Getting to Know: Ginger Rue

Of all hypothetical powers one may daydream about having, I have to admit I’ve always had a fondness for the ability to freeze time (especially in the middle of some of the hectic art classes I teach; instant quiet! Bathroom break! Time to kick back and read!) It’s a trope that comes up often in fiction, too, from the very-adult novel The Fermata, to one of the Halloween stories in the Simpsons. But up until Ginger Rue’s fun new chapter book series for 7-10 year olds, which begins with ALECA ZAMM IS A WONDER, I’d never seen this power depicted so well in kidlit before. I contacted Ginger to learn more about her series and her writing process.

Q: Can you sum up Aleca Zamm for the uninitiated?

Ginger: The ALECA ZAMM series is about a girl who feels like she’s not special in any way. Then, on her tenth birthday, she discovers she can stop time just by saying her name, and restart time the same way at her leisure.

Q: What sparked the creation of your series?

Ginger: I actually wrote a series of these stories when I was in sixth grade. It was kind of cool because my teacher (who was awesome) let me read them to the class, and my class loved them and kept asking for new installments. It was a reward at the end of the week: if everyone behaved well through Friday, the teacher let me read one of the girl-who-stops-time stories aloud. Did I save any of the stories I wrote when I was 11 or 12? Sadly, no, I did not. What I wouldn’t give to have those stories now!

Q: Can you share about your creative process?

Ginger: It was funny because I was having this really down time when I remembered the Aleca stories of my youth. I was in my 40s, had the flu or some really terrible sinus infection, and I’d pulled my back out on top of that, so I was on all this medication and feeling horrible, and I was lying in bed sort of re-evaluating my life choices, berating myself for thinking that I could make it as a writer. I tried to remember what in the world had ever made me think I was any good at writing, why I’d ever thought I could do this for a living. And that’s when I remembered the Aleca stories from sixth grade. I thought, “Man, the kids in my class absolutely loved those stories, and they were so fun to write!” I think one of the kids in my class had actually written fan fiction, even though that wasn’t a term we had back then. I thought, wow, maybe that’s the book I ought to write. So once I was up and about again, I emailed my agent and sheepishly said, “I know we still haven’t sold my last project, but I have this idea for a children’s chapter book series….” I was afraid she would think I’d lost my mind, but she said, “Go for it!” I sat down to write ALECA and was amazed at how much fun it was and how easily it came together. Maybe this was because I’d been doing 40,000-50,000-word manuscripts up until this point (ALECA is about 12,000), or maybe it was because I was just having fun with it, making myself laugh, never really expecting anyone else to see it, but I remember it came together sort of magically.

Q: The obvious and not-so-obvious influences on Aleca Zamm are…?

Ginger: Well, I think there is no way to get around how much Barbara Park’s JUNIE B. JONES influenced me as far as reminding me how much fun elementary chapter books can be. I read all of those to my daughters when they were young, and we laughed ourselves silly. I also really loved Beverly Cleary’s books when I was young. She always made me laugh. I think Junie B. and Ramona have the sort of sass and spunk that Aleca maybe inherited.

As far as influences on the characters, I had a great aunt named Aunt Zelpher. I didn’t meet her until I was in high school, but I’d heard my mom and grandmother talk about her for years. My mom’s family is from Mississippi, so when they pronounce things, it’s rarely like they’re spelled. They’d say, “Aint Zephyr this” and “Aint Zephyr that.” And I recall thinking that it was so magical and mysterious that this woman was named after the west wind. I was disappointed to find out that wasn’t actually her name! She was a tiny little spunky woman, and I liked her immediately, even though I think I was around her only once or twice. All the women on my mom’s side of the family are like that: sassy and no-nonsense and will say anything to anybody. So Aunt Zephyr in the book reminds me a lot of my mom and my aunt Betty, my mom’s sister. There’s a scene in the first ALECA book where Aunt Zephyr sees her nephew after many years have passed, and she tells him he hasn’t changed a bit, only to immediately follow that up with, “Of course, I’m lying. Your hair is gray and you’re developing jowls,” or something to that effect. It made me LOL when I wrote it, just picturing my aunt saying that. Also, when I hear Aunt Zephyr’s voice in my head when I’m writing, she sounds exactly like my 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Roby, who was a tiny little woman who struck fear into the hearts of all her students. Aunt Zephyr is an amalgamation of all these strong women I’ve known. I guess I like the juxtaposition of a small, frail older woman with a big, strong presence. (Although my mom and my aunt Betty are not frail. They were both nurses and have the strength and energy of women half their age, combined with a take-no-prisoners attitude. The last time a coyote got into my cousin’s chicken house, Betty very nonchalantly just went out there and killed it!)

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Ginger: I take my kids to the orthodontist! Seriously, between the three of them, I feel like I take somebody to some kind of appointment every day! But I am extremely grateful I get to do that. I also have a puppy who now runs much of my life. Other than that, I am a contributing editor for GUIDEPOSTS magazine, so I usually have one or two articles in the works for them at all times, if I’m lucky.

Q: What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

Ginger: Well, first of all, I’d tell those kids to SAVE THEIR STORIES…because you could wind up in your 40s reworking them! And it would be nice to remember specifically what plot points and characterizations appealed to you when you were that age. For adults who want to write for kids, I guess I’d remind them not to be preachy. Make the child character drive the plot. Get the adults out of the way as much as possible, unless they’re nutty and colorful and a kid at heart.

Q: What’s next for Aleca? Any non-Aleca projects on the horizon?

Ginger: After the fourth ALECA novel comes out, I’m not sure. I hope there will be more because I have a lot of places we could go with that, and I’m not sick of any of the characters yet, so that’s pretty cool. But we’ll see. Right now, I’m actually working on a nonfiction project for middle grade and on a young adult novel.

Q: And finally: if you could freeze time, what would you do with your power?

Ginger: I wish I could have a hallway with several doors, one for each year of my life, and that whenever I wanted to, I could open the door to that year, walk in, and be that age again for a little while. I have no doubt that the doors I would open most frequently would be the ones to the years when my children were little. Oh, to be able to rock them to sleep, or have them sit on my lap and color again, or to cuddle up and read a picture book together! It all goes by too fast, but if we could freeze it and keep it, we might never restart time—we might just stay there always. But it’s also pretty great to live in the now, when they are old enough to offer hilarious sarcastic commentaries! Each phase of life has its own charms, but yes, freezing time to savor it all a little longer would be wonderful.

Me: Thank you, Ginger. I’m wishing the Aleca Zamm series much success!

You can find Ginger at http://www.gingerruebooks.com  or on her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GINGERRUEBOOKS/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel.

Getting to Know: Rob Vlock

This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting four dead American literary figures in Concord, Massachusetts, and one live one. Concord, as my wife and I discovered on a trip to the area, was the home of Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne and Emerson. Verily cool! Not as well known is that in the next town over lives an author named Rob Vlock, whose wild middle grade debut SVEN CARTER AND THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT just released this past week. Rob  showed us Walden Pond (there’s a swimming beach and gift shop!) as well as Authors Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where the above four literary giants eternally rest together. We also chatted about the joys (and frustrations) of writing humor and action for kids. More recently, I asked him about his exciting debut:

Can you sum up Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect for the uninitiated?

Sven Carter & The Trashmouth Effect is the story of a 12-year-old kid who’s perfectly normal in every way… except that he has an uncontrollable compulsion to eat really gross things. Oh, and he’s also a “Tick” — a super-advanced synthetic humanoid who’s programmed to wipe out the entire human population of Earth. When he discovers this little fact about himself, he, his best friend Will and his robot-hunting classmate Alicia set off on a quest to stop Sven from carrying out his mission. Along the way, they have to survive a whole host of Ticks — from terrifying clown-snakes to a 300-pound Chihuahua to killer roast chickens — that are determined to stop them.

What sparked the creation of your book?

I’ve always loved stories of self-discovery. So I knew I wanted to write a book about a kid who learns something truly unique about himself. Most stories of this sort feature a main character who uncovers a wonderful gift hidden inside him or herself. Like Harry Potter learning he’s a wizard. Or Percy Jackson finding out he’s a demigod. But I wanted to change things up a little. So I wrote a book about a kid who has to come to terms with the fact that his very reason for existing is to do something horrible. He a good kid who’s destined to do something very bad. Not only does he have to battle some bad guys along the way, he has to battle with himself to figure out who he really is and what his place is in the world. As soon as I came up with that central conflict, most of the story just snapped into place.

Can you share about your creative process?

I’m definitely what you’d call a “pantser” – someone who writes by the seat of his pants. I find that if I plot my stories out too carefully, the whole exercise becomes too mechanical, too inorganic. Instead, I constantly try to create problems for my characters and myself as I go. I’ll intentionally write my characters into a corner that I genuinely have no idea how to solve. Then I have to puzzle it out on the spot. Usually I can figure out a way out of that corner – and sometimes I have to scrap the whole scene and rewrite. But there’s something that’s so rewarding about finding a way to save your characters from a room full of deadly robots with nothing but an apple to defend themselves with.

What’s the most surprising thing to you about your publishing journey?

Before I became a published author, I don’t think I ever realized how many wonderful, talented people are working hard behind the scenes of every book. The author may be the person whose name is on the cover, but there are editors, art directors, illustrators, copy editors, proofreaders, typographers and a bunch of other people who all have to work together to bring your book to life. I benefitted so much from the passion and creativity all these folks poured into making Sven Carter the best book it could be. I was surprised and truly flattered to have that team standing behind me every step of the way.

The obvious and not-so-obvious influences on Sven Carter are…?

The science fiction influences are pretty obvious: Philip K. Dick’s stories — particularly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which was made into the movie Blade Runner); The Terminator movies; I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. I also found Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books to be inspirational. On the less obvious side, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis was a big one; P.G. Wodehouse’s humor was profoundly influential to me; and I’d have to throw some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books (especially the Death series) into the mix, as well.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m really good at finding ways to procrastinate, so there’s no shortage of non-writing activities I indulge in. I enjoy playing the trumpet (although my wife and kids probably don’t enjoy it so much). I love spending time in my workshop building things — pieces of furniture, musical instruments… I once made an electromagnet that could lift about two-hundred pounds. I was a little scared of it, to be honest, so I ended up taking it apart before I hurt myself. And, of course, I read. A lot.

What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

Don’t do it!!!! (Just kidding!) For me the most important thing is to have fun writing. This is especially important for kids. Writing shouldn’t be a chore. It’s an opportunity to be creative and get that great story in your head out so you can share it with the world. If you’re not enjoying it, the reader probably won’t enjoy it either, so don’t be too hard on yourself — that’s a great way to suck all the fun right out of it. Finally, be ready to revise and revise and then revise your revisions and revise the revisions of your revisions. It’s a ton of work, but it can be one of the most fun, satisfying things you can do!

Can you give any insight into what we might expect for Sven Carter 2?

Sven Carter & The Android Army will be coming out in the fall of 2018. And it’s been a blast to write. Without giving too much away, I can say that at the beginning of the book, Sven, Alicia and Will realize that the Ticks’ plot to destroy humanity is much larger than they originally believed. There are more Ticks out there somewhere, each with unique, potentially world-ending abilities. So Sven and his friends hop in Junkman Sam’s rusty RV and set out to save the world — again — from an even bigger threat. They make some pretty… unusual friends along the way. Readers can expect even more humor, grossness and head-popping action than in the first Sven Carter book.

You showed me some pretty amazing literary sites (photo = us at Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond). What literary site in the world that you haven’t visited would you most like to see?I’ve been lucky enough to have seen quite a few literary sites over the years — the café in Edinburgh where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter; James Joyce’s house in Dublin; Herman Melville’s and Emily Dickenson’s houses in western Massachusetts and a bunch more. But I’ve always wanted to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (you don’t happen to have a spare golden ticket, do you?). But if not that, I’d settle for Ernest Hemingway’s house on Key West. I understand it’s filled with 54 six-toed cats, which may not be as good as a lifetime supply of chocolate, but is pretty darn close!

Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about myself, Jonathan! I really enjoyed it!

Rob can be found at http://www.robvlock.com and @robvlock on Twitter.

Getting to Know: Jonathan Rosen

We all have our profound fears: snakes, spiders, planes, and of course…cuddle bunnies.

 

Not frightened yet? Then you obviously haven’t read the new middle-grade novel, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies (Sky Pony Press, August 29, 2017) by Jonathan Rosen. Like many Jonathans who write for kids, Jonathan is super serious and cool and not at all silly or nerdy, and I was happy to catch up with him for a chat.

Jonathan Roth: First of all, is it okay if I get to be JRo 1 and you can be JRo 2?

Jonathan Rosen: Ha! Since it’s your house, I’ll acquiesce to your proposal. And, yes, you’re right, I just learned the word acquiesce, and vowed to use it in a sentence.

JRo 1: Can you succinctly sum up Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies? Bonus points if you can do it without using any words from the title.

JRo 2: You’re sure not making things easy for this interview. Do you want me to answer without using vowels, also?

Okay, I’ll go for back cover copy then. Devin Dexter, a 12-year old, residing in the town of Gravesend, suspects his neighbor is a warlock, but nobody believes him. When that year’s hot Christmas toy starts coming to life and performing evil acts, Devin, and his cousin, Tommy, become convinced, and set out to to put an end to it, before the whole town is overrun by a mob of marauding stuffed animals.

(I think I did a pretty god job there! 😊 )

JRo 1: What sparked the creation of your book?

JRo 2: For a long time, I had been wanting to do a horror/comedy hybrid. There were many movies that I loved, like that, when I was growing up. Things such as Fright Night, Gremlins, etc. Funny and scary, is a good mix.

So, while I’m thinking about this, a previous manuscript of mine, went to committee at two different publishing houses. Both places ultimately passed, but both said that they loved the humor, which was a comment I got a lot through the years. That spurred me to go on and work on a really humorous middle grade, which became Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies.

JRo 1: What, if any, story details changed most drastically from first draft to last?

JRo 2: Believe it or not, not a lot changed. Really, only a few things. The first, was changing the character of Tommy, from best friend, to cousin. It was thought, that would be more logical, why they have to put up with each other.

Another thing, was more scenes with Abby. The little sister proved to be a big hit, so I was asked to expand her scenes.

The last thing was, the “villain”. Originally, I was going to have him be taken away or be gone at the end, but he was such a fun character, that I decided to leave him in the mix for sequels.

JRo 1: What is the most surprising thing about the publishing process?

JRo 2: The most surprising thing to me, is just how long it takes. From the time I signed the contract, to the time that Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies was going to be published, was well over a year. Everything moves at a snail’s pace.

JRo 1: The obvious and not-so-obvious influences on Cuddle Bunnies are…?

JRo 2: I already mentioned some, but all the horror/humor movies I liked to watch. I love when the two genres mix. Among my favorites are, Gremlins, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and Fright Night.

JRo 1: Do you write full time or also have a “day job”?

Not at the point where I can just write full-time, but I have, at least, also expanded my writing career. Have also done work-for-hire, ghostwriting, and about to do some other things as well as my own work. Hopefully, all of that will increase this year.

JRo 1: What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

JRo 2: First thing, and this applies to both, is to read, and read a lot. You start to see story structure, by reading other books. And read in the genre you want to write. I read way more middle grade books than anything else. For kids, I think it’s important to do a lot of writing for fun. Just freestyle and a lot of creative writing. There isn’t enough time devoted to creative writing in school.

For adults, learn your craft. Read books, get critiques from pros and perhaps be in a critique group. Any way you choose, you need feedback. Conferences are also a great way to learn things from people in the industry.

JRo 1: You post often and entertainingly, but what’s one interesting tidbit about yourself or your book that you have never admitted online or publicly yet to anyone?

JRo 2: And exactly why would I admit it here? 😊

But, one interesting thing is, I’ve lived in many different places. Different countries and different states. I’ve also visited many more. When I was a kid, I didn’t like moving so much, but later in life, I’m glad I did, since it gave me an appreciation of different people and different cultures.

JRo 1: Thanks, JRo 2, for sharing about your book and process. I’m wishing Cuddle Bunnies much success!

 

Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny, South Florida. He spends his “free” time being a volunteer coach and chauffeur for his three kids. Some of Jonathan’s fondest childhood memories are of discovering a really good book to dive into. He currently writes middle-grade, because he finds that he shares the same sense of humor as that audience. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has been willing to accept responsibility. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, FromtheMixedUpFiles.Com, The Tuesday Writers and his own website, WWW.HouseofRosen.com

 

Getting to Know: Gareth Wronski

When I was signed by my awesome editor at Aladdin, Amy Cloud, one of the first things I did was look up what other books she was working on, to learn her style and to see what kind of company I was in. I’ve since had the pleasure of reading many fun and amazing books of hers as they released, such as The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone, The Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry, Jennifer Weiner’s first book for kids, The Littlest Bigfoot, and I Am Fartacus (you read that right!) by Mark Maciejewski. But I admit to being most intrigued by a title called Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy, which was in my genre (humorous sci-fi) and pitched as a cross between The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not too shabby!

Luckily, I got to read an advance copy of Holly Farb and get to know the author, Gareth Wronski, through a writer’s group we both joined. Holly Farb sets a high bar, not only for our genre but for middle grade books in general. Get this for your kids! And if you want to learn more, as I did, here’s a Q & A between me and Holly’s creator:

Q: I like to ask sci-fi authors: if given a chance, would you like to go into space yourself?

A: I’ve honestly never given it much thought, since I was so thoroughly unexceptional in school that it didn’t really seem like something possible, but… yes, I guess I would if given the chance. I could see myself doing quite well as the lone person aboard some space station, shuffling around my potato garden, mumbling to myself.

Q: I’m sure most readers can pick out some of such influences for Holly Farb as Star Wars and the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Can you name some less obvious examples?

A: The Wizard of Oz. I always thought of the book as basically like if Dorothy’s tornado was actually space pirates, and instead of whisking her away to Oz she ended up in space. And then the various supporting characters are like the Tinman, Scarecrow, etc. There was even a yellow brick road and Emerald City thing I was trying to do at one point but I think I gave up and just settled for there being a gold floor during one chapter. That level of effort is why I will never go to space.

Q: What sparked the creation of your story?

A: I was feeling pretty down and wanted to write something fun that would cheer me up.

Q: What, if any, story details change most drastically from first draft to last?

A: The biggest thing was that it was much shorter. The first draft was about 20k words versus the final one of around 60k. I think the most significant element not in the first draft was the President character.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing about the debut publishing process?

A: Probably how slow it is. [nervous laugh]

Q: Do you write full time or also have a “day job”?

A: I’m trying to do the writer thing full time.

Q: What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

A: For kids who like to write, I would say to figure out what it is you enjoy writing and then not let people dissuade you from doing it. Your sensibilities as a person are the most interesting part about you as a writer, so you want to keep them safe. And above all, just try to have fun. Starting to write at a young age is great because you have so much time ahead of you to experiment and see what suits you and what doesn’t.

For adults who want to write for kids, I would say the important thing is to not think you’re better or smarter or wiser than your audience.

Q: Of your cast of colorful characters, do you have a personal favorite?

A: It usually changed whenever I read it, but right now I would say Holly.

Q: What’s one interesting tidbit about yourself or your book that you haven’t admitted online or publicly yet to anyone?

A: Other than the fact that it’s a 100% accurate true story? Something I’ve never said is that it was previously called A Very Galactic Story, a title pretty much entirely inspired by a Harry Potter YouTube musical.

Thanks, Gareth. Holly Farb rocks!

Gareth Wronski was born and raised in Toronto. After watching Star Wars as a child on his grandparents’ VCR, he decided he wanted to tell science fiction and fantasy stories of his own. He currently resides in an old house by the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario, where he lives in constant terror of roaming swans. You can find out more about him at garethwronski.com or say hi on Twitter @garethwronski.

Spider Man

My bio in my new website mentions this fact: I never smoosh spiders. It may seem like a small and strange thing to mention, though it’s not only part of my dedication to try to do no harm, but it also seems to be an ongoing theme in my fiction.

One of my early middle grade novels, SECRETS OF THE FIRE SEASON, centers on a boy whose pet tarantula gets left behind as his house is evacuated due to approaching wild fires. For various reasons, he goes back to try to save it. Even if you’ll never get to read that one (nearly acquired once, but no cigar), in the first BEEP AND BOB book, Bob’s best friend Lani has a trio of big, pet spiders. And though Bob hates spiders almost as much as he hates space, near the end Bob is put in the position of either letting one of the spiders float helplessly into a black hole, or risking his life by trying to save it.

I won’t tell you how it ends. If a dog in a kid’s book is at risk, you’d know that its chances of survival wouldn’t be high. But a spider? They never die in kidlit, right? Um….