Interview with Adam Borba about THE MIDNIGHT BRIGADE

Hi Adam! Thanks so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to share about your debut Middle Grade novel, The Midnight Brigade. Before we get to the book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Thanks so much for having me! I’m originally from the Bay Area, but grew up in Palm Springs, California. My wife and I now have two young children in Los Angeles. My day job is developing and producing movies for Walt Disney Studios, so I’m always reading, writing, or talking story.

Okay: The Midnight Brigade. What’s it all about?

It’s about a lonely, introverted boy named Carl Chesterfield who lives in Pittsburgh. Carl is an observer. He watches, he listens, he processes, he empathizes, but he has trouble speaking up. Trouble raising his hand when he thinks someone is about to make a mistake, or even to share his own opinion when asked. The kid worries he’ll say the wrong thing, so he often says nothing.

Soon after the story begins, Carl’s observations lead him to suspect that monsters might secretly be chewing on Pittsburgh’s bridges. He then finds a flyer for a mysterious group called “The Midnight Brigade” which seems to share his suspicions. Carl joins the group and makes a couple of friends: an odd boy named Teddy, and Bee, the loner daughter of a famous restaurant critic. Then our trio makes an incredible discovery: living under one of Pittsburgh’s bridges is a twenty-five-foot-tall troll named Frank.

The Midnight Brigade is about a lot of things – friendship, food, integrity, empathy – but at its core it’s about someone who wishes he had the courage to step up and find his voice (like so many young readers). And it’s a book about three outsider kids coming together to try to save a struggling family business and the city of Pittsburgh.

Why did you choose to set this book in Pittsburgh? Could it have been set anywhere else? Was there anything about the city that you wished you could’ve included, but that didn’t make it into the final book?

My wife is from Pittsburgh. I fell in love with the city on my first trip to visit her family. It’s a city with so much character and culture. And three major rivers run through it — because of that, it has four hundred and forty-six bridges (even more than Venice, Italy), which made it the perfect setting for this story.

Whenever I visit Pittsburgh, I discover something new, so I’m sure the next time I’m there I’ll be kicking myself about something incredible that would have been perfect for this story.

Have you always been fond of bridges? Most of us take them for granted, in our day-to-day lives, but when you stop to think about them, they are astonishing. At the same time, these (relatively) static structures don’t naturally lend themselves to exciting, Middle Grade storytelling. How did you go about imparting your own fascination with and excitement about bridges to your readers?

Honestly, I didn’t fall in love with bridges until I visited Pittsburgh. I can’t imagine going there and not be impressed by them. Firstly, they’re massive. Truly engineering marvels, spanning bodies of water, and made from tons of steel. And hundreds of cars drive across them all day every day. Secondly, they’re gorgeous. Like works of art. When I get excited about things, I research. So, Pittsburgh’s bridges sent me down a multi-week Google rabbit hole.

I think the scale of the bridges is what makes them exciting. These are huge structures, but if they weren’t built properly (or if something damaged them) they’d collapse. That idea adds a layer of drama to this story. This quiet, lonely kid – Carl – begins to think that something is happening to his city’s bridges that is making them unsafe. But his theory is so absurd that he isn’t sure who he can tell. Plus, he’s not exactly comfortable opening his mouth in the first place.

The Midnight Brigade is at once utterly real and wildly fantastical — you’ve got wonderfully relatable human characters side by side with… well, I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say, non-human ones. How did you balance these two things in your storytelling?

Thank you! While I believe there’s a way to make anything work in storytelling, for me, it’s easier to mix the real and the fantastical if you limit yourself to just one or two magical “buys” and play everything else completely straight — especially how the characters react to the fantastic. You identified one of the keys to balancing these elements in your question: relatability. For me, if characters are also dealing with everyday problems and concerns, they’ll feel more real and relatable to readers (or the audience). So, if we’re invested in Jenny dealing with classmates not pulling their weight in her group project, and being disappointed with her parents for not letting her go to a concert, we can also be invested in Jenny discovering that her best friend is an alien, as long as the complications feel real.  

You have done a lot of impressive, exciting work in the film world. Has your work and experiences there influenced your novel writing at all? If so, how?

Appreciate it! I draw on my film background quite a bit. While filmmaking offers the luxury of telling stories with pictures, it all starts with a screenplay, which is a document that’s usually only a 100 or so pages long by the time we start production (and those pages have a lot of blank space). Because scripts are so short, the storytelling on the page needs to be efficient. I try to take that approach with my writing: Cut out the boring stuff and anything that isn’t essential. I also try to be as clear and economical as possible with character arcs, so readers understand how and why a character changes and grows as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

Theme is also something I learned from filmmaking. When we’re developing a movie, one of the early goals we have is to get to a one sentence message. Something universal. Something that each scene in the movie builds to. Something that sums up what the movie is really about. It’s rarely a line that’s said out loud in the film, but it’s always something that my colleagues, the director, and the film’s writers have agreed to. A few examples from our recent films: “Everyone belongs somewhere,” “It’s okay to be different,” “Everyone grows up at their own pace,” “Everyone is deserving of love.” When I’m writing, I try to figure out the theme as early as possible, so I can tie it to narrative and character as much as possible.

Finally, structure is something I learned from film development. The rough drafts of my novels are fairly close to the traditional three act structure of a feature film. Because of that, my rough drafts are on the short side (like a screenplay). As I work with my editor to revise, my drafts become longer as subplots are added and we dive deeper into character. So, while the final manuscript isn’t quite a traditional feature structure, because I started that way, the story remains structurally sound for me.

What do you hope your readers — the young ones, in particular — take away from The Midnight Brigade?

Most importantly, I hope they have a good time. Like the stories I help make for Disney, this is one driven by heart, humor, and a little bit of magic. I hope it’ll transport readers to that special whimsical place that my favorite stories transport me to.

But if there’s one more thing they take away, I hope it’s the message that Frank the troll passes on to Carl: Be Bold. 

All right, I can’t not ask: if someone wanted to get the world’s best pierogi, where would you send them?

That’s easy! Go to my wife’s grandmother’s house. Just say I sent you. She’s a nice lady. Maybe bring a dessert?

The Midnight Brigade published on September 7th, so readers can already get their hands on it. But where can they go to learn more about you and your work?

You can order the book here: https://bit.ly/38Ln9R9, and at some point soon I’ll make a website (probably). But for now, I can be reached on Twitter @adam_borba and Instagram @adamborba

Thanks again for visiting and sharing with us, Adam. We hope you’ll come back soon!

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the book!

Adam Borba is a film producer and son of bestselling author Michele Borba. He was labeled one of The Hollywood Reporter’s 2017 up-and-coming executive producers and exemplifies the title with his current filmography. He is one of the minds behind Pete’s Dragon (2016) and A Wrinkle in Time (2018), and is currently working on the live action production of Peter Pan & Wendy (2022).

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