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Today I’m so excited to be interviewing Nathan Bransford. He’s a former agent at Curtis Brown Ltd and a debut middle grade author. His book, JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, was released May 11, 2011. I loved it. It was fast paced and so funny.
Here’s a description of the book from Goodreads:
Jacob Wonderbar is used to detentions, but when a spaceship crashes near his house, he finds himself in a whole new level of trouble. After swapping a corn dog for the ship, he and his two best friends, Sarah Daisy and Dexter, take off on a madcap adventure. They accidentally cause an epic explosion, get kidnapped by a space pirate, and are marooned on planets like Numonia and Paisley, where the air smells like burp breath and revenge-hungry substitute teachers rule. And that's only the beginning . . . It turns out that there's an entire colony of space humans, and Jacob's long-lost father just might be one of them.
Hi Nathan. Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your book.
My book is JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, which is about three kids who trade a corndog for a spaceship, blast off into space, accidentally break the universe, and have to find their way back home. It’s the first in a series published by Dial Books at Penguin.
I’m a California native and former literary agent now working as a social media manager in the tech industry. In my spare time (that is, when I am not working or writing), I enjoy traveling, skiing, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.
2. I can totally relate to the drinking coffee. It’s how I survive too. How did you come up with the idea of your book? Did you make a conscious decision to write middle grade versus YA or did your idea dictate this?
The idea started with an image I had of a kid trapped on a planet full of substitute teachers. I let that idea guide the rest of the process, and since it felt middle grade to me I decided to go with that genre.
3. I love your three main characters. Tell the truth now. Were you at all like Jacob, the smart aleck who always gets in trouble or Dexter, the more scared but maybe smarter guy who follows Jacob? How did you develop them as characters?
Ha, thanks! I was way more like Dexter than Jacob. I was too scared to get into trouble (though I always admired the kids who were brave like Jacob).
To develop the characters I started with a few basic defining characteristics, and then build around that. So Jacob is a goodhearted troublemaker, but it’s more complicated than that because he’s missing his dad. Dexter is timid, but then again he secretly wants to have fun, but then again he also has a pretty rigid sense of right and wrong. I just kept fleshing things out as the book went on.
4. I just love Sarah because she’s so independent and her role models are Betty Friedan and Susan B. Anthony. Did you pattern her after someone in your life? If not, what made you decide on her character?
I always seem to be surrounded by strong women in real life, so Sarah reflects that. I knew I wanted to have a strong, independent female character in the book, but Sarah also has to learn to balance her fierceness and not let it get the best of her.
5. You do a great job of showing that balance. You created a world that middle graders should totally enjoy—talking spaceships, a pirate and his ship, and a planet that smells like burp. Tell us a little about your world building process and how your intended audience shaped your decisions.
I tried as much as possible to remember the types of things I thought were funny at that age and to really channel my inner eleven-year-old. So burp breath, upside-down calculator jokes (which took my 4th grade class by storm), and snoring.
Beyond that, I just tried to really build a world where those initial ideas I had made sense. It needed to feel natural for there to be a planet of substitute teachers and for Jacob to accidentally break the universe. From there I just kept trying to build a galaxy that reflected that wacky spirit.
6. I’m always totally inspired when I see other authors who are able to write while working at a full-time job. It gives me hope that I can do it too. You have a demanding job and have a super popular blog. How do you juggle it all? What’s your writing process?
Basically I work for my day job during the week, get most of my blogging done on weeknights and write my books on the weekends. I’ll wake up on a Saturday morning, fire up the pot of coffee and just get right to it. It can get tiring, but I do it because I love it.
7. By the way guys, Nathan did a fabulous guest post on Janice Hardy’s blog (a great blog btw) where he describes how he writes in more detail. You can find it here. I recently learned that this wasn’t your first book. What was your road to publication like?
When I was in my mid-twenties I wrote an adult science fiction novel that didn’t work out. I tried to find agents and received some positive feedback, but ultimately reached the conclusion that it just wasn’t going to happen.
Around that time I had the idea for Wonderbar. I dashed off a few pages, it felt like it was working, and so I went with it. Six months later I was querying agents, Catherine Drayton at InkWell offered to represent me, and a few months after that I was deciding between publishers. I was really lucky.
8. That’s awesome, but shows that even agents have to query like the rest of us. Being a former agent at Curtis Brown Ltd, you have a lot of expertise in publishing that many debut authors don’t have. How are you marketing your book? Do you think marketing is different for middle grade authors than if their book was YA? Do you have any advice for us?
I’m mainly promoting via my blog, and just hoping that the people who know me through the blog and who have a sense of my writing style will pick up a copy and then mention it to their friends. I don’t know that I have a great deal of insight into marketing to middle grade readers specifically, but my general advice for authors is to just do what you’re best at. If you like to blog, do that. If you like to do appearances and school visits, do that. If you’re a great networker, do that. The best way to maximize your efforts is to do the activities you enjoy the most and are best at.
9. That’s great advice. And it should give us all hope that there is a way we can help market our books well. What are you working on now?
I’m starting the third book in the Wonderbar series, tentatively titled JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE INTERSTELLAR TIME WARP
And so everyone knows, Nathan’s second book is JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE. I know it’s going to be great just from the title.
Good luck Nathan. You can find Nathan at his blog. You should definitely check it out. He always has such great advice .
I’m giving away a copy of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on June 25th. I’ll announce the winner on June 27th. International entries are welcome.
Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Whitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.
And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle Grade Reviewers:
Anita Laydon Miller
Kit Lit Frenzy
Next week I’m going to do a book giveaway of some books I’ve been saving for you to thank you for all the support you gave in the Elana Johnson contest.
Hope to see you next Monday.
Posted by Natalie Aguirre on Monday, June 20, 2011