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….

On Giving Up

When the generous and talented author Tara Lazar recently posted the cover of BEEP AND BOB book one for the first time online (https://taralazar.com/2017/03/02/beep-and-bob-cover-reveal/), she asked me to write something about my writing process. Though I was tempted to be flip and funny, I decided rather to talk about a painful but true step in the creation of my upcoming chapter book series: giving up. Here’s what I said:

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the very first peek (one year before publication) at the cover for book one of my upcoming chapter book series, BEEP AND BOB (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), which I write and illustrate.

Though BEEP AND BOB is my debut series, it is far from the first kidlit book I was supposed to publish. That honor goes to a picture book I wrote years ago. I assembled an illustrated dummy, submitted to the finest publishers (in an envelope with stamps!) and waited for greatness. Of course, for that and a second book, only rejection followed.

Luckily, around that time I found the organization SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). While networking at SCBWI conferences, I found a great community of dedicated and generous creators, always there with support. I also found an agent, who picked up my first middle-grade novel. She began to submit and got some genuine interest from well known editors. Once again, I waited for greatness. But once again, even after a couple more mg novels and some almost-sales, came our friend rejection.

Of course, this story is heading for that age-old chestnut that the key to any success is PERSEVERANCE. Try and try again, and then try some more. It’s all about dedication and endurance. However, I also discovered one new gem that, for me at least, became a crucial part of the puzzle: GIVING UP.

Obviously I didn’t give up writing or I wouldn’t be here, but at some point after being endlessly battered by the waves, I gave up in the sense of letting go – letting go of being attached to the goal of publication. I stopped struggling so much and gave myself permission to just spit out whatever wanted to come out, no matter how silly or wild. In a short time, I had a draft of BEEP AND BOB, which is about a boy who is reluctantly sent to school in space, and his lost alien buddy. I let it burst with humor and heart, which for me are the two most important ingredients of my work.

But it didn’t take much stepping back to realize that trying to sell a zany, debut, sci-fi chapter-book series about unknown characters was going to be a quixotic challenge. Rare was the agent who even said they represented chapter books (I had since left my first agent). So back to perseverance, and that horrible chore of submission that all writers know.

Luckily, this time things turned out different: I was soon signed by the awesome Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary, and within a month of submitting she sold it in a four-book-deal to Aladdin. Please don’t tell Natalie, or my editor Amy Cloud, that BEEP AND BOB was really just an exercise in embracing failure.

Besides Natalie and Amy, I’d like to thank Nina Simoneaux, who designed this cool cover (I provided the color character spots). Hope you enjoy! And never give up giving up.

Batman v Superman v…Tweedledee?

I sometimes feel bad the kids of today don’t have all the cool things I had as a kid: Superman. Batman. Star Wars. Oh, wait…

Speaking of superheroes, I recently went on an archeological dig in my mom’s apartment in Brooklyn, and unearthed (brace yourself comic collectors!) a rare, original, unpublished Batman layout!

batman cartoon

I didn’t say it was Frank Miller! Yes, it was I, “Jonathan Michael Roth”, who did both the writing and the “pichers”. Probably around 1st grade. Thousands of drawings later, here’s one I salvaged from early high school (I keep telling you, kids: practice, practice, practice!):

batman drawing

But when it comes to ancient treasures, my favorite find is what I can safely say was my earliest (around 5th grade) attempt at a novel. Did the Caped Crusader figure prominently in this tale? You bet. And like a post-modern mash-up, the Man of Steel was also a main character. But the mashing goes deeper! My story’s villain, Mr. Mxyzptlk (which I actually somehow spelt correctly, unlike ‘Metropalis’ and ‘Gothem’), in some kind of bizarre rage sends our heroes to the dark, fantastical setting of what was certainly the hippest and coolest book to any young boy reader at the time: Alice in Wonderland.

Okay, well it was the coolest book to me. So what amazing things happen to SUPERHEROES IN WONDERLAND?! Well, like with Alice, mostly talking, I’m afraid. Superman and Batman meet Tweedledum and Tweedldee. And the Cheshire Cat. And the Mad Hatter. And then the plot kind of spirals out of control and putters out after page 50 (plots are always my greatest struggle).

The amazing thing is that it’s printed in neat small printing on lined paper (Mead notebook, of course) in pencil. I was obviously way more disciplined back then. In fact, I just did a rough word count, and it clocks in at more than 10,000, which is around my current word count for each book of my chapter book series Beep and Bob.

Of course, that’s before adding the “pichers”. So write on, kids! And save all your old papers, because they just might amaze and embarrass you someday…

superfriends pg 1  superfriends pg 2