Interview | MG Author Chris Grabenstein

In the past few months I’ve discovered an author that’s been around awhile, but that I’ve only just discovered. Since then, I’ve read multiple books by this middle grade author and can honestly say that he is my new favorite author.

Chris Grabenstein is a funny, interesting, and intelligent author from Buffalo, New York. He co-writes the I FUNNY, HOUSE OF ROBOTS, TREASURE HUNTERS, and JACKY HA-HA books with James Patterson, as well as writing many of his own, fabulous, works. My current favorite is a three way tie between Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, and Dr. Libris Library. You can find Mr. Grabenstein at Goodreads and at chrisgrabenstein.com.

I caught up with Chris this past week and he very kindly answered a few questions for me to pass along to you. So, without further ado, here is Author Chris Grabensteins Interview.

1) I stalked your Goodreads page and saw that Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was inspired by a library in New York and that a 5th grader made the comment that got the ball rolling for Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, which are both amazing, but who did you base the characters on? And are YOU MR. Lemoncello?
The characters come from various sources.  Kyle Keeley, who is the third son in his family, is based on my memories of being the third son in my family.  The only time I could ever beat my big brothers was when we played board games.  Sierra Russell is based on every bookworm I’ve met on my numerous school visits (and seems to be a character that resonates with a lot of young readers and older ones, too!)  Miguel Fernandez is based on (and named after) a fifth grader I tutored at my church’s Homework Help program.   And, yes, Mr. Lemoncello is sort of based on me and also the late Jim Henson, whom I worked for back in the 1980s.   The wackiness comes from me.  The unbridled creativity coupled with a bajillion dollars comes from Mr. Henson.
I, like many of us, adore the late Jim Henson. This makes me love Lemoncello even more (which I didn’t know was possible)
2) Welcome to Wonderland, Home Sweet Motel is coming out October of 2016 and (on your website) features Roadside Americana. Was it a piece of that roadside Americana that prompted and inspired this story? If so, what piece started the journey?
WONDERLAND is based on my memories of visiting my grandmother every summer in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We’d pack up the car and hit the road, stopping at places like South Of The Border and Weeki Wachee Springs (mermaid shows!).   While staying at an extended stay motel in Michigan, helping my wife take care of her father, I remembered how much I used to LOVE staying in a motel when I was a kid.  Swimming pools!  Snack vending machines!  Toilets sanitized for my protection.   So, I wondered, what if I was a kid who LIVED in a motel!
I feel a road trip coming on!
3) You’ve written books across the age levels, is there any difference in your writing process when those age levels and genres change?
When writing for ages 8-12, I have to watch my language.  No, not that way (even though I do).  I have to be more aware of the vocabulary I am using and, if I use a word that may not be in a fifth graders lexicon, put it into a context where the meaning can be understood.  I also write for short attention spans because I have one, too, and get bored easily in the long descriptive paragraphs that most readers tend to skip anyway.
4) What IS your writing process? (I, personally, tend to be a pantser. Do you outline, meticulously write note cards, or just let the words flow?)
When I was writing one, maybe two, books a year I was definitely a pantser.   Now, as I attempt to write or coauthor 5-6 books every twelve months, I craft a very tight outline with all the major beats, twists, turns, etc. planted.  I find that my working on the outline for a week or two, I save a month or two one the back end with rewrites.
Maybe I should start working on finding the right kind of outline again…I gave up that search awhile ago but…saves a month or two on rewrites!
5) Do you have any superstitions or traditions that help you get more writing done and, if so, do those change depending on the story, age level, or genre?
No real superstitions.  Just a very boring, self-disciplined work ethic.
6) I’ve seen you give the advice to ‘write, write, write…’ and ‘give yourself permission to write a bad first draft.’ Do you have any other advice you’d like to give to aspiring (or already there) authors?
Follow Elmore Leonard’s TEN RULES FOR GOOD WRITING
Especially the last bit of advice:  “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
7) Do you read Indie and/or self-published authors? What advice would you give them?
I must admit that I don’t have much experience with self-published books.  I have self-published a few e-titles of my own and have great respect for those who can make it work for them.  I don’t have the marketing/promotional energy to do it correctly.
He’s not kidding! I am a totally indie author at the moment and I never have that energy!
8) What books are on your reading pile right now?
Edward Eager’s KNIGHT’S CASTLE, HAMILTON, and UNDERGROUND AIRLINES.
Look, even Chris Grabenstein is reading Hamilton, I need to jump on that bandwagon.
9) Finally, in Dr. Libris the protagonist(s) find an island on a lake where story characters come to life. What character(s) would you most like to have come to life to spend a day with you? (yours and/or someone else’s)
Mr. Lemoncello. So he can tell me what happens next.
a) that means we’ll possibly be getting a 4th Lemoncello book (the 3rd is coming soon!)
b) he’d be on the top of my list too, along with Gandalf. I want to see Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Lemoncello hanging out.

Re-Writing

I’m beginning an overhaul of my first self-published piece: Dragon on My Neck. I absolutely adore this book. The characters are large pieces of myself and I cringe every time I think about this re-write…but then I read bits and pieces of the book and cringe even more. I was a totally different writer 7 years ago! My writing has evolved and matured and is (hopefully) much smoother and just all around BETTER at this point. This writing maturity has come from living more, reading more, writing more…and, more specifically, writing more pieces of the over arching story of The Stone Dragon Saga. So, perhaps, knowing what I know now will help me to create a more streamlined book? Or maybe I will trash the rewrite and keep the original? I don’t know yet, but I do have a question for you, my friends:

As a writer, do you ever go back and completely re-write something like this? If you are not a write, but a reader, do you ever wish the author had rewritten a book?

Let me know!

Saturday Stories 7/9/16

This past week was a doozy in the world of words I like to surround myself with and snuggle down in to.

First of all, I joined a Buddy Read/Group Read of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern which began for most of us on Monday, June 27th and is continuing on as people read and discuss at their own rates (One of the readers set up a thread on an existing Goodreads group) and so we are all still delving into the book even if we’ve finished as more of our compatriots comment on the different sections. I, myself, completed this book around Wednesday and absolutely adored it (rating around 4.5 stars, but I bumped it up to a full 5 or Goodreads). I own the beautiful floppy paperback version and also borrowed the audio book from Overdrive. It was fabulous, though the physical copy makes it a bit easier to follow the fluid and jumping time frames.

In the middle of reading The Night Circus, a read-a-thon started up…one that I have been anticipating and refining my TBR list for over the past 2 months. The #SmoresandMayhem Middle Grade Read-a-thon ran from July 1st – July 8th and had only one ‘rule’: each book must focus on a story that takes place during/in/around summertime.

For #SmoresandMayhem I managed to read 5 1/2 books (and DNF 1 more).

I re-read The Babysitter’s Club Super Special 1: Babysitters on Board (By Ann M. Martin) and High Wizardry (By Diane Duane). I haven’t read either of these books in so long that it was almost as though I read them for the first time. I remember loving the BSC book and feeling a bit MEH about the wizarding book and..my feelings haven’t really changed, except that I’m more outspoken about them now.

Along with those two I also completed Deep and Dark and Dangerous (By Mary Downing Hahn), The Wish in the Bottle (By Morna McLeod), and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (By Chris Grabenstein) (this was read on audio book and it was AMAZING. Listen to it!). I quit on The Girl who Circumnavigate Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (By Catherynne M. Valente) within the first two chapters. I have handed it over to my mother in order to determine if this is a book that I really do need to try to read again later, when I’m not still on a high from reading a couple of 5 star books prior to picking it up. I’m having the same issue with my 1/2 read book, The Westing Game (By Ellen Raskin)

The cool thing though, is that all the only physical library book I checked out for all of this was High Wizardry…meaning that I knocked out 6 books from my little TBR bookshelves. I’m down to about 45 now!

With all of that reading going on, I did kind of neglect my #HotandSticky Summer Writing Challenge work. I’m still a bit ahead of the game, but not by much with three days of 0 word count so far this month. Today’s (Friday, July 8th) ending target total word count 19,032 and my total current word count is 22,169. I definitely need to get my booty in gear again!

Unfortunately, I’ve lost over half of the original Sylvester outlines and have changed the story so much I’m now stalled in it trying to remember what I wanted so I know what to change (I hate it when I get all switch happy and forget what happens!). So I switched to writing the new children’s chapter book, a sequel to the recently finished Paulonious Punk (which hasn’t even been properly edited yet!) but the past couple of days has just felt like trying to pull cold taffy so all the myriad of picture book ideas, the children’s book, the 5th in the dragon series, the 2 NA/A fantasy stories, and the 2 rewrites are all just being left to their own devices. Normally one will speak to me and the rest get put aside for a bit but right now, right now I’m woefully falling behind. I better get over this soon, though, because I get CRANKY when I don’t write. It’s worse than PMS…it’s SWS (stalled writing syndrome)..and Midol does NOT help! (Coffee, Coke, Dark Chocolate, Chips and Salsa, 90s alternative music, and Netflix binges…these help. Please send some and save my poor family).

All that being said, here is a clip from the children’s chapter book. I’ve only just begun but I really enjoyed this scene, I hope you do too!

That afternoon Pauly called an emergency meeting of the adventuring club. With Fredrick and Mark Finkle still out of town at their lake house for the summer, Pauly, John, and Grandpa were the only official members available, but a quick vote allowed Sarah to tag to along too. If she got too annoying they could stick Grandma with her and ask them to bake cookies or something.

“This is gonna be SO GREAT,” Pauly exclaimed before remembering his role and sheepishly banging his small gavel on the president’s podium (a miniature dinosaur with flat top hair do and a mouth that would open and burp bubbles when you tickled its left ear). “I officially call this meeting to order! Is there any new business to attend to?”

“Yes,” Grandpa Punk solemnly raised his hand and waited to be called on. “Thank you, President Pauly,” he cleared his throat. “THIS IS GOING TO BE SO AWESOME!!!!!!!”

This caused the entire group to dissolve into a laughing it that was so loud and long it disturbed Grandmother Punk, who was in the process of baking and became afraid that her desserts would fall apart if the laughter continued.

When they had sobered up and managed to settle down a little, Pauly posed a serious question.

Fetching the club’s brand new “adventure notebook” (a pleather bound journal with the picture of a mountain on the cover) from its place of honor on top of the cluttered old desk in the corner, he began, “I think that we should each write down what’s going on and our thoughts and stuff about it from now until the end of the trip. That way we have a…a….a.”

“A reckoning of events for posterity,” Grandpa suggested with a smile.

“Exactly, a whatever it is that Granpa just said,” Pauly straightened his spine and schooled his facial expression into one of solemn thoughtfulness, “All in favor?”

Two ‘ayes’ and a ‘yupyup’ rang out among the many inventions and tools of the fort/shop.

“It has been decided,” Pauly intoned seriously, “So it shall be done.“   He passed the notebook and feathered pen to his second in command. “Johnny, will you start us out please?”

The Calm…

There’s a calm settling down around the house tonight. Rooms cleaned. Shelves, books, and pens organized. I feel collected and ready, a woman standing on the precipice and preparing to lift the umbrella, to dance in the rain, because that calm will break and that storm will come in just a few short hours.

That’s right, we are right at 4 hours until midnight. 4 hours until the 1st of June. Which means it is 4 Hours until the beginning of the #HotandSticky Summer Writing Challenge.

488 words a day for the next 4 months. Sound simple? Well, 4 months over summer vacations, camps, the beginning of school…maintain a writing habit over those 4 months and you should be able to maintain it for the rest of your year too!

So what have I been doing to prepare while everyone else outlines and preps? I’m attempting to create an Excel sheet that shows the day, has a blank for me to input how many words I wrote (and adds it together at the bottom, of course), and a row for the amount of words I SHOULD have at the end of that particular day. Of course, I’m not that tech savvy so this has been going on all day long. Oh well, At least I’ll be prepared…write? I mean, right?

If you want to know more about this fun and frustrating good time, check out all the things Adrian and Dalton have to say about it on their YouTube Channel (Stripped Cover Lit). After all, this is their baby!

Are you participating in #HotandSticky? Let me know down below! I’ll see you guys with an update soon…and a book review or two along the way as well. (if you want to watch my announcement and updates videos for #HotandSticky Summer Writing Challenge, or anything else I’ve done, check them out HERE)

#HotandSticky Survey

I am participating in the #HotandSticky Summer Writing Challenge put on by the boys over at Stripped Cover Lit, a fabulous and sassy YouTube channel you should all check out!  If you have ever wanted to write something, this 4 month writing challenge might be right up your alley.

In my announcement video (here)  I mentioned trying to decide between something I had already started or coming up with a new idea. Since everyone who responded offered the opinion that I should work on something old, I am here today with a list of synopsis and excerpts…and a survey. Please participate and let me know what you think I should be working on this summer!

 

My House:

The story of a woman who thought she had left her mofia-like family behind, until her father’s final papers are found. Now she must contend with her thug brothers, a new romance, and emotional scars in order to find her place again.

Excerpt –

It was a nice date, if you like going out with the gorgeous, smart type. He took me to a nice local restaurant with a homey atmosphere and just enough city spice to make it sophisticated. During dinner we talked about everything from politics to TV shows. I discovered that Nikolas isn’t just gorgeous, he’s smart, well read and has a great sense of humor. He has a degree in both literature and history and is only working in realty until a good job opens up in one of those fields. I also gave him my pertinent information; I graduated from a college in Ireland with degrees in Music and Literature and teach at a daycare (although I did not tell him that I go by my mother’s maiden name so that people won’t be afraid to leave their children with me). Although we had so much in common, and the conversation was very stimulating, my mind kept creeping back to the house.

I had made the visit that day to try and finally close that chapter in my life, but instead of closure the visit was bringing back memories long locked away in the recesses of my mind and making me want to revisit the past.  As I looked across the table at Nikolas I was transported back twelve years to a family dinner held in honor of Billy’s college graduation. We were all gathered around a table in a restaurant very similar to the one I was in now, sipping our drinks and catching up when Billy raised his wine glass (which held sparkling water, Billy couldn’t ever relegate himself to the taste of wine)…”Attention everybody, I have an announcement to make.” He boomed, effectively quieting our group. Billy took a sip from his glass as he looked around to make sure he had everyone’s attention.

He looked so handsome in his dark blue dress shirt that I had bought him. With his sleeves rolled up and the first few buttons undone, he looked just like one of those mobsters from a 1920s club scene.

“I’ve chosen a job,” Billy announced proudly, looking around to catch everyone’s expressions.

“WHAT??” “WOW!” “WHERE??” “WHAT IS IT??” We were all exclaiming at once, the words almost indiscernible in the cries, but the next thing that Billy said sent a deathly quiet over the family.

 

Vincent:

The story of teenaged almost loves meeting up again in college. She is single, always looking for that special feeling. Always not quite choosing the right guys. Always more comfortable with her books and best friend. He has a serious girlfriend and roommate majoring in psychology. (This is a step away from what I typically write…more contemporary)

 

Excerpt –

 

 

“There is sadness there, just behind her eyes. The look of something lost a long time ago. She wears it well, almost as if she has forgotten the depth of feeling there. For some reason the look deepened when she first saw you. Like a black hole expanding to take In everything to nothingness, then it all disappeared in a dazzling smile of happiness when she realized you were there.”

 

Vincent slowly tore his gaze from the girl whose heart he had yearned for since childhood and who was currently talking to his girlfriend, to look at his friend. “Sanji, have you been reading those psychology books again?” he teased, trying not to peak his old friends curiosity any more. Anne was the one thing in his life that Sanji didn’t know all of the details of. “I wouldn’t have any idea about her losses, we haven’t even seen each other in years. I only just began to talk to her again.”

 

Sanji took in his friends intense look and decided to let that strain of thought go for the moment. “Ok, so what’s for dinner? Its your turn to cook, remember?” Vincent’s laugh was the only answer he received as they began walking toward the girls.

 

 

Sylvester:

Seeing a nameless threat looming over the future of Earth, Sylvester’s true love sent herself to a different world in order to rescue people she doesn’t know. She has no memories of her fiancé, is re-born (literally) as a baby on Earth, and grows up without memory of why she came to be there…not that she thinks there’s anything odd about that.

Excerpt –

As a child, Brianna had dreams of another world. One where magic was as natural as air and people watched and waited for her. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, Bri knew these people. Sometimes she could remember their names, and would excitedly turn to them, but she would always wake at this point, dream memories niggling at her brain until she pushed them aside. As she grew the dreams became more in depth, more real. She would wake smelling the scents of otherworldly kitchens, feeling the softness of otherworldly grass.

 

She began seeing the people from her dreams out of the corner of her eye, in broad daylight. She would sense them watching her, urging her to something she couldn’t understand, or rather, felt as if she couldn’t remember. In defense, she turned to the things all teenage girls find interest in: sports, music, books, friends, and, of course, boys.

 

A children’s story or MG to be named later

Possibly the 2nd in the adventure stories featuring Paulonious Punk or something along those lines. (If you have requests, feel free to leave them in the comment section!)

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite now! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WFQKTN5

Poor Little Fat Pigeon

It’s ok, poor little fat pigeon, the wind is being pushy today. Wait a moment, gather your breath, and try again. You’ll make it to the top of the stop sign for sure this time! There your friend waits patiently. She doesn’t laugh at your struggle. No, she keeps a watchful eye out and dutifully scoots over a smidgen so you have room when you land atop the sign.

Panting, eyeing the crazy woman in the car that’s been sitting a bit too long at the stop sign, you settle your wide load down next to your lady friend. It’s ok, little fat pigeon, we’ve all been there.

 

Please, stop feeding our local pigeons french fries. The mortality rate is rising at astounding speeds, despite the STOP sign perches. 

Girl in a Box – A Story Prompt

I had a half sleeping dream last night, a blur of images that seemed perfectly odd and delicious…something that might make a great story, short or otherwise. The problem, then, is that I’m not sure where to go with it and I think that one or two of you guys might create something more interesting with this so….I’ve decided to throw the prompt out there! YAY!!

Here are the guidelines…

  1. If you choose to use this prompt and post a short story or excerpt…please link back to this post.
  2. Let me know that you’ve used the prompt and leave a link to your post so we can all go enjoy it!

 

Writing Prompt:

Jenny paused outside of the large glass windows of the first store she came to. Inside, there were enormous pastel colored triple helixes slowing twisting and turn all around each other as if they were suspended in an antigravity tank, or that video on DNA they’d watched in science class. This was clearly not your average mall. She was beginning to grow concerned about what would come next. Maybe, she mused, I don’t actually want to turn in my application to Girl in a Box!

Wired for Story Chat | Intro and Ch. 1

I have decided to do a series of videos dicussing each chapter in this book and how it affects what I, as an author, am writing. This is a nonfiction that connects Neurology with Writing and is not only important, but interesting and well written as well. I hope you enjoy this (long) video. I promise the rest will be shorter!

Please comment with any suggestions, ideas, constructive criticisms, etc.

Saturday Stories 4/9

Hello Friends. This week has not been the best. I won’t go into details again here but suffice it to say that the week has been long, difficult at points, frustrating, and a little surreal. Yesterday, however, was great.

So let’s talk about my goals real quick:

This week I wanted to get Leonard the Lemur completed and ready. Guess what?? I DID! As of yesterday afternoon you can find Leonard on Amazon and Createspace for paperback and as an e-book on Kindle!!

I cannot put into words how amazed, grateful, and proud I am to have the opportunity to put this together. I love all my book babies, but I truly believe that Leonard is something special. Please go check him out.

This week I also kept saying that I was going to focus on finishing up the first draft of Paulonious Punk and the Search for an Adventure. My first children’s book, this was a lot more difficult to write than I had expected. The first draft is rough and I’m sure there are a lot of things that need edited and revised…but I did it guys. I FINISHED IT!! Yesterday morning as I awaited my class’s completion of their quiz, I jotted down a few pages of things that were twisting in my head and suddenly (because I had no idea it would be that quickly) I was writing ‘to be continued’ on the bottom of a page. I’ve finished the book and I may have started a series.

I was at school 3/5  days this week and I don’t typically read while the kids are in class UNLESS it is an AR reading day (in which case I model by reading a page or two and then I get up and walk the class) because it is very difficult to monitor the and read at the same time. I don’t know how so many people do it. However, I was able to read 30 more pages in Rachel Caine’s Prince of Shadows and start John Elder Robison’s Be Different, in which I’m on page 29. I am still enjoying both immensely and will be sure to review them for you when I’m done. Genrethon starts tomorrow so I’m hoping to finish them up and get a few more things ticked off the to-be-read pile in the coming week.

Finally, here is the short story. I began this at some point last week. It has no title and is not a completed work. However, I did write it in the past week so here you go 😛

Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend. (trigger warning – abuse and foul language (mild) )

He took three quick, mincing steps towards her and raised a fist, swinging his body just short of releasing it. She stared him down without flinching. Only a very observant onlooker, who knew what to look for, would have noticed her subtle push of feet and skull backs into the brick wall she leaned on. To the world, she looked completely at ease. The veneer of nonchalance was thick and shiny across her surface. She had worked years to make it so. Worked years to bury the past and move on. It wasn’t going to all be lost just because of one asshat that raised a fist to her. He probably couldn’t hit half as hard as her ex had anyway. This guy was just an old mistake. Sometimes they liked to pop back up to remind her how far she’d come. All of this would fly through her mind later, at the moment all she could think was don’t flinch, don’t flinch, don’t look scared. Concentrate, you have to watch for weaknesses and listen so you can make a sassy comment in a minute. Be the strong female lead in your own life. Don’t flinch. DO NOT FLINCH.

She didn’t flinch, but boy howdy he did. When she had gathered herself up and used the foot propped behind her to shove quickly off the wall, his forward momentum couldn’t be stopped. The fist meant for her soft nose instead smashed into the side of the old building, sending dust softly fluttering down around them as he howled in pain and anger.

“What was that?” She asked softly, examining her nail beds as he rounded on her again. “Did you hurt yourself? You really should be more careful.”
“That smart mouth of yours is what got you in this mess,” he ground out between teeth clenched in pain, “You might want to keep it shut before it gets you hurt.”

“So far it seems that your anger is only hurting you,” She retorted smartly, “My mouth had nothing to do with that.” “Why you little whore,” he growled, “You’ve been talking shit on me and now you’re blaming it on me too?”

“No honey,” she purred, name calling only serving to help strengthen the walls she put up. “I’ve only been telling people the truth when they ask. Besides, whores get paid and I barely even get anything.”

“You had me,” now his anger took on a whine that made him sound like a petulant child.

Writing Tips #1

If you weren’t aware, NaNoWriMo has online ‘camps’ twice a year: April and June. I am participating in April’s camp and saw a video recently discussing that particular lady’s top 8 writing tips. (I can’t seem to find the video now but it was pretty awesome. Check out YouTube writing tip videos!) I thought I would give you my top tips for writing.

  1. NOISE

Some people like to be surrounded by noise, some don’t, so this tip is to just look within yourself and decide what level of noise you can handle. If you don’t like noise you can go to a quiet corner or our to a field where there isn’t much sound. If you enjoy background noise I would suggest a music playlist or turning on a movie you’ve seen millions of times. The noise will fade into the background and just keep that noisy non-writing part of your mind busy.

2. Write by Hand

I know that most of my writer friends seem to be moving towards, or already are, doing all of their writing on a computer. I, personally, have found that I get more words that way BUT I DO NOT REMEMBER EVERYTHING I WRITE! When I write by hand I have a better memory about what I’ve written and don’t have to go back and remove or rewrite as much.

3. Carry it With You

Carry a notebook or small pad of paper and a few writing utensils EVERYWHERE YOU GO. (I have a spare in each car, plus several in each bag. Yes, even in the gym bag.)

Ok, those are my top 3 writing tips. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before but I hope they’ve triggered something in you. Let me know what your favorite tips are.

Happy Friday Friends!