Interview with Summer Rachel Short about THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER

Welcome to MG Book Village, Summer! I look forward to learning more about you and your writing. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?

Thanks so much for having me here, Kathie! I’m a middle grade writer living in North Texas. I have a degree in journalism and have worked as a writer in some capacity pretty much all of my professional life. Though it wasn’t until about five years ago that I really got serious about writing fiction. Before that I’d written a few short stories here and there and drafted novel ideas that got tucked away in desk drawers. Then in the end of 2015, it was like a switch flipped and all of sudden writing a novel went from something on the backburner to a driving passion.

Your upcoming book, THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER, comes out on September 22nd. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it?

The book is a lightly spooky STEM novel that features eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist, Maggie, and her conspiracy theorist/YouTuber best friend, Nate, who must solve the mystery surrounding a strange glow-in-the-dark fungus that’s spreading through their small town. At the same time, Maggie is trying to put her family back together as her dad has recently taken a job across country. For now, she’s stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra, who develops odd symptoms after their run-in with the fungus. All around town people and animals start sprouting unusual growths and exhibiting alarming behavior. Things get more dangerous as Maggie’s brother develops a bluish glow and a nagging cough. Maggie must use her scientific know-how and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things spooky to save their town from the odd glowing mushrooms.

What’s one thing about this story that compelled you to write it?

Several years ago, my kids and I watched an old documentary called Fungi: The Rotten World About Us on YouTube. We were all so fascinated by fungi’s strange properties that I kept reading more until I stumbled upon an especially creepy kind of fungus with some very bizarre abilities. This real-life fungus features prominently in my book (I can’t say the name of it just yet as it’s a spoiler!). Another inspiration was my son, who was ten at the time, who wanted me to write a story about a character named Root Beard who possesses a beard made of living tree roots. That nugget became the impetus for an important character in the book. 

Is there a character in this book that you would have liked as a friend?

I have to say my main character’s best friend, Nate. He’s a conspiracy theorist/wanna-be YouTube star. He’s on the hunt for aliens, Bigfoot, and anything else spooky and sensational. He keeps Maggie on her toes and has a zest for adventure that I admire. He’s all about fun and doesn’t really give much thought to what people will think of all his wild ideas.

Did this story change a lot during the editing process?

The story changed a fair amount over the couple years I worked on it. In the earliest drafts, Maggie’s best friend, Nate, was actually an antagonist, but the more I wrote, the more he kept zinging out one liners and eventually I rewrote his character completely. Also, I was a PitchWars mentee in 2018 and The Mutant Mushroom Takeover was the manuscript I submitted. During that period, I got great feedback from my mentors on ways to strengthen the story, including reducing its length quite a bit. Originally, it was around 70,000 words and the final version is closer to 50,000. The book’s title has also changed a few times throughout its life. But the main characters’ opposites-attract friendship and the mystery of the strange fungus taking over their small town always remained at the heart.

How have you adapted your book’s release due to COVID?

More of my author activities are definitely moving online because of COVID. I’ve done a couple of virtual author panels so far and will also be doing my book launch party virtually with a local independent bookstore. While I’d love to see friends and family in person and sign all their books for my release, the virtual launch does let me connect with people who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to attend.

Where can readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

My website is srachelshort.com. I’m also on Twitter at @Summer_Rachel_ and Instagram @summerrachelwrites.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Summer, and best of luck with your book’s release.

Summer lives in North Texas with her charming husband, three hilarious kids, a fluffy kitty, and a big yellow dog. Before spinning tales about mutant mushrooms, she once worked as a science reporter for her university’s newspaper, where she wrote on topics like nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. She enjoys
exploring new places with the family, playing tennis, and dreaming up ideas for her next book.

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