Interview with Emma Carlson Berne, author of Shabbat Sabotage!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We have a treat for you today! An interview with with a friend, and author of the new book, Shabbat Sabotage, out soon from Yellow Jacket, and a PJ Our Way selection. Please help us welcome Emma Carlson Berne!

Emma, thanks for joining us today!

JR: To start with, I really enjoyed this! Maya is my daughter’s name, so I loved having the main character with the same name. Can you tell us a little bit about Shabbat Sabotage and where the idea came from?

ECB: I was a pretty fearful person growing up (actually, I’m still a total coward), and one of my sons was kind of a fearful child, so I really wanted to write about fear and secrets and how those two things can prey on each other. I like the idea that at summer camp, where adults sort of fade into the background, that’s where the characters can really roll in around in the very real, sometimes very dark, world of kids alone, together.

JR: I love a good summer camp story! Tell us a little bit about Maya.

ECB: Maya really is not a camp kid but I like to think that she becomes one over the course of the book. She doesn’t like getting dirty, she’s afraid of all kinds of things – swimming is the main one in this story – and she’s just not sure about the whole togetherness-in-a-cabin, sleeping-away-from-home thing. It takes a place like Camp Shalom and a friend like Dani to show her that she can grow to love camp while still being herself.

JR: Good advice. What are the similarities and differences between you and Maya?

ECB: I spent most – okay, all – of my childhood reading, and I didn’t like getting sweaty or dirty and I was afraid of a lot of things, like loud people, and big people, and deep water, and muddy water. . .it was a long list. I wanted to write that girl – the one who doesn’t have any desire to be the hero, who doesn’t even want to be the protagonist. She just wants to be left alone to read her book or think to herself or hide.

JR: I’d like the same thing now, but it never happens. Did you go to camp when you were Maya’s age?

ECB: Yes, I definitely did. I was obsessed with horses, so I usually went to horse camp. I was very small when I was Maya’s age and really skinny, so my main memory is of being kind of weak and unable to lift things like saddles, and unable to reach the horse’s head to put on its bridle. I remember being in a really far away part of a stable at horse camp, with everyone else off somewhere else, and trying to lift up this horse’s hoof, which was like as big as my head, and just being unable to get it up at all. It was like lifting a boulder. I think I just gave up after awhile. Probably when some adult asked me if I’d picked her feet, I just lied and said yes.

JR: You dedicated the book to Camp Livingston. How similar is Camp Livingston to Camp Shalom?

ECB: My oldest son has gone to Camp Livingston for the last few years, and we’re friends with the director, so this was a natural place for me to go in my imagination. I based the layout of Camp Shalom on Camp Livingston and the songs they sing, and the director, and some of the rituals. But I also asked my friends for their best and worst camp memories and I slapped some of those in there – like the gum tree – and I also mined my own memories as well. The girl with the pith helmet is based on a real person from my own past.

JR: What is it about mysteries that appeals to you?

ECB: Most mysteries – at least, the ones I like to read and write – are a little dark. Sometimes, a lot dark. I love thinking about secrets and hiding and what keeping secrets does to a person’s relationships. So the mysteries I write tend to be based more on the way people act together and treat each other, rather than logic puzzles, where lots of clues fall into place at once.

 JR: There are some humorous moments between Maya, Dani, and Yael, as well as some more touching ones. How difficult was it to try and strike the right balance?

ECB: Writing humor is hard, as you know, Jonathan, being a very funny guy yourself. You have to be relaxed to write funny and I’m sometimes kind of tense when I write. I want the story to go well, I want to get the words out in the right way – that kind of thing makes me tense up. So when I was writing the more loose, funny parts, I found I needed to write quickly, just splash the words on the page and not think about it too much. Then the funny comes out more naturally.

 JR: I first met you on a wonderful PJ Library trip. Shabbat Sabotage is part of PJ library’s children’s book division, PJ Our Way. Tell us a little bit about PJ Library and how they came to your book.

ECB: We met on the 2018 Author Israel Adventure and it was wonderful, wasn’t it? We went to Israel with PJ Library and a bunch of other authors and spent a week touring and learning. I took so many notes during our trip and fiddled around with many ideas, but in the end, I asked PJ, “What kind of book do you want that no one else has shown you?” and they thought about it and came back with, “You know, what we really want is kind of a girl Encyclopedia Brown, but at summer camp.” You got it, I thought. This is a story I know how to write. And boom, SHABBAT SABOTAGE was born.

JR: That simple. 🙂 How hands on have they been through the process?

ECB: Very hands-on, which is exactly what I asked for. I wanted to write a book tailored for PJ, so I asked if they would look at each draft after I finished. They would give me notes, which I would incorporate into the next draft, and so on. When I was done, everyone knew what kind of manuscript they were getting. It was a great, collaborative, really rewarding process.

JR: That actually sounds great. You’ve written books in the Star Wars franchise. How cool was it to get to use official characters in a story?

ECB: Jonathan, so fun. So cool. The Lucasfilm Story Group read my manuscripts for the Star Wars books, and gave me notes, and I felt like hot s**t. But I also felt a lot of pressure – people have strong feelings about these characters and there were many, many readers and writers who know a lot more Star Wars than I do. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I also didn’t want to sound stupid. It’s a fine line.

 JR: What are you working on next?

ECB: And now for something completely different – sparkly, crime-fighting dragons! I have a graphic novel series called Sparkle Dragons coming out in May from Clarion. It’s a book about a posse again, like the girls of Shabbat Sabotage, except that these are dragons, so, different, and they live in a magical kingdom run by a selfish princess, so, also different. And they fight crime, so that’s sort of like Maya and Dani and the rest.

 JR: That sounds awesome! Looking forward to reading. Where can people find you on social media?

ECB: On Twitter, I’m @emmacberne and on Facebook, I’m at Emma Carlson Berne Books. And my Instagram looks like of sad and weird because I don’t really know how to use it, but there I’m emmacarlsonberne (I’m actually not sure if I’m even writing my handle in the right way). And my website is Message me to talk books and writing!

JR: Emma, thanks so much for spending time with us today, and the best of luck with Shabbat Sabotage!


That’s it for now, Mixed-Up Files friends. Make sure you get a copy of Shabbat Sabotage, and until next time . . .


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Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny, South Florida. He spends his “free” time chauffeuring around his three kids. Some of Jonathan’s fondest childhood memories are of discovering a really good book to dive into, in particular the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has been really willing to accept responsibility. He is the author of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, which is out now, and its sequel, From Sunset Till Sunrise. He is the co-host of the YouTube channels, Pop Culture Retro, Comics and Pop. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, FromtheMixedUpFiles.Com,, and his own website,