Ned Rauch-Mannino, author of the FingerTip Island series.
Here's the description of the first book from Goodreads:
Rudolph Vincenzo is always in trouble. In school, at home, or dueling with his cold-hearted neighbor, his runaway imagination is too hot for the small, frosty little town of Asbury. So when Rudolph needs an escape, his imagination creates one: FingerTip Island, a supernatural place where the slightest thought becomes reality and brings his best daydreams alive. His little brother thinks he's brilliant. His older sister thinks he's insane. Rudolph takes both of them along to his tropical paradise where tigers are tour guides, bathtubs make handy weapons, and creepy creatures are around every corner. The possibilities for excitement and danger are endless and soon Rudolph and his siblings find their best ideas and worst fears coming to life. When a chill blows in and their adventure is threatened by the thing they fear most, Rudolph finds that a good imagination is the island's-and his-last hope.
Hi Ned! It’s so nice to have you on Literary Rambles today. Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and the books you write?
Thanks Casey! About me, I’ve been pursuing “the adventure of a lifetime” since I was a kid. Growing up first on a Jersey Shore island and later in the Pennsylvania countryside, I found many opportunities to be adventurous: makeshift expeditions, exploring beaches, inlets and mountains, and even ghost hunting. Now older, I like to spin the globe and pick a spot: Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Kenya, Nicaragua, anywhere and everywhere, really. Sometimes I’ll travel for missions work or research. Other times, I just want to kayak with alligators or ride an ostrich.
When I’m not risking my life to ride giant birds, I’m spending time with my gorgeous wife and daughter, driving around with friends (who are much less gorgeous), or teaching at Temple University, my undergraduate alma mater. I love the outdoors, trying to surf, and growing odd plants in my living room.
I wouldn’t be able to tell you about myself without sharing a few of my favorite books, since they’ve had an impact on more than just my writing. Favorite titles include Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and Stephen King’s The Stand, particularly as they reflect the influence of faith in both extraordinary circumstances and everyday life. Treasure Island, by Robin Louis Stevenson, The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, Moby Dick by Herrmann Melville, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, and Through the Dark Continent by Henry Stanley are also on my bookshelf for their inherent foundation of adventure.
Personally, I enjoy writing about the things I like to read about: exploration and adventure, common people finding themselves in uncommon places, and faith triumphing over evil. I find writing for children is an excellent way to introduce what I love about books to a new generation of readers. My series for middle grade readers, FingerTip Island, accomplishes this through an exciting, relatable children’s story. FingerTip Island follows Rudolph Vincenzo, an 11 year-old with a knack for letting his creativity get away from him. Trapped in a chilly town doing nothing for his imagination, Rudolph creates his escape: FingerTip Island, a place where the slightest thought becomes reality. Bringing his siblings with him, he finds his runaway ideas can lead to limitless fun – and trouble. As Rudolph learns to control his thought and build his self-confidence, I hope to use the series to show children the power of imagination, and the stumbling blocks they’re sure to encounter and how to overcome them.
Your life sounds so exciting! The second book in the FingerTip Island series comes out at the end of the year. What sort of adventure is in store for Rudolph and his siblings this time around?
In the first book, so much of the trouble came from Rudolph himself, whether or not he knew it. In the second, Rudolph is firmly rooted in his own self, confident in his abilities – only to have bullies test that grounding.
FingerTip Island II: The Vincenzo’s Bully Problem finds Rudolph Vincenzo still in trouble. This time, Asbury’s biggest bully casts a large shadow over the 11 year-old, and Rudolph’s school’s bully problem has only been getting worse. Rudolph has an escape, and decides it’s time to share his greatest adventure with his best friends. But as he and his friends take flight, the most bothersome of bullies follow them to FingerTip Island.
Middle school imaginations face off in the Vincenzos’ thrilling return adventure to FingerTip Island. Rudolph, June and Gus join forces with fresh faces to protect the island from a fearsome foursome. Prehistoric creatures, uncontrolled creativity and super-powered super villains add to the excitement – and danger – of FingerTip Island. Taking a stand against the hot-headed, the unstable and the unruly, Rudolph and his friends hope their best ideas can send their worst classmates back home and solve their bully problem once and for all.
The series sounds like a lot of fun, perfect for middle grade readers. As a child, I desperately wished to escape to a fantastical world. Was the premise for FingerTip Island inspired by a similar childhood desire, or something else?
Like you, as children my siblings and I imagined our own getaway – we’d create it any night we had the energy to flip mattresses and rearrange furniture to transform our bedroom into what we called Pinkyland. Stuffed animals became citizens, the carpet was the ocean, and we imagined invaders threatening our island on a nightly basis. Since whatever we wanted to happen, happened, we were able to really stretch the (perhaps non-existent) limits of our creativity.
Always wanting to write children’s books, not too long after our Pinkyland days I tried my hand at authoring a short story. Revisiting it over the next 15 years, it turned into FingerTip Island as it is today. The series is so much of what we imagined as kids, and throughout the story are links to those late-80’s, early-90’s night. Mitch, the book’s tiger tour guide, is one example of the many moments from Pinkyland that found their way into FingerTip Island. He was my little brother’s stuffed animal tiger, who had the same role in our bedroom.
Do you have a favorite scene or teaser from one of the books you’d like to share?
Throughout the first book, I make sure to make fun of Gus’ size and strength, as he is basically my little brother, NYC comedian Justice Mannino. Going back to the first FingerTip Island, Gus can’t handle an axe, climb a rope or keep his balance on two skinny, scrawny legs. In FingerTip Island II, I confront the issue of bullying. As the story’s smallest character, Gus becomes a good way to show an example of how bullying happens, and what happens next.
Of course, as the story moves to FingerTip Island, Gus’ bully, the fiery Flame-Thrower, finds himself on a leveled playing field. While Gus may be tiny and unintimidating in Asbury, his imagination more than makes up for his size on the island. Gus, Rudolph and the others find themselves in a firefight with the Flame-Thrower. Gus summons his inner-strength and the result is sweet justice. Without giving too much away, my brother in real life has changed from a skinny-legged grade school boy to a Bruce Lee-inspired weight lifter (but he still has incredibly skinny legs). Since my brother and Gus are the same… watch out for some growth spurts.
For those unafraid of spoilers, I’ve provided a sample chapter from FingerTip Island II: The Vincenzo’s Bully Problem.
I see from your author bio and what's mentioned above that you’ve done a lot of traveling around. I’m totally jealous! Have your adventures influenced your stories much? Are there any anecdotes in the books readers can look for?
I find it impossible for travel not to influence the traveller’s perspective, for better or worse. That influence is everywhere in FingerTip Island. Sometimes, it’s delivered through subtle phrases, or the description of a beach or the color of the leaves in a jungle or the rusty-hued volcano. Readers can find a good example just in the first pages: I described Asbury, Rudolph’s chilly hometown, after North Sydney, Nova Scotia, where I spent a day waiting for a ferry ride to Newfoundland. It was almost like stepping back in time – not far back, just 10 years or so – and stumbling across a grey, dull borough. The moment I arrived I thought, “this is perfect for my book: this is where Rudolph needs to escape from.”
Other times I just mention a specific expedition or experience outright – typically through one of Charles St. Peter’s ramblings (he brags about lessons learned from adventures in Brazil and Labrador, which are my own).
Have you found it challenging to reach your audience? What have you done to market the books?
To meet the challenge of reaching my audience, I’ve reached out to media sources, bookstores and literary events, promoting FingerTip Island wherever and whenever possible. Attending book fairs has been a must, and my publisher, Better Karma Publishing LLC, has been active in promoting the series across the country. I’ll be at the “Celebrate The Book! Central Pennsylvania Book Festival” on October 22nd, in Carlisle, PA. Creating and maintaining a web presence is important too – adding to the list of time-consuming activities. Marketing is a commitment, without question. Serious authors – who seriously want to be full-time authors – need to make this investment.
Part of that investment is getting out and meeting the readers; being social with my audience has seen the greatest success. I am always looking for an event I can contribute to. Teachers have been a great help, too. I’ve been able to partner with several schools over the past year, conducting interviews, reading programs, and other workshops with elementary and middle grade students. It’s been a privilege to work with so many dedicated educators who are committed to developing a solid foundation for students, and using fresh ideas to build it.
I am presently seeking an agent to transition the FingerTip Island series from my present publisher to a larger one. Better Karma has been a terrific partner, and would like to cooperate with such a transition to make my writing goals a reality. Finding a literary agent has become my chief priority (so, Casey, suggestions are welcomed).
What has your road to publication been like?
The first-time publication process is exhausting. Countless after-midnight hours were spent researching publishers and other resources. Temple University professor and journalism guru Larry Stains gave querying advice and pitch criticism. I would walk around libraries and bookstores, seeking out similar books and scribbling down their publisher information. Investigating hundreds of publishing companies my excitement would grow, only to find at the bottom of the submissions page the words, “we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts.”
After learning Better Karma was pursuing my manuscript, I then was tasked with dozens of “to-dos,” from creating bios and information to returning edits to creating concepts for an illustrator. Of course, I was happy for the work.
Aspiring authors need to remember: rejection and criticism are eventualities. But with a good story and perseverance, they are also merely stumbling blocks.
What are you working on now? Will there be another FingerTip island book?
FingerTip Island II: The Vincenzo’s Bully Problem will be available soon, with editing and other details being wrapped up. I’ve already started the third FingerTip Island installment, which I hope to make a total series of four books. Each book in the series looks at different challenges to children development; the first concerns self-esteem issues and responds to them with the power of imagination. The second looks at bullying, with a theme of forgiveness. The third book looks to even more dangerous challenges young readers will face.
Separate from the middle grade fiction world, I am shopping a manuscript for the young adult/teenage audience. This story focuses on three friends coming of-life and out of a small town high school, weighing major life decisions and the best tactics to find girls. Themes of duty, military service, temptation and purpose are explored through the trio’s unique perspectives and misadventures. I feel this story would be a good fit for high school students considering what the next step looks like. It would be of particular interest in the Mid-Atlantic region, with the story largely taking place in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Where can readers stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest on you and your books?
A website is coming, www.nedrauch.com. It’s only a matter of time until I finish teaching myself how to build it. Once launched, it will be the official site for all of my books. [Ned actually launched his website this week. Check it out!]
FingerTip Island is on Twitter, @fingertipisland, where I’ll post updates, fun facts or ideas.
Also, Goodreads is a great source of new information on me and my books, and I check in there often. And my publisher, too, at www.betterkarmapublishing.com/fingertip. Better Karma offers a wide range of reading for all ages.
Thank you so much for your time, Ned. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you, Casey!
If you'd like to win a copy of FingerTip Island: The Vincenzo Adventure (or a pre-order of the second book, if you've read the first) please be a follower, if possible, and leave a comment. If your contact info is hard to find or you don't regularly visit the blog, make sure you leave your e-mail address with your comment. The giveaway will run until October 4th at midnight.
Amazon has a preview of the first book through Look Inside here, and I've made Ned's sample chapter of the second book available here.
Thank you for reading, and good luck!