MAC is the author of The Professionals, a cool new mystery series for middle graders. I had so much fun reading the first book in the series, Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink, that I had to pick MAC's brain about it. She graciously answered my questions. :o) Thank you, MAC!
You’re a freelance writer for Popular Science Magazine. What made you decide to write middle grade fiction? Can you tell us about your road to publication as a writer for kids?
It all started during my wayward youth… (Ha! I’ve always wanted to say that.)
I think the decision just followed the idea that I had for Anna Smudge. I wouldn’t say I am completely a middle-grade writer and that’s all I can or want to do. But you have to go with the idea and, as you develop it, you get a sense of the voice of the piece, the intended audience, and the best medium for it (short story, screenplay, novel, comic book, interesting party anecdote, etc.)
The road to publication went something like this…
Can’t stand serving bacon on bacon with a side of bacon at diner, write novel for 10-year-olds, quit waitressing, get foot in door writing freelance for magazines, waste years of precious life force waiting on editors to read book submissions, find my first grey hair, rewrite Anna Smudge into 1st person at editor’s request, learn how to split the atom, rewrite Anna Smudge back into 3rd person when same editor says “I think I liked it better the other way”, wake from cryogenic freezing, submit to many other places, finally land my first published book, talk to awesome bloggers halfway around the world who share my love of books!
Which is harder: interviewing NASA scientists and writing about topics like asteroids and weapons design, or writing a mystery series for middle graders? :o)
NASA peeps are the coolest!! So, they are much easier to write about. They do such interesting, inspiring, and important work. I especially enjoy talking with the scientists who are just starting out because the excitement they have about their work is extremely contagious. I once talked with this dude who taught physics to high school students by day, and by night he was building a Lunar Lander in his garage.
Writing an action/mystery series is one of the hardest genres because it has to appeal to a broad group of people, show you the stuff you’ve seen a zillion times (the hero, the villain, the secret plan, the chase scene), but do so in a brand new way.
I’ve read that you’re a huge comic book fan and The Professionals is partly inspired by comic books. Are there specific comic books that influenced The Professionals in general or Anna Smudge in particular?
From very early in the development process of Anna, I started to see these guys coming together like a super team. So, the structure of The Professionals is kind of like an old Justice Society comic from the 1940s: Part one is where the JSA hears that some supervillain has got a crazy plan to steal a weapon and take over the world. Then, the whole middle of the story is separate chapters where the heroes break off into 1s and 2s to fight various henchmen and chase down clues. At the end, they all come back together to defeat the head bad guy. But they can only beat him by standing together as friends.
What are your favorite comic books?
Currently? I’m loving Criminal and Captain America by Ed Brubaker, Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Bendis, Runaways, Age of Bronze, Ultimate Fantastic Four. Of all time? Planetary by Warren Ellis, Watchmen, Top Ten, Sandman, Surrogates... Somebody stop me. We could be here all day.
Is it true that you first started writing Anna Smudge on the back of order pads while waiting tables at a diner in New York? What was it like when you finally settled down to finish writing the book?
Settled down? Not on this planet! The only way I got to finish Anna while working that job was to just come home and, with my apron still on, sit down in front of the computer and start writing until I fell asleep at the keyboard. I think if I had known how hard it was going to be, I might not have finished. I just kind of dived in because I was having a blast with the story. Then again, there is nothing more motivating than working somewhere that drives you absolutely crazy.
I have to say though, I made a lot of great friends. I still hang out with my regular customers. And there was a steady stream of loonies eating at that diner. Lots of material. I miss that.
Can you describe your experience unveiling Anna Smudge at the New York Comic Con?
Um, let me think… WHOA MOMMA!!! It was a whirlwind. I had quite a few interviews in print, podcasts, web video, network TV. My publisher sold out of the entire stock of books at the show and had to go back to a storage facility for more. I met a guy dressed as Wonder Woman.
But I think the best part was finally getting the “team” all in one place- my story editor Rena Pacella, the book’s designer Greg Collins. And cover artist Greg Horn and interior artist Glenn Fabry both flew in to NY for the show. So, I got to hang with them in person for the first time which was really cool because they are the nicest guys you could meet and work with, and I am such a huge fan of them both.
I’m a little sad that Anna Smudge (a very likeable character) will not take center stage in the next Professionals books. What prompted you to have several main characters for the series, instead of just one?
When I first started populating Anna’s world I started to feel like her friends had just as much to say as she does. They have interesting lives and get into sticky situations each on their own. And they all have their own personal vendettas against Mr. Who. So, I couldn’t just tell her story. I had to spill the beans on everyone else too!
Which of the main characters in the series is your favorite, and why? (My favorite is Quenton Cohen, the professional chef!)
I think it is probably Amy Lerner. She makes a lot of mistakes, she’s painfully shy, but she grows the most, and I feel the closest to her.
But each book brings some new characters that I really latch onto and “hear” them. That’s the real joy of writing — you get to hang out with some really interesting folks all day, and you don’t even have to leave your house!
What can we expect from Quenton Cohen: Professional Chef, book two of The Professionals?
Lots of gourmet cooking. One of my favorite forms of procrastination is to go pretend that I am researching Quenton’s career by sampling the amazing restaurants here in NYC. That’s one way you get a little spoiled here in this city.
And I’ve got some fan-favorite characters popping back up again too. So, all of you who’ve written asking for more Naked Seaweed Man are going to be happy. Quenton’s not… he’s trying to pry him off of his living room couch. Oh, and the Chief is back and on the trail of some serious conspiracies.
But all in all, Book Two is more hardcore. The villains are tougher & meaner, and they really put Quenton through the strainer (Hey, what’s with the cooking puns?). And this is before Mr. Who does something really unforgivable.
What do you want kids to take away from the series?
That you have to stand by your friends. That you’re never too young to pursue your dreams. That not doing anything to stop evil in the world is the same as doing that evil yourself. And that bathroom humor is a fine art form.