Full confession: Beth McMullen is not only one of my best friends; she is also one of my favorite authors. I was already a massive fan of her two middle-grade series MRS. SMITH’S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS and LOLA BENKO, TREASURE HUNTER, so I had great expectations when I cracked open SECRET OF THE STORM. And, of course, Beth did not disappoint. Without a doubt, it was my favorite read of the year. I laughed, cried, and gasped with delight—all while falling in love with the characters—especially Joe. The story was fast-paced and action-packed, with a couple of fun twists and turns, at the end. I truly hope this book finds its way into the hands of every middle-grade reader. It’s the perfect escape in an otherwise imperfect world—something I think we can all use right about now.
But enough of my gushing . . . Time to put Beth on the hot seat.
Lisa: Tell us about Secret of The Storm. (Available March 1st)
Beth: This sounds lame but I love this book! It’s my seventh middle grade book and my third series and I think it is my favorite. I’m a total cat person, not gonna lie, so being able to mix action/adventure, fantasy, new friendships, the circuitous process of grieving, family drama, wild librarians, and bad weather with CATS…well, I could not have been more into it.
Lisa: How did you come up with the idea?
Beth: My black cat looks exactly like Toothless, the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon. I mean, whoever animated that character DEFINITELY had cats. The mannerisms, the movements, the attitude – it is all cat. So of course I started thinking, what if my cat really is a dragon? What happens if that happens?
Lisa: If your cats could talk, what would they say to you?
Beth: Feed me.
Lisa: What is your most cringe-worthy moment in middle school?
Beth: Just one?!? Hard to pick. My brother was five years older than me but that was not enough time for my 8th grade math teacher, Mr. Parker, to forget about him (math teacher was not a fan LOL). As soon as Mr. Parker saw my last name on the class list, he got this insane grin on his face and I basically tried to disappear into my desk. He spent the rest of the year torturing and humiliating me at every turn. Not a fun year.
Lisa: Did you base any characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!
Beth: I put bits and pieces of people I know into characters but it’s never the whole package. I take language I overhear or stories my own kids tell me about school and friends and things. Writing Secret of the Storm, I started with the concept of cats and dragons so created characters that would fit the story. Many authors start with character and build a story that way, but I rarely do.
Lisa: How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell? For example, did you secretly own a dragon in middle school?
Beth: I wish! That would have made me so much cooler than I was. My first reaction to this question is ‘no’ but in truth my books tend to have themes related to being on the outside looking in or how things are never as they seem. During much of my childhood, I felt both of those things acutely and they show up in my writing, often unintentionally.
Lisa: What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?
Beth: I was an avid reader. Still am! Some of my favorite titles: The Westing Game, anything by Judy Blume, Bridge to Terebithia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Outsiders, anything by Paula Danzinger, and, last but not least, Danielle Steel and Stephen King. They were in the house so I read them.
Lisa: What advice would you give twelve-year-old Beth?
Beth: So much energy wasted on worrying about things that did not matter. I’d tell myself to work on just letting things go.
Lisa: What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Beth: Total punster! I’ve worked very hard to accept that this is just the way I am. Outlines and me, we just don’t get along.
Lisa: Last, but most important-What is your Wordle starter word?
Beth: I start with a different word every day! I’m not sure this is a good strategy but since I started playing, I see five letter words EVERYWHERE.
More About Beth:
Beth McMullen is the author of the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls (Aladdin/S&S) series as well as the forthcoming Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter (Aladdin/S&S) series, in stores and everywhere August 25th. Yay Lola! Her third middle grade series, Cats & Dragons, arrives in March 2021. Beth lives in Northern California with her husband, kids, cats and a very tolerant parakeet named Zeus.
You can reach her on FaceBook/Instagram @BethMcMullenBooks and on Twitter at @bvam. Visit BethMcMullenBooks.com to email or for more information.