Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 1 month ago

WB S1E22: Ron Block with Kristin Harmel, James Ponti, and Sarah Miynowski

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK: Ron Block and Kristin Harmel explore writing a book series for Middle Grade Readers with authors James Ponti and Sarah Mlynowski.

The last one. My target was 275-300pages and it would turn out to be 430 I think so I only missed it by like 50%of my target. So I am greatly thrilled that kids still pick it up and go withit and go with it. Yeah, welcome to the Friends and fictionWriter's Block podcast for new york times, bestselling authors, one rockstar librarian and endless stories join mary Kay andrews, Kristin, Harmel,Kristy Woodson, Harvey and Patti Callahan Henry along with Ron Block asnovelists. We are four long time friends with 70 books between us and Iam Ron block please join us for fascinating author interviews andinsider talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and arecurious about the writing world you are in the right place. Welcome to a newepisode of Friends and fiction Writer's Block podcast on this episode. We'rechatting with new york times, bestselling authors Sarah Malinowskiand James Ponti, both of whom are hugely popular authors of middle gradeseries geared more towards kids between eight and 12. Sarah who's also writtenfor adults and teens is the author of the whatever after series. And if youhaven't gotten your kids turned onto this yet, they're gonna love it.They're gonna love it. She's also the co author of the upside down magicseries which is now a Disney channel movie. James is the author of theframed Dead City and City Spy series as a librarian myself. I can tell you howenormously popular these two authors are with young readers. I see theirbooks fly off the shelves and kids highly anticipating new releases. Werethrilled to have them both today. Talking with us about writing seriesfor middle grade readers. I am round block and I'm Kristin Harmel. I'll addthat Sarah and James who are longtime friends aren't just popular with youngreaders. They're also popular with other writers, booksellers andlibrarians across the country and across the world because their tirelessadvocates for getting Children interested in reading, especially inunderserved communities, which is such important work. Sarah who hails fromMontreal now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters. Jameswho grew up in florida is the father of two sons and is now along with his wifeDenise, an empty nester living in downtown Orlando. Both are new yorktimes bestsellers and both are kind Extraordinary human beings who arewonderful when it comes to sharing pieces of themselves with young fans.First up today is Sarah, who I've known since 2005 when we were both writingromantic comedies in what feels like a completely different phase of our lives.Welcome to the podcast Sarah, Hi, thank you so much for having me. What alovely intro. Sarah. First up, can you tell us a bit about the whatever afterseries and the latest installment, good as gold. We love them, we love that. Welove the angle, we love the theme of the mall. How did they get started?Tell us all about them. Of course. Well there are I think there's 17 books andwhatever after series now. So in the series Abby and her brother Jonah fallinto different fairy tales, mess them up and then have to help the charactersfind new happy endings. And I started writing this series because I alwaysloved fairy tales as a kid. I used to you know read them all the time, I usedto retell them all the time. I used to change little details when I was a kidI would tell the story of the princess and the pea but I wasn't really a fanof vegetables so I would tell you that um that was like yeah here you know soI definitely always change them. And...

...then when I became a mom I startedreading my daughter Chloe the fairy tales and what I realized was that wellI love fairy tales, I hated the endings of these fairy tales because they wereall about princesses being saved by princes. And so I thought well what ifI change these fairy tales and give them more empowered endings and I havea regular girl who became Abby falling into these fairy tales fracturing themand then helping these princesses find different endings ones where they don'tnecessarily have to marry the prince if he's a great guy and they love himfabulous they can get married or they can start meeting. But if he's not orif they want to do something else instead and that they can follow theirpassions. So that became the idea behind whatever after I love it. Oh,good, thank you. Well, Good as Gold is the latest one in this series and I'mforgetting I'm gonna look at my book, it's book 14 in this series. There aretwo special editions also and I just finished writing books 17. So in book14, Good as Gold Abby and Gianna fall into the story of the three bears,Goldilocks and the three Bears. But this is actually the first book whereshe there's a two in one because when I started to tell authors and otherpeople that I was writing a book called Good as Gold and I asked them to guesswhat fairy tale, I was fracturing Shannon Messenger on a panel, actuallysaid, oh you must be doing Rumpelstiltskin and I said, no I'm not,I'm doing Goldilocks and the three bears. And so then I thought well ifshe thinks that maybe other people will do, so maybe I'll have a two in oneinstead. And so they Start falling into goldilocks and then the story ends upbeing Rumpelstiltskin as well. So it's the first time in 16 books that theyhave to fairy tales instead of one bonus bonus time after book 16, I thinkwhen did you know that you were onto something with this series because itreally has been very popular. Thank you. Well, you know what, I had this ideafor so long and I knew what I wanted to do and to play with and I knew I wantedto do something about fairy tales, that as soon as I started writing and I knewI felt it was something different and special, it was also my first middlegrade series, but before then I had written about 20 books already, so it'smy first time writing for an 8 to 12 audience. I started off in adults as Isaid before, where Kristin and I used to do romcom stuff together, I believeI even blurred your first book, you did it right on the cover? Absolutely, thatwas a lifetime ago. Um and then I wrote why? And then I just knew, I alsowanted to write for younger kids and I think it really started to take offprobably, I think it hit the new york times list with book five, so that'swhat yeah, that is so it took a, it was a slow build, but then it took off, sothat was that was wonderful, congratulate you. New york times wasfor the first time, I think it was booked 25. So sometimes it takes a longtime, awesome. That's interesting. You know, it took me until gosh, how manybooks in was it 12 books in, but over a decade to to hit the new york timeslist for the first time. So yeah, you just wait it out long enough overnightsensations. Exactly. And I think because I also, I just had my firstmovie last year for a different middle grade series that I ran. I ran a seriescalled upside down Magic and there was also like book 40 I finally have amovie hurry which is that was a lot of fun too. So my mind must be right onits way right my movies right around the corner from following the Sarahplan can't wait. So Sarah, as I mentioned, you started off 20 years agowriting romantic comedy for adults, just like I did um can you talk alittle bit about your road from that through young adult novels to whatyou're doing now. Yeah, for sure. Well it's interesting is my 20 yearanniversary from my first book, Milk Brown is into this december, so itreally is 20 years wow published and of...

...course my life has changed in so manyways. So at the time when I'll tell you a little bit about how I got intowriting, I was always a novelist, I always knew I wanted to write but Istudied english literature McGill in Montreal and then I knew I wanted towrite but I also thought, okay well I need a job that actually pays the rent.So I decided to get into publishing and I I interned at a Children's publisherin Montreal, the only one um Lobster press which I don't think it's stillaround anymore. And then I moved to Toronto which is the center of Canadianpublishing and took courses in publishing and ended up getting a job.Well first at a bookstore, Children's bookstore, Mabel's fables, while I wasstill taking classes and then I got a job in the marketing department atHarlequin Enterprises which was based in Toronto and I was in the marketingdepartment and I loved my job, I got to come up with you know uh cover conceptideas and marketing plans for all these amazing books with titles such as umThe Virgin Bride said wow, I believe that was I ever worked, Virgin. Uh wowwas in quotes just in case you're wondering uh but I love the peoplethere, I love the company, I had a great time. And while I was there theywere launching a new series of books called Red dress Ink right, which youknow Wilkerson. And then um from these books they were looking for 20something authors to write these books and it was new, it was chick lit, itwas Bridget jones Diary Sex in the City and that wasn't what they had publishedbefore. So I remember seeing you know everyone talking about these books andthinking to myself this is what this is my in I want to do this. Um this is mychance. So I started writing about my own, you know, bad dates, I was singleand 23 I just finished college and I and my then boyfriend had just gonebackpacking to Australia and broken up with me and I thought I'm just writingmy story about a girl who works at a romance publisher, but I called itCupid instead. Um and I just started writing about these experiences and ofcourse fictionalizing everything. And when I finished um I sold it toHarlequin under the registering umbrella and then I became, I startedwriting full time, I got a multi book contract and then I knew I lovedwriting chick lit, but I always wanted to write for younger readers, that'swhen I first fell in love with reading, that's what I wanted to capture. Thatwas kind of all, always my my dream. So I started working on bras andbroomsticks, which was my first y a novel about a girl who finds out thather little sister is a witch and that she is not and she was not happy aboutthat. Um And then I was writing an adult book a year and 18 book year andI left Harlequin too right full time and I sold that new series to randomhouse and then I just became a full time writer and I ended up moving tonew york. My then boyfriend, the same boyfriend by the way who had broken upwith me to backpack through Australia, But we got back to wheeler and then weended up moving to new york and I became a full time writer. That'samazing. And so I know you still, in addition to writing your middle gradebooks now, you also write for young adults and I know you just had just aboy and a girl in a little canoe come out recently, which is such a greattitle. What appeals to you about writing for that age group in additionto writing for middle grade readers. Is it kind of stretching different writingmuscles when you're when you're writing for each group? Yes, although to behonest, I haven't written another way a right now, I'm really focusing onmiddle grade. So my last weigh probably came out about two years ago and Ihaven't written another one since I think I'm really focusing on theyounger readers right now. For me, I feel like I'm so far from the y a spaceand middle grade, I have two kids who are two daughters who are very much inthat age range now too and it's a lot of fun for me to stay in that for thefirst time. I'm dabbling in other things too. And I live in L. A. Now, soI'm playing around with screenplays and you know, other producing stuff anddoing other things also. Um and part of...

...me also wants to maybe one day go backto writing adult now that I've had, I haven't been an adult in so longbecause I went from adult to then doing adult and teen and then I stopped adulttina middle grade and now I'm mostly middle grade, but now maybe I want togo full circle and start writing, you know, mom lit maybe or something likethat last round an adult book. I've had, you know, I've got married and had twoChildren. I've moved twice. I've had all these experiences and I would liketo and they're hilarious. But uh yeah, capture them in fiction at some point.So I'm not sure what that is. But I mean, I love all of them and they aredifferent writing muscles, but for me, my voice, I feel like stays veryconsistent in all of them. And I play with going, you know, in all, in allthese different age groups I play with. Um they're all basically fun storiesabout, you know, girls or women in different parts of their of their livesand the way I think the way that I look at the world is the same in all of them.Kind of, I try to, I try to make them amusing. They're a little venturi umtheir comic novels about women and you know, as someone as someone who's readyou for years and loved your writing for years. I absolutely agree. I mean,you know, you know, when you're picking up one of your books that you're goingto get that same kind of journey and, and there's a very Sarah malinowskifield to everything you write. Thank you, I guess. Well stretching beyondthat, one of the things we wanted to talk to both you and James about todayis getting kids interested in reading, which we know can be a daunting task attimes. But I think it's the series is really crucial for that because kidsget hooked on one and then they want them all. I've seen kids stuff, youknow, check out a whole stack of the same thing cause they can't wait andthey beat him up so fast. But you're also a co founder of OMG Book fest, acelebration of books that are aimed at the early to middle grade readers. Andit brings together commercial and award winning authors with underserved localcommunities. Can you talk a little bit about that initiative and why peakingthe kids interest in books at that early age is so crucial for sure. Sothat OMG started about five years ago and maybe six years ago at this pointand we decided that we really wanted to go into different communities. Bringmiddle grade authors have fun with these kids and also to work with titleone schools to get kids book. So when we would go into, we started actuallyin columbus Ohio was our first book festival and we partnered with a schoolthere. Um, and we brought in different kids and we were able to get grants inorder for every kid in the school to have fun and games with these authorsand to meet these authors in real life and then to also take home a book fromone of these authors and to get it signed as well. And then as thefestival grew, we moved to a different city every year. And so the first, thefirst year was just a small book signing. And I think 11 authors and theschool day event, which was the scent was really the, like the best part, youknow, getting in front of all these kids and doing these activities all day.And then the next year the public event group. Uh, you know, to a few, havingget in front of a few 100 people and getting in front of, I think it waslike 1000 kids in the title one school. And then also we added on an educatorday as well. So every year it's grown a little bit and it's just, it's becomethis amazing experience. Last year we did it virtually, which was different,but we still got to speak to kids across the country, which was, it wasdifferent. It was, it was Chicago based. So we catered it to Chicago schools,but other kids across the country well and there teachers were able to tune inas well, Nice, nice and, and it gives so much to those kids who may not havethat opportunity any other way. But you really specifically target theunderserved communities. Why is it so important to engage those kids inparticular? Well, I just think that those kids don't necessarily, I havehad the same experiences or have the same access to books over the years.And I think that what we want to do is...

...to make sure that these kids realizethat they have a voice and that their voice is valid and they have a story.And these are the tools we teach writing in a lot of these activities aswell. So they realize that their voice is important and this is how you use it.And then like these authors, we bring in authors, um, you know, of allethnicities and we want kids to see themselves in the books and in theauthor's speaking to them. Nice, that's amazing. It really is awesome, right?It is Sarah, you've also co written a number of books with Lauren Miracle andEmily Jenkins who also writes as E Lockhart. Can you talk a little bitabout the upside down magic series and what it's like to write for kids withtwo of your friends. Absolutely. I have co written a lot of books and it's beena lot of fun. Uh, so we started outside of magic because we wanted to writetogether, we had written the three of us had written a book called How to BeBad for teenagers, and we we actually met on Myspace, which some people mayremember. Yes. And so we started to talk, we thought we would be really funto write a book together. And so we would love different chapters at eachother. We each had a character and we would yeah, we would each write ourcharacter and then thrown adventure towards the next person. Actually,Kristen you took us to Disney. I remembered when we were when we thethree of us were researching this book, but a whole section based in Disney atDisney, and you brought us to Disney. And it was amazing when you learned somuch in that whole section ended up books. So, thank you for that. Um weenjoyed writing way so much together that we thought we would really right,we would have a great time writing middle grade together too. And weworked with our editor and it's, you know, our structure and how we've doneit has changed a few times over the years. When we wrote How to Be Bad, weeach had a character was three alternating perspectives, and we wouldeach own that character would each right? And then the next person would,you know, write the story from the other person, the other charactersperspective, but with how to be with them upside down magic. When we startedit was mainly one character and the way that we did it was that we divided itup so that at first I was in charge of the outline. So I would do all theoutlining of the book. Lauren Miracle would do the first draft and then Emilywould do the revision so that we each had our own rule and our jobs andthat's kind of how we structured it. And then after about book five wedecided that we were a little bit bored of that and we met we did it a littlebit differently was that we would each do like an hour day. So we would alloutlined together, we would all revised, we would all write the first draft sothat we just wanted to mix things up to keep things fresh and fun and that wasa really fun way to do it too. But we were not all in the same room writing.We've all been in different cities, Emily was in Brooklyn, I've been in L.A. And Lauren was in colorado. So we did it all of the internet and WhatsAppand uh themselves. I love that. Um God, this has been so fun. But finally Sarah,I have one last question for you. We have a lot of listeners who are parentsand grandparents, we've talked about the importance of young readers gettinghooked on reading. But what are some of the tips or advice that you have forthese parents and grandparents to get their kids interested. I would say getthem books that they are interested. Do not try to force them to read booksthat you read when you were a child because they will sit there on thebedside table and never be read some tips and tricks I've learned with myown daughters too is that my older one is a huge you know, she lovesaudiobooks, that's what she loves to listen to and those are a great wayinto books and so our graphic novels don't be afraid of graphic novels. I'vegot a lot of parents are very nervous and uncomfortable with it but honestlyit is reading and it will also get kids you want them to get used to readingevery night and to love books and graphic novels are fantastic. My owndaughter, my little one is reading the Wings of Fire series right now ingraphic novels and she listens to them too. And then she'll also read some ofthe books too. So it's a great way for...

...them to try different things. That'sawesome. Great advice. Well Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today.Wait for april when your next whatever after novel. Just Dance hits bookstores.It was so nice chatting with you today, Sarah, thank you so great hearing aboutyour career in books. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Mm Next up we welcome new york times, bestselling author, James Ponti to the friends and fiction writer's blockpodcast James. It is so great to have you with us. It is greater for me thisis a thrill of we talk to you guys and I'm very excited almost as excited aswe are. But let's start off by you telling us a little bit about your Cityspies series in general but also your latest installment, City spies GoldenGate. Okay um City spies is a spy series as you might guess from thetitle, it is about five kids from around the world who have all beenadopted by this. Um an M. I. Six agent during his travels on missions thatdon't want to spoil too much about why he's out there. He comes across kids inneed sometimes and he can't turn his back on them. And so he raises them asa family of spies because he knows no better and in my six uses them insituations where adults would stand out you know so it's like a place where Youknow kids can blend in a little bit better and and that is the ideal of theof the series. The first book took place in Paris with the threat of thevirus release which of course I wrote before I knew we were going to have avirus around the world. The 2nd 1 is um Search for City spies. Golden Gate isthe most recent one to come out and that is the search for a mole in M. I.Six an investigation of an agent's death that takes us to san Franciscowhich is really fun and in february, the newest one comes out. It's calledcity spines, forbidden city. And it takes place in London, Beijing andMoscow and tons of fun writing about these places up in the pelvis. Iusually visited all the places and to try to do research and and it's it'sreally great fun to write and it's been great to connect with kids over theseadventures. Yes. And I'll say is a librarian that you think that maybe thebooks that are this thick are not going to appeal to these kids, but they eatthem up and they can't wait for the next one in the series to come out. AndI love It. I, you know, I was a very reluctant reader growing up. Um Istruggled with this and still to a great degree struggle with the speed ofhow much I read. And so I always gravitated to short books and it'salways my intention to write a shorter book. And when it comes to like thelast one, my target was 275, two, pages and it would turn out to be 430 I think.So I only missed it by like 50% of my target. So I am greatly thrilled thatkids still pick it up and go with it and go with three characters are sorelatable to them and they can find somebody that is like them a little bitwhether anyway, it's, they're just amazing, the kids just just relate tothem so well and you know, Ron you and I were talking with Sarah a little bitabout kids who walk into the library and walk out with a huge stack of booksand the nice thing about a book, like what James writes is you don't have towalk out with, You know, 17 books on your baby in your arms, you essentiallyhave a few books within one, they're just such such sweeping plots, they'refantastic. Um so, James you and I had lunch a couple weeks ago, which wassuch a pleasure. I so enjoyed spending some time with you and you were tellingme a little bit about your path into what you're doing now, includingworking on Children's television shows, which is so cool. Can you tell us alittle bit about your background and why you've always felt so drawn tocreating stories and engaging content...

...specifically for kids? Um first of all,let me say that I have name dropped you in that once numerous times to get itif we get together, but you know, an actual like grown up writer, writingfor grown up readers was just a real thrill to share with them all. Um youknow, I was a reluctant reader who always loved writing and so because ofthat, I gravitated to script writing and as late as my senior year of highschool, I was gonna major either in playwriting or I was gonna major inscreenwriting and I decided to major in screenwriting, I went to college thatit was just southern California and studied film for four years and thatwas great for me. One of the things I always loved about movies and tv showswas the same length for everyone, so, whereas I was always behind people onbooks, the movie is the movie and we can all talk about it after. So Istarted writing, but for whatever reason my, my skill set, my, I wasdrawn to writing for kids and so I started the Disney channel, Nickelodeonimmigrated over to PBS and and did these kids shows and I always loveddoing that and um later in a professional, so that was my firstprofessional life and my second professional life, I produce tv showsfor like History channel and CNN and NBC sports and and that was, that wasfun, but I missed the writing part because I always, so at night I wouldwrite and since I had written kids television it just seemed to make senseto write kids books and so that's what I tried to do and amazinglyit worked out and now I am just writing for the last year now, I have only beenwriting books and has been such a thrill um I feel bad because it's atthis time when the whole world is shutting down but it was actually thetime when I was just moving into my office anyway. So it has been um okay Ithink what I like about kids writing is that kids love a story more than thanany adult. I know and they reread and reread and reread. I had kids tell methey've read some of my books 12 times which seems ridiculous. I haven't readthem that I had, I had a kid this past week. Um I just did 10, 10 schools inoutside of austin texas a whole week of school visit and as one girl came up tome afterwards and and asked if she could take a picture and if I wouldsign her books to her and her father because they read them together and thelibrarian told me that she was a virtual student. So she was onlyattending school virtually. But when her parents asked if she could come tothe in person visit the school said unfortunately she couldn't because ofthe policies of the district. And so her parents arrived that morning andthey enrolled her virtual student for the rest of the year because you can'ttake it back and then changed it just because she was so hopeful to meet meand talk to me about these books that meant so much to her and I felt reallyunworthy, incredible of that. But that's why I like to write for kidskids, some kids love the books enough that she was able to talk her parentsinto changing the decision they had made and it is touching. And it's also,I feel an incredible responsibility to the kids who read the books, knowingwhat books mean to them, wow, what a story. No, and that's the whole thingright there, that the kind of things that let us know we're doing the rightthings. Yes. And and and then very much and they take the edge off of a lot ofyour minor complaints in life. It's like, okay, that's right, this is kindof special work I get to do working with kids and you know, I usually don'tget to meet them, but when you meet...

...them, it's special. Yeah, it really isone of the things I was impressed by is how many school visits you actually do.And especially during the last year we have switched kind of your visits to avirtual format and did an amazing job with kids everywhere. Can you talkabout why it's important to connect with kids in any way possible,especially virtual and really go ahead. No. Yeah, it is an essential part ofbeing a middle grade fiction author is to visit schools and this is notsomething, you know, coming into it. It's important for the publishersbecause the publishers, it's how you get the word out. You know, we don'tcommunicate with kids directly that you go to schools and they come there andbut it is so crucial because when it's a two way street when I go I feel likeI am an ambassador for the world of kid lit. So we're going to talk about mybooks but I'm not really talking about my books, I'm talking about Sarah'sbooks are our Friends to our max is I'm talking about books and I'm therepresentative sent because usually the school will get one author visible hereand I'm there to tell them how a life of storytelling has changed my life.The value of reading that took me around the world both imaginatively andfigured literally and so that's part of it. But Covid made it impossible. Andthen all of a sudden Covid opened up all these opportunities we never hadbefore. I was I was able to throw out a contest and say all right so if youwant to have a visit to your school, how about a visit with me and Stuartgibbs who write spy school and Beth Mcmullen who writes Mrs smith's Schoolfor spies. Girls, you know and all three of us can come together eventhough we're spread across the country. And so that has been the new take onthe virtual visits and then this past week going back in person and I'm gonnatry to do a mixture of those moving forward. I think a virtual component isprobably in all of our futures because the reach is just so huge. Well youknow what else everyone has gotten over, you know, I have to say when it wasjust Skype and you were trying to re figure out how to do it each time andsome of the schools didn't have it somewhere, what has happened with zoomand the fact that we all have to use it and we all have to use Microsoft teamsor whatever it is, the different school districts use is we've gotten over thatinitial phobia and instead of doing the same visit, but now I'm home whenyou're there, I think a lot of realize, wait a minute you're now in the officewhere I write. So why don't you just go on my screen, pull up my, mycorrections that just came in from my editor and you can read along with meas I show you what she changed or here are the photos that I took on my tripto Alcatraz that were part of the research for that and they can see myscreen and they can see them up close and I can show videos and it really hasopened up a new way of connecting with kids. Absolutely, absolutely. And we umwe talked to Sara a little bit about your involvement with OMG book fest,which is another great way to reach out to kids and to connect with them. Whyis it so important to connect with those kids? It is I I think it isalways important, but I think now maybe more so than usual is I think there isa lot of separation anxiety going on. I think there's a lot of, you knowalready middle middle middle school authors are all people who struggle tomiddle school and the whole point of it is, you know, we're going back andwe're revisiting these troubling times in part if we can figure them out. Butin part, I'll tell kids sometimes, I feel like our books really are maps ofhow to make it navigate middle school and navigate these Tween years or earlyteen years that it can be so confusing...

...and which so much of media is givingthem mixed messages are asking them to be older than they should be. And Ifeel like we, by connecting to them not just on the page but in an environmentwhere we can laugh together or cry together and you know, we used to doall those things that we have a school visit or a virtual visit is thatthere's a person behind the books and I think that's really the most importantthing of that is when I grew up. I imagine that you know, if you were awriter, you went to some fancy school in the northeast and and you live innew york or maybe Chicago or maybe L. A. And I love coming here. I live inOrlando and I'll tell kids, I'll show kids picture of two students I go hereare two students that love reading and they say you can relate to them becausethey live here. And I say the names of the schools they're at and I tell themI go, you know, they go to the same grocery store you go to and oh by theway, this one's name is kate DiCamillo and this one's name is john green. Andafter they were these kids in your neighborhood, they grew up to be thewriters who everyone listens to doing all the same things you do. So if youthink that some distant, far off thing because you only see books at abookstore or a library, I'm here to tell you that it's not the case. Thereare writers everywhere amongst us and we don't come from fancy backgrounds.Oftentimes it's the opposite. Oftentimes it's the, you know, we comefrom the background where the fact that we were willing to, it's like an evenplaying field and we all can do it. And so anyway, I'm rambling. I don't meanto ramble, but you're touching on subjects that are here to buy art and Icome through, I want them to feel like whether they want to be a writer or notthat their story matters. Their voice matters and they can share that thesong they can share in a poem. They can share it on social media. They canshare a blog however they want but it matters and this is not the exclusiverealm of the 2%. This is the realm of everyone so well said, oh my God,absolutely. You know and James, I think I know the answer to this, listening toyou talk about it. But do you think you've grown as a result of having allthis exposure to these kids being able to interact with them and realize? Okay,absolutely. And you know, it is, I've grown in some with that lessonthat we learn that is so valuable in these age. You know, my books are intheory aimed at 9 to 13 but I think the spread is much bigger than that. But inthat eight or 9 to 13 and even through high school, which is we are trying tohide our differences and so many of our problems come from trying to hide ourdifferences and the celebration of writing and creativity is that know thedifferences are that's the commodity. That's the great thing because you'rein an odd way, the more you share your unique. Like I can't believe this sillystupid thing happened to me or that I'm guilty of this. The more people say,wait, I do that I do that and they connect, I did a school visit againlast week and it was, it was there was a rough, it was, it wasn'tperfect. It was, it was late and the kids were anxious and some were wrappedand some were not wrapped and I talked about, you know, I showed them throughmy journey through life and how that affects my writing. And you know, Ishould have a picture of my family when I was little and they all noticedinstantly that there's no father. And I said, you know, I've never met myfather. I don't know, I don't know if he's alive and he's dead. I don'treally care at this point, but I've lived a life without that and I bringthat up not to make you feel bad for me, but to know if you read city spies orframed or dead city, you'll notice there are, there are family membersmissing in all these books. That is...

...just something I'm working out. I'mdoing whatever. And the kid who literally had been the most disruptiveall through the class came up to me afterwards and said, my dad's been inprison for years and I've never really been with him to talk to him. And so Iappreciate that you mentioned that and I said, no, I appreciate that you toldand all of a sudden it's like, so that was worth it to me. And so that growthis, there was a part of me maybe earlier on, if I was in front of thegroup and one kid was acting up, I would probably be like kid is drivingme. Uh and here it's like, no, you know, that that kid's got an issue, I bet.And there's a reason. And so I'm just, you know, and then let's meet with lovein the middle of like, okay, we have that in common. Who would have thoughtcoming in? Would you? All right? I would've because I've seen it happen.But was your thought coming in that the person who wrote the book that you'reabout to hear about what on such a base level connect with you and that's just really learn. I I learned alot. And the other thing I learned, you mentioned these kids check out thesehuge thick books and I want a dollar. They are so smart. And but I I was Iwas lucky. I was nominated for the editor a couple of times and I go upand it's a whole week of events and everyone's kind of fascinating is like,well you're right for kids and we all write murder mysteries. I said, well, Idon't get to write murder mysteries because you don't kill people and kidsmysteries. I go, well, what do you what do you change that? That's the onlychange that my clients are just as complicated, you know, because the kidskeep up with it. They really keep up with it and they're smart and they getso much out of it. And their questions are enlightening and out of left fieldand you do. I feel like I've learned a lot from them, wow, those connectionsare so special. Amazing. Yeah, and I think those kids have learned so muchfrom you too. It's it's it's amazing when it can go both ways. I absolutely,absolutely it does. So James we, since we're talking about middle grade seriestoday, I know you've written three series uh maybe have probably have morein you in the future, but so far it's just last week, my hope to be next series exciting. Oh,I can't wait to hear about it. Wait, wait, I know, I'll get another anotherlunches in order. I say so far you've written the City Spy series which arestill working on the frame series and the Dead City series. Why does seriesappeal to you instead of standalone books for readers at age? I I think itmust come from my background in series television. So, so my education wasscript writing in school and then my edge to professional experience.Education was series writing where the dynamic is really different. You're notsetting up a character for the most significant moment of their life, whichis maybe how you if you say a movie, but um you are developing characterswho can deal with multiple issues over time and the reader is going along withit. So I feel like I think I naturally think in that way um from a businessstandpoint, it's kind of nice to know when they sign off, it's like, okay, sofor the next 23 years at least I'm gonna be working with these charactersso I can really get my head into them and research them. And I have found,especially during Covid, there's a sizable portion of our readership thatflocks the series. And you know, I think when when panics were kids wereat home and it's like, well you like this one, there's three more. I'll getit, you know about these two has nine...

...books in this, in his bicycle seriesand you know, I'm like, keep going to do you know, I think, you know, lisaGraff is an author who writes standalone books in our age group andthey're beautiful and lovely, wonderful and she does that great. And so she shelinks to that, Renee Watson does that. But you know, so I think, I think it'sjust kind of a in you as to which path attracts you. Yeah, I wish I could dothat. I've always wished that I could write a series and I just, I don't, Idon't, I don't have it in me. Maybe I just haven't figured out how to do ityet. But you do it so well and what an incredible thing to do. Well, I'mwondering your books? So do you feel like your basic on real life places?Yeah. Do you feel like they're interconnected. Like in theory they arepart of the horrible universe that connects all, you know Roland or orperish or like someone on that train might be that character. You know, I'm actually that is a plotpoint in my next book. There is a connection to my previous book. Soyou're right. You know, I like this idea of the harmful universe. Let's,let's a future a well sign me up for any of it. FinallyJames with the holiday shopping season already in progress. Believe it or not,can you talk to our listeners about why books make such special gifts for theChildren in our lives and why getting them hooked now on series like yoursand Sarah's can make a big difference in their lives. I would say that Firstof all, I greatly appreciate anyone that buys one of my books. You know,that's and and then the greatest honor to me is anyone, especially a kid whospends the time necessary to read 350 or 400 big or whatever have a book. ButI don't, I don't care if you buy my books and my publishers want to hearthat buy books, it's finally the books that are right for the kid because Ithink we are now and depending on how old the listeners are that if they'reold like me, there was little limits that there was a, there were great kidsbooks out. But there was a lot of mediocrity and there was very littlerepresentation. Uh, but I'm not just talking about race or religion, but Ididn't that one of the reasons I wasn't a good reader was I didn't connect toanything other than star receivers of the NFL because I kind of knew some oftheir from television. What's great about books is, you know, a book can beshared, A book can be treasured, A book can be saved, A book can be passedalong. There's so many things. It's a tangible real thing and a book can takeus anywhere. Uh even even when we're trapped inside, even when there's covid,even when there's, you know, listen that you can go anywhere, whether it'ssome wimpy kid or dork Diaries or graphic novel or a serious topic or afun adventure or or whatever. They are just incredible that way. When I when Iwhen I used to not sign enough books. Now, luckily now I sell enough books, Ijust signed my name because there's not enough time when I used to becausethere's no one else in line. We've got 40 minutes to kill here at the star. Iwould write the secrets of the universe are in books, read and you can do andbe anything and I believe that is so true. And what I do like about what wedo and what I aspire to do and try to do is my books have fun and adventureand humor and some real connection. But also there is, I write about realthings and when you write in action comedy and all that stuff, you kind ofget to slip in real things that matter. And and that's really special. I do aton of research on my books for the...

...newest book. I think I told Kristenabout this. Actually the past director of the C. I. A. His wife is a librarianand he met with me on the phone to discuss all my spy missions to make himangry. But I know that there are 12 year old spies. So I feel like what Iowe it to my readers is what they're doing isn't real. But how who they areto each other is straight out of your life with your friends or your enemiesand your frenemies or your classmates and it's real and sharing that abilitywith kids to be able to examine real things while still being entertained tobe able to use a present over and over if they want to read it over. It's justyou know, it's all I've given for years or books and anyone wants a list ofwhat to go. You know, ask the PS Ron as you know, ask your librarian, ask yourindependent book. So there's so many people who can help you find the rightbook. Um we also have another site that Sarah and I are part of If you go toJames party dot com, that's my website, has my books, but renegades. A middlegrade dot com is a group of 32 middle grade authors. And if you like any oneof us, you're gonna like the other 31. I guarantee that it's such a greatgroup and there are so many ideas. So give a book, the male Easy. Theythere's so much easier to wrap most presents. It really perfect gift. Youare absolutely right and green. There is no better note to end on books. Makeperfect gifts especially for kids who need to find themselves in those books.So James thank you so much for being with us today. You know, I adore bothyou and Sarah and we are so excited that readers will have the chance tocheck out not just city spies Golden Gate, but also your new book in theseries which you mentioned city spies, forbidden city which is coming infebruary. It was so great having you here with us today, James. It's greatbeing here, it's my honor. And one thing you said that I would like toreiterate, there's that saying that people love which is you get lost inthe book and I totally disagree. I think you get found in a book. You givea kid that book and they don't get lost, they get found and it's a life forever. I was a kid whonever read but I read one book of the mixed up files of mrs basically frankWyler. That book changed my life forever in here. That book is Amazing.You can do it for $12 paperback in Harappa. Thank you so very much forhaving me. Thank you. Oh my God, this was great. We can't thank James andSarah enough both for joining us and for doing the important work of notonly writing wonderful exciting series for young readers, but also going thatextra mile to engage with those readers as a librarian. I see firsthand bothhow difficult it can be to engage young readers but also how important andrewarding both James and Sarah are doing more than just writing greatbooks. They're changing lives and helping shape the future. And that'ssomething we can all get behind to all of you out there. We hope that you'lldive into Sarah's whatever after series and James city spies series, both ofwhich make excellent gifts for the young readers in your lives. And bothof which you can find in most libraries across the country to you can learnmore about Sara at Sarah M dot com. That's S A R A H with an M right afterit and more about James that James Ponti dot com and that's P O N. T. I.Thank you all for tuning in to their friends and fiction writer's blockpodcast. If you're enjoying our conversations, please tell a friend,we'll see you next time. Remember you can always find all thebooks by every Friends and fiction writer's Block podcast. Guest past andpresent in the Friends and fiction bookshop dot org. Shop All sales placethere helped to fund Friends in fiction. And a portion of each and every salegoes straight into the pockets of indie booksellers nationwide. Since itsinception, bookshop dot org has raised...

...more than 16 million for indiebookstores, shops, small shop local from the convenience of your screenwith bookshop dot org and tell them friends and fiction sent you. Thank youfor tuning in to the Friends and fiction Writer's Block podcast. Pleasebe sure to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platform, tunein every friday for another episode. And you can also join us every week onFacebook or YouTube where our live friends and fiction show airs at sevenp.m. eastern standard time. We're so glad you're here. Mhm.

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