Teachers and librarians: I am excited to interview Summer Rachel Short, the author of Attack of the Killer Komodos, which will be coming out September 14! It is a great book for students who love adventure, mystery, and STEM. Be sure to read to the end on what to do for a chance to win a copy.
About the Book
Hi Summer! Thank you for sharing Attack of the Killer Komodos with me. Can you give us a short summary about the book?
Of course! Here’s the official blurb: This is the second book in the Maggie and Nate Mystery series and follows the friends to Yellowstone National Park where they must track down a deadly creature amidst a series of natural disasters. While Maggie comes up with scientific solutions as they battle earthquakes, landslides, wolves, and other unusual creatures, Nate focuses on conspiracy theories and getting stellar footage for his YouTube channel. But only by combining their skills will they have any hope of saving Yellowstone or each other.
Tell us who would especially enjoy this book?
Kids who enjoy survival stories and like surprises will have a great time with Attack of the Killer Komodos. It also has plenty of action, humor, and mystery to keep the pages turning. Any kids who like reading about strange creatures will also have fun with the book.
About the Author
Tell us about you—what other jobs did you have that were or were not related to writing?
I majored in Journalism in college, so most of my professional life has been spent at jobs related to writing or editing. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, a public information officer for the department of transportation, and a corporate communications specialist at a staffing company. Before that, I had a number of part time jobs like waiting tables and driving the beverage cart at a golf course.
How did you end up becoming an author?
I wrote short stories here and there when I was younger, but it wasn’t until college that I thought writing might be something I’d want to do professionally. In addition to journalism classes, I took a number of creative writing classes that I really enjoyed. There was one in particular that operated sort of like a critique group. It was small, maybe 10-12 people, and we’d all bring our stories to class, read them aloud, and then get feedback from the room. I loved it. I loved hearing the other students’ stories and at the same time finding out what other people thought about my work. I think that was the first time I really thought seriously about wanting to be a writer. That class lit the spark, but it wasn’t until years later that I got serious about the pursuit. Every now and then, I’d toy with a story idea and write a few pages before abandoning the whole thing. Then, about five or six years ago, it was like a switch flipped and all of a sudden, I got very passionate about wanting to see a novel-length project through. That first manuscript sits in a proverbial drawer where it will stay, but finishing it was an important step in my journey to becoming an author.
What authors and/or books would you say influenced your writing style?
I really enjoy books that have a bit of humor, a quick pace, and characters who feel like friends. A few authors whose style I particularly admire are: Kate DiCamillo, Sheila Turnage, Jennifer L. Holm, and Suzanne Collins.
I have read both this and The Mutant Mushroom Takeover (also a great book!). Was it hard to write a sequel? Any tricks you have for writers as to how to tie the two books together?
In some ways writing a sequel was a challenge but in other ways it was perhaps easier than writing something brand new. With the sequel, I already knew my characters, how they spoke, and how they’d react to different situations. So, in that regard it was a little easier. But it also presented the challenge of coming up with new ways for the characters to grow. In The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, Maggie and her family go through some pretty big challenges and Maggie has to decide how she’s going to respond. In Attack of the Killer Komodos, I had to figure out a way to let the characters continue to grow without going over the same ground. I’m not sure I have any advice that will make drafting easier. First drafts are hard and messy. So, maybe my best advice is just to keep slogging through even when you can’t see the end in sight. You can fix things in revision. Also, get other pairs of eyes on your work. When you’ve read your story too many times to see it clearly, it’s time to get feedback from some trusted critique partners. I’ve got some great CP friends who I can count on to help me see my stories with fresh eyes and that’s always incredibly helpful.
What’s your connection with the topics you choose to write about?
I love books that surprise me. I think I’m a little like my character Nate, Maggie’s YouTuber best friend, in that I’m intrigued by the weird and unexpected. I might not be on the hunt for Bigfoot like Nate, but strange happenings in nature definitely fascinate me. Anything that sparks my sense of curiosity is likely to grab my attention. I wanted my readers to experience that same sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. That’s where some of the strange but true science comes in.
What was your original spark for the book?
A number of years ago, my husband and I did some backwoods camping in Yellowstone. At that time, a park ranger told us that we had a seventy-five percent chance of a run-in with a grizzly bear as one had recently killed a moose on the trail we’d be taking. For some reason, we decided to trek on anyway. I remember clapping my hands and calling “no bears!” all the while terrified that something menacing was lurking in the woods. I think that experience was simmering at the back of my mind as I worked on Attack of the Killer Komodos. Yellowstone’s beautiful but it can be dangerous, too. That backdrop seemed like the perfect setting to drop my characters into for an action-packed survival story.
What research did you need to do?
I did a lot of research on Yellowstone’s thermal features, the park’s native species, and backcountry maps. I studied extremophiles (species that can live in conditions that would kill other creatures) and their habitats. I also read up about gene editing technology and bio-hackers.
You do a seamless job of tying real (but unusual) science with fantasy (or possibly science fiction!) (be sure to read the Author’s Note—so fascinating!). I’d love to know more about your process for this. Did the real science shape the fiction, or did the fiction sometimes cause you to do research for the facts and find that it all fit together?
I think they influenced one another. Sometimes, there was a real world element I wanted to include, like CRISPR––the real-life gene editing technology. In that case, I had to think about how the technology could come into the story in a fun way. Other times, there was something I needed to have happen and I had to go looking for a possible solution. Some of my research about the thermal pools and how different creatures might react to their pH levels fell into that category. But, my first goal was simply to tell a fun story and I always tried to keep that in mind and not get bogged down with the nitty gritty of too many details. The author’s note gave me a great opportunity to include more information for those who are interested in separating scientific fact from fiction.
There is so much potential for using this book in the classroom, teachers! My suggestion: have students research the interesting facts: tardigrades, CRISPR technology, geysers, Bigfoot, and, of course, Komodo dragons. Summer, any suggestions you have for ways to use Attack of the Killer Komodos in the classroom?
Those are all great ideas! Studying Yellowstone National Park and its thermal features would be another great tie in with the book. Also, wilderness exploration and survival, as well as conservation efforts and protecting our national parks. For my first book, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, teachers could easily tie in lessons on botany, the scientific method, and mycology.
Are you doing school visits related to this book? Tell us more!
Yes, I am doing school visits, both in-person and virtual. The presentation would be great for grades 4th-7th and touches on both the writing process as well as some of the real-life science in the books. Educators who’d like to book a visit can find out more on my website.
How can we learn more about you?
You can find me online here:
Thanks for your time, Summer.
Thanks so much for having me!
Summer Rachel Short will be giving a copy of Attack of the Killer Komodos to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy. (U.S. addresses only)