Mixed-Up Files interview with Adam Borba, author of The Midnight Brigade!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Hope that you’re enjoying the first few weeks of the school year as now dive into Fall!

In case you’re sad that summer is now officially over, we have a treat for you that we hope will cheer you up. We’re thrilled to have Adam Borba with us, the author of the recently-released, The Midnight Brigade from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers!

Hi Adam, and welcome to Mixed-Up Files!

JR: To start with, can you tell us a little about The Midnight Brigade and the impetus for writing it?

AB: It started as a concept for a movie. My day job is to help develop and produce movies for a production company called Whitaker Entertainment which is based at Walt Disney Studios. I wanted to find a story about a troll to adapt but couldn’t find what I was looking for. Then on a trip to Pittsburgh, I fell in love with the city, and was wowed by the number of bridges – there are over four hundred. Statistically speaking, if you have four hundred bridges, there has to be a troll under at least one of them, right? So, I started making notes for a movie. Ideas about how great it would be to be a kid who found a troll. And how fun it would be to keep that troll secret with your friends. Usually, the outlines we do for films are about three pages, and then my colleagues and I will pass those outlines off to screenwriters who will work with us while making those stories their own. But my notes for this story became more and more detailed, and eventually I realized I had started writing a novel and I just kept going until I finished it.

JR: The book has a lot of humor in it, but there are also some more serious themes. How difficult did you find it to keep that balance when writing?

AB: It’s the only way I know how to do things. When we’re making movies – no matter what it is – I’m usually the one who says things like, “Hey, doesn’t it feel like a joke should go here?” Life is funny, right? Even during the tough times. And when I’m telling stories or having an important conversation, I just can’t be serious for too long. Conversely, I don’t think I’m funny enough to write or produce a traditional comedy. Plus, my story instincts tend to steer me away from big comedic set pieces and more towards emotional or dramatic moments.  

JR: Carl is an endearing main character and there’s a great dynamic between him, Teddy, and Bee, and actually, Frank, too, for that matter. How much of yourself or your experiences did you put into him?

Thank you! I think I’m a little like all of my characters. Like Carl, I was a quiet kid who spent a lot of time wanting to say more but worrying that I’d say the wrong thing. I think I was and am a dreamer like Teddy. And I was often a loner like Bee who took – occasionally too much – pride in my opinions. Lately, I’m feeling more like the troll, Frank – grumpy and tired, but I hope with my heart in the right place.

JR: Pittsburgh plays front and center in the book. What is it about that city that lends itself to stories with monsters and magic?

AB: Pittsburgh has so much character. It’s a beautiful city with over two hundred and fifty years of history, culture, and food. And its background with steel gives it a feeling of strength. But the big thing with this story is the bridges. Pittsburgh has so many bridges because three rivers flow through the city. The bridges are gorgeous, and it’s unusual for a city to have so many. And unusual leads to the possibility of the unexpected: monsters and magic, of course.

JR: So, what supernatural creatures do you believe in?

AB: I’m open to the possibility of any supernatural creature being real. Certainly trolls. And I’ve personally seen two ghosts, a griffin, and a leprechaun. Also, my cousin’s neighbor knows a guy who was trampled by a herd of unicorns.

JR: We’ll have to have you back to discuss the ghosts! You were one of the Producers on the Pete’s Dragon remake a few years ago. What were some of your other favorite movies or books with monsters in them when you were growing up?

Well, the original Pete’s Dragon was my favorite film as a four-year-old. E.T. was (and is) a big one for me. The Neverending Story, Gremlins, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Willow, and The Flight of the Navigator were all on heavy rotation in my family’s VCR. In children’s literature, certainly The BFG. Alice in Wonderland, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. And I was a massive fan of rodent-lit: Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH, Stuart Little, Ralph S. Mouse, and the Redwall series.

JR: Loved all of those! Who were some of your influences?

AB: The list is constantly growing. But as a kid the big ones were Louis Sachar, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Jerry Spinelli, and Judy Blume for books, and Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis, and Tim Burton for films. Storytellers driven by a mix of wit, warmth, and wonder.

JR: So, The Midnight Brigade gets made into a movie. Who’s in your dream cast?

AB: The Muppets is always the correct answer to this question.

JR: I think it’s actually the answer to just about any question for that matter. Will there be a sequel to The Midnight Brigade?

AB: I like that the story stands on its own, with things wrapped up but still presenting threads for readers to guess what might happen next. But maybe someday if I come up with an idea that I just can’t keep to myself I’ll write another!

JR: What are you working on next?

AB: I’m working with my editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Alexandra Hightower, on a new middle grade novel. It’s another nearly grounded story with a bit of magic. On the movie side, I’m currently in post-production on an epic live-action adaptation of Peter Pan & Wendy for Disney, which David Lowery directed. Both should be coming out towards the end of 2022.

JR: Can’t wait for both of those! How can people follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter @adam_borba and Instagram @adamborba

To purchase The Midnight Brigade:

The Midnight Brigade


JR: Adam, thank you so much for joining us today, and good luck with The Midnight Brigade!

AB: Thanks so much for having me!



Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to bestselling author Samira Ahmed, whose debut middle-grade novel Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, releases on Tuesday, September 21. (Click on the title to preorder from Bookshop.)

For a chance to win a copy of this novel, filled with fantasy and magic, click on the Rafflecopter link below before Saturday (September 18) at 11:59 PM. (U.S. only.)


About Samira

Samira Ahmed is the New York Times bestselling author of Internment; Love, Hate & Other Filters; and Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. She was born in Bombay, India, and has lived in New York, Chicago, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango. She currently resides in the Midwest. Find her online at and on Twitter and Instagram @sam_aye_ahm.


About the Book

Dorian: Please tell us a bit about Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds

Samira: Amira & Hamza is a story about two bickering siblings who are whisked away to the mystical world of Qaf by a jinn army that recognizes them as the Chosen Ones who must battle a great evil in Qaf and end a civil war there. If they fail, the moon, the stopper between realms will break apart, unleashing monstrosities on Earth, and the world as they know it will end!

So, a typical day for middle schoolers 🙂


Dorian: Ha! What inspired you to write this novel?

Samira: There are three threads of inspiration that I wove together to tell this story. First, when walking my kids to school, they always wanted me to tell them stories, so we told a collaborative, winding epic of siblings who use magical objects to save their timeline and every story always ended with dessert! Second, those goofy stories we told out loud made me think of the tradition of oral storytelling in Urdu, my first language. Specifically, the Hamzanama—a grand epic that wound its way across the Islamic world, into India’s Mughal court and eventually to tales my great grandmother would tell my mom about mischievous, shapeshifting jinn and trickster peris, or fairies. Finally, the last thread of inspiration is really my own childhood—I had a golden ball—really a translucent ball with golden flecks that I was certain was magical. I would throw that ball into a small lilac grove in my parents’ backyard, and it would “transport” me to fantastical worlds where I was sometimes a fairy princess who wielded a sword.


Childhood Influences

Dorian: Although the novel is fantasy, were there any real-life experiences that influenced your writing Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds?

Samira: Well, every Muslim family has jinn stories! And mine is no different. When I was a kid, my aunts and uncles told me stories about jinn encounters that had become part of family lore including a jinn who possessed a tree and then haunted a person who broke a twig off that tree! And there was also a story of a snake jinn that was a protector—one who lived under the crib of a baby and acted as a guardian. There was another story of a jinn realm that you could enter through a deep well in my uncle’s back yard!

I also have a love of hidden histories and I’m fascinated by medieval Islamic astronomy and its incredible advancements, so when I read about the amazing al-Biruni and some of his inventions, including the Box of the Moon, I knew I had to incorporate it into a book!


Dorian: That’s so interesting! What were some of your favorite books as a kid that influenced your decision to become a writer?

Samira: In elementary school and into middle school, I absolutely adored Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume—two of kidlit’s greatest! I also loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and I read a lot of Agatha Christie, too, (maybe a bit earlier than I should have)!

I think I was always drawn to stories where young people were trying to find their power and their truth. And even though Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot were nothing like me, I loved how they used logic to solve a mystery—they were powerful because of their brains, not their brawn.


Writing for the Middle-Grade Audience

Dorian: Did you find writing a middle-grade novel very different from writing for other audiences? If so, what were the differences?

Samira: Middle grade books allowed me to lean into more whimsy and wonder and the curiosity of childhood and that was a part of the writing process that I loved. All writing requires imagination, but somehow, writing for middle grade, allowed my imagination to run even more free.


Dorian: What would you like readers to come away with after reading the novel?

Samira: The heart of the story is really about two siblings who learn to work together, despite their differences, despite their bickering, because they love each other. That bond of family—the one you’re born into or the one you find, like Amira & Hamza found in Maqbool and Abdul Rahman and Aasman Peri is an idea that I hope readers can feel a connection to. I also hope that readers can realize that even more than being anointed the chosen one, it’s important to choose yourself—to believe in who you are.


Tips for Writers

Dorian: I love that! What are two of your best writing tips for the authors in our audience?

  1. Know yourself. For me, this is the foundation of craft, of building a story. There’s a point where imagination meets paper and there is a lot of advice about how to do that, about what method is the “right” one. Every writer is different, every story is different and there is no one single way to write—knowing what works for you, knowing who you are is what can help you create the method that is right for you.
  2. Lean into curiosity. A lot of times, we hear writing described as a passion. “Follow your passion,” we hear people say. And you can have very passionate feelings about storytelling! But passion is also something that can burn out and that burn out can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, like you’re “failing.” So what works for me, is to reframe the idea: I don’t merely follow my passion (it’s finite); I follow my curiosity (which is infinite). Every story I write begins with a question. And in the end, every story gives rise to questions, too.


Dorian: That’s great advice! What are you working on now?

Samira: My next book is another YA—Hollow Fires—which is out in May 2022. Hollow Fires is a story about a young woman’s quest to unearth the truth about a heart wrenching murder of a boy that too many people seem eager to forget. It speaks to the insidious nature of racism and the undeniable power of hope.


Thanks so much, Samira, for taking the time out to talk to us about Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds.

For a chance to win a signed copy of the novel, click on the Rafflecopter link below before Saturday, 9/18 at 11:59 PM. (U.S. entrants only.) I’ll announce the lucky winner on Sunday.


a Rafflecopter giveaway