Posts Tagged Author Interview

STEM Tuesday — Pollinators — Interview with Author Rebecca Hirsch

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Rebecca Hirsch, author of WHERE HAVE ALL THE BEES GONE? Pollinators in Crisis. The book received a starred review from Booklist, saying Hirsch gives “a well-balanced and objective presentation” and that the book is “an important resource for all libraries.”

Mary Kay Carson: How’d you come to write Where Have All the Bees Gone?

Rebecca Hirsch: Around 2010 my children and I began volunteering at the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden, a big pollinator garden in my hometown in Pennsylvania. Our job was to plant and weed a small area. The Master Gardeners who ran the garden would come by and share with us an interesting flower or a plant that was really buzzing with bees. I noticed how excited they were about all the bees. Native bees were something I had not previously given much thought to. Once I started paying attention, I began to notice all the bees too, not only in the pollinator garden but also in my own backyard. Around the same time I began to see news stories about possible declines among native bees. Finally in 2017 I heard about the rusty-patched bumblebee becoming the first bee in the continental US to make the endangered species list. I took the plunge and pitched the idea to my editor of doing a book on bees, and got an enthusiastic thumbs up.

MKC: The book features such great interviews with bee scientists, experts, and others. Can you share a memorable research experience?

Rebecca: A favorite time was the day I spent with a group of high school students and their teacher at a local school. The students are slowly converting the lawns around their school into a series of pollinator gardens. Every year, a new group of students competes to design a new addition to the garden, then all the students help plant and tend the old and new parts of the garden. I visited on a day the students were outside working. These kids were sweating, getting dirty, and having fun. And they took such obvious pride in their garden. The school board has been so impressed, they keep funding new additions to the project. How can you be around something like that and not be inspired?

MKC: How would you describe the approach you took on this book—and why you chose it?

Rebecca E. Hirsch has published close to a hundred books for young readers, ranging from picture books for young children to nonfiction for teens. Her books have been NCTE Notable, Junior Library Guild, and the Children’s Book Committee/Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. Learn more at www.rebeccahirsch.com

Rebecca: I wanted my readers to grasp the importance of the pollinator issue, the urgency of it, but I didn’t want the book to come across as too gloomy. I wrestled a lot with questions like, How do I make readers grasp the immensity of this issue? How do I inspire them to care? I studied techniques of persuasive writing and discovered there’s a whole toolkit of techniques that writers can use. I read other inspiring environmental books, especially Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. If you open my copy of Carson’s book you’ll see lots and lots of my notes about her writing techniques scribbled in the margins.

MKC: Do you choose to specifically write STEM books?

Rebecca: In college I majored in biochemistry and went on to earn a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin. After graduate school I spent a couple of years working as a postdoc in labs at UW and Penn State. I liked laboratory research well enough, but my favorite part of my job was doing scientific writing. I started writing science for children in 2008 when my own kids were devouring books on all sorts of topics. I was very impressed with the books they were reading, and I realized writing science books would be a way for me to use my scientific training and share my passion for science and nature with young readers.

Win a FREE copy of WHERE HAVE ALL THE BEES GONE?

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

Author Spotlight: Beth McMullen

Today I’m thrilled to interview fellow Mixed-Up Files member Beth McMullen, author of the best-selling middle-grade adventure series, Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls. Her latest book, Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter—the first in a series—is out from Aladdin on August 25, and I was lucky enough to snag a copy. (Spoiler alert: It’s really good.) Here’s a brief summary:

“Having a world-traversing archaeologist dad means twelve-year-old Lola Benko is used to moving around not putting down roots anywhere. But then her father disappears. The official story is that he was caught in a flash flood, but Lola’s research shows the day in question was perfectly pleasant. And it will take more than empty reassurances from suspect strangers for Lola to give up on her dad. She has a feeling his disappearance has to do with a mythical stone he was studying—a stone so powerful, it could control the world. But in the wrong hands, it could end it, too…”

And now, without further ado… heeeere’s Beth McMullen!

MR: Beth! I have so many questions for you. May I start with a confession?

BMcM: Haha! Of course!

MR: I loved Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls and wish I’d written it myself. Kidding aside (okay, I wasn’t really joking), how did you come up with the concept? A 12-year girl who’s drafted into an elite spy ring at a fancy-schmancy Connecticut boarding school is an entirely original idea.

BMcM: I went to boarding school as a kid and always wanted to use the setting because….come on…who thought putting 600 teenagers together day and night with minimal adult supervision was a good idea?? It felt ripe for ridiculous adventures! At the time, I was writing mysteries for adults and made a few attempts to work in the boarding school angle but…no go. I just couldn’t get it to snap. I even tired a young adult version but that, too, felt flat (like, pancake flat). It wasn’t until I landed on Abby Hunter, twelve years old, that it started to come together. The spy idea just naturally followed as I always suspected the school I went to was up to something other than attempting to educate us. Plus, I love spy stories and can’t seem to stop writing them.

MR: Mrs. Smith’s plucky protagonist, Abby Hunter, has a delightfully distinctive voice. In fact, you could teach a master class on MG voice using Abby as an example. What’s the secret?

BMcM: I didn’t want Abby to be a superhero. I wanted her to be real, to be scared of things but walk through them anyway, to rise to the challenges as they appeared even when the result was messy or awkward. Part of the reason I wrote this series in first person present is so I could show the dialog in Abby’s head, how she convinces herself to do something that might otherwise feel overwhelming. To show a girl being brave despite uncertainty was appealing to me on so many levels.

When I’m writing, I keep a list of the main character’s defining traits and keep that close at hand. And then I start working out the details and fine tuning as I move through the plot points. It always takes me about fifty pages to find the ‘voice’ but when it clicks I know it. The key to Abby was her dry sense of humor and sardonic leaning take on the world. Once I figured that out, I was in.

MR: Another secret I’m dying to know: What’s it like to write a series? Did you have the plots for all three books planned out in advance—or did you wing it? Also, how do you keep the enthusiasm going from book #1 to book #3?

BMcM: Oh boy. Series!! I am never prepared! It took me a long time to show Mrs. Smith’s #1 to my agent (I didn’t write for kids and was pretty sure it was a complete disaster) but when I did, she said we had to pitch it as a series. Well…great! Right?! So I went back and rewrote the last quarter to give it series potential but that was the extent of my thought. When the offer to write three Smith’s books came, well..again…great!  The panic didn’t set in until I sat down at my laptop to a blank page and thought, so what is book two about anyway??

The great thing about writing a series is that you’ve done a lot of the hard character work already. On the flip side, you are locked into things that maybe you’d have done differently if you’d known where you were going. I’m hugely envious of authors who plot out an entire series arc before writing a single word. However, I am not one of those people. So I start with plot and additional secondary characters and a destination that hopefully lets the characters learn something new and different about themselves along the way.  And I keep my fingers crossed it works. 🙂

MR: Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter is your second series with a plucky preteen protagonist. How is Lola similar to Abby? How is she different? Also, how did you ensure that Lola’s voice was entirely different from Abby’s? Considering that you’ve had Abby’s voice in your head for so many years, it couldn’t have been easy.

BMcM: That is a great question! Both characters are single minded in their determination and discover that good friends and a team make a world of difference in reaching goals. But Lola is a bit more cavalier, a little more likely to step over the line, very comfortable justifying the means with the end. She believes need is the mother of invention so is constantly tinkering and creating things that will help her in her quest to find her missing father. Lola is worldly in many ways but also clueless about a lot of regular things, like how to make friends. I really enjoyed watching her realize how nice it was to no longer be so alone.

MR: In terms of your writing routine, how has it changed since the pandemic? What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve had to face? Any unexpected positives?

BMcM: This pandemic…wow…didn’t see that one coming. It’s hard to write fiction when real life is so unbelievable, isn’t it? When the shelter in place order came in California I was just finishing up Lola #2 and suddenly I could no longer go to my office and the only reason I have an office is because I am terrible at working from home. TERRIBLE. I had to really discipline myself to finish the draft and also keep it from going too dark because I was absorbing all the horror that was happening in the world. That was pretty tough. And as soon as I turned in that draft in May, I had to launch right into my third series for Simon & Schuster, a more fantasy oriented story which is due in December. That was brutal. But I returned to my office two weeks ago and I’m pleased to say things are improving. Pandemic positives? Working in my bunny slippers, no question.

MR: Finally, Beth, you’ve extremely prolific, having written novels for both children and adults. Not to be repetitive, but what’s your secret? Also, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

BMcM: I spend a lot of time noodling ideas before I put anything down on paper. Like, years. (And if an idea can survive years in my head, I like to think it has staying power.) This means by the time I sit down to actually write, I’ve worked out quite a bit of what a character is like already. For example, right now I have a middle grade idea that first occurred to me last summer. I keep coming back to it in idle moments. I keep adding things to it, pushing out the edges, and I know at some point I’ll start writing it, if only to free up the space in my head for something new.

The advice I always give to aspiring authors is that you just can’t quit. If you do, you are absolutely guaranteed that nothing will happen. But if you keep at it, keep pushing, who knows where things will go? I’m a firm believer in possibilities. They are limitless.

MR: Oh, one more thing. As you know, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Anything with sugar! Lots of sugar! So much sugar! (Sorry, clearly I’m unhinged.)

Coffee or tea? Coffee. If I could hook up an IV, I would.

Cat or dog? Cat!

Favorite song? Oh boy. This is hard!  “Vienna” by Billy Joel

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Definitely. It’s 2020. Expect it any minute now.

Superpower? If I drink caffeine I can stay awake forever.

Favorite place on Earth? New Zealand

Hidden talent? I’m a total Type A but no one knows it.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? Three tubes of chapstick.

James Bond or Harriet the Spy? (Okay, this was a setup. 🙂 ) I feel like I exist to blend (shaken not stirred) those two together and put them on the page.

MR: Thank you for chatting, Beth—and congratulations on the upcoming publication of Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter! I really enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

BETH McMULLEN is best known for the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls trilogy (Aladdin/S&S), middle-grade spy thrillers, packed with action, adventure and humor. She is also the author of the forthcoming Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter series (Aladdin/S&S) about a globetrotting 12-year-old searching for her father, a famous archeologist who has gone missing. And in March 2022, look for Cats & Dragons (Aladdin/S&S), a middle-grade action/adventure series packed with friendship, fantasy, whiskers and wings. Beth lives in Northern California with her husband, kids, cats and a very tolerant parakeet named Zeus. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Interview with Author Patti Kim + Giveaway

I was introduced to Patti Kim’s books when we were on a panel together at the ALA Summer conference in 2018 and immediately fell in love. From just reading the opening paragraphs of her debut middle-grade novel, I’M OK, I knew I’d love the book and I was right. Patti blends laugh out loud humor with such deep heart. So when I heard Patti had a new MG novel out, I wanted to know more about it.

Here’s more about Patti:

Patti Kim

Patti Kim

Born in Busan, South Korea, Patti Kim immigrated to the United States on Christmas Day, 1974. Convinced at the age of five that she was a writer, she scribbled gibberish all over the pages of her mother’s Korean-English dictionary and got in big trouble for it. But that didn’t stop her from writing. She is the author of A CAB CALLED RELIABLE, HERE I AM, I’M OK, an APALA Literary Honor Book, and IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY. Patti lives in University Park, Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and a ferocious terrier.

And onto our interview:

Patti, welcome to From The Mixed Up Files. Thank you for being here. Tell us about your new middle-grade novel, IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY.

IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY is about Mickey McDonald first seen in my previous book, I’M OK as Ok Lee’s unforgettable friend. Bursting with personality, she urged me to take a deeper look into her life and character. This book begins with the first day of 7th grade, and the bold Mickey we know is not feeling so great. Ok has moved. Her dad has left. Back-to-school shopping didn’t happen. Her mom is in a mood. With such a precarious home life, Mickey is all nerves and not so sure about herself. And turning 13 is no stroll in the park. What she really wants is a best friend, and she finds one in the new girl, Sun Joo. The two girls truly hit it off, but other forces soon interject, leaving Mickey with first major friend breakup.

It's Girls Like You. Mickey by Patti KimThis is a companion book to your debut MG novel, I’M OK. Tell us about that book too and how the books are connected.

The two books are connected by Mickey and Ok’s friendship. In I’M OK, Mickey forces a friendship with Ok which ends up playing a pivotal part in helping Ok open up about the death of his father as well as helping his mother find him when he runs away. She becomes his first real friend.

What made you want to write this companion book following Mickey’s character instead of a sequel with Ok?

Mickey loves the spotlight. It truly felt like she wanted her story to be told. So many intriguing details about Mickey’s life kept emerging in Ok’s book like her many animals, her little brother, her irritable mother, her often absent truck-driving father, her past pageant life, and the sheer force of her positivity. Her need and love for attention called to me.

What were the biggest challenges to writing this second book in the same world?

The biggest challenge was keeping echoes of Ok in Mickey’s story without him taking center stage. I had him move out of the neighborhood which made perfect sense since his mother remarried. I kept them connected as pen pals through postcards and letters. This ended up working quite well since the writing process plays a significant part in Mickey developing an introspective and reflective voice. It’s challenging to strike that balance of keeping a previous protagonist in the picture in a meaningful way, while not diverting the story. I also wanted to see these kids do all right without each other. So much of growing up is being able to say goodbye.

I'm Ok by Patti KimWhat are some things that surprised you about writing IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY, compared to writing I’M OK?

It was surprising how much I actually enjoyed the revision process. This is a big deal because I used to absolutely hate revising. After my first draft returned with my editor’s notes, I couldn’t wait to get back into that world and revise. The sensation felt like a blurry image gradually coming into focus. It was incredibly fun.

You write about some issues that haven’t been in MG novels for a while, like dealing with getting a period. Why do think it’s important to have characters going through these issues in MG novels?

Yes, the period scene. If these taboo topics aren’t covered in books, then where? Getting my period was shrouded in secrecy and shame, and that attitude informed the relationship I ended up having with my body. No body confidence whatsoever for me at that age. I really wanted Mickey to be Mickey about her period and to be an inspiration and encouragement, demonstrating a more positive narrative around getting your period. I couldn’t imagine writing a book about a girl, especially a girl like Mickey, turning 13 without making a big deal about it. Come on, we’re talking about Mickey.

I love the title, even if it does have me singing for the rest of the day. What gave you the idea of naming the book after an ‘80s song?

Since the original song is about a guy who breaks hearts, don’t you just love the idea of re-purposing the title to elevate a girl? And it’s so catchy. I couldn’t resist.

Agreed! What can we look forward to next from you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sun Joo Moon. I think she’s asking for stage time. Unlike Mickey, she’s quiet about it, but there’s a real depth to her that feels worth exploring.

Can’t wait to read that one!

Thank you, Patti, for being on From The Mixed Up Files today.

Check out IT’S GIRLS LIKE YOU, MICKEY on Bookshop.org, and enter the giveaway below for your chance to win an advanced reader copy (ARC).

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