Hi Jarrett! It’s a HUGE honor for me to be part of the cover reveal for the third book in the EngiNerds series, THE ENGINERDS STRIKE BACK. I can’t wait to hear what Ken and the gang have going on in this story. Can you give us a synopsis?
Do you know that I’ve never done an official cover reveal? I’ve probably arranged and/or hosted nearly a hundred for other authors, but have yet to do one for myself. I always just post my covers on social media, typically accompanied by a whole bunch of exclamation points and emojis. Anyway, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do my first *official* cover reveal with. So THANK YOU for being a part of it!
Okay — to the book! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but even if someone hasn’t the read the first two books in the series, the sight of the cover will give some stuff away. Most notably: ALIENS. Plural. They’re here, on Planet Earth — and they may potentially be here to do some less-than-awesome things. It all involves beans, billboards, and a shiny little object called a “zap cannon.” And for various reasons explored in the book, it’s the EngiNerds — and ONLY the EngiNerds — who can save the day.
Do you find it difficult to come up with new adventures for the EngiNerds, or do they find you, so to speak?
Writing sequels is definitely a bit different than writing a first book in a series. In a first book, you make all sorts of explicit and implicit rules — about the world, about the characters — and you find, in working on follow-ups and sequels, that you have to obey those rules. Sometimes it’s nice to have all those rules in place, sort of like settling into a cozy, familiar nook… and sometimes it’s highly frustrating, sort of like being trapped in a super confining box.
In terms of the EngiNerds’ adventures, it’s been a bit (just a bit) more of the former. Most of the big pieces of the plots of Revenge of the EngiNerds and The EngiNerds Strike Back have sort of “unspooled” from things that took place in EngiNerds. But that’s not to say that it was simple or easy to do that unspooling, or that I didn’t have to do a lot of additional creating in order to make these books as good as they could be — and make sure they could stand on their own as worthy.
I also think that any (relative) ease I experienced in creating the EngiNerds’ subsequent adventures is a result of all the work I did on the characters while writing the first book. I did a lot of unseen, off-the-page exploring of each of the kids, even those that didn’t end up having a huge role in the first book. They, of course, help drive a lot of the story, and all that time I spent figuring them out means that, while the adventures don’t exactly “find me,” I can find them a little more easily.
Was there something interesting you learned about your characters while writing this story that you didn’t know about them before?
Always. Revisiting characters, filling up more pages with their thoughts and feelings and actions — it’s like spending more and more quality time with somebody. You learn more about them. You “see” them a little more fully.
It’s such a fascinating process. The characters are, obviously, MY creation. Yet they really do take on a life of their own. Those rules about them that you make up, they almost start to work like equations — you combine this aspect of them and that aspect of them, and you get something new, something that you couldn’t have foreseen at the outset, when you first created them. Does that make sense? I hope so.
And lest it sound like authors just sit back and, more and more, their characters do the heavy lifting, that is NOT the case. Just like you can’t learn more about someone else if you don’t actively listen to them, if you don’t pay attention to their actions and behavior, your characters only “take on a life of their own” if you are doing WORK. Writing. Thinking. Rewriting. Rethinking.
I know many authors have found it challenging to write over the past few months. What is one technique you use to help you keep the words flowing?
Well, the pressure of a deadline is always helpful! And I’ve had a lot of those these past few months.
Also, I always try to be as in tune as possible with my creativity, and to try to appreciate and embrace when I need to alter my habits in order to make sure I can continue to use it. I believe one’s creativity is constantly shifting, evolving, stretching and expanding in new directions and ways. Sometimes, you’ve got to do new things to accommodate that. For me, something as simple as using a different kind of notebook or a different tool (a pencil instead of a pen, a crayon instead of a marker, etc.) can help me keep creating in a time, place, or circumstance in which I otherwise might find myself stuck or distracted.
OK, let’s not keep everyone in suspense, let’s show them the new cover!
I have to say, this might be my favorite EngiNerds cover yet! I’d love to know how much input you have, what you share with the illustrator for their inspiration?
I’m so glad you like it! And I’m so glad to get a chance to chat about the illustrator for these books. Since I’m also an illustrator, many people assume that I illustrate all my books. That’s not the case. Books are team efforts. I always tell kids that it’s crazy to me that I get my name on the front of my books, all alone. If you check out the acknowledgements page of my books (or ANY book), you’ll see just how many people it takes to make a book as good as it can be. It takes LOTS.
I fully embrace the “team effort” aspect of book-making, because (a) I know that I’m a human being with limitations, (b) I’m fortunate to have an INCREDIBLE team at Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, and (c) I know that everything my team does, says, suggests, etc., is in an effort to make the book as awesome as possible.
In terms of illustration, I’ve also got a particular style. My illustration style may not always be the best choice for one of my books. In these cases, working with another illustrator will benefit the book. It also gives me more time to work on other projects. Which is helpful, as I’m someone who is constantly juggling a number of projects.
All of which is to say (finally), that yes, Serge Seidlitz — who has done all my EngiNerds covers — has once again knocked it out of the park and into another galaxy! In terms of my involvement in the creation of the cover art: I’m involved, as is my editor and art director, but I’m there as a member of the team, and the LAST thing I’d ever want to do is step on Serge’s toes, or put him in a box that will limit his own unique (and glorious!) creativity. So, I share what he needs to know about the story, throw out some very general ideas for consideration — as do the other members of my team — and then he runs wild. We typically then go back and forth a few times, fine-tuning things, making any necessary (usually relatively minor) adjustments. Seeing someone else create in a world you’ve built — it’s so fun and exciting. It reminds me of building skateboard ramps as a kid, and watching my friends go flying off of them.
What aspect of being a writer do you most enjoy?
The people. Especially the kids. It’s interesting — I sit at home, doing this really pretty solitary thing, and because of it, I get the opportunity to travel around and meet and connect with thousands of other people. That’s something I didn’t really think about, or even realize was a possibility, when I first began to really strive to do all this professionally. But it’s without a doubt one of the greatest joys. I’ve made so many friends. I’ve learned so much. And I’ve been so inspired by it all! And I don’t think I’ll ever tire of talking with, learning from, and working with kids. Seeing their creativity in action — it’s something else. It fills me with so much joy and hope.
Where can people go to find out more about you and your writing?
They can find me — and lots of my art and (free!) activities — at jarrettlerner.com, as well as on Twitter and Instagram @Jarrett_Lerner.
Thank you for the honor of letting me be part of this reveal with you, my friend. I love watching your publishing career blossom.
Working with you on this site, working with you to help continue to build and bolster and better the Middle Grade community — it’s been so, so wonderful. I’m proud of what we’ve done, and excited to continue doing it in the future. I feel lucky to call you a friend. And it just makes sense — and makes me very happy! — to have you host my very first *official* cover reveal. Thank YOU, Kathie!
Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the author-illustrator of the upcoming activity book, Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author of the forthcoming Geeger the Robot early chapter book series, the forthcoming third book in the EngiNerds series (The EngiNerds Strike Back), and the author-illustrator of the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat.