Hi Basil! I’m so glad you could join me today on Fast Forward Friday. Your middle grade debut, THE FABULOUS ZED WATSON!, is co-authored with your dad, Kevin Sylvester, and comes out on January 26, 2021 with HarperCollins. I was delighted to have a chance to read an ARC, and I absolutely loved this story. It’s funny, uplifting, original, and who can resist a road trip to search for a long lost book? Can you give us a bit of a synopsis of it, please?
Hi Kathie! Thanks for having me! I definitely can; the book is about an energetic kid named Zed who is obsessed with finding a long-lost manuscript called The Monster’s Castle. They have to go on a road trip to gather all the clues to find it, except they don’t have a car—so they have to go along with their neighbour, Gabe, and his sister Sam. It’s a book filled with road-side stops, bad puns, ice cream, clues, new friends, and lots of fictional monsters!
Zed is such an entertaining character. I especially liked when they did something we weren’t expecting, such as thinking like a corpse, or dancing in the Potato Dance Off. Yet I also learned a lot from Zed about what it means to be nonbinary while they explained it to their friend, Gabe, and the challenges they’ve faced. How did you find that balance between educating and entertaining as you wrote them?
I’m really glad you liked their weirdness—the corpse moment was one that Kevin wrote separately, and I laughed out loud when he showed it to me! I think it’s important to have conversations in the book that sound like people would actually talk—if we just went for a straight lecture or information session, it wouldn’t be realistic anyway. So that’s kind of where some of the Own Voices element comes in, because when people ask me about gender or lgbtq+ stuff, I tend to address it with humour/levity. I also think that if trans and/or nonbinary kids read this book, they would get bored if it was just an info session for the uninitiated, so addressing stuff like this with humour means it’s more engaging for everyone and just a better read.
What was it like to co-author a book with your dad, and how did the collaboration work in terms of the writing process? Did you also have input on his illustrations?
It was so fun, honestly! We wrote an outline super quickly—we just seemed to be on the same page so to speak. Then we split it up in parts—Kevin would write a certain part if he was excited about it, I would write the gender stuff and a lot of the character-driven conversations, and so on. Then we got together and read everything out loud, and edited as we wrote. While I was reading, he would illustrate—I had a lot of input, he was very generous about that. He originally drew a couple character designs for Zed and I remember I mainly directed him on that—I said I wanted Zed to be short and wearing lots of oversized stuff, and to be a bit chubby, like me.
I’m always drawn to a story where there’s a hunt for missing items, but I could never solve a single clue. Do you enjoy scavenger hunts, and how did you come up with such creative clues?
As a kid I absolutely loved them! in fact, my dad and my mom used to make scavenger hunts for us and hand-write notes from different fictional characters that would lead us around the house and backyard. There’s something so incredibly special about solving a clue yourself and getting a reward for it! I’m a bit self conscious about the clues in Zed because I worry they’re a bit opaque, but sometimes the fun is just watching Zed and Gabe run around and doing zany things. The clues were all about places, and initially it was all going to be stuff just from The Monster’s Castle, but we realized that wouldn’t be as fun since the reader wouldn’t know it. So we added the plant/flower clues to make it a bit more complex and also so that you could learn things while watching them solve it!
What’s one thing that’s surprised you about the publishing process?
I would say for our book the thing that surprised me the most was the trust they put in me with a lot of the aspects of the design, even though I’m an unknown to them! For instance, they sent a cover mock-up and I suggested a different style of font—which they then allowed me to do! Me! I’m really proud of the cover we did—it was based on my original idea and then I, who is in no way a professional artist or any kind of artistic talent, got to do the cover lettering and the lettering on the spine! It was very exciting to work with our editor and the art department on that, and I feel really great about how it turned out!
What would you like to hear a young reader say after they’ve read your book?
I just hope they enjoy it, and like Zed. I hope some LGBTQ+ kids will see themselves and have fun reading a book where the main character is like them and gets to do all kinds of cool things. I hope they say that it inspired them to learn something else—like, I don’t know, gardening or the history of pulp horror novels, or maybe that it inspired them to write. I think I’d like that a lot.
Do you have another book on which you’re working right now?
Basil: Not exactly—I’m trying to finish my bachelor’s degree (sigh). But I am toying with writing an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, possibly for YA readers. I’m not sure yet, and I don’t want to jinx it! But I can tell you there will be a queer element to it, most definitely.
Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
To be honest, I am not all that active on social media, but I am trying to update my writing Instagram account more, @basiltheowrites (Theodore is my middle name).
Thank you so much for talking with me today, Basil, and I wish you all the best with your book’s launch in January.
Thanks so much Kathie! What an honour, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! The published version is going to be even better—we caught a few mistakes in the ARC—so look out for that on January 26! Have a great weekend everyone, and happy reading!
BASIL SYLVESTER is a nonbinary bookseller. Their favourite monsters are vampires. They live in Toronto. The Fabulous Zed Watson! is their first book.