Cover Reveal for THE CROOKED DOOR by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester

Kathie: Hi Brad! It’s great to have a chance to talk to you and share the cover of the book you wrote with Louis Sylvester called THE CROOKED DOOR, set for release in Spring 2023 from Henry Holt and Co. This is our first reveal for 2023, so it’s exciting to start seeing books coming out next year. I’d love to hear more about it, please.

Brad: Thanks so much for having me! I’m so excited The Crooked Door is MG Book Village’s first cover reveal for 2023! In a nutshell, The Crooked Door is a standalone, contemporary horror novel for upper middle-graders that centers on a very strange Midwestern community called Pottsville. Our main protagonist, a 13-year-old girl named Ginny Snell, gets stuck in Pottsville after she and her parents encounter a dust storm on their way to Nebraska, where they’ve been forced to relocate after financial difficulties. When their truck breaks down on the outskirts of Pottsville, Ginny and her folks encounter a small heartland town that feels, on the surface, like the most heavenly place on earth, complete with smiling, friendly residents and a postcard-perfect downtown. But surface is the exact right word, because nothing is what it seems and Ginny quickly realizes their new surroundings are . . . not quite right . . . under that pitch-perfect veneer of streets and neighborhoods. 

When Louis and I pitched this concept to Henry Holt, we said it’s like R.L. Stine walking into the Twilight Zone and meeting a (kid-friendly) version of the Children of the Corn. It’s a scary, action-packed book, and we’re so excited for our readers to dive in!  

Kathie: This novel is your first middle-grade book that isn’t part of the Legends of the Lost Causes series. Was it difficult to leave that world?

Brad: Actually, because Louis and I had concluded the writing of the Legends trilogy in a pretty grand and satisfying fashion back in mid-2019, entering a brand new world — that is to say, entering a contemporary world that wasn’t the Old West — felt exciting and refreshing to us. We definitely miss our old friends, Keech Blackwood and his Lost Causes, but getting to play in a whole new sandbox in Pottsville and invent the scariest town ever put to paper was an absolute blast. But Legends readers, take heart! The world of The Crooked Door may not look like the Old West, but Louis and I have placed a few Easter eggs into Pottsville that you may find . . . familiar. We hope you can spot them!  

Kathie: Can you tell us a bit about your main character, Ginny, and one way in which you wish you were more like her?

Brad: In many ways, I feel like Ginny is mine and Louis’s most deeply drawn character, because she lives a complex life that so many kids can relate to and understand. Her family doesn’t come from a lot of money, so they struggle financially for various reasons, and she also faces the same kind of pressures and emotions that so many real kids face these days. Feelings of isolation, estrangement from her parents, the sudden loss of her community, her normal surroundings, her friendships. But out of all that personal turmoil, Ginny is able to tap a deep well of strength that I often wish I could find in myself. Even when everything begins to crumble around her, even as the darkness of Pottsville sets its eyes and teeth on her family, she works to comprehend her own fears and how to overcome them. I wish I had that kind of resilience and courage of heart! (Plus, she’s a mechanic, a pro at fixing engines. I can’t even change a windshield wiper without consulting the Internet for instructions.) 

Kathie: What is it about writing horror that you enjoy?

Brad: For me, writing (and reading) horror is a perfect way for me to channel all the fears and frustrations and concerns of the real world and center them in a place that I can control and understand. Some people might view the horror genre as harmful or unhelpful. I see it as the absolute opposite. I see it as an essential conduit for my own anxieties, and we all need those kinds of conduits whether we realize it or not. When I write a scary story, I’m making a promise to myself and to my readers, “Yes, you can and will survive this, and you can come out of this frightening place stronger than you were before.” I also appreciate the fact that horror can be a type of mirror. It can show humanity what it’s doing, what it’s capable of, and where it could end up, but through all of that darkness, it can light the way to more empathy and respect and love and hope.   

Kathie: What challenges did co-writing this book during the pandemic pose for you?

Brad: In many ways, co-writing the Legends of the Lost Causes trilogy with Louis was the perfect “dry run” for writing The Crooked Door during the thick of a pandemic. Back in 2011, after Louis began his job as a college professor in Idaho, we grew accustomed to writing together via Google Docs, over 1,000 miles apart from each other. We developed a schedule that worked remarkably well for meeting our publisher deadlines, and we honed those collaborative skills over the course of three interconnecting novels. When the pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020, we were just preparing to launch our third and final Legends book, The Key of Skeleton Peak, when the world shut down. Although Louis and I lost a ton of footing on the promotional and marketing side for Legends, we gained the time and ability to go back to the drawing board and come up with a whole new world. We were able to write an early first draft of The Crooked Door in a kind of fever rush in summer and fall of that year. If we experienced any challenges with The Crooked Door, they had more to do with the burnout of being stuck in our homes during a shut-down, and the constant concerns about everyone’s health and safety, than the act of collaborating itself. 

Kathie: OK, let’s talk about the book’s cover. Can you tell us who illustrated it and what part you played in it?

Brad: Our artist for this cover is the incredible David Seidman, a dark surrealist who turned out to be the most perfect choice of cover artist our team could have possibly made. When the time came to start hashing out ideas about a cover, Henry Holt reached out to me and Louis and our agent, Amy Stapp, with a few names for possible artists. Louis and Amy and I had already shared some artistic concepts with our long-time editor, Brian Geffen, who has always been so wonderful and open-minded about our ideas. So when Brian and his team offered David’s aesthetic as one of our choices to consider, we realized Henry Holt had not only listened to our concepts but were fully and graciously embracing them. David’s brilliant, unique eye for the uncanny and surreal fits lock-step with our novel’s dark, twisty, otherworldly subject matter, and we’ve been delighted to work with him. I highly recommend checking out David’s incredible, immersive portfolio. But keep the lights on when you do! 

Kathie: Drumroll, please, here is the cover!!!

Kathie: Wow, that is SO eye-catching! The characters definitely jump out at you. What would you like readers to know about this book?

Brad: First and foremost, it’s scary. Louis and I wanted not only to take you on a journey into a place you’ve never quite seen before, but we also wanted that journey to be as dangerous and creepy as possible. So prepare to read with the lamp on and the flashlight full of batteries (you’ve been warned)! Second thing to know: it’s full of heart. We didn’t want to write The Crooked Door for scary thrills alone. We wanted our readers to feel for Ginny and her family and friends, so we packed as much humanity into the pages as we possibly could. And finally, we want readers to know that this story is for everyone. We like to think of it as our small contribution to the modern fairytale, and as you know the best fairytales are universal. We hope readers — young and old alike, and from every background imaginable — love Ginny’s story as much as we loved writing it. 

Kathie: Where can we go to find out more about you and Louis, and your writing?

Brad: Though Louis tends to be very quiet on social media, I’m a frequent visitor on Twitter and Instagram (still learning TikTok, though; that one’s gonna take me a while to master). You can find out more about our books at our Macmillan landing page, where you can also find links to preorder The Crooked Door. And if you’re interested in giving us an early review of The Crooked Door, you can always request an e-galley, which is now available at both Edelweiss and NetGalley! You can also visit me at my website, www.bradmcbooks.com, and talk to me on Twitter (@bradmcbooks), and on Instagram (@bradmclelland). In addition, I’m a proud member of the author group, Spooky Middle Grade, so if you’re a teacher or librarian, be sure to contact me and my Spooky friends for author virtual visits! 

Kathie: Thanks for letting us be part of your reveal, Brad, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release!

Born and raised in Arkansas, Brad McLelland spent several years working as a crime journalist in the South before earning his MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. By day, Brad is an editor and writer of firefighter and emergency services training manuals in Oklahoma, and he enjoys playing Mario Kart with his family, taking pictures of his cats, going on long walks through the woods, and watching scary movies. Louis Sylvester earned his PhD from Oklahoma State University (where he met Brad) and is a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He enjoys playing tabletop games from his collection of over 1,000 card and board games, watching western films, reading fantasy novels, and spending time with his wife and dog. Brad and Louis are co-authors of the Legends of the Lost Causes series, a middle-grade western fantasy trilogy published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Book 1 of the trilogy received the 2019 Oklahoma Book Award in the Young Adult category, and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Book 2 of the series placed as a Finalist in the 2020 Western Writers of America Spur Awards contest. Brad and Louis will publish their fourth novel, The Crooked Door, with Henry Holt on April 11, 2023. 

Interview with Mat Heagerty about LUMBERJACKULA

Kathie: Hi Mat, and welcome to MG Book Village! I appreciate you taking some time to chat with me today. You have an upcoming MG graphic novel called LUMBERJACKULA illustrated by Sam Owens and scheduled for release on July 19th from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Mat: Hi Kathie, so happy to be chatting! Lumberjackula is about Jack, a ½ vampire, ½ lumberjack who can’t decide which of his parent’s old middle schools he wants to attend, because the truth is, all he wants to do is dance! There’s tons of fun dance sequences beautifully drawn by Sam Owen and loads of puns and unique characters. It’s a story about how you don’t have to choose just one side of yourself. I can’t wait to get it in kids hands!

Kathie: It sounds like this story has a very relatable theme of finding the confidence to do your own thing. Why was it important for you to write about this?

Mat: As a kid, I struggled a ton with confidence and still do now really. I’m dyslexic and was a pretty poor student. It wasn’t until I started expressing myself creatively that my confidence grew. I’m the dad of the two best kids in the world, and I want them to eternally feel supported to be whoever they are and I want more stories in the world that celebrate folks dancing to their own beat. I’m hoping kids reading Jack’s story will be inspired to be more brave and go after what they want. 

Kathie: Did you enjoy reading humorous stories when you were younger, and who are some of your writing influences?

Mat: Reading wasn’t the easiest when I was a kid, but I was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes. I also watched pretty much every cartoon ever in the 90s. I have so many writing influences, some maybe more obvious ones are Jeff Kinney, Vera Brosgol, Alex Hersh (and the Gravity Falls writers), and John Allison. But I was also really influenced early on by Brian K. Vaughan and Jeff Lemire.

Kathie: If you could choose to be a lumberjack or a vampire, which would you choose, and why?

Mat: Oh vampire, no question! I want as much time on earth as possible. There’s a ton I want to do, and I never seem to have the time. So living forever would be rad. I would have to vampirize my family (with their blessing of course) and I would figure out a not jerky way to get my blood and just fly around doing cool stuff. I’m already pretty nocturnal and like wearing black, so I think it would fit me well! Being a lumberjack wouldn’t be awful, I do love me some flannel and being outside. But the whole manual labor, coordination part I would just be so, so bad at.

Kathie: What was the collaboration process like for you with Sam when creating this graphic novel?

Mat: I would make a hundred books with Sam if I could! I hope there’s a demand for some Lumberjackula sequels. This entire process with Sam has just been amazing. I approached Sam about the book when I just had a synopsis, a sample script, and some character designs. Since then, he’s added so much to every word I wrote in the scripts and I couldn’t imagine the book without him. We both got our agent Maria through this project, and it’s been awesome going on this journey with him. I can’t wait to start promoting it a bit out there in the real world and maybe even meet him in person one day!

Kathie: What’s something new you discovered about yourself as a writer while working on this book?

Mat: I guess not really fully new, but with Lumberjackula I feel like I’ve really landed on the type of books I want to make– silly middle grade where really anything can happen!

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

Mat: I have a website that’s due for an overhaul, but has all the important info. Matheagerty.com I also am @mat.heagerty on instagram and for some reason, I still subject myself to twitter, I’m @matheagerty on there.

Kathie: Best of luck with your book’s release, Mat, and thanks for stopping by the Village.

Mat: Thank you so much for having me! I’m grateful! 

Mat Heagerty is a comic book writer living in Boise, ID. He’s the writer of “Martian Ghost Centaur”, “Unplugged and Unpopular”, and Lumberjackula”. 

Interview with Diane Magras about SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS

Kathie: Hi Diane, thank you for joining me today at MG Book Village. I’m so glad we can talk about your upcoming book, SECRET OF THE SHADOW BEASTS, which comes out on June 14th from Dial Books. I recently read an eARC and loved it! Can you tell our readers a bit about it, please?

Diane: Thank you so much for your kind words, Kathie! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed Secret of the Shadow Beasts. And thank you for hosting me.

Here’s the official publisher’s description:

In Brannland, terrifying shadow beasts called Umbrae roam freely once the sun sets, so venomous that a single bite will kill a full-grown adult. The only people who can destroy them are immune children like Nora, who are recruited at the age of seven to leave their families behind and train at a steampunk castle called Noye’s Hill. But despite her immunity, Nora’s father refused to let her go. Now, years after his death by Umbra attack, Nora is twelve, and sees her mother almost killed by the monsters too. That’s when Nora decides it’s time for her to join the fight.

At Noye’s Hill, Nora’s new companions draw her into a sweeping world of round-the-clock battle training, fierce loyalty to one another, and sworn allegiance to defeat the Umbrae above all else. But despite slaying so many beasts night after night, the Umbrae’s population is quickly growing. And the government is keeping secrets about the source of the Umbrae, secrets that may tie back to Nora herself . . . and lead Brannland’s downfall.

Kathie: I love Nora is such a fully-developed character who is eager for battle yet vulnerable and true to herself. What draws you to write such female protagonists?

Diane: I saw this kind of person in kids I’ve met when I volunteered at my son’s elementary school library, or in his friends, or kids I’ve connected with during my author talks. There’s still a lot of gender bias in our world (definitely for girls, but for boys and non-binary kids too), dictating to kids who and what they should be. Girls especially are told to be strong and tough—or be gentle and nurturing. I wanted to depict a girl who was a bit of both—because truly, that’s who we are: not just one stereotype of our gender identity.

Also, ever since I wrote the Mad Wolf’s Daughter books (which feature a girl with immense confidence), I wanted to write a protagonist who was more like the kid I was when I was 12: I liked who I was, but I wasn’t so sure if the world would like me. And Nora has something else she’s dealing with: At age seven, she’s been told that she’s immune to the shadow beasts’ venom. She’s an incredible person, one of these special kids who can save the world. But then her father won’t let her do it. That had a huge psychological impact on her. She loves and trusts her dad, but starts to doubt herself (and her worth) at that point.

That’s one of the roots of her vulnerability. It parallels the period of life where kids start to really look at themselves and question their worth. That can feel shattering, and is always hard to get through. I wanted to honor that time in kids’ lives.

Kathie: The influence of video games plays an important role in this story. Can you tell us a bit about that inspiration?

Diane: During the start of the pandemic (right when I was working on the second draft of this book), my teenage son, an avid gamer, introduced me to two of the many games he plays: Minecraft and Wynncraft (an MMORPG, a massive multiplayer online game). I saw and experienced how gaming could provide an essential respite to people who were feeling crushed under the immense stress of the time. The more I saw and the more I learned (from conversations with my son, as well as gaming videos I watched), I also realized that gaming is a place where kids can be themselves, be powerful, and achieve something important. When I developed the character of Wilfred, Nora’s best friend and gaming companion, I realized that gaming could also be a profound bond between them, the crux of a deep friendship. Of course, the world that Nora enters—in which she’s a warrior in real life (as she reminds Wilfred at one point)—would strain that relationship. Gaming also gave me an opportunity to keep Nora connected to her home life through the chat function of the game, which she sneaks in with her to Noye’s Hill.

I couldn’t have done any of this without a solid model of a game in front of me, and I owe that to my son: The game that Nora and Wilfred play, Warriors of the Frozen Bog, is his own creation. Early on, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind coming up with a quick description of a video game that I could feature in this book. I was expecting a paragraph or two. He came back with a full concept—lore, classes and builds, a progression system, map, the whole thing. It was beautiful, inspiring, fun, and a game that I very muchwanted to play. Having that detailed outline helped me easily envision how this game would be a big part of Nora’s life—and parallel the action of the story too.

Kathie: I noticed in the acknowledgement that you mention the young readers’ input that helped shape this book. What’s one thing a middle-grade reader pointed out to you that you may have missed as an adult?

Diane: I have two things, actually, that I’d like to share. One: I am so grateful to my son for his creation of Warriors of the Frozen Bog, as mentioned above. If I’d created my own video game for this book, it wouldn’t have been so vivid, and I wouldn’t have been able to imagine Nora and Wilfred being so devoted to it, or had the parallels with the story that it now has. Warriors of the Frozen Bog feels utterly real, all thanks to him. (And I love that this huge element of this book is his creation.)

I’m also grateful to two elementary school classes in a small town here in Maine who helped me pick my cover artist. I’d presented to Mrs. Braun’s and Mrs. Snell’s classes before, and I asked them if they could ask their students to rate five ideas I had for the art that would serve as this book’s face. Using the cover samples I provided, they and their students did more than just rate: They provided an analysis of cover art and what it conveyed. They sent back detailed notes. It was easy for me to request Vivenne To (who’d been my favorite for this book all along!), but it incredibly helpful to know why students had chosen her.

Kathie: There are several types of Umbrae with different characteristics. Why did you choose to create more than one variety, and which would you prefer to face in a battle?

Diane: When I first came up with the concept, I knew I wanted different kinds of monsters to challenge the characters in different ways. I also wanted to represent different aspects of fear. I know a lot of people who are terrified of spiders (hence the Aranea umbrae, which are spider-like), others who are scared of snakes (leading me to the Cochlea umbrae, which are snake/slug combos), and some who have serious dog phobias (hence the Lupus umbrae, which are wolf-like silver dogs). I wanted these monsters to be scary, and rooted in the real world.

Here’s a secret about me, though: I’m not afraid of any of those creatures! I used to be afraid of spiders, but I love them now, and I talk to them as I rescue them. I’ve always loved snakes, felt sorry for slugs, and I grew up with shaggy dogs that may have some things in common with the Lupus umbrae. So…if I met any of these on a battlefield, I’d probably start talking to them and tell them they were beautiful!

But if I had to fight one, I’d pick the Lupus umbrae; like Nora, I know dogs and can do serious voice commands.

Kathie: What’s something you’d like readers to know about your story?

Diane: I want young readers to know that this book, with all its action and adventure and monsters, is also a warm read about friendship and family, and that the young characters feel important, respected, and cared for. That last part was really important to me as I was writing this. The kids who go to battle are shouldering a huge load and are in great danger. They bond with each other—some of those scenes when they first begin to connect were the most rewarding for me to write—but they also always know that the people in charge are going to do everything they can to help. This is a world where kids can be themselves, and be loved and respected for it. I hope that young readers will feel my own respect and care for them as they read my words.

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

Diane: You can check out my website, and find me also on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. You can also find out more about all my work at Penguin Random House’s page for me.

Kathie: Thanks for chatting with me today, Diane, and I wish you all the best with your book’s release.

Diane: Thanks so much for having me, Kathie! It’s always a pleasure to join MG Book Village. And thank you as well for your incredible support of middle authors and our books.

Diane Magras (she/her) is the award-winning author of the New York Times Editors’ Choice The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, as well as its companion novel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. Secret of the Shadow Beasts is her third book. An unabashed fan of libraries (where she wrote her first novel as a teenager), history (especially from cultures or people who’ve rarely had their story told), and the perfect cup of tea, Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son.

Interview with Alex Gino about Alice Austen Lived Here

Anne: Hello, Alex! I’m so glad you’re here at MG Book Village to chat about your latest novel, Alice Austen Lived Here, which hits shelves tomorrow, June 7! Could we please start with you giving readers a very brief summary of the story?

Alex: Sure thing. Nonbinary 7th grader Sam and their best friend TJ need to find a local historical figure for a contest to design a new statue to be built in front of Staten Island Borough Hall. With the help of the queer community in their building, they learn about Alice Austen, an early photographer who likely would have been defined as a lesbian today. On the way, they explore themes of LGBTQIAP+ history, chosen family, mentors, and more. It’s the story I’m proudest of yet and I’m excited to share it with readers.

Anne: I love the unique way you incorporated history into this novel: you put your protagonist in the very apartment where photographer Alice Austen once lived. Brilliant. So my question is: how did you get this idea for your setting?

Alex: Thanks. This is an easy one; that’s the building where I lived until I was 12.

Anne: Ha! Too perfect!

Alex: I lived in a different apartment, but I had the same view of New York Harbor as Sam does, and as Alice once did. I knew about Alice Austen growing up, but I didn’t learn she had lived in my building until I was in college and found out that Alice had been partnered with a woman for fifty years. I was so excited to find a part of Staten Island history that wasn’t straight that I found the same biography Sam does in the book and made the same discovery that Sam’s best friend TJ does. Alice Austen Lived There.

Anne: Love it. Now, the characters represent multiple generations ranging from 6 month-old Evie to Leslie, the 82 year-old neighbor. Middle-schooler Sam interacts with them all. With which character do you most identify? Do you see yourself in one more than in the others?

Alex: There’s a bit of me in all of my characters, but probably the most in Evie’s parents. Jess is a self-assured fat femme, and Val is a cheerful nonbinary nerd, and they are both living their lives as fully themselves as possible. I also find a lot of myself in my main character, Sam, unsurprisingly, but they have access to language and community that I didn’t. And so sometimes I feel like Leslie, someone now living in a very different world from the queer community I first discovered nearly thirty years ago.

Anne: The book’s themes are great, particularly the one—as you say in the epigraph—that “language changes; the need to be ourselves doesn’t.” So true. Over the years, there have been huge shifts in LGBTQIAP+ terminology, and even that acronym—oh, my, what a mouthful! Would you please talk a bit about your interest in including “changing language” as one of the story’s themes?

Alex: Language and word play have always fascinated me. In the case of shifting language for the rainbow of communities of people outside of “straight,” repression, shame, laws, and more have kept people from gathering and communicating. We have had to invent and repurpose words to describe ourselves, both because the words didn’t exist and because the words that do exist can be dangerous to use, hurled as insults, or otherwise not right. Now that we are stretching and growing, we have new spaces to explore words that work better for us, and the process will continue. As a writer, whose words get sealed in the time capsule of a novel, that can lead to tricky situations about word choice. For me, the answer has been to incorporate the issue of evolving language into the story itself.

Anne: Nice. The book is about queer history, about questioning stereotypes, about friendship and families, and what makes a family a family, and on all fronts, it’s a breath of fresh air. What do you hope readers will take away from Alice Austen Lived Here?

Alex: Thank you for the compliment. I hope that readers from queer and trans families will see people and connections like theirs on the page. And for readers unaccustomed to queer and trans cultures, I hope that they’ll have the chance to experience a family unlike theirs in some ways, but just as loving and just as imperfect. I’m excited for readers to learn about Alice Austen and to be inspired to discover other queer and trans people from history. We were always here.

Anne: Where can readers go to learn more about you and your work?

Alex: I can most commonly be found on twitter @lxgino. I am also occasionally on facebook @authoralexgino. But if you want to reach me, the best option is to email me at alex@alexgino.com. You can also find links to media interviews, blog posts, and more at my website, alexgino.com.

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

Alex: You’re welcome and thank YOU for sharing it.

Alex Gino. Photo by Blake C. Aarens.

Alex Gino is the author of the middle grade novels Alice Austen Lived Here; Rick; You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!; and the Stonewall Award-winning Melissa. They love glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-ful puns, and stories that reflect the complexity of being alive. For more information, visit alexgino.com.

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 https://abwestrick.com/

Interview with Sylvia Liu about HANA HSU AND THE GHOST CRAB NATION

Kathie: Hi Sylvia, and welcome to MG Book Village! I recently had a chance to read your middle-grade science fiction novel, HANA HSU AND THE GHOST CRAB NATION, which comes out on June 21st from Razorbill Books, and I loved it! Can you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?

Sylvia: Thank you so much! In a hyperconnected world under corporate control, twelve-year-old Hana can’t wait to get meshed—her brain connected to the multiweb. She thinks this will bring her closer to her high-powered scientist mom and overachieving sister. But when she discovers a corporate plot that threatens her classmates about to be meshed, she must rely on her wits and newfound allies—new friends, junkyard hackers, and a qi gong master—to save them, all while navigating complex family dynamics. Also, throw into the mix some bird bots, cyber bees, and a massive online game featuring ancient Chinese monks, warriors, and scholars.

Kathie: I loved getting to know Hana. She’s loyal, curious, and has a strong sense of justice. How are you most like her, and in what way are you different?

Sylvia: Hana and I are similar in our strong urge to connect with family, friends, and community, and our eagerness to make sense of the world. Hana is more of a tinkerer and scientifically-minded than I am, which made it interesting to write her character.

Kathie: What made you set this book in the year 2053?

Sylvia: When writing science fiction, it can be easy to set a story a hundred or a thousand years in the future and let one’s imagination go wild. The trickier challenge is to speculate what might happen within our lifetimes. For me, thirty years in the future is a good amount of time to extrapolate from current events and scientific advances and explore how things might turn out. I also wanted to include “historical” references from the 1990s that will appeal to parents of current twelve-year-olds.

Kathie: I love how you balanced the advantages of cutting-edge science with some of its drawbacks. Why was it important for you to have characters like Hana’s grandma who were resistant to making those technological leaps.

Sylvia: In discussions about technology, there’s always a range of attitudes from the early adopters to those resistant to change. I wanted to show that people with all of these perspectives have good points to make. As someone who grew up without the Internet or social media for half my life, but who was an early tech and social media adopter (and who is sometimes too addicted to the online world), I see the costs and benefits of both sides.

Kathie: Hana wants to be enmeshed because she feels disconnected from her mom and sister. There are several timeless middle-grade themes in your story (such as feeling shut out of the life of an older sibling) with futuristic spins on them. Can you share a bit more about how you did that?

Sylvia: I believe almost everyone, at some point, has felt excluded from a group they want to be a part of, whether it’s a group of friends or a subset of family members. At its heart, Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation is about a girl who feels abandoned and desperately wants to belong again. So while I had a great time spinning a near-future with cool tech and an exciting, twisty thriller, I always tried to bring the story back to the emotional beats: Hana’s wants, fears, and joys. 

Kathie: What’s one technological advancement you would like to see in your lifetime?

Sylvia: What a great question. I’d like to see people seriously addressing and reversing global warming. It’s going to take a lot more than technological advances to do so, but they are a critical part of the toolbox. For example, we need to figure out ways to trap greenhouse gases, conserve energy, and reduce our carbon footprint. One small example would be super-efficient solar power generation. The harder part will be getting the political will to make these changes.

Kathie: Can you share one thing about this book that you would like readers to know?

Sylvia: Almost every tech in the story exists or is being researched, from virtual gaming to connected brains (mice brains have been connected by wires) to bioluminescent trees and robotic bees for pollination. One thing that hasn’t been developed yet, as far as I know, is the Cat Memes Converter™, which translates cat language to human language!

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

Sylvia: My website is enjoyingplanetearth.com, and I’m active on Twitter (@artsylliu) and Instagram (@sylliu).

Kathie: Thanks so much for joining me today, Sylvia, and I hope you get a fantastic response from young readers.

Sylvia: Thank you for having me!

Sylvia Liu grew up with books and daydreams in Caracas, Venezuela. Once an environmental attorney protecting the oceans, she now spins stories inspired by high tech, cephalopods, and the intricacies of family and friendship. She’s the author of the middle grade books Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation (Razorbill, June 21, 2022) and Manatee’s Best Friend (Scholastic 2021) and the picture book A Morning with Grandpa, illustrated by Christina Forshay (Lee & Low Books 2016). Sylvia lives in Virginia with her family and a very fluffy cat.