I was so excited when Escape From Grimstone Manor, book one in Matt’s new series Monsterious, showed up at my house. While book mail is always a thrill, this spooky read was high on my list. And of course, Matt did not disappoint. I read it in one sitting!
Monsterious is pitch-perfect middle grade, ideal for both reluctant and avid readers, and fans of Goosebumps and Five Nights at Freddy’s. Each book comes in at fewer than 200 pages, and every chapter ends with a chilling cliffhanger that will keep kids turning the pages. With the first two books publishing simultaneously, each book in the series completely stands alone, with a different setting and main characters—and different monsters—in each installment, and can be read in any order. I see these books as a great addition to summer reading lists.
And fortunately for us, Matt was up for chatting about Monsterious and how it came to be.
Welcome, Matt! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us over here at Mixed Up Files! Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired the Monsterious series? Can you remember the spark?
My wife, author Lisa McMann, was reading an article aloud and mispronounced the word “mysterious” saying “monsterious” instead. I said, “That would be a great middle grade book title,” and she replied, “No, it’s a whole series, and you should write it.” So I did! I loved the idea of crafting a series of spooky middle grade monster mysteries.
In Escape from Grimstone Manor (series book #1) is there one character you identify with the most?
Escape from Grimstone Manor features three best friends who are trapped overnight in a haunted house amusement park ride and discover the monsters are real. Taylor is outgoing, brave, and spontaneous to a fault. Zari is cool, level-headed, and intellectual. Mateo is timid, cautious, and artistic. While there’s a bit of me in all of them, I definitely relate the most to Mateo. I was a scared, artistic kid like he is!
The books in the Monsterious series can also stand alone. What made you decide on this approach? What are the challenges of starting over with a whole new cast of characters each time?
Since the idea for Monsterious came as a series concept vs. an individual book concept, I took the opportunity to choose the type of monster mystery series I wanted to write before thinking of the stories themselves. A dynamic series features the same characters in a multi-book story arc (ex: Lord of the Rings). A static series features the same characters in episodic adventures (ex: Nancy Drew). In an anthology style series, the books are tied together by a place or an idea or a theme, but each entry is a standalone story with a unique cast of characters (ex: Goosebumps).
I chose an anthology style series because I liked the freedom it gave me to write about any monster, anywhere, with anyone. Since it’s a less common format, I thought it might help me stand out to editors in a crowded marketplace. Not being constrained by a single meta story arc was also appealing—I knew if I could sell Monsterious to a publisher and find an audience, then I could write in this series for a long time, which I would love.
The challenge with this type of series is needing to write new characters for each installment who are both interesting and well-rounded. There’s also a lot of names to come up with! It definitely takes additional work and imagination, but it’s totally worth it.
What do you hope young readers will take away from your books?
I was a scared kid. I grew up being afraid of almost everything—the dark, bullies, the woods, our basement. But I loved spooky stories. Seeing the characters in those books face their fears gave me the courage to face my own. And they were just so cool! I hope readers will find the same courage and fun in Monsterious books that I found when I was that age.
What was your favorite book as a kid? Did you like scary stories?
I had so many! I read a lot of adventure and sci-fi books when I was quite young, then got hooked on fantasy with the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was a game changer for me. I was captivated. That led me to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and then I checked out every book in the library on Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, werewolves, vampires, you name it!
What do you mostly read now?
I’m reading a lot of great middle grade to steep myself in the voice and emotions of that age group. Lindsay Currie writes incredible spooky middle grade, and Starfish by Lisa Fipps was fantastic. I’m reading a lot of standout realistic contemporary work from my 2023 debut middle grade author group, including Good Different by Meg Eden Kuyatt, It Happened on Saturday by Sydney Dunlap, and Miracle by Karen Chow.
Talk to me about your path to publication. Did you encounter surprises or unexpected twists in the road?
I wanted to be author since I was a kid, but studied music in college and was a professional musician for twenty-six years. When I burned out on music about five years ago, Lisa suggested I go after my dream of writing books. We went to a hotel for a weekend getaway, and she said we couldn’t leave until I wrote my first chapter!
I had a chance to pitch that first book to an agent over dinner and he requested the manuscript. After reading it, he said it had potential but needed a lot of work, and if I was willing to make significant edits, he’d read it again. I did everything he suggested, and after that second reading, he signed me!
We went on an exclusive submission to an editor at a Big Five publisher, and she said the same thing—it had potential but needed a lot of work, and if I’d do some edits, she’d read it again. I made her changes, she liked it, and said she was taking it to her team. I was floored. What I thought was going to be a throw-away practice novel not only got me an agent, it was going to get me a book deal on my first submission! And then it didn’t. The team wasn’t excited, and she passed. The manuscript went out on multiple waves of submissions for over a year and never sold.
During that time, I wrote a second book. That went out and got rejected by everyone. I wrote a third book that never even went out on sub. Then I came up with the idea for Monsterious, and my agent loved it. He took it on an exclusive submission to Penguin Random House, and it sold immediately in a four book deal. My childhood dream has come true!
You have the good fortune to be married to New York Times bestselling author Lisa McMann. What did you learn from watching her journey that helped with your own?
I was the luckiest aspiring author in the world to have Lisa as my mentor and writing coach. I’ve learned too many lessons from her to count, but one of the biggest was that being an author is business. If you want a long-term career, you need to know as much about marketing and admin as you do about writing. I think that’s where a lot of really talented writers struggle—to think and operate like a small business. Lisa is the most creative person I know, but she also has a great business sense, so I’m trying to emulate that in my own career.
What advice would you offer to aspiring authors of all ages?
- Read great authors
- Write what you love
- Find a supportive writing community
- Share your work with writers you trust and believe their critiques
- Listen to good writers talk about writing (podcasts, videos, webinars, books, live events, etc.). I highly recommend the Writers With Wrinkles podcast for craft, inspiration, and entertainment value!
- Write! Practice, practice, practice, and don’t give up
Do you have any writing rituals you swear by?
When drafting, I write at least 1000 word a day. Having that as a minimum gives me a clear sense of accomplishment and, when I know my target book length, allows me to map out how long it will take me to complete a first draft. I also start each drafting session by editing what I wrote the previous day. It gets me back in the flow of the story and when the draft is completed, I’ve already finished one round of edits.
Where can readers best find you if they want to reach out?
I really pumped about my newly revamped website MattMcMann.com (thank you Deena at deenawarnerdesign.com!). Readers can contact me there and get my free spooky short story for signing up for my newsletter. I’m also @matt_mcmann on Instagram and Twitter.
Thank you, Matt!
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