Hi there, Jasmine! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS and reveal the book’s cover. Before we get to the book and the big reveal, though, would you care to share a bit about yourself?
First of all, thank you so much to MG Book Village for hosting this cover reveal! I’m really honored!
I’m a mechanical engineer and artist, and now I get to add writer to the list of things I do, so that’s really exciting! I’m also proud nerd who loves obsessing over MG and YA books, comics, animated movies, and musicals.
HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS is your debut novel. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?
Sure! The idea to write a book stemmed (pun intended) from my passion for STEM outreach and education. I wanted to use storytelling as a way to inspire kids — particularly girls and underrepresented minorities — to pursue STEM.
Naively, I thought, “I know, I’ll write a book where the characters use STEM, how hard can that be?” Ha! That was like 5 years ago. It took me a while just to learn how to plot a story, to scrap the first few versions entirely, to figure out how the publishing industry works, and to revise, revise, revise. I’ve always written stories or drawn comics for fun, but they usually never made it past a few chapters. This was the first time I was like, “I want to PUBLISH a book because I want to convince every kid that ENGINEERING IS AWESOME!” So that gave me a lot more motivation to push through.
It took 2 or 3 years before I queried, and then another 2 years-ish of work with the publishing/editing team at Innovation Press. They’ve been INCREDIBLY patient with me, and I’ve learned a lot from them. The book is about a million times better because of everyone who helped so I’m thinking it might just be best to set the original draft on fire so I never have to go back and read it because my brain probably couldn’t handle the embarrassment.
How has all of your learning and experiences outside of writing influenced your writing and the stories you choose to tell?
I studied mechanical engineering at MIT, which has a tradition of very hands-on engineering. People build roller coasters out of wood, put police cars on the roofs, and build upside down rooms in weird places. We’re surrounded by technology every day, but those kinds of crazy engineering stunts always reminded me how magical engineering, and STEM in general, really is. I wanted to convey that sense of awe and amazement in the book, which is why I set it in a world where magic is normal and STEM is mysterious.
Another influence was my own experience, falling into engineering kind of by lucky accident. I really had no clue what engineering was growing up, and applied to tech schools because a friend encouraged me to do so (and because I thought the pranking culture at tech schools was awesome). I had a college counseler tell me, first that I wouldn’t get in, then that I would but only because I was a girl, and that I wouldn’t like it anyway. I spent my first year at MIT with a major case of imposter syndrome thinking I got in only because I was a girl . . . I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.
Okay – let’s get to the book. What’s HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS all about?
I started writing a whole summary and then realized it wasn’t as good as the book blurb, so I’m just copying and pasting that instead!
“Hex Allen can’t do magic—a huge problem when everything from lights to locks is powered by simple spells that everyone (save a few unfortunate “Undevelopeds”) can do. After years of feeling useless, Hex seizes the chance to change her future by journeying to the Wishing Wyrm, a legendary dragon that will grant a single wish once a century. Unfortunately, Hex isn’t the only one after the wish, and every rival wish hunter has magic on their side—every rival except the Clanksmiths. Like Hex, Cam and Fuse can’t do magic, but they’ve learned to build clank using the mysterious, forgotten arts of science and engineering.
After a fairy fiasco throws Hex and the Clanksmiths together, they agree to cooperate—for the time being. With the Clanksmiths’ know-how and Hex’s creativity, they outsmart monsters with everything from LEDs to electromagnets to water balloon launchers. But as they race to the Wishing Wyrm, Hex must decide between her friendship with the Clanksmiths and the wish that would give her a normal, magical life.”
There’ll also be illustrated instructions for how to build some of the projects in the back of the book!
Were you like the Clanksmiths as a kid – a tinkerer who always had a project (or two, or three…) in the works?
Ha, yes! I was into origami, model airplanes, making Halloween costumes, drawing comics, craft kits, science kits, making things with random stuff around the house. I built a life-size puppet out of a coconut and a tomato trellis for my elementary school talent show.
The funny thing was I had never heard of engineering, so I always thought of all these projects simply as “art”.
You could be variously described as an engineer, an artist, a craftswoman, a designer, and about a billion other things besides. Of course, you are ALL of these things at once. But have you found any interesting parallels or similarities among these disciplines that are often presented as disparate and unrelated?
Holy moly yes. I’ve always made things, and never drew a line between what was art and what was engineering (largely because I didn’t know what engineering was). I have no clue why these disciplines are presented as unrelated! They’re all about using your imagination to make things, it’s just different ways to approach it. Look at product design, for instance — it brings together the technical aspect of making something functional, with the artistic aspects of making it visually appealing and user friendly. It’s one of many areas where art, design, and engineering overlap.
What do you hope your readers – especially the young ones – take away from HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS?
I hope they come away from the book thinking that STEM is fun! And just as importantly, that anyone can be a maker, an engineer, a scientist. Maybe some of them will realize that they are already those things!
Also, I think some people are intimidated by STEM disciplines or just don’t have the clearest idea of what they encompass. I often hear people say things like “engineering seems cool but I’m not good at math”, and are surprised to hear I don’t do much math on a day to day basis. Engineering is really about creative problem solving.
Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS to their classroom libraries?
If the book inspires some of your students to learn more about STEM or to build some cool clank themselves (which I hope it will!), there’s a lot incredible free resources out there. The book includes instructions for the projects Hex and her friends build, but for kids who want even more, Instructables.com and Makezine.com are fantastic websites with a lot of projects.
For kids who want to get even deeper, they should see if there’s a local Makerspace or look into joining a FIRST team (I’m biased, I worked at FIRST, but it’s a really incredible program).
And of course, teachers can always contact me if they want other inspiration for STEM projects or want me to Skype in to a class. I’m always happy to gush about STEM!
Just as a teaser, here’s a snippet from the project instructions included in the book. 😉
All right – let’s get to the cover. Were you at all involved in the process?
Yes! The Innovation Press is great about involving the author throughout. I had input into picking the illustrator, the initial sketches, the lettering (I got to do the coloring on the lettering actually!). But honestly, Ebony’s art was spot on except for a few minor details (the characters’ age, adding more clank). Mostly I just flipped out about how awesome the Clanksmiths’ outfits were or how much I loved the characters.
You are an accomplished illustrator in your own right. What was it like seeing another artist bring the characters you’d written to life?
I was nervous at first about giving up creative control but I AM SO GLAD I DID. Even before I saw Ebony’s cover, I was already in love with her portfolio, so I was really excited to see what she was going to bring to the characters. And what she brought was AMAZING. I was basically fangirling over my own characters for a week after because the way she drew them was so perfect. I’m super excited to see the rest of Ebony’s illustrations for the book.
You should definitely check out her website and her other books to see more of her beautiful illustrations: http://www.ebonyglenn.com/.
Okay — I think we’d better check it out. Here it is!
What was it like seeing the cover art for the first time?
I was at a friend’s birthday party when I got the email with the full color version, and brought the party to a full stop by freaking out and then passing around my phone so everyone could have a look. The goggles! The colors! The monsters peeking out from the trees! The more I stare at it the more I’m in love with it!
When can readers get their hands on HEX ALLEN AND THE CLANKSMITHS, and do you have any exciting upcoming events to celebrate the release and spread the word about the book?
September 15, 2020! Ebony is going to be doing book signings at the 2020 Seattle Children’s Book Festival, and there will be an ARC giveaway at the Baker and Taylor/Follett boot at ALA Chicago 2020.
Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?
I’m on Twitter at @jrflorentine (admittedly, I’m still kind of figuring out Twitter). I also have a website, jasmineflorentine.com, which is currently my engineering/art portfolio, but I will be updating soon with a writing section (still can’t quite believe that’s happening, woo!)
Thank you again so much for hosting this cover reveal!