COVER REVEAL for Ghosts Come Rising by Adam Perry

Kathie: Hi Adam, and thanks so much for letting us be part of your cover reveal today! Your third middle-grade book, Ghosts Come Rising, comes out in September from little bee books. Please tell us a bit about it.

Adam: Ghosts Come Rising takes place in Pennsylvania in the 1920s, shortly after the Spanish Flu pandemic and WWI. At that point in time, there was a resurgence in Spiritualism, a movement that believed the living could communicate with the dead.

Liza and John Carroll both lost their parents to the flu, and are living with their uncle, a con man who uses them to create fraudulent spirit photographs for clients. They move from town to town, eventually stopping at a commune called the Silver Star Society.

Because Liza helps her uncle in his lies, she doesn’t believe Spiritualism is real, but she begins to see things at the Silver Star Society that make her question herself, and fear for the safety of her and her brother.

Kathie: This book is a different genre from your last novel, THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS (which I loved!) Can you tell us one way in which writing this story was different from your earlier books, and one way in which it was similar?

Adam: In my previous books, I often rely on humor and narrative tricks. In The Magicians of Elephant County, I had two competing narrators who would often disagree with each other, and in The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books, I had the narrator actually become a character in the book midway through.

I really wanted to try something different with this book.

Ghosts Come Rising isn’t funny, and there isn’t a narrative gimmick. For that reason, this was the hardest book I’ve written so far, and the one that I rewrote the most. Structure-wise, it’s the simplest and most straightforward, which I had thought would make it easier, but it was exactly the opposite.

Kathie: What sort of reader you would recommend this book to?

Adam: I place this book in the upper-middle category, so most likely a 10-13-year-old. It is scary, but hopefully not too scary, and I think it will leave them feeling hopeful rather than terrified. It may be too scary for an 8-10-year-old, which I realize will probably make them want to read it more. And I’m OK with that.

Kathie: What’s one thing you enjoyed about writing the characters in this story?

Adam: I really enjoyed writing a character who is as conflicted as Liza. She believes what she’s doing is wrong, but needs to help create fraudulent spirit photographs to keep her and her brother in the good graces of her uncle, Mr. Spencer. She believes she’s a liar, and it colors the way she sees the world and other people in it.

Kathie: I was so pumped when I saw the cover for your book. Please tell us about the illustrator and your reaction when you first saw it.

Adam: That’s a difficult one, because the illustrator and I did not get along, and in fact had many … ahem … discussions about what should be shown/not shown. I really hope I don’t have to work with him again because it was quite an unpleasant experience, and …

OK, I will admit, I was the illustrator.

Ghosts Come Rising has ten images throughout the book, created to look like spirit photographs or other images related to the story. I made them by creating composite images from old photos of that time period. To do that, I searched through thousands of images in the Library of Congress’s collection. At the beginning of that process, I found an image of the woman who would become the ghost on the cover behind Liza, and was drawn to it. I downloaded it and used it to test my creative process. That image doesn’t exactly depict a scene from the book, but I liked the way it looked and showed it to the team at Little Bee who liked it enough to use it for the cover!

Since I created the image, my reaction was a bit less surprised than in the past when I’ve first seen one of my covers. I will say, I loved the lettering of the title, which was done by Natalie Padberg Bartoo, who also did the title for The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books.

Kathie: Oh wow, that is SO cool. I think that’s the first time I’ve interviewed an author who created their own cover image.

Let’s do a big drum roll and show everyone what it looks like?

Kathie: What a creepy cover! Do you have a favorite element, or is there a detail you can share with us that ties to the story?

Adam: The ghostly woman behind Liza is the grandmother of a woman named Ms. Eldridge, the owner of the Silver Star Society. The two of them (if you believe Ms. Eldridge) are linked and can communicate through the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Much like photography, in the story, I play on the idea of the two worlds being positive and negative. On the cover, the shadowy ghosts in the background are actually negative images. If you invert the images, you would see something like this:

Kathie: What would you like readers to know about this book that we haven’t talked about so far?

Adam: While the book is fictional, with many completely fabricated elements, it does pull inspiration from real-life locations and events. I did a lot of research on spiritualism and communes.

The main inspiration for The Silver Star Society was a place called Camp Silver Belle, located about twenty minutes from where I live. While it’s no longer in operation, they were famous for mediumship and spirit photography in a similar timeframe. Here are some “real” spirit photographs from Camp Silver Belle:

There’s something about the topic that has always interested me, particularly looking at it with modern eyes. It’s so obviously fake, and some people are clearly taking advantage of others, but there’s real sincerity and humanity behind it. My emotions are conflicted, which is what I think makes a good basis for a story.

Kathie: Where can people go to find out more information about you and your writing?

Adam: My website is and I am active on twitter and Instagram @misterperry, and am on Facebook

Kathie: I’m anxiously awaiting September because this synopsis has piqued my interest, Adam! Thanks for chatting with me today. 

Adam: Thank you so much!

Adam Perry is the author of The Magicians of Elephant County and The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books. The son of an elementary school librarian, he discovered a love of stories at an early age. He lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife, children, and a growing collection of children’s books. Find out more at

Interview with Suzanne Meade about A TERRIBLE TIDE

*Thank you to Salma Hussain for conducting this interview

Hi SUZANNE! Congratulations on your historical fiction, MG novel, A Terrible Tide, which came out Sep 2021 from Second Story Press. What is the “elevator pitch” about your book that you would give a young reader to convince them to read it?

In two hours, everything 12 year old Celia knows is washed away. An earthquake, followed by the rising waters of a tsunami, devastates Celia’s small village in Newfoundland. Facing cold, hunger, injuries, and other dangers, will the villagers survive until help can arrive?

You credit your “Nana” for inspiring you to write about Newfoundland. Could you tell us more about what made you focus your novel on the tsunami that occurred in Newfoundland in 1929?

My father’s family is from Newfoundland, and Nana was my last living grandparent. After she died, I wanted to write a book set in Newfoundland so I started doing some research and learned about the tsunami. Right away it struck a chord. I knew there were stories to be told about what happened, so I dug deeper and ended up with the story that became A Terrible Tide.

This is your first MG book. Can you tell us about the journey of this book from idea to publication?

I’ve been amazed by how quick the journey was. After my initial research about big events in Newfoundland where I learned about the tsunami, I started researching more about what happened and what life was like in the fishing villages during that time period. It took a while to find the right voice for Celia, but once I did everything clicked. I wrote the first draft in about 6 months, then took another 6 months to make some changes I knew needed to be done. I shared the draft with writer friends and got some feedback from them as well. Two years after I finished the first draft, I sent the manuscript to some publishers. Second Story was the first publisher I heard back from and they’re the ones who ended up publishing the novel. Then there were some more edits to do before the final version. Overall, it took about 3 years from starting the first draft to getting the contract.

Can you tell us a bit about your research process. Where did the most helpful sources of information come from? And some unexpected sources of information?

One place that I found really useful is a website called “Newfoundland’s Grand Banks”. It’s a genealogy and historical records collection that I’ve used for researching my family tree, but I found some wonderful first-person accounts of the tsunami that helped me shape the story. I also searched for photos of the aftermath of the disaster to help me picture what the characters would see. Some of those photos were included in the published book.

I love your cover. Can you tell us a bit about your illustrator and your thoughts on the cover?

I was so grateful to have some input into the cover. Second Story Press asked me for ideas on the design when I first signed the contract, so I went looking through some of their titles to find things that I liked. I sent my suggestions and a while later they sent me three sketches for feedback. I loved them all! The one thing that I said had to be on the cover was Celia’s dog, Boomer, because he’s such a big part of her story. I think the illustrator, Hayden Maynard, captured the feeling of the story very clearly.

You work as an elementary school French teacher. Can you tell us some of the ways teaching impacts and/or influences your writing and vice versa?

When I’m writing for middle graders, I think about what I know about that age group. What are they interested in? How easily will they understand the vocabulary that I’m choosing? How can I inject a bit of humour into the story? Some of my current students have read A Terrible Tide and they all seem to be enjoying it. It’s amazing to get that kind of direct feedback from the kids.

I try not to “write down”, or simplify the language too much, but it helps to be aware of it so that I can make sure the writing isn’t too complex. I want the story to be accessible but also something that adults can enjoy.

I really enjoyed your book and without giving away any spoilers, will we follow this set of characters through their upcoming adventures in another book? Or are you working on a new story completely? Can you tell us a bit about your next project.

I have several things I’m working on. One of them does involve the Matthews family! I am also interested in writing about characters who survive other disasters, so I have notes and ideas for a few different stories in that vein. There’s also my long-term passion project – an adult novel that I define as “historical fantasy”. All of these projects are either in development or partially drafted. I hope to have something finished soon.

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

You can find me on Facebook (Suzanne Meade Author), Instagram (, or at my website

Suzanne Meade is a Canadian author specializing in historical fiction. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she is passionate about telling stories that connect with girls, women, and other marginalized communities. In her spare time, she enjoys genealogy, yoga, reading, watching sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero movies, and playing video games. She currently teaches elementary school French and lives with her family and pets in Hamilton.

Book Review: WITCHLINGS, by Claribel A. Ortega

For this reader, a fantastical world is more alluring when it allows me to suspend disbelief as elements of our real world are woven seamlessly with the fantastical and magical circumstances presented in the story.  Claribel A. Ortega’s Witchlings offers readers exactly that, elevating the experience to new heights by creating the magical canon of The Twelve Towns, the major setting in Witchlings, based on the Spanish language and mythical beings that will be familiar to Latinx readers.  

What readers will experience when immersing themselves in the world of Witchlings

A Sense of Belonging

Wouldn’t it be magnificent if there was a club, a hobby, a group, for every one of us?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know with absolute certainty that you belong somewhere? But reality is hard, and hits kids especially hard, when our interests or personalities don’t align with any of the established school, community or social groups available.  Author Claribel Ortega, places this slice of reality into the lives of her main characters within the first few pages of this book. On the most important evening of a witchling’s life,  the night where they are sorted into covens, Seven, Valley and Thorn, are coven-less.  They are categorized as Spares, and let’s be honest, being an understudy, an extra, in the real world or a spare in the town of Ravenskill, is no one’s ultimate dream. Through the main characters, readers will explore two different paths– accepting fate as it is dealt or believing that regardless of how it’s always been in a community or society, one can create a safe space  and find others, though odd as the choices may seem at first, to welcome into that space.

The Fallout of Avoiding Confrontations 

Inventing the intentions of others is a default young and old turn to, rather than braving a confrontation that could clarify for all concerned the impact that words and actions have had.  Seven believes she has been the victim of bullying because of her interactions with Valley and the outcomes she’s suffered. She doesn’t allow herself to consider Valley’s perspective; maybe Valley doesn’t pick up on social cues, maybe her way of engaging with peers isn’t what Seven has experienced before; considerations that might have created an opportunity for Seven to share how Valley’s actions have made her feel and also allow Valley to disclose her intent, explain, maybe even apologize.  When Seven invokes the Impossible Task as a way to avoid her fate as a Spare, she commits not only herself but Valley who she hates, and Thorn who she barely knows, to become a team and endanger their lives. Readers will feel just as squeamish as Seven does at the prospect of depending on her tormentor to complete the Impossible Task and be part of a coven. Readers will also witness what we misconstrue when we default to inventing others and their intentions.  Isn’t this at the root of so many middle school real-life dramas?

Latinx Representation 

Latinx readers will feel like Claribel Ortega’s fantasy world was built with them as the intended dwellers- with spells like zarpazo,volcán and machete, to name just a few, and Cucos, the night monster that will come and get you in Latin American countries if you don’t fall asleep when your told,  as one of the monstruos the witchlings have to battle.  Readers who are not Latinx won’t feel unwelcomed, many magical book worlds use Latin as the language of their incantations, and with the amount of cognates shared between Spanish and English, they might understand exactly what the volcán, veloz, and other spells do!  

The representation of strong Latinx female main characters amplifies Latinx voices and their right to occupy space, be the heroes, and also offer readers from other cultural and racial backgrounds the opportunity to center their attention on kids they share the world with.  As readers get to know Seven and her family, they will also develop kinship and empathy for what they have in common.  

Learning to Lead by Being Led

Seven is a natural leader and believes she is entitled to take control and make decisions for the group, without conferring with her team.  She definitely does not want to give any leadership opportunities to her nemesis, Valley. As their plans to complete The Impossible Task fail, Seven begins to reflect on how Thorn and Valley’s knowledge and abilities could have created successes instead of failures. Maturity plays a big role in how Seven is able to cede control to the girls and be led by them, and also in how Valley and Thorn patiently wait for Seven to trust them and in how they communicate their frustrations without hurting each other’s feelings.  A great model for young readers to follow as they begin to see these leadership dynamics develop within their friendship circles. 

Tell Someone

At any age, being the confidant of a victim of abuse entails holding that person’s story and trust protectively.  For kids, learning that a classmate, a friend, or a family member is suffering abuse puts them at the crossroads Seven finds herself in when she witnesses Valley’s father being physically and emotionally abusive towards her.  Seven wants to help Valley, to keep her safe, but she also does not want to betray Valley’s trust.  Ortega skillfully navigates Seven’s decision making process, her telling a trusted adult about Valley’s situation, and Valley’s response to Seven’s decision to not honor her wish for secrecy.  Kids often trust their friends with this type of personal suffering before they trust adults, reading about characters their age doing what’s best is an important step towards knowing what to do.

The Thrill of a Whodunit Adventure

Once The Impossible Task is invoked the girls only have 3 weeks to accomplish it.  When a witchling becomes a Spare they are doomed to a life of servitude and the loss of magic. When a witchling invokes The Impossible Task, which doesn’t happen often, the consequence of failing is harsh.  For Seven, Valley and Thorn, the outlook is grim, if they fail they will be turned into toads, forever.  Ortega’s Spares mirror the creation and treatment of marginalized communities in the real world, giving readers an opportunity to explore this issue as they begin to empathize with the girls and root for their successful completion of what, by its very name seems impossible. 

As the Witchlings spend time researching in the library, around town, and putting plans into action they learn that each has an ability needed to the success of their task, and success is possible but only if they learn to trust each other and work as a team that values the individual while working for their collective goal.  As they analyze what they observe and research, as they go over their encounters with monstruos and their failed plans, they begin to notice things that do not fit with what they’ve learned of the history of their town, their town’s leadership, and the behaviors of Cucos and Nightbeasts.   Claribel Ortega leaves readers a trail of breadcrumbs that isn’t obvious, yet adds up as the story progresses and reaches its climax.  Readers will enjoy putting these clues together and coming up with their own list of suspects and motives, add the additional exhilarating element of a countdown, and readers will be staying up past their bedtime! 

I hope that we have many more installments of Seven, Valley and Thorn’s stories in The Twelve Towns, and I am sure young readers will be hoping for the same as they fly through the pages of Claribel Ortega’s Witchlings
Your readers will probably want to find out which coven they belong to! Take the Black Moon Ceremony Quiz to find out! 

Ro Menendez is a picture book collector and teacher-librarian in Mesquite, TX.  After thirteen years in the bilingual classroom she decided to transition to the library where she could build relationships with ALL readers on her campus. She enjoys the daily adventure of helping young readers develop their reader identity by connecting them with books that speak to their hearts and sense of humor! Ro’s favorite pastimes include reading aloud to children and recommending books to anyone who asks! She is also very passionate about developing a diverse library collection where all readers learn about themselves and those around them. You can find her on Twitter at @romenendez14.

Interview with debut author Sonja Thomas

Anne: Thank you, Sonja, for joining us at MG Book Village to chat about your debut novel, Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence, which hits shelves tomorrow, March 22. Would you please start by giving readers a very brief summary of the story?

Sonja: Hello! Thanks so much for having me. Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence is about a twelve-year-old scientist named Mira Williams who will stop at nothing to save her sick cat when her parents can no longer afford to treat his diabetes. It’s a story about friendship, family and the power of persistence.

Anne: And the cat’s name is Sir Fig Newton! Now, a friend calls Mira “stubborn,” but she prefers “persistent.” I love that! My question is whether you are at all like your protagonist? Are some parts of Mira’s story autobiographical? (If so, which parts?)

Sonja: Ha! Being stubborn—I mean persistent—is one of several things that Mira and I have in common. Just like Mira, I’m a biracial Black female (my father’s Black and my mother’s White); I grew up in a small Central Florida town, in between Orlando and Cocoa Beach; and I love listening and dancing to music. We’re both Orlando Magic fans and I too had a chonky gray cat diagnosed with diabetes.

Anne: You open with Mira trying to explode grapes in a microwave, hahahaha. Did you try that, yourself? Did you try all of the experiments mentioned in the book?

Sonja: I did try the grapes in a microwave! But after several attempts, the only result I got was smoke and a “charred, sugary stench.” I tried some of the other experiments mentioned, but not exactly in the same way that Mira did them. I purchased two National Geographic experiment kits: crystal garden and catapult (these were two of the experiments Mira did during STEM Girls camp). I hadn’t done experiments like these in a long time and they were so much fun. It was very satisfying to see my paper trees blooming with colorful crystals and watch my catapult successfully launch a cat sparkle ball across the room!

Anne: Very fun! In the story I enjoyed the mention of tee shirt slogans (such as “Never trust an atom, they make up everything”) and references to highway signs (like the one from NASA: “Curiosity is Out There”). Are these for real, or from your imagination?

Sonja: It’s a little bit of both! Most of the fun tee shirt slogans I either found online or I own the shirt (like “Otter Space”). But the shirt slogan “STEM Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and all of the highway signs are from my imagination.

Anne: Mira often wrestles with tough questions related to faith. Could you share a bit about your own thinking as you were drafting those scenes? When it comes to issues of faith, what do you hope readers will take away from this novel?

Sonja: When I began writing this story, I didn’t set out to include tough questions related to faith. It happened organically. At first I wanted to reveal Mira’s scientific beliefs—her faith in the facts. But then as I was going through some very rough times myself, I realized I wanted to show readers that even though we don’t have control over a lot of the hard stuff we encounter in life, we are never alone. There’s always something bigger than ourselves to help us move through it.

After reading this story, I hope readers will feel empowered to discover their own beliefs and that finding their faith will help them find themselves.

Anne: That’s great. The story also sheds light on the problem of diabetes (both in people and in cats). How much research did you have to do to understand this disease, and how did you decide how much to put in the story (diabetes is complicated!) and what to leave out?

Sonja: Luckily, I didn’t have to do a ton of research. Not only did my father and two uncles have Type 2 diabetes, but the story is loosely based on my real-life relationship with my cat, Whiskey, and our struggles when he was diagnosed with diabetes in 2007. I was fortunate enough, however, to be an adult with a great paying job so that I could afford the large vet bills.

It was difficult to decide how much to include and what to leave out. I did my best to stay focused not only on Mira’s main goal of saving her cat, but also to stay in her point of view. I’m very thankful for my editorial agent and amazing editor, who helped me keep the story focused, fun, and full of relevant-to-the-story information.

Anne: On your website, you reveal that your original title was “Mira and Whiskers.” When did you change the title, and why?

Sonja: As I mentioned, the story is loosely based on my cat, Whiskey. I called my fictional cat Whiskers (to make the name kid-friendly) and named Mira after my paternal grandmother, Elmira. One of my early readers pointed out that Mira the scientist would most likely have a different name for her cat and I immediately agreed. So after some fun brainstorming, Sir Fig Newton came to be.

When I was sending queries to get an agent, the title was Sir Fig Newton & the Greatest Scientist That Ever Lived (after Einstein, of course). My agent suggested I shorten the title and after more brainstorming, Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence was born. Although it wasn’t much shorter, we both agreed that it fit with the story’s theme, and it’s a fun title.

Anne: It IS a fun title! Finally, where can readers go to learn more about you and your work?

Sonja: Readers can visit my website, I’m also on Instagram and Twitter at @bysonjathomas. Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence is available at all the usual retailers, including Bookshop and IndieBound, and at some of my favorite local indie bookstores, Annie Bloom’s Books, Vintage Books, and Powell’s Books. For readers who don’t have it in their budget to buy a book, please consider requesting Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence at your local library (if it’s not already in stock)!

Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by MG Book Village, and for writing such an engaging story!

Sonja: Thank you so much for having me. I had the best time answering your thoughtful and fun questions and I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. I hope your readers will love Mira and Sir Fig’s story too!

Sonja Thomas (she/her) writes stories for readers of all ages, often featuring brave, everyday girls doing extraordinary things. Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence is her debut middle grade novel. She’s also a contributing author for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic. Raised in Central Florida—home of the wonderful world of Disney, humidity, and hurricanes—and a Washington, DC, transplant for eleven years (go Nats!), she’s now “keeping it weird” in the Pacific Northwest with her roommate and four pawesome cats.

Anne (A.B.) Westrick is today’s MG Book Village interviewer. She’s the author of the older-MG novel Brotherhood. You can learn more about her at

COVER REVEAL for Ham-Let: A Shakespearean Mash-Up by Jim Burnstein and Garrett Schiff

* Thanks to Supriya Kelkar for conducting this interview

Hi Jim and Garrett! Welcome to MG Book Village. I’m so excited to chat with you about your middle-grade debut, HAM-LET: A SHAKESPEAREAN MASH-UP, illustrated by Elisa Ferrari, set for release March 29th from Dark Horse. With this retelling, you’ve made Hamlet accessible and fun for so many younger readers. What inspired you to tell this version of the story?

Ever since college we have loved all things Shakespeare. So, when Dark Horse Comics came to us with the idea of writing a graphic novel about Hamlet as a pig, we jumped at the chance and decided to write a Shakespearean Mash-Up that would introduce readers to all of Shakespeare’s most famous tragic characters in a fun way. In our version, they are now part of a fledgling theater company led by Horatio the Rabbit where every one of them wants to be the star of the show. In order to win his kingdom back, our Pig Prince Ham-let must teach this troupe the valuable life lesson that the play of life is bigger than just your part. If there’s a method to our mash-up madness, it is simply this: to transform tragedy into comedy and to show the very thin line that separates the two. But this too, of course, is one of Shakespeare’s greatest lessons. That’s why we wanted to include Nick the Donkey from A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a member of our band of animal players.

Can you tell us a bit about your work in Hollywood and what it was like writing a middle-grade graphic novel? Did you approach it the same way you write a screenplay?

We have written and sold well over twenty screenplays to virtually every studio in Hollywood, including Shakespeare-inspired screenplays like Renaissance Man, which was based on Jim’s personal experience teaching Shakespeare to soldiers. Like Shakespeare, we have written comedies, tragedies, and dramadies or what Shakespeare would call tragicomedies. We approached Ham-let very much the way we would a screenplay. What does the protagonist want? What obstacles does he have to overcome? How does his emotional journey evolve over the three acts? Shakespeare himself provided us with the blueprint. Still, writing a graphic middle-grade novel is one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced. It is like writing and directing a movie at the same time. Every panel functions as a single shot in a film. And that’s before the illustrations are done! We loved working with our graphic artist, Elisa Ferrari, and were excited to see her sketches, pencil drawings, color pages and finally the lettered drafts. The editing process at times felt like a new mountain we had to climb. But thanks to our editor Megan Walker, we hope to climb that mountain again soon. As readers will note at the end of Ham-let, the sequel is hopefully set…

A sequel? How exciting! I can’t wait. What do you hope your readers take away from HAM-LET: A SHAKESPEAREAN MASH-UP?

We hope our readers develop a lifelong interest in Shakespeare and that by the time they get to college they will have a real desire to study Shakespeare. That being said, we believe that parents and educators alike who are familiar with Shakespeare will appreciate the humor and the many Shakespeare references and jokes throughout. Sort of like a Shakespearean scavenger hunt.

And now…for the big reveal!

The cover, designed by Diego Morales-Portillo and illustrated by Elisa Ferrari.  

What did you think when you first saw the cover art?

What did you think when you first saw the cover art? Our first reaction to the cover art created by Elisa Ferrari was one of pure delight. The superhero font of the title was the perfect way to attract readers to this classic tale. We absolutely loved Valerio Alloro’s vibrant colors, the lettering by Frank Cvetkovic and the design by Diego Morales-Portillo. All of this made our vision come to life and the book feel very real!

Thanks so much for introducing us to Ham-let and his world. Where can educators learn more about you and your work?

Garrett is on Instagram @garrettschiff and on Twitter @yumpaschiff

Jim is on Twitter @jimburnstein

Jim Burnstein, Professor and Director of the University of Michigan’s nationally acclaimed Screenwriting Program since 1995, managed to beat the odds and make it as a successful Hollywood screenwriter without moving from his home in Plymouth, Michigan. Burnstein’s screen credits include Renaissance Man, the 1994 comedy directed by Penny Marshall and starring Danny DeVito; D3: The Mighty Ducks;  and Love and Honor, starring Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer, co-written with Garrett K. Schiff of Los Angeles. Other Burnstein and Schiff credits include Ruffian starring Sam Shepard (ABC/ESPN) and Naughty or Nice starring George Lopez (ABC). Currently in the works is The School of Jeff, a television series with Big Bang Theory exclusive director Mark Cendrowski atttached to direct and produce. Burnstein and Schiff are delighted to see their first middle grade graphic book, Ham-let: A Shakespearean Mash-Up written for Dark Horse and published by Penguin now availabe to students and educators everywhere! It is the first of what they hope will be many such comedic Shakespearean mash-ups!

Garrett Schiff is a writer/producer of narrative films, television, documentaries and now graphic novels. After selling a TV show to Viacom while still college, Garrett sold his first screenplay to Universal, wrote animated projects for Disney Animation and Dreamworks, then partnered with Jim Burnstein to write and produce Love and Honor starring Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer,  Ruffian and the George Lopez movie Naughty or Nice for ABC and ESPN, as well as selling screenplays to nearly every studio in town. Currently in the works is The School of Jeff, a television series with The Big Bang Theory exclusive director Mark Cendrowski atttached to direct and produce. In 2018, Garrett produced the Academy Award winning short documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” This year he produced “Long Line of Ladies” which premiered at The Sundance Film Festival.  Garrett and Jim are thrilled to see their first middle grade graphic book, Ham-let: A Shakespearean Mash-Up written for Dark Horse and published by Penguin now availabe to students and educators everywhere! It is the first of what they hope will be many such comedic Shakespearean mash-ups!

Blowing the Plot…On A Plotter by Paul Coccia

*Thanks to Paul Coccia for sharing the piece with MG Book Village. ON THE LINE will be released on March 15th by Orca Book Publishers

I knew Eric Walter’s reputation as a legend and master of writing when he asked me to co-author a book with him. With his drive, altruism and over 100 books, he knows more than a thing or two. Especially where plot is concerned, one of his many strengths. Now I am a confirmed plantser: the halfway mark between a writer who plots and one who flies by the seat of their pants. I’ve taken at least a dozen online quizzes and it always turns out the same: split right down the middle plantser.

We began speaking and Eric had a strong sense of the story’s action and the main character. I was left open to my favourite part, helping populate the world we were creating. Knowing that Eric has an expertise, I wasn’t about to mess with a good thing.

Except I did. I blew the plot. On a plotter. And a master plotter at that.

Eric and I wrote from one main character’s point of view. We revised each other’s work. A lot. I took out or changed things on him and he did the same. There was no ego. There was no, I was right, how dare you? There was lots of good conversation. Eric always stopped to explain why things were jiving or weren’t. He made sure I was doing the same. He’s a legend that way too.

As we worked, Eric and I kept a document. Eric more diligently, to be fair. It kept track of where the story and characters had been, where they were going, page count, word counts, etc. It was the roadmap to the adventure. This came in handy especially as we wrote out of order. For example, I may have been working on chapters 3, 4, 8 and 9 while Eric handled 5, 6 and 7. Neither of us knew what the other was writing exactly. We had a general sense due to the document. But we didn’t actually see the words on the page until revising. Luckily, we can both be fast writers so within a week, we’d have all the chapters compiled and edit them to make sure they flowed and were consistent before we tackled the next set. It wasn’t conventional. I’m not sure either of us would recommend it as a good process. But it worked for us only because of the document that gave us a clear direction to move forward together cohesively.

One afternoon, I hung up the phone after having established what the action of the story would be for the next several chapters through to the end of the novel, which ones I’d tackle, which ones Eric would. We had a solid plan. The map and compass were in fine working order.

But when I sat down to write, everything I put down on the paper sucked. Big time sucked. That’s fine if I’m working solo. I’ll sit and rewrite a section until it feels right. I’ll scrap a piece a hundred times until I’ve worked out the problems. Except now I was responsible to another author. He was relying on me to get those scenes out. Scenes that affected his ability to do his job and write. Scenes I’d established with him and talked about and agreed to. I mean, we wrote them down on a document so it was all very official and serious. They made sense. They flowed. But what flowed out of me was stinking up the page.

So, I tried again. I doubled down. A strong work ethic would get it going. I worked late into the night to the wee hours of the morning. It’s my preferred time to work so it’s not like staying up is out of habit. Finally, I scrapped the garbage I was producing. I didn’t save the pages. They weren’t worth saving and I’d be ashamed to show them to anyone, let alone another writer. Let alone Eric Walters!

  I got some water. I sat back down. I went back and reread our last few chapters. My mind wandered back to the earliest conversations Eric and I had about the story and our characters. We had talked about how not all the things someone inherits are physical, tangible things, and how some inheritances are not positives. Our father in the story inherited a car from his father. What else did he take possession of? What was he passing on to his son?

 And I stopped trying so hard and wrote. It wasn’t the next chapter Eric and I had agreed upon only hours before. I was blowing the plot. Yet, the scene flew out. Finally! It felt right. It spoke to who our characters were and what they were struggling with. It gave me a chance to pause with them and let them resonate.

I wrote an email and attached the chapter for Eric. I went to bed thinking, Why? Why couldn’t I just write down what I had agreed to write? I’d made a commitment to Eric, one of my own design. I had shaped that outlining document as much as he had. It all sounded good. So, why? And why did I hit send before I thought better of it? I hoped Eric didn’t see this as some act of rebellion or me thinking I knew better. These self-doubts were only replaced by exhaustion.

When I answered my phone the next day, Eric began receiving my apologies stammered out almost as soon as we’d said Hello. He asked me where the scene had come from and I told him how I’d tried, I really really tried to write what we agreed on, I knew I’d thrown the plotline off, we could scrap it if it wasn’t good, I’d try again, but that first conversation we’d had came back and the scene was the only thing that didn’t feel completely wrong, I was sorry! I blew the plot!

Eric listened then said, “Plots are meant to be blown. It’s the only reason you write them down.”

If you’re curious, the scene in question takes place in the grandfather’s garage in our upcoming middle grade novel, On The Line from Orca Book Publishers. Eric agreed that it was a scene worthy of blowing a plot on. It was what was needed. My instincts had been on but only after I failed and failed and failed then stopped to listen to them.

We rejigged the storyline. The work wasn’t nearly as bad or as much as I thought. A small transition. A bit of reordering. It was all good. . .

Until we had to rework the document again because, well, I guess I just love a monkey wrench and because plots are only made to be blown. Of course, Eric already knew that. He is a master plotter, after all.

Paul Coccia is the author of Cub, The Player, as well as co-author of On The Line with Eric Walters. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and is often found baking in his Toronto kitchen with his nephew, three dogs and a parrot who loves spaghetti (but isn’t crazy about meatballs.)