Hello Mixed Up Filers!
Have I got a treat for you!
Today, I’m pleased to be joined by a former long-time Mixed-Up Files member, Michele Weber Hurwitz, whose book, Ethan Marcus Makes his Mark, came out this week from Aladdin.
JR: Hi, Michele and thanks for joining us today.
MWH: I’m happy to be back for a visit! I’ve missed you all.
JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about Ethan Marcus Makes his Mark?
MWH: Siblings Ethan and Erin Marcus are invited to attend a prestigious invention camp during winter break of 7th grade. The camp is run by the enigmatic, mysterious tech-entrepreneur sensation, Zak Canzeri, known to the world as Z. Fidgety Ethan wants to finally create a working desk-evator (a device to allow kids to stand at their classroom desks), which he flubbed at his school’s Invention Day, and perfectionist Erin wants to beat her archenemy Marlon Romanov, who’s also invited. Marlon thinks girls aren’t as good as boys at science. But at the camp, both Ethan and Erin question their abilities against a roomful of geniuses. On the last day, they team up with two new friends and think of a spectacular invention – if there’s enough time to create it and present to the judges.
JR: This is a sequel to last year’s highly entertaining Ethan Marcus Stands Up. Did you already have the idea for a sequel, or was this something that happened after the first book came out?
MWH: I worked on the first Ethan book for three years. I kept narrating the story solely in Ethan’s voice and it just wasn’t right, draft after draft. In the eleventh draft, I switched the narration to five different alternating viewpoints and it all came together, then sold quickly to Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. I felt there was more to the story, and asked my agent if we could pitch a second book. I wrote up a synopsis for a sequel, and the editor loved the idea. So the deal was made right from the outset for two books.
JR: That’s amazing! This story takes place in a camp, and I saw on your website that one of your favorite jobs was working as a counselor. I always loved my time working as a counselor, as well. Did you put any of your experiences in the book?
MWH: Not really, because I worked at a day camp in the summer, and this book takes place at a technology-invention camp inside a building during the winter. But I did research maker and invention camps and watch a lot of You Tube videos of them.
JR: Where did the idea for this series first come from?
MWH: I feel that so often, initial germs of ideas come from our kids, or kids we know, or things we experience in our daily lives. My son and several of his friends used to frequently complain about all the sitting they did in school. I listened to them, and couldn’t agree more. We’re seeing a lot of flexible seating now in classrooms, and hearing about the detriments of sitting too much during the day. But the spark of the idea came from a comment my son said while I was helping him review for a test. He needed to walk around our family room while I quizzed him. He told me that his “brain works better when I’m moving around.” I remember thinking, hmm…there’s a story there.
JR: Both books are done in multiple points of view. Was that fun or difficult?
MWH: I absolutely loved writing in multiple POVs. As I mentioned, I didn’t do that at first. But when I got into that rhythm, it felt like how kids talk in a group, or exchange comments on social media posts. It also made me realize how much people see situations and experiences from a different lens, and we need to appreciate that not everyone draws the same conclusions we do.
JR: You’re a multi-published author. How have you found the progression from book to book? Any easier or just as difficult each time?
MWH: Each book presents its own challenges. I thought it would get easier, but honestly, I can’t say that it has! Every time I’ve finished a book, I feel like I’ll never have the energy to write another one, and each time I get the revision notes from my editor, I don’t know how I’m going to possibly pull it all together.
JR: That sounds very familiar. What’s your writing process like?
MWH: I work at home, on my giant screen desktop computer. I’ve tried coffee shops but they’re too noisy and distracting. My office overlooks our tree filled backyard, and it’s only 23 steps to the kitchen pantry, so that can be detrimental at times. I usually write or revise most of the morning, then take a lunch break and walk, then put in a few more hours in the afternoon. As for my process, I think what’s worked for me is that I do a lot of thinking about a story before I start to write. I don’t outline but I have a beginning, middle, and end in mind. Not to mention pages and pages of notes on plot and character. Other than that, I talk to the walls a lot ?
JR: What was your favorite childhood book and who’s your favorite author?
MWH: I read “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell over and over. I think mostly, I was enthralled with the concept of living on an island without my annoying two younger brothers to bother me. Now, I’m enamored of Katherine Applegate. Her writing is absolutely brilliant in its simplicity and power.
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
MWH: I love candy. I mean, borderline obsession. And not Godiva, I’m talking Butterfinger, gummy bears, Caramel Creams, M&Ms. As such, I’ve developed a very specialized palate in the candy department. I’m actually able to tell the difference between pink and white Good ‘n Plentys. My kids think this is an amazing talent. They ask me to close my eyes, then they put one in my mouth, and 95 percent of the time, I can guess the color. It’s a unique gift.
JR: You’re going to have to post a video of you doing that! And btw, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are like Manna from Heaven. But getting back, what’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
MWH: I love the Survivor series on the Cynsations blog: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ Each post is an interview with a longtime, successful author, and I’m often surprised to find out they still receive rejections and go through ups and downs. I thought that once I published my first book, that was it, I was an “author” and had it made. That wasn’t the case. After my second book was published, I wrote a novel that my agent sent out and it didn’t get an offer. I did a rewrite and it still didn’t sell. It’s hard, I think, to separate out the craft of writing and the business of publishing – they’re very different animals, and it can be easy to compare yourself to others, who seem so successful on social media.
So I’ve learned to put my head down and do the work, to focus on the writing itself – not the reviews, the Goodreads posts, the Amazon ranking. I’ve also learned to accept that this is a long road with many bumps, no matter how many books you’ve published. And much of that road is out of your control, so do what you do best – write. Same advice for writers looking to break in – study craft and learn from books you love before you think about publishing.
JR: What are you working on next?
MWH: I just sold my fifth middle grade novel to Wendy Lamb Books at Penguin Random House. It takes place in a small lakeside Wisconsin town and will publish in May 2020.
JR: Congrats, that’s great! Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
MWH: Visit my website at micheleweberhurwitz.com. I’m on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz and Instagram @micheleweberhurwitz. Two other lessons I’ve learned is that walking is a great help to my writing. Like too much sitting in the classroom, when I get up and move, I’m invariably able to work out a trouble spot in a story. (My son knew what he was talking about.) And, don’t be afraid to take risks in your writing. I made the leap to multi POV narration with the Ethan books, and it made all the difference.
JR: When you were here, I always said, that you had been my favorite Mixed-Up Files member. Now, in 10,000 words or more, tell me why I’m your favorite.
Ha! I’ve always enjoyed your posts ?
JR: Well, you’re only around 9,995 words short, but according to the text messages I’m receiving from Dorian Cirrone, I’ve gone over my allotted time again, but I sincerely want to thank Michele Weber Hurwitz for agreeing to be interviewed, and best of luck with Ethan Marcus Makes his Mark!
Get Ethan Marcus over at: IndieBound