Tag Archives: Author Interview

Happy Book Birthday Michele Weber Hurwitz

The Mixed Up Files’ own Michele Weber Hurwitz has a book birthday! Her newest MG novel Ethan Marcus Stands Up comes out this week from Simon and Schuster/Aladdin.

Here’s the gist of the story.

Perennial good kid Ethan Marcus has just done the unthinkable: refuse to stay seated during class. He’s not causing a riot; he’s not wandering around; he’s just super fidgety and sick of sitting. But the rules aren’t designed for Ethan, so he is given two afternoons of Reflection—McNutt Junior High’s answer to detention. The science teacher who oversees Reflection suggests that Ethan channel his energy into the school’s Invention Day event. Ethan doubts his ability to make anything competition-worthy; that’s his sister’ Erin’s department. But then Ethan gets a brilliant idea and recruits his best friend Brian to help.

Enter Romanov, the resident tech whiz, who refuses to give them tips, which causes Erin to be furious at her formally slacker now traitor brother, because Romanov won Invention Day last year. Meanwhile, Erin’s friend Zoe is steering clear of Erin’s drama for the first time ever after realizing that she may be crushing on Ethan. Brian has bigger things to worry about though, and loner kid Wesley may know more than others realize. Narrated by five seventh-graders, discover what really happens after one fidgety kid decides to take a stand against sitting down.

Congratulations Michele! This was such a fun read! It totally reminded me of my middle grade justice warrior self.  MG readers range from 8 to 13 years old, spanning the range of late elementary through middle school. Why choose characters from the upper end of this range, in the 7th grade?

Kids are able to move around more in earlier grades but as they get older, they’re expected to sit for long hours in class. But just because they’re older doesn’t mean they have any more patience for sitting! In fact, in the preteen years, kids may even be more fidgety as their bodies are typically undergoing a big growth spurt. I remember when my son was in eighth grade, he needed to move around while he studied for a test, usually throwing and catching a ball at the same time. This was actually what sparked my initial idea for the story. He once told me that when he’s moving, his brain “works better.” I thought, of course it does, that makes perfect sense! So, seventh grade seemed like a natural fit for this story about literally standing up for a cause you believe in.

I totally relate to Ethan’s need to move. I’m a long way from middle school but I can’t stand to sit still either. One of the things I loved about being a teacher is that you’re always on your feet and on the go. I think if I’d worked in an office all these years I’d have been murdered by my colleagues for spinning in the office chairs! 😀 School science fairs are a staple of the elementary and middle school experience. Why did you decide to branch out into the Invention Day?

There were several middle grade books with science fair themes, and the growing popularity of maker fairs and the whole maker movement, where kids can create anything, not just work on a science experiment, felt like an exciting, fresher backdrop for the story.

One thing I’ve noticed working at Annie Bloom’s in Portland this year is a proliferation of non-fiction maker books for kids. I’d totally pair your story with this one from the Smithsonian! Of course I have to ask, did you really make a prototype of a clip-on standing desk like Ethan does? And what is your workspace like? Do you stand? Walking desk? Combo?

I didn’t make a standing desk prototype like Ethan does in the book although that would’ve been fun. And my model would’ve turned out worse than what Ethan cobbles together because I have a very challenged mechanical aptitude. As for my workspace, I generally write on a desktop and those long hours of sitting really get to me. I take frequent standing breaks and I have this sort of makeshift platform for my keyboard so I can stand and type when I want to. I remember when I was a kid, getting that sort of brain soup dazed feeling in school – Ethan calls it “scomas” (school comas). I never did stand up to protest, though!

I have a standing desk too, a former woodworking bench, it even has a vice on the end should I need to get a grip! I’ve written one novel in two points of view and found it really tricky. Why five POV characters? And how did you keep track of them all?  How did you choose which character was perfect for that particular scene?

I’m so excited about this book because it’s different than my two previous middle grade novels which both had one girl narrator. This is my first book in multiple points of view but it felt natural and necessary for the telling of this story. I wrote several drafts where Ethan was the only narrator and it didn’t feel like it was working. When I added the other POVs, it clicked. The back-and-forth narration between the kids feels almost like comments on social media posts – everyone has an opinion and their own version of what “really happened.” I chose to have the five characters all narrate because they were so interconnected – Ethan, his sister Erin, their best friends Brian and Zoe, plus the outcast kid, Wesley, who knows more than everyone realizes and is an integral part of the plot. As I wrote, it seemed like each character popped up exactly when it was their time to talk.

It was satisfying to see Ethan and Erin’s combative sibling relationship evolve through the story. Not to give away the ending, but I love how they realize their differences can work for them, not against them. Did you draw on your relationship with your own siblings, or your kids?

I have two younger brothers who are insanely competitive with each other but mostly, I drew from my two older kids’ relationship. They have similar personalities to laid back, easy going Ethan and organized, perfectionist Erin. There are times (in real life and in the book) they can’t deal with each other, and other times they realize how much more they can accomplish as a team if they put aside their differences.

I love the message of empowerment in Ethan Marcus Stands Up because it’s subtle. Yes, you should stand up for things you believe in. Yes, anybody can do it. But real change is hard and not especially linear. And often requires collaboration with others. Did you have a particularly empowering experience as a young person in advocating for a cause?

I love how Ethan changes things (or tries to) in a roundabout way. All he wants to do in the beginning of the story is be able to stand up in class when he’s fidgety, but that goes against his language arts teacher’s class rules. It takes a kind-hearted science teacher to suggest that he can solve his problem through inventing his own solution. The story becomes much more than just about standing and sitting as Ethan digs deep and finds a resolve within himself. I was a quiet, shy kid so I didn’t really stand up and advocate for a cause but I do remember going “on strike” one day and not doing my household chores. That did not go over well with my parents.

What do you think kids will love most about this book?

It’s an easy to read story, and the characters are very relatable. I think it’s interesting and eye-opening to hear each character’s perspective because we all see the world from our own lenses and can interpret a situation so differently than someone else.

You mention on your website that there will be a follow up book in 2018. Are you finished writing that one? Can you give us a preview?

In the sequel, which will be out in September 2018, Ethan and Erin are nominated by the science teacher to attend a prestigious invention camp with brilliant kids from around their state. They feel intimidated and aren’t sure if they’ll be able to measure up. But when they meet two new kids and form a team, they dream up something that just might rise to the top. Not without a lot of drama mixed in, of course.

How exciting to have a sequel already on the way! Congratulations. Can’t wait to share this book with our patrons at Annie Bloom’s bookstore. I hope you have a very happy book birthday!

Interview with Author Amy Stewart and a Wicked Bug Giveaway

 

Today we welcome New York Times bestselling author Amy Stewart and we are giving away a copy of her new book for middle-grade readers, Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017).

Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She is also the author of the Kopp Sisters series. Stewart and her husband own Eureka Books in Eureka, California. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Horticulture Society’s Book Award, and an International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Writing Award. 

 Illustrator Briony Morrow-Cribbs studied art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, and currently lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she owns and operates Twin Vixen Press

About Wicked Bugs Young Readers Edition: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017):

Did you know there are zombie bugs that not only eat other bugs but also inhabit and control their bodies? There’s even a wasp that delivers a perfectly-placed sting in a cockroach’s brain and then leads the roach around by its antennae — like a dog on a leash. Scorpions glow in ultraviolet light. Lots of bugs dine on corpses. And if you want to know how much it hurts to get stung by a bullet ant (hint: it really, really hurts), you can consult the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It ranks the pain produced by ants and other stinging creatures. How does it work? Dr. Schmidt, the scientist who created it, voluntarily subjected himself to the stings of 150 species.

 Organized into thematic categories (Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, and Terrible Threats) and featuring full-color illustrations by Briony Morrow-CribbsWicked Bugs is an educational and creepy-cool guide to the worst of the worst of insects, arachnids, and other arthropods. This is the young readers adaptation of Amy Stewart’s bestselling book for adult readers.

 
First question: Why bugs?

Wicked Bugs is the sequel to Wicked Plants, a book I wrote in 2009 about deadly, dangerous, offensive, illegal, and otherwise horrible plants that have affected humans–mostly for the worst. It was my way of looking at the dark side of the plant world, and telling rather bone-chilling stories that don’t often get told about the surprisingly powerful world of plants!

Wicked Bugs seemed like a natural follow-up. In fact, as I was researching Wicked Plants, I kept running across interesting stories about venom, insect-transmitted diseases, and so forth in the medical literature. I just started keeping a list, and pretty soon, I had another collection of stories.

The irony is that people are very trusting of plants, assuming that anything green that grows out of the ground is all natural and therefore good for you. But I had no trouble rounding up a list of truly terrifying plants. Plants can’t run away and hide from predators, so they fight back in ways that can really inflict a lot of pain and suffering.

For Wicked Bugs, on the other hand, I actually had a hard time coming up with a list of insects, spiders, and so forth that we actually should worry about.  People are generally far more terrified of bugs than plants, but in fact, I had trouble filling a book with actually “wicked” bugs!

 In your introduction, you discuss your use of the word “bug.” Can you tell our readers about it?  How did you choose which critters to include?

 Entomologists will be quick to point out that they use the word “bug” to refer to a specific type of insect with piercing and sucking mouthparts. An aphid, therefore, is a “bug,” but an ant is not. This book covers all manner of slithering, creeping, and crawling creatures, from insects to spiders to worms. In that sense, I’m using the word “bug” in the more ancient sense, dating back to the 1620s, when it was used to refer to any sort of little insect-like creature.

How did you approach research for the book?

 I interviewed toxicologists, physicians, and entomologists. I read a lot of medical and scientific journals, scoured old newspapers, and did original, primary research to try to debunk myths and avoid repeating old, false information. Although this looks like a small, light-hearted book, I do quite a bit of research. For instance, I would never repeat a fact from a modern book along the lines of “the ancient Greeks used wasps for warfare.” I’d need to trace that to the source–and I don’t just mean a more authoritative Greek scholar, I mean the original source text, which, fortunately, has probably been digitized and can be found in a research library somewhere in the world. I’ve hired translators to translate 500 year-old German texts and even Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Tell us about the decision to publish a young readers’ edition of your 2011 New York Times best seller for adults, Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects.

I do quite a lot of events around the country at science museums, botanical gardens, libraries, and so forth. At those events I will often meet teachers and parents who are really eager to find interesting science books for their kids and students. I confess that because I’m not a parent myself, I wasn’t aware of the changes that Common Core and other educational standards have brought to the classroom, but teachers and parents brought me up to date! They told me that literature and writing are being integrated into other subjects, like science and history. Because Wicked Bugs combines all of those things–science, history, and storytelling–it really fit the bill.

 How does this middle grade version differ from the adult version?

We had the text professionally edited to fit the right age and grade level, and we removed just a little bit of “adult’ content.  We also made it into a full-color edition by using hand-colored versions of Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ extraordinary copperplate etchings. As you might know, copper etchings were used to illustrate scientific books three hundred years ago. It’s almost a lost art today. But Briony took up the challenge, often working from real specimens at her university entomology department, wearing jeweler’s glasses to see every tiny detail.

If there was one single thing that you wanted young readers to get from Wicked Bugs, what would it be?

Honestly, I just want them to enjoy the book. I write for entertainment–to entertain myself, and to entertain readers.

 Do you have plans for any other books for young readers?

I very much hope that my publisher will want to do Wicked Plants! There are other books about bugs out there for this age group, but it seems to me that botany is a very underserved subject for young readers. There’s a definite Harry Potter vibe to Wicked Plants–poisons and potions and so forth–but it’s also an engaging look at botany and a good way into the subject. If anybody out there thinks Wicked Plants would make a good next book, please send me your thoughts!

You have published both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference? How does your writing process differ?

Right now I’m writing a series of novels (Girl Waits with Gun, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, and Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions) [for adults] based on the true story of one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs and her sisters.

It’s great because the research is really the same, but the writing is very free, because I can make things up if I have to. Also, I’m no longer writing in my own voice, and I do get tired of the sound of Amy Stewart in my head all the time.  Now I’m writing in the voice of a woman who lived in the 1910s, and that’s a great challenge. There will be many more books in that series to come!

And now for the giveaway!

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Interview with Debut Author Kristi Wientge – KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE

I recently got the chance to read a  new debut, KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE , by the talented Kristi Wientge. It’s a wonderfully funny, thoughtful look into a subject you rarely see —  female facial hair.

When 12-year-old Karma discovers seventeen hairs growing above her lip, she is mortified and determined to get rid of them. Karma’s path to hair  removal includes navigating shifting relationships with her parents, her  best friend, and her comfort level with being the only kid in school who brings sardine masala and chapatis for lunch.

This interview with Kristi was especially fun to do because my son and I read KARMA together, and he contributed a few questions:

How did you come up with the character of Karma? Is she modeled after someone you know? (From my son) (First of all, can I just say that I love that you read this and came up with some excellent questions!)

 Karma evolved as a character. She started off as just a name and a problem: her mustache. Slowly, she became who you read in the book. Her situations mirror mine and things that have happened to my girls, but really she’s very much her own person. Much stronger than I ever was at her age!

How did you first get the idea to write this book? (Also from my son)

 The idea for Karma has been bouncing around in my head since I was ten years old. I wanted to read a book about a hairy girl, but never found one. Once I had children of my own and saw them go through similar situations, I knew it was time to figure out how to make this idea of a hairy girl into a book.

Your main character, Karma, is so wonderful for so many reasons. She’s also very different from many of the tween girls in today’s children’s literature – facial hair and a dad who wears a turban are wonderful distinctions. Yet I also came away with the impression you intended to illustrate not just the lovely diversity in her family and life but also the commonalities that connect all girls this age?

Yes, you really nailed this! The world is so interconnected we can no longer remain ignorant to things outside our normal. The more we explore outside of our comfort zone, the more we find we have in common with everyone.

Madeleine L’Engle famously said that if a subject is too hard for adults, write it for children. You tackle some pretty heavy concepts in this book – karma, spirituality, what it means to be a good person. What are the themes you hope will most resonate with your readers?

 All of the threads in my book really evolved naturally. I didn’t set out to make a statement on diversity or spirituality. I set out to write a book about a girl dealing with facial hair and the rest just layered on organically. I hope that whoever reads this book walks away with a broader horizon and more empathy. I hope that Karma is a springboard into conversations about female facial hair, something I didn’t talk candidly about until I was in my twenties. My last hope is that more facial hair stories get out there so girls can feel comfortable in their own skin. My readers should definitely check out Harnaam Kaur who actually blurbed the book. She has embraced her facial hair and is a fabulous example of self-acceptance.

How will you be celebrating your debut on August 15?

 I’m delaying my celebration until November when my kids and I are traveling to the US. I hope to to meet my agent, Patricia Nelson—which will be a huge deal. Then, my kids and I are going to eat Chipotle like we haven’t had it in 2 years—which we haven’t! Oh yeah, and I can’t wait to down a jug of sweet tea from Chick-fil-a.

Have your children read KARMA?

 No! And they call themselves my children! I really should punish them, but I’m actually relieved in a way. I get so, so nervous when people I know well read it.

What’s next for you – will we be seeing another book about Karma or do you have another book in the works?

For now, Karma’s story is done and I like where I left it. I’m excited to tell more stories with other characters. I’ve got a few things I’m playing with. One I hope Patricia, my agent, and I can get out there.

Is there anything I didn’t ask but you’d really like us to know about KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE?

You guys did a great job with these questions! I’ll let you in on a little secret about the book. You asked if Karma was based on anyone and I said mostly no. That’s true. But Daddy… don’t tell anyone, but he is HUGELY based on my husband!!! There are some word-for-word quotes from him. A few times during dinner, I’d run and get my notebook and chuckle to myself as I scribbled down something he said as I imagined the perfect scene to add it to! I LOVE that secret! Very funny – adds a whole new layer of fun to that character.

Thank you so much to Kristi for this wonderful interview. And because we had so much fun reading her book, we’re giving away a copy to one lucky winner.

Enter the Rafflecopter below!! Note: Rafflecopter will accept entries until August 8 at midnight.

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courtesy of Kristi Wientge

Kristi Wientge is originally from Ohio where she grew up writing stories about animals and, her favorite, a jet-setting mouse. After studying to become a teacher for children with special needs, she spent several years exploring the world from China to England, teaching her students everything from English to how to flip their eyelids inside out. She’s spent twelve years raising her family in her husband’s home country of Singapore, where she spends her days taking her four kids to school, Punjabi lessons, and music. With the help of her mother-in-law, she can now make a mean curry and a super-speedy saag. Karma Khullar’s Mustache is her debut novel.