Posts Tagged Disney

Author Spotlight: Stephan Pastis

You’re in for an extra-special treat, Mixed-Up friends! Today, Stephan Pastis, the author/illustrator of the wildly popular and critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling Timmy Failure series—which was lauded by Kirkus as: “Wittier than the Wimpy Kid”—as well as the creator of the syndicated comic strip Pearls Before Swine, is here to chat about his latest illustrated MG novel, Looking Up. It’s out from Aladdin/S&S on October 10. (Spoiler alert: It’s AMAZING!!!) For a never-before-seen sneak peek at Stephan’s illustrations, read on…

Summary of Looking Up

Living alone with her mother in a poorer part of town, Saint—a girl drawn to medieval knights, lost causes, and the protection of birthday piñatas—sees the neighborhood she has always known and loved disappearing around her: old homes being torn down and replaced by fancy condos and coffee shops. But when her favorite creaky old toy store is demolished, she knows she must act.

Enlisting the help of Daniel “Chance” McGibbons, a quiet, round-faced boy who lives across the street (and whose house also faces the wrecking ball), Saint hatches a plan to save what is left of her beloved hometown.

Interview with Stephan Pastis

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Stephan. So happy to have you here!

SP: Thank you for inviting me! And for all the kind words!

MR: First and foremost, I gobbled up your novel faster than a pint of Cherry Garcia ice cream—and that’s saying a lot. I absolutely LOVED it. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this story?

SP: Well thank you! I wanted to write a Don Quixote-type story, but instead of with a man fighting giants, mine would be about a little girl futilely fighting against the redevelopment of her neighborhood. Also, I had never done a middle-grade novel with a little girl as the main character, so I liked that challenge.

The Saint Comes Marching In

MR: Saint, the big-hearted, piñata-rescuing 11-year-old protagonist is, hands down, one of the most lovable and unconventional characters I’ve encountered in middle-grade fiction. How did you capture the essence of this wonderfully quirky character, and lay it out for readers on the page?

SP: Hahah thank you! I think I had just read Catcher in the Rye before writing it, and I loved Holden’s voice, how he talked directly to the reader, so there’s a little bit of that influence in there — maybe mixed in with the slightly delusional perspective of Don Quixote. I like characters who are overwhelmed by their surroundings and ill-equipped to deal with change.

Word Up!

MR: A discussion of Saint wouldn’t be complete without a mention of her impressive vocabulary. Saint uses such words as: “mendacity,” “depravity,” “sanctity,” “pilfered,” “germane,” “critical juncture,” “legal ramifications.” This is a bold move, considering it’s common wisdom for middle-grade writers to employ vocabulary that most of their audience is familiar with. Your thoughts?

SP: I think I did that with Timmy Failure too. Maybe it’s just the appeal of words like that coming out of a little kid’s mouth. The incongruity of their age and the maturity of the words makes me laugh. I think I pilfered “mendacity” from the Burl Ives character in a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He shouts it over and over.

The Truth About Turtles

MR: As a follow-up, can you tell me about Saint’s love for her pet turtle and “life partner,” Dr. Rutherford B. Hayes? There’s a ton of fascinating material to unpack here…

SP: Well, she doesn’t really have an active adult in her life. So I needed someone who could be the voice of reason, and give Saint perspective and wisdom. Of course, he’s also a blowhard, not to mention curmudgeonly, so he’s not the best at that. Plus, I liked the metaphor of the turtle—someone who retreats from the world into their own shell. 

Promises, Promises

MR: Let’s move on to Saint’s relationship with her mother. You set up the story with Saint’s declaration that: “My mother breaks all her promises.” How does this affect Saint’s life overall, and what does this say about promises—and promise breaking?

SP: Yeah, that’s a complicated relationship. I think Saint needs a lot more than she’s getting from her mom, especially at the point of her life she’s in. And since she’s not getting what she needs, she’s lashing out. I don’t know if Saint’s mom breaks any more promises than the average mom; I think Saint’s just at a breaking point and can’t take any more disappointment.

Only the Lonely

MR: Loneliness is another prominent theme in your book. Both Saint and her across-the-street neighbor, Daniel, suffer acutely from loneliness. Without sharing any spoilers, can you tell us how Saint’s loneliness manifests itself in her life? What about Daniel’s?

SP: Well, without an active parent in her day-to-day life, she copes by making friends with turtles and piñatas (which she rescues from kids’ birthday parties), and by living mostly in her imagination. I think her imagination is her coping mechanism. Daniel’s as well.

Invasion of the Latte Sippers

MR: Looking Up also explores the issue of neighborhood gentrification; specifically, when one group of residents feels intruded upon by a new, unfamiliar population. What were you aiming to say about gentrification, and displacement in general?

SP: Well, you see a lot of it in the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods of New Orleans, where I spend a lot of time. And when it happens, the neighborhoods slowly lose what’s unique about them—namely, long-time residents who really are what give the city its personality.

The Juggler

MR: In addition to being an author of illustrated middle-grade novels—including the über-popular Timmy Failure series—you are the creator of the syndicated comic strip Pearls Before Swine, which appears in over 800 newspapers. You’ve also cowritten the Disney+ movie Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. How do you juggle everything without dropping the ball? I can barely walk and chew gum!

SP: Thank you! Well, I work pretty much seven days a week, but because I love it, it never feels like work (or very rarely). That’s the real key—loving what you do. It’s cliché, but true. I had a truly stressful job as a lawyer for 10 years, so this never feels like work compared to that.

Timmy Failure: The Movie

MR: Speaking of the Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made movie, how much time did you spend on the set? And, maybe more important: Did you get to meet Wallace Shawn? 🙂 Also, is there a Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made sequel in the works? Rumor has it that you’ve been working on the script.

SP: I was on set every day for the entire four months of pre-production and filming, half in Vancouver and half in Portland. 

And yes, I did meet Wallace Shawn! I talked to Wally whenever I could. I wrote the script for the sequel, but I’m not sure if it will get made. Would be great if it did, though.

Stephan’s Writing Routine

MR: What does your writing/illustrating routine look like? Do you have any particular rituals?

SP: Crazy ritual.  I turn off all the lights (I just have the light of the computer screen), light incense, and play really loud music.

MR: What are you working on now, Stephan? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know.

SP: A book of all my travel adventures. I travel a lot and have been to a lot of unique places. [For more on how travel opens our eyes as writers and readers, check out this article from the MUF archives.]

Lightning Round!

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Those little pretzels stuffed with peanut butter.

Coffee or tea? Coffee for sure. I wouldn’t trust anyone who said tea.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Yea.

Superpower? To shut out all distractions when I write. 

Favorite comic strip (besides Pearls Before Swine)? The Far Side.

Favorite place on earth? New Orleans, Louisiana.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The Joshua Tree by U2. Tacos.


MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Stephan. It was an absolute pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

SP: Thank you!

All About Stephan

Stephan Pastis is the creator of the syndicated comic strip Pearls Before Swine, which appears in over 800 newspapers. He is also the creator of the Timmy Failure Book series and the cowriter of the Disney+ movie Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. He lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids. Learn more about Stephan on his website and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Interview with Stephanie Lurie, Editorial Director of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney-Hyperion!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Are we in for a treat! A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Stephanie Lurie at a Florida SCBWI conference, as well as take a workshop she was giving. Besides being extremely informative, she couldn’t have been nicer.

If you don’t know her, she’s the Editorial Director of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney-Hyperion, and I’m thrilled to feature her in the Editor Spotlight!

Hi Stephanie, thanks for joining us today!

JR: You’ve had a long, successful career in publishing. Could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor, and eventually working for Disney-Hyperion?

SL: Being a children’s book editor was a career choice I made very early on. When I was fifteen, a local bookstore owner asked me to review a book a townsperson had written for young adults. As I read the book, I thought, “Too bad this woman doesn’t know how kids really think.” It was an “aha!” moment for me: I could help authors make their books stronger. I’m not even sure how I knew such a job existed. . . .

I went on to be a creative writing major at Oberlin College, and during the first semester of my senior year, I had an internship for college credit at Dodd, Mead and Company in New York (a publishing house that was ultimately acquired by Thomas Nelson Books). My experience working for a children’s book editor at Dodd, Mead proved to me that I had found my calling. Dodd, Mead offered me a job after college–for a whopping $8,000 a year!–in sales promotion and customer service. I learned a lot, but I wanted to get back to children’s editorial. I jumped over to Little, Brown, where I grew up from editorial assistant to senior editor over twelve years. After that I ran the imprint Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for six years. My next stint was as president and publisher of Dutton Children’s books at Penguin. In my ninth year there, a friend of mine who was working at Disney Hyperion talked me into applying for an editorial director job by saying, “How would you like to do what you are doing at Dutton but not have any other imprints competing for marketing and publicity attention?” That sounded pretty good to me, and over the past decade there I have enjoyed being part of a boutique publisher within a huge entertainment company.


JR: That’s some exciting journey! What was the first book you worked on?

SL: I had a generous boss at Little, Brown who allowed me to “cut my teeth” on manuscripts by their top authors at the time, such as Lois Duncan, Ellen Conford, and Matt Christopher. One of the first authors I acquired was Neal Shusterman, who has gone on to be a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Award winner with other editors.

JR: When you first saw The Lightning Thief, what about it appealed to you so much?

SL: Rick Riordan’s first middle grade novel, The Lightning Thief, was acquired at auction before my time at Disney. Rick chose to go with Miramax Books, which eventually became part of Disney-Hyperion. Jennifer Besser (now at Macmillan) edited the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I took over as Rick’s editor after she left, picking up on the Kane Chronicles trilogy. I was amazed by how he made ancient Egyptian mythology relevant to modern readers with exciting adventure, relatable characters, a healthy dose of humor, and a breakneck pace. He makes it look easy.

JR: What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

SL: What hasn’t? I’m so old (How old are you?), I pre-date office computers! Yes, we had to type on Selectrics, using carbon paper. The biggest changes have come from: corporate buy-outs of family-owned companies, which necessitated more attention to the bottom line; the rise of chain bookstores; the Harry Potter phenomenon, which brought hardcover fiction back from the brink of death; the importance of social media in author promotion; Amazon’s dominance; and today, more focus on diversity.

JR: I grew up doing all my reports on typewriters. Slightly easier now. And by the way, I could’ve sworn I heard Gene Rayburn say the “I’m so old” part before you answered (How old are you?) But back to the interview. Disney has recently acquired a lot of new properties. Does that mean anything for the publishing division?

SL: Disney now encompasses several premiere brands, such as Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Fox Entertainment. We can publish against all of these brands, from straight movie tie-ins to extension books that tell new stories based on the characters from the movies. It also means that there is more opportunity for intercompany synergy for authors writing their own IP (intellectual property).

JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

SL: I’m having a blast helping Rick curate the Rick Riordan Presents line of middle grade fiction by under-represented authors who want to write stories about their own cultures’ folklore and mythology. I send him submissions to consider, acquire the projects we agree on, edit the manuscripts, and collaborate with my colleagues on book design and promotion.

JR: All that sounds like a tremendous amount of fun. What sort of books do you look for?

SL: For Rick Riordan Presents, we want the same qualities that make Rick’s own books so popular, because the imprint was created to satisfy his fans’ craving for adventure based on mythology. We look for a funny, snarky teenage voice; a fast pace; an exciting, high-stakes plot; and a likeable but flawed protagonist who grows over the course of the story.

JR: The kinds of books I love! Are you very hands-on with your authors?

SL: I’ve always enjoyed helping writers bring out their story by asking pointed questions and making suggestions to improve logic, flow, and clarity. For the Rick Riordan Presents authors, my guidance may be a bit more involved, because there is a certain flavor we are trying to achieve while retaining the author’s own voice. It’s a delicate balance.

JR: What’s the state of publishing right now, in particular, Middle Grade? 

SL: It can be difficult for a book—any book—to break out in this time when there is so much entertainment content for consumers to choose from and there are fewer retail outlets for print. Amazon is grabbing more and more market share, but the online site doesn’t encourage browsing. Buyers who shop there usually go already knowing what they want. This is part of the reason best-selling authors remain best-selling authors and new authors have trouble competing. Authors need to partner more with their publisher on promotion as a result.

JR: Probably more important than ever for authors to get involved in the promotion process. What advice can you give to authors?

SL: The best way to learn to write is to read, read, read, and write, write, write.

Remember that you are communicating with an audience and not just writing to satisfy your own ego.

A good concept isn’t enough by itself. Write the entire manuscript.

You may have to land a literary agent before you can land a publishing deal.

Choosing an agent and editor/publisher is like choosing any partner. Make sure there is good chemistry between you.

Be open to feedback but stand up for what is important to you.

Don’t expect the publication of your book to satisfy all your desires or change your life.

Writing the book is only 50% of the work; promotion after publication is the other 50%.

School visits are still one of the best ways to build word-of-mouth.

Support other authors on your way up, and they will (should) do the same for you.


JR: All of that is outstanding advice. In my experience, many authors have been extremely supportive of each other. I think strong relationships are extremely important in that regard. I read that Harriet the Spy was one of your favorite childhood books. I have a few friends who wholeheartedly agree with you. What did you love about it and what other books were among your favorites?

SL: I loved how honest Harriet the Spy was about a kid’s real life—I believe it was one of the first contemporary middle grade novels ever published. To this day I enjoy books in which a well-meaning main character makes a big mistake that causes them humiliation, e.g. The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. As a kid I also enjoyed animal-based fantasies such as Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. High fantasies such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings stood out, too.

JR: The Narnia books were also among my favorites as a child. Speaking of childhood, what’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

SL: My fun-loving dad. He taught me to always remain a kid at heart.

JR: Okay, that answer hit me. If there’s one thing I could wish for from then, it would also be to see my dad. How can people follow you on social media?

SL: For publishing news and comments, Twitter is probably the best bet: @SOLurie.

JR: Before we go, is there anything else that you’d like to add?

SL: Thank you for inviting me to answer these questions. I greatly admire authors—both aspiring and published—and wish everyone a fulfilling journey. Your book could be the one that makes a reluctant reader a forever reader, changes a kid’s perspective, and inspires someone else to be a writer.

JR: Extremely true. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today!


Well, that’s it for now, Mixed-Up Filers. I’d like to once again thank Stephanie Lurie for joining us! And if you ever see her listed to speak at a conference, I strongly suggest you go listen!

Until next time . . .

Cool Treats: Books and Ice Cream

Are you feeling the heat? As temperatures soar, thoughts turn to ways to chill. Fans, air-conditioners, swimming pools all help, but nothing hits the spot like ice cream. And you’re in luck, because July is National Ice Cream Month. What better way to celebrate than with some books and ice cream recipes to help you cool off.

Here’s a fun list of books featuring ice cream. And this post wouldn’t be complete without a recipe combining everyone’s favorite cold treats—lemonade and ice cream. You’ll also find some links to other delicious ice cream treats, like this mouth-watering recipe: Disney’s Olaf (Frozen) Sundae.

snickerWith a triple-decker ice cream cone on the cover, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd makes a perfect start for cooling off. Ice cream is also important to the story as twelve-year-old Felicity tries to break a spell that’s been cast over the town of Midnight Gulch and to heal her mother’s broken heart.”

RansomAnother book with ice cream on the cover is Seeing Blue Sky Pink by Candice Ransom. This sweet treat is about eight-year-old Maddie. Many things make Maddie nervous, including moving to the Virginia countryside and her mom’s new husband, Sam. As Maddie learns to face her fears, she sees things she never believed could be real.

Turn of Tide2nd fiddle








Characters in The Turn of the Tide by Rosanne Parry spend an afternoon at the Custard King in Astoria drinking milkshakes for lunch. Parry also has another ice-cream related book, Second Fiddle, in which a group of middle grade musicians meet in a gelato shop in Berlin, where they plot to run away to Paris together. Seeing these two titles led me to suspect the author loves ice cream, and sure enough, when I asked her, she admitted it was her downfall. Her favorite flavors include fresh peaches and blueberries and raspberries, so I bet she’d love this recipe for Ice Cream Sundaes in Grilled Peach Cups.

Stick DogWant a bit of humor with your ice cream? Tom Watson has the perfect recipe –  Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream. Stick Dog and his friends “battle a water-attacking machine, discover rainbow puddles, and chase the strangest, loudest truck they’ve ever seen. But there’s a looming threat to their mission – Stick Dog gets spotted by a human. And the police are on his tail. If he’s captured, Stick Dog may never see his friends again. If he escapes, it’s ice cream for everyone.”

harry'sIf you prefer a more serious novel, try See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles. No one in the family pays attention to twelve-year-old Fern, whose parents run a restaurant and ice cream parlor called Harry’s. Fern’s friend convinces her that “all will be well.” Then tragedy strikes. and Fern blames herself for the accident that wrenches her family apart.

While you’re curled up reading these wonderful books that feature ice cream, why not enjoy this delicious recipe?

Lemonade Ice Cream

3 c. whole milk                                     1 tsp. lemon extract

6 egg yolks                                              zest of 3 lemons

2/3 c. granulated sugar                        2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1/3 c. undiluted frozen lemonade concentrate

Heat milk to a boil in a heavy pan. Cover and remove from heat. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until light and thick. Slow pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Turn the mixture into the pan and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon. Do not allow it to come to a boil or it will curdle. Add in lemon extract, zest, and juice. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it, loosely covered with plastic wrap until chilled (at least 3 hours). Freeze in the mixture in an ice cream maker. Once it starts to thicken, add the lemonade concentrate and continue mixing until set up. Place in freezer to set further.

Yield: 1 QT.

And as a final treat, why not read The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies.


When fourth-grader Evan Treski and his sister Jessie open rival lemonade stands, who will win the war?


A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is the author of more than 2300 articles and 30 books in print or forthcoming under several pen names. As Erin Johnson, she writes the WANTED series, set in the Wild West. Reviewers called her heroine, Grace, the “Katniss of the Wild West.” Visit Laurie at