I’m delighted to welcome author P. J. Hoover to the Mixed Up Files. Her upcoming middle-grade book, HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, comes out on April 7, and I couldn’t be more excited to read it. P. J. first told me about this story when she was writing the first draft, and as soon as she said it was a cross between THE ODYSSEY and the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, I was in!
Now, this fun story is finally almost out in the world, and P.J.’s here to tell us all about the book and her plans for it. Welcome, P. J.!
P. J. Hoover is the award-winning author of The Hidden Code, a Da Vinci Code-style young adult adventure with a kick-butt heroine, and Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life, featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who’s stuck in middle school. When not writing, P. J. spends time practicing kung fu, fixing things around the house, and solving Rubik’s cubes. For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website www.pjhoover.com.
Give us your new book’s elevator pitch. What’s it about?
Thanks for asking! And thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog today!
Here’s the best description I can come up with . . .
Homer is about to fail out of school unless he can come up with a story. An epic story. Oh, and it needs to be written in Dactylic Hexameter. No big deal . . . except Homer has no idea what that is. Also Homer is horrible at writing, so he’s pretty much out of luck.
But the Greek god Hermes has a story that needs a storyteller, and with a trick of immortal magic, he sends Homer and his best friend Dory back to the end of the Trojan War. They meet up with the Greek hero Odysseus along with an entire crew of smelly sailors and set off on a journey filled with scary monsters, angry gods, and a very hungry cyclops.
It sounds so fun! You love writing books based on myths, and have others, right? Tell us about those.
Yes! I have always adored mythology, and when I’m writing, it’s my first go-to when it comes to story ideas. Since there are a handful, I’ll keep it short and sweet for each one.
Solstice – A super-hot twist on the Hades and Persephone myth, set half in future Austin, Texas, and half in the Greek underworld. Piper’s best friend almost dies, and Piper has to travel to the underworld to save her. Oh, and there are lots of Greek gods. Young Adult fantasy with some satisfying romance.
The Curse of Hera – The last thing Logan wants to do with his entire summer is go to some fake mythology-themed camp, but that’s exactly what he’s stuck doing. Turns out everything isn’t fake after all, and unless he and his friends break a curse Hera has placed on the camp, they’re going to be fighting the Hydra forever.
Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (and the sequel Tut: My Epic Battle to Save the World) – King Tut is 14 years old, immortal, and stuck in middle school forever! His crazy uncle shows up and is out for revenge (because he’s been locked in a tomb for 3000 years and is a little upset about that). Fun, middle school humor!
The Emerald Tablet (and the rest of The Forgotten World Trilogy) – A fun blend of mythology, time travel, and hidden continents around the world. Benjamin Holt thinks summer will be normal. Next thing he knows, he’s being sent to summer school at a continent under the Pacific Ocean and finds out he needs to save the world.
What gave you the idea for this Homer story?
I have adored the story of the Odyssey since I first read it in high school. In my 30s, my interest in it became renewed as I started talking more about the Hero’s Journey in writing and in life. Then, when I rewatched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the spark of an idea ignited. Homer could be just like Bill and Ted. And he too could go on an excellent adventure!
Were you like Homer when you were a kid, having problems writing the perfect story in school?
I was exactly like Homer! I never liked writing because I didn’t think I was very good at it. And because I didn’t think I was very good at it, I never worked to get better. But much like Homer, when I did start writing, I discovered that writing is just like anything else. If you work hard at it, you will get better.
What’s your process when you write a story that’s based on a myth? Which is the chicken? Which is the egg? And which comes first?
Fun question. I guess the egg is the original myth. This is where the story starts. And the great thing is that this egg gives us the overall skeleton of a story. But when the egg hatches, well, that’s where the story starts to take on a life of its own.
One thing I love doing when I’m working with myths is thinking outside the box. Our mind automatically goes to the first idea we think of. Well, toss that idea aside and think of another. Then toss that idea aside. When you get to the third idea, you start to make the myth your own.
HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE seems like the perfect book to teach kids about The Odyssey, the hero’s journey and myths. Do you think this is true? Can you give us any specifics?
I have an entire presentation for school visits that is structured around the Hero’s Journey, and I love talking to kids about it. The funniest thing is that for the last seven or eight years, as I’ve been giving this presentation, I’ve been using the Odyssey as my example story. And now, with Homer as a 12-year-old kid who doesn’t like to write, just like so many of the kids I visit in schools, it becomes the PERFECT book to use for exactly that: the Odyssey, the hero’s journey, the writing process, and myths.
Tell us about the wonderful cover? Who illustrated it and are there any details we should look out for on the cover and in the whole book’s design?
Thank you! I love the cover, too! I was so lucky to have video game artist Erik McKenney do the art for the cover of Homer’s Excellent Adventure. He read the book and really captured the elements of the story that I wanted to shine through. He drew an amazing cyclops front and center. And best of all, there are hidden Easter eggs on the cover, but I think that will make its own great blog post in the future!
For your other books, you’ve done really fun supporting materials, like games and more. Do you have any fun plans for HOMER?
I do have some fun (and educational) tie-ins already, and I am definitely planning on creating more. First off, there is a map! I absolutely love this map!
Second, there is an amazing curriculum guide created by a librarian and aligned to state and national standards. It has some amazing ideas like a HOMER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE Character Museum and Make Your Own Lotus Flower.
Third, I have some just for fun tie-ins, like a recipe for the tastiest hardtack in the (ancient) world and a guide to Dactylic Hexameter.
And finally, I have a comprehensive glossary filled with humor.
Are there any myths that you’ve got your eye on to tackle next or in the future? And if so, which ones and why?
All of them because I love them! But also none specifically. I’m currently working on a non-mythology story, but after that, the world is my oyster. I love that with mythology there is so much source material to pull from.
Any advice for writers who are interpreting legendary tales like myths into modern stories, like you’ve been doing?
Knowing your source material is so important, because people who love mythology are serious about mythology and will call you out if you get the tiniest detail wrong. If you make an artistic choice or interpretation, try to make it clear somewhere (maybe in an author’s note at the end of the book or a clever aside in the text) what it is.
Wonderful! Let us know when we can get our hands on HOMER and where.
The release date is APRIL 7, 2020! You can look for it wherever you normally buy books, and if for some reason your school, library, or bookstore does not have it, please ask them to order it! This is such a great favor to give an author.
Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog today! It’s been a ton of fun!
Thank you, P. J.!
Don’t miss the giveaway for a signed Advanced Reader Copy below. It ends at midnight Feb. 21 and is open to U.S. residents only.