Check This Out: The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo!

Ahoy there, mateys! Glad I am ye stopped by today. With me on the blog is the awesome Steve Bramucci, who is here to talk about his middle grade adventure novel, The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! ’Twas illustrated by Arree Chung, and then published by Bloomsbury on August 1. For a synopsis, go here.

 

Steve is represented by Sara Crowe. In a few minutes, I’ll tell ye all about a giveaway for The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! But first, let’s have a chat with Steve!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Steve: Random facts? Book related facts? Important life facts? Orangutan facts? I’ll try one of each!
1. Even though I write about exotic food, my all-time favorite meal is just rotini overloaded with parmesan cheese. It was my favorite as a boy and the draw of “flavor nostalgia” still gets me at least once per week. I was traveling around the world a few years ago and missed pasta with parmesan so badly that I had a friend bring me some Kraft parmesan when we met up in Cambodia.


2. The first page of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo!in which the narrator introduces himselfremains virtually unchanged from its very first incarnation, written during a break at an SCBWI conference. Everything else has changed drastically from those early days.
3. My dad died two weeks after the book sold.

El Space: So sorry. You have my condolences.
Steve: He was such an amazing guy that I’ve always worried I won’t be able to measure up to his legacy. That, really, is the theme of the book: One boy’s longing to impress his parents and step out of their giant shadows.

4. Orangutans are a truly astounding species and critically endangered due to habitat encroachment. A portion of my proceeds from the book go here. Anyone who decides they want to donate to that charity, or any other orangutan initiative, can email me on my website for some free Danger Gang swag!

El Space: Awesome! You wear a lot of hats, including managing editor at Uproxx, and you’ve written travel articles for many publications. How did you come to write children’s books?
Steve: I’m actually surprised that more travel writers don’t start writing for kids. Travel is basically the real life incarnation of our childhood fantasies about adulthoodthe way that we thought adulthood would feel when we were young. For me, travel writing is the chance to live out my boyhood adventure dreams, and writing this book was right in line with that.

Photo credit: Jake Anderson

The journey to writing for kids was actually a little longer than me just pivoting all at once. I’ve been telling pirate stories to kids at schools and events near my home for more than a decade now, I’ve been involved in SCBWI, and even written another, unsold, novel. It wasn’t until I went to the Vermont College of Fine Arts that all the pieces congealed.

The author, livin’ the life

El Space: The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo reminds me of the fun of adventure stories like the Indiana Jones moviesat least the earlier onesand The Goonies. What was the inspiration behind it? How did your main character, Ronald Zupan, come to be? Why was a pet cobra an ideal pet for him?
Steve: I definitely wanted the book to feel pulp-y, like an old-timey serial. The Indiana Jones connection was obviously intentional and you can see that in the way the book is packaged. Semi-side note: For me, modern technology rarely serves adventure, so Ronald and his friends sort of exist in a vague pre-tech era (50s? 40s?). You won’t see cell phones or computers or… I actually made great efforts to avoid mentioning any plastic objects all together.

The Goonies is a huge reference point too. I love stories where the basic pitch is: “Kids go on an adventure and learn stuff along the way. Also, there are mean bad guys with bad oral hygiene.” Bloomsbury calls the book Indiana Jones meets Lemony Snicket which is the most flattering “blank meets blank” analogy I could ever hope to receive.

As for the cobra, there are a few big reasons:
• I’m highly allergic to cats and house dogs, so I always had reptiles as pets. My dad would take me to a farm and let me keep whatever snakes I could catch.
• Indiana Jones hates snakes and I love them, so I wanted to give that massive series a little poke in the ribs by having Ronald be a snake lover.
• Ronald would never have an ordinary pet, so the choice feels very natural for the character.
• But mostly, it just came to me and people laughed. When I read something and people laugh, I suddenly become very attached to that bit.

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El Space: Are you a pantser or a plotter? What’s your writing process?
Steve: I’d say I’m … a little of both. I’ll outline, but if some idea strikes me, I’m quick to ditch my notes. I’ll follow whims without much convincing. I also don’t outline before the first major turning point. I like to keep the early pages moving and full of that electric energy.

In this series, Ronald and I are so similar in mindset that most of the time I just have to ask: “What would I do next in this situation?” By following that thought process, I manage to get Ronald in a lot of trouble.

El Space: You’ve traveled extensively. Of the places you’ve visited, which is/are your favorite place/places to return to again and again? Why?
Steve: I get asked the “favorite place” question a lot and my answer hasn’t changed in a long time now: Madagascar is my #1 place on earth. It’s just … for the adventure traveler, it’s really perfect: Affordable, exciting, not over-touristed, and unique, with incredibly kind people and a fascinating local culture. Also, the whole mini-continent has a rich pirate history and, as you know, I love pirates.

As for a place to return to, I’m going to say the American Southwest. It’s just so iconic, so different from citified-America, so full of sprawling landscapes and potential for adventure. Every few years I go to Canyon de Chelly and ride Navajo ponies through the canyon for a few days. That’s one of my favorite shorter trips on earth.

El Space: You’re going around the world, but can only take three things besides a passport. What would you take and why?
Steve: Objects? A surfboard, an iPod without internet capability, and a good bookmaybe a compendium of Twain or a copy of The Princess Bride. With that set up, I could travel for a year without much complaint.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Steve: I’m finishing the edits on The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts right now!

Thanks, Steve, for being my guest!

Where in the internet world is Steve Bramucci? You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Uproxx.

The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s. But one of you will find a copy of it at your doorstep—or tablet if you prefer—simply by commenting. Winner will be announced on August 14.

Photos and book cover courtesy of Steve Bramucci, with the exception of the Canyon de Chelly photo, which is found at galleryhip.com, the rotini photo, which is from 34st.com., and The Princess Bride book cover, which is from Goodreads. The Goonies movie poster from movieposter.com. Pirate from clipartlord.com.

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Check This Out: Toby

Glad you stopped by the blog. Someone else is here too: the fabulous Stacy Nyikos. She’s here to talk about her latest picture book, Toby, published by Stonehorse Publishing, debuts June 30. Toby was illustrated by Shawn Sisneros, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Stacy is represented by Stephen Fraser. To make your visit to the blog a profitable one, I’ll tell you about a giveaway at the end of the interview. Let’s talk to Stacy first, shall we?

El Space: Welcome to the blog, Stacy. Four quick facts about yourself?
Stacy: (1) I’m afraid to swim in the ocean—sharks!—but I love to write about it.
(2) I have a secret stash of dark chocolate in my desk drawer for those times when the writing gets tough. (3) I walked to the local high school when I was three by following the neighbor boy because I was bored. I thought school would be more exciting. It was! (4) I used to try to levitate rocks in bed at night because I wanted to be a Jedi.

Stacy photo

Stacy’s secret stash

El Space: Please walk us through the process for creating this picture book. How did you come up with the idea? How was the illustrator chosen? How long was the process from the initial concept to finished product?
Stacy: Toby was the brain child of a lot of very eager readers I met over the years while doing signings at aquariums. So many asked, “Would you write a picture book about a sea turtle?” I wanted to, but I could never quite come up with the right idea. Then a few years ago, I was driving back from an aquarium event, my head full or more requests for a sea turtle book. I think they must have reached some sort of critical mass—or bonded together and created their own idea—but by the time I got home, I had the outline of Toby in my head.

Shawn Sisneros loves underwater animals as much as I do. He’s illustrated two other aquatic picture books I wrote. He has this awesome way of creating a character who looks like the real animal but is generalized enough, sort of like a cartoon figure, so that the reader can imagine themselves in the role as they read the story.

How long did the project take? Well, if you skip the five years of mulling over to get the idea, from the moment I finally had one until the book came out was about four years. Writing books takes patience in a way I never imagined!

El Space: You have a number of sea-oriented picture books. What draws you over and over to the ocean habitat?
Stacy: I’m mesmerized by the ocean. I’m scared stiff of swimming in it, but at the same time can’t seem to learn enough about it. We know so little about what goes on underneath the surface of the water. For a long time, scientists didn’t think anything could live really, really far down in the ocean. It was too dark and cold and the water too heavy. Then they built subs that could travel really far down in the water and lo and behold, they found lots of life there. The ocean is full of possibility. I think that’s what draws my imagination back to it over and over.

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El Space: Awhile ago, Mac Barnett, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and many other writers wrote a picture book manifesto. If you could write your own manifesto, what would you write to show your thoughts about picture books?
Stacy: Man, it’s hard to improve upon greatness. Their manifesto hits upon so many good points. Let’s see. Challenge your audience. They aren’t afraid of big words or topics. You shouldn’t be either.

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Murakami, HarukiEl Space: What books or authors influence you as a writer?
Stacy: I love all things written from Machiavelli to Berkeley Breathed to Mary Stewart, but I don’t like to reread (bad, bad author!), so when it comes to influences, it’s more these obscure nuggets I’ve collected and spun together in my own gyre of writing style—“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” from Tolstoy. Hemingway wrote standing up (or so the legends go) so that he only wrote what was absolutely necessary. “If you read the books everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking” (Haruki Murakami). The best piece of advice Stephen King got from an editor was: “2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%.” And my daughter, Sophia, who taught me that making up words is fun: Geroninball!

El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write picture books?
Stacy: Imagination is everything. You can have lousy style. You can be the worst speller. You can overwrite, underwrite, break the unbreakable rules, but if it’s imaginative, you will find your way. Your imagination, the way you see the world, is what makes your work new and different and like nothing anyone has ever read before. Write from there.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Stacy: I usually work on a couple of projects at a time. I’m rewriting a YA novel called Skin Deep which is basically a retelling of Moses set in a Blade Runner-esque world that I started during my MFA. I’m tweaking a picture book, Attack of the Glazed Donut Monster, and I’m in the end stages of research on an historical novel about an 18-year old’s adventures from the Mississippi River through the Battle of the Bulge that is loosely based on my grandfather’s life. When I first started writing, I worried the ideas would run out. Nowadays, I worry I won’t have time to explore them all!

Thanks, Stacy, for being my guest!

Looking for Stacy? You don’t have to head to the nearest ocean. You can find her at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Or, check out the other picture books by Stacy: Shelby (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros), Squirt (illustrated by Shawn Sisneros), Rope ’Em! (illustrated by Bret Conover).

Toby is available here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Two of you will win a copy of this picture book. Just comment to be entered in the drawing. Tell us your favorite marine animal as you comment. Winners will be announced on June 16. Thanks for stopping by!

Ocean photo from blirk.net. Haruki Murakami photo from bogbrokken.blogspot.com.

Check This Out: Strange Sweet Song

adiruleGreetings one and all. I feel like singing. Know why? Here today is the awesome Adi Rule, author of the young adult novel, Strange Sweet Song (St. Martin’s Press), which releases today!

book birthday

Here is a synopsis:

18112933Music flows in Sing da Navelli’s blood. When she enrolls at a prestigious conservatory, her first opera audition is for the role of her dreams. But this leading role is the last Sing’s mother ever sang, before her controversial career, and her life, were cut tragically short.

As Sing struggles to escape her mother’s shadow and prove her own worth, she is drawn to the conservatory’s icy forest, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. She soon realizes there is more to her new school than the artistry and politics of classical music.

With the help of a dark-eyed apprentice who has secrets of his own, Sing must unravel the story of the conservatory’s dark forest and the strange creature who lives there—and find her own voice.

Adi is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Let’s talk to Adi, shall we?

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Adi: I am left handed. I have never had a cavity. My favorite band is My Chemical Romance. I love video games.

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El Space: No cavities, huh? I wish I could say that about myself! How long was the process of writing Strange Sweet Song?
Adi: About two years.

music-note-icon-psd-psdgraphics-124893El Space: I didn’t know you were a singer until I read your bio on your book. So the obvious question is what commonalities or differences do you share with Sing da Navelli? But I have to ask what other character(s) do you see yourself in most?
Adi: In a way, of course, everything and everyone in the story is me, but I don’t see myself particularly in any of the characters. Sing deals with some psychological issues that are common among singers, so we share some of that. And she’s not always likable—that controversial word—which some readers have responded negatively to at first. But I tried to write honestly; classical singing is so cutthroat that a certain amount of puffy confidence is a matter of survival—but along with that is constant, vicious self-doubt. Sing’s emotional journey is her attempt to navigate between these two extremes to a place where she can actually grow as an artist and as a person.

MacawEl Space: Understandable. What was the inspiration behind characters like Nathan Daysmoor? The Felix?
Adi: Nathan, to me, is that unadulterated love of music that all the best musicians have at their core. He exists outside of the politics of academia and the music world in general, but that also isolates him. I’m actually not sure where the Felix came from. I think her name came first; I have a macaw named Felix—who is nothing like the Felix! OK, sometimes I can tell he wants to rip my throat out—and he’s gotten comments along the lines of, “Isn’t Felix a cat’s name?” But despite Felix cats of varying renown, the name doesn’t come from feles—“cat”—it comes from felix—”happy”—and I guess that train of thought was the seed of a character.

El Space: Reading Strange Sweet Song was like watching a staged musical. What musicals, if any, influenced the book? I couldn’t help thinking of Phantom of the Opera and operas like La traviata.
Adi: Angelique, which the students perform, is a gentle parody of nineteenth century opera. It’s the play-within-a-play that mirrors the events of the novel itself, except that Sing—who loves opera, and Angelique especially—has to eventually come to terms with its flaws.

Sunday_patinkin_peters_aThere are no musicals that specifically influenced the book, although I am a big fan of musicals as well. I like Maury Yeston/Arthur Kopit’s Phantom very much, though strangely enough, I didn’t have it in mind while writing SSS, even though the stories both feature young female singers and sort of darkly attractive mentors. Must have been my subconscious! My other all-time favorites are Sunday in the Park with George, Moby Dick: The Musicalone of the funniest things I’ve ever seen—and, I will admit proudly, Cats. Because, come on. Cats is awesome! And the brilliant Growltiger “opera excerpt” is one of the reasons I got into actual opera.

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Frozen-Soundtrack-frozen-35659358-1280-1280El Space: What songs would you put on a Strange Sweet Song playlist? I ask this, because I’m listening to the Frozen soundtrack on my phone. 😀
Adi: The Frozen soundtrack is very appropriate for the northeast right now! Ha ha! While some of the music and composers in SSS are invented, there are quite a few real pieces throughout the novel. I wanted to throw in pieces people might be familiar with, but they’re all easily accessible on the amazing Internet, anyway. 🙂 Definitely Brahms Opus 118, No. 2 (Intermezzo in A), because that piece features prominently in the story. Pamina’s aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” from The Magic Flute, plays an important role as well. And two heartbreakingly gorgeous soprano arias that influenced my idea of what Angelique’s aria might sound like are “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka and “Ain’t it a Pretty Night” from Susannah.

El Space: Which authors influenced you as a writer?
Adi: As a kid, I adored Roald Dahl and James Howe, and I still do. They taught me so much about how to use words and how to be funny, coming at it from opposite ends of the spectrum. Dahl is so delightfully big—just look at all those italics!—and Howe was that hilarious American-dry before it was mainstream. I love Diana Wynne Jones‘s simple, subtle, crystal-clear style that socks you right in the guts. I love every sentence Frances Hardinge has written. I will never be as clever or insightful as Terry Pratchett, and it makes me so happy that he intends to keep writing for as long as he is able. I’m inspired by Lemony Snicket, a master somewhat disguised as frivolous, who often prompts me to wonder, “Can he do that?” And for just perfect words, I am continually delighted by Alicia Potter.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to incorporate their previous job experience in their novels—i.e., they’re musicians and want to write about the industry; they’re actors or lawyers—whatever? How should an author guard against information overkill?
Adi: That’s a great question. I’d say start—and end—with character. Having real-world experience with the nuts and bolts you’re writing about will lend an easy authenticity to the story, but at its heart, the story is probably about someone who faces a difficulty and undergoes some kind of change. Readers will connect with the emotional arc of the main character regardless of the environment or field she’s in. In terms of info overload, I think it’s important to remember that readers are smart. They’ll get it! Define profession-specific words and situations by context whenever possible—a character’s reaction to something tells us a lot more about it than straight-up exposition. Also, give us the right details rather than all the details. The emotion and the sensory aspects of a scene have to come first, so choose actions and descriptions that both educate and illustrate. And if you have to pick one, always illustrate.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Adi: My next novel from St. Martin’s is called at the moment Redwing, and we’re currently in the editing stage. It’s a bit industrial revolution and a bit mythological. Plus ostriches! I’m very excited about it.

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Thanks, Adi, for being my guest! Happy Book Release Day!

Strange Sweet Song is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Looking for Adi? You can find her at her website, EMU Debuts blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

I’m giving away a hardcover copy of Strange Sweet Song. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on the Ides of March. (Um, that would be fifteenth.) Thanks for stopping by!

Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Music note from wallsave.com. My Chemical Romance photo from Wikipedia. Covers from Goodreads. Author photo courtesy of Adi Rule. Phantom of the Opera logo from ukfrey.blogspot.com. Sunday in the Park with George image from Wikipedia. Cats image from catsthemusical99.blogspot.com. Macaw photo from adaptingeden.com. Ostrich from freefoto.com.