an assortment of barks, whines, and growls that I translate as, “Feed me, let me in, feed me, let me out, feed me, hold me, feed me, play with me, feed me.” But who knows—maybe they are asking me deep questions about the meaning of life.

If you could use a real-life REMEMBER system (without forgetting anything), what would you download into your brain?

People’s names. I’m always forgetting names, or calling people the wrong name. It’s embarrassing, and rude.

I enjoyed the “Present or Future” section at the end. Can you tell us what prompted you to add that, and to change it from the “Science, Sciency, or Fantasy” section in THE FLINKWATER FACTOR?

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“Science, Sciency, or Fantasy” seemed, in retrospect, a bit fuzzy to me. For example, a hundred fifty years ago the idea of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth might have seemed “sciency,” but today it looks more like fantasy. And self-driving cars once looked like fantasy, but today they are current technology. So I went with “Present or Future,” because things that seem like fantasy today might be reality in fifty or a hundred (or a hundred thousand) years.

What kind of research did you do to get the science (both present and future) right?

I try to keep up with scientific and technological advances, so a lot of it I already knew. But I did have to read up on antigravity and drones and maglev trains. One thing that surprised me was looking into bookless libraries—I thought they were “future,” but it turns out we already have some.

Last month, during Banned Books Week, you spoke out about censorship, which was also an important part of the plot of THE FORGETTING MACHINE, with interesting twists on the role of gatekeepers and digital media. Why did you choose CHARLOTTE’S WEB as a target for censorship in the story? 

Mostly because it seemed like an unlikely target for censors. I wanted Mr. and Mrs. Tisk to challenge a book that no reasonable person could object to, and CHARLOTTE’S WEB fit the bill.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from THE FORGETTING MACHINE, what would it be?

A few laughs, a few questions, and the desire to pick up another book. Oops, that’s not a single thing. Let’s go with laughs. To me, the most important thing is that a book be entertaining.

Will we be seeing more of Ginger Crump and her buddies in future books?

I hope so! I’m taking a break from Flinkwater to work of a couple of other middle-grade novels. One is about eating contests, the other is a sort of ghost story.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed THE FLINKWATER FACTOR and THE FORGETTING MACHINE?

THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS is pretty good. I can’t remember who wrote it. I’m terrible with names.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?

Embrace your inner child—the one you’ve been suppressing for years. The one who bursts into laughter at inappropriate moments, who asks the wrong questions, who puts her shirt on backwards, who tells silly jokes, who burps. Let your characters be kids. Do not preach. Use adverbs.

Pete is giving away one copy of THE FORGETTING MACHINE (U.S. only, please).  Enter here: 

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Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press 2014).