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.

EPSON MFP image

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.

Scaredy L. Marie

This is one of those days when I had to put my Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet on and point the finger at myself. 011

Don’t worry. I don’t do this in public much. But once again, a post at Nancy Hatch’s blog hit me where I live. It’s this one: https://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/calm-self-awareness/

She featured a video that I won’t post here, since you can find it at the end of her post. Feel free to head there and check it out. I won’t mind. Honest. It reminded me of something that has plagued me for years: status anxiety. Can you relate?

In the video the narrator discusses the question most of us ask each other: “What do you do?” Jobs I’ve had with regular paychecks like book or curriculum editor at various publishers, senior project writer at another, or production editor at the American Bar Association made that question a lot easier to answer. But when the regular paychecks stopped, well, I squirmed a lot when people asked me, “What do you do?” Even the answer, “Um freelance writer” seemed lame, especially when it gained me follow-up questions like, “Oh? What are you working on? Do you have a contract? When will the book be published?” I’ve had work-for-hire projects, so the assumptions behind the questions are valid. But when I lack a project, I get rather tongue tied.

I wish I didn’t find a response like, “I’m writing my own books” or “I don’t know when they’ll be published” so difficult to utter. All due to pride I guess, and the status thing that the video points out. After all, both responses fail to point to a tangible source of income. Yet I love the stories I write and the characters I’ve gotten to know. And I betray them every time I keep silent out of fear.

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Status seems a silly thing to stress over. But we do anyway, don’t we?

Another thing I’ve squirmed about is where I live—an apartment. Over the years, I’ve faced the “why rent when you can own” remarks or even disdainful looks because I’m not a homeowner. Really, the fact that I’m here and not homeless is an answer to prayer. I love where I live, though, because I can look out and see this tree.

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For some reason, I think of this tree as Wesley. I’m not sure why. (And it has nothing to do with The Princess Bride.) Wesley reminds me of me. He’s old and has a broken limb due to a bad storm. But he’s still standing and producing leaves. I’ve been broken by life’s storms too. But who hasn’t been? Maybe you have too. But we’re still standing. . . .

So I can’t make a proper pretense at status. Even my car gives me away. It’s as old as Methuselah. But I still zip around in it. I even give dudes revving their engines in the lanes next to me a run for their money. (Never challenge a Honda Civic—especially one driven by me. I didn’t get three speeding tickets in one year for nothin’.)

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Um, this is not my car. But it has the same make and model.

Let’s see what else I’ve been afraid of. Oh yes. In the past, I’ve worried that this blog isn’t “status-y” enough. I don’t have the readership that many bloggers have. I don’t have a plan for it. Don’t want a plan for it. I love the randomness of it, though some readers might run for the hills. I can write nonsense about hand puppets whenever I get ready or post interviews and cover reveals to support authors.

By the way, I’m giving away a number of books in June. The fact that I can do so thrills me to no end.

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So that’s me. I’ve got a load of clothes in the dryer, so I’ve got to skedaddle soon. If I have a takeaway to add to this, I would say that if you and I meet, I won’t ask you, “What do you do?” As if you have to prove your worth by that question. Instead, I’ll just say, “I’m glad to meet you.” Because that’s what it’s all about, really, isn’t it? Who we are, not what we do.

After I take my clothes out of the dryer, I might get all fast and furious on the road in my old Civic. The sun is out and I have a horizon to find. (Yes, that is an allusion to one of Captain Jack Sparrow’s lines in the first Pirates of the Caribbean.) Maybe I’ll see you on the road. But if you rev your engine at me, watch out.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this.

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While the others at the party discussed who was who and what was what, Gandalf took a nap. I can so relate, Gandalf.

Honda Civic from cargurus.com. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

Snow, Snow, Is All She Wrote

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Now is the winter of our discontent.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in Richard III, Act I, Scene I

The other day, my friend the snow and I got reacquainted when it arrived and overstayed its welcome as usual. Because of this “friend,” I’ve gotten into the habit of kicking my boots whenever I pass them in the hall. Something has to share my pain.

Thanks to the other day’s snowfall, this area has had about 79 inches of snow this year, which is not the all-time record for us, believe it or not. Winter of 1978–1979 holds that record with 89 inches of snow.

I can’t help thinking of the quatrains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which go

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Only for us, it’s “snow, snow, everywhere” “day after day, day after day,” a situation nowhere near as dire as the ancient mariner’s. But we’ve reached the part of winter where I’m ready to run out into the snow, screaming like a banshee: “Why don’t you die already, Winter???? Ya hear me?? Die!!!!!”

CherriesBut you know what else seems to have overstayed its welcome? Discouragement. Many good friends face discouraging situations right now. My heart aches for them. When they hurt, I hurt. And I can’t say that life is a bowl of cherries for me either. Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it?

Like this endless winter, these troubles seem to wrap everything in a cold numbness. Just when you think you don’t have any tears left to shed, you encounter another hard situation and find that you do.

Avatar-TheLastAirbender2The other day I watched an episode of Book 3: Fire, the third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, for about the 900th time. SPOILER ALERT: Still reeling from the events at the end of Book 2: Earth, the hero, Aang, is at his lowest ebb. As he contemplates his perceived failure (and you need to see the last episode of Book 2 to find out why he thinks this) and recovers from his near death experience (Miracle Max from The Princess Bride would have pronounced him “mostly dead” at that point), encouragement comes from two sources: Roku, one of his past lives, and Yue, the Moon Spirit. END SPOILERS. Okay, maybe those names mean nothing to you if you’re not a fan of Avatar. But I was struck by Aang’s determination to keep going, despite the difficult circumstances of his young life.

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Roku and Yue (um, Yue’s the one in the dress)

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Billy Crystal as Miracle Max

I needed that reminder to persevere, though doing so isn’t always easy. I’m also grateful for friends who provide encouragement and words of kindness like, “I’ll pray for you” or “Come over for dinner. We miss you.” I’m also thankful for the little things, like the sun finally deciding to show up, though it arrived late and without an excuse. A little bit of light goes a long way.

Maybe today, you also feel as pummeled as some of my friends feel or as the perps feel after an encounter with Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) on a typical episode of Agents of Shield. Only for you, the last part of that line I just wrote doesn’t even raise a smile. Maybe nothing seems funny right now. The world is one huge gray cloud. “Grief, grief, everywhere” “day after day, day after day.” Even if hope for you seems like a hummingbird’s wings, flitting too fast for you to track, my hope for you is for this winter of your discontent to soon pass, and that you find the courage and hope to keep going.

       200px-MELINDASeason1 Hummingbird

Shakespeare, William. Richard III. New York: Signet Classic Edition, 1964. 33. Print.

Yue image from avatar.answers.wikia.com. Roku from avatar.wikia.com. Melinda May photo from marvel.wikia.com. Aang image from ohappydagger.wordpress.com. Hummingbird from Wikipedia. Bowl of cherries from commons.wikimedia.org.