Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interview with Middle Grade Author J.S. Lewis

He's here! He's HERE! Jon Lewis is finally here!

*jumps up and down*

OMG--I've been looking forward to this day for MONTHS!

I know some of you may not know who he is yet, but seriously guys, he is AWESOME! Hands down one of the kindest, funniest, most inspiring and helpful authors I've met. And, as you can see from the super-long list in my sidebar, I've met a LOT of authors. 

Now if I can only get through this interview without any Shannon Shame--that would be awesome. 

*clears throat*

*shifts into serious interview mode*


*kicks self into gear*

Okay! Everyone, I'd like you to meet the fabulously amazing Jon S. Lewis. 

He publishes under the pen name J.S. Lewis, and he's very busy important so I'm going to jump right into the interview!

Me: Thank you SO much for stopping by my blog today. If all the giggling and jumping around didn't clue you in, I'm so thrilled to have this incredible opportunity to share your wisdom and advice with my followers. Since there might be some who haven't heard of the Grey Griffins series before today, can you give a brief summary of what the books are about?

JSL: It’s an adventure series that has a dash of GOONIES with a sprig of HARRY POTTER, except instead of witches and wizards, the kids are monster hunters. The story takes place in a small town in Minnesota that looks a lot like the little town that I lived in – one stop light, a movie theatre with one screen, a Main Street straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and a lake with a island in the middle.

Me: Wow, that sounds like such a cool place to grow up. I've always loved the setting of the books, so it's really cool to know it's based on a real place. You write the series with Derek Benz, and I must confess, I'm always amazed by writers who collaborate. Can you give us a glimpse of your writing process? Do you ever disagree? How do you settle disputes? (rock paper scissors? hand to hand combat?)

JSL: It’s definitely a lesson in compromise, which can be great. The best part about writing with someone else is that you have a built in audience who can see what you might be missing. And it’s nearly impossible to get writer’s block, because you can bounce ideas off of one another. Our writing process has changed for every book, and we’ll continue to hone it until the series is over. By the end, though, we’ve each touched every sentence in one way or another.

Me: Cool, so it's kind of like you're writing and revising all at once. And as someone who requires HEAVY revision for my drafts (it's kind of pathetic how much revision I do) that sounds awesome. But does that mean there's really no arm wrestling or anything going on?

JSL: *mysterious smile*

Me: Ah! Gotcha. Say no more! *winks* What I love most about the Grey Griffins books is the characters. You have such a diverse group of kids, and they each have such distinct personalities. Are certain characters easier to write than others? Do you have a favorite?

JSL: Thanks! Character development is something that I continue to try and work on. There are elements of our main character, Max, that are definitely a part of my experience growing up. Max’s parents are
billionaires, and it’s hard for the average reader (me included) to really understand what that means. So to ground him, I thought it was important to give him an experience that many of us have gone through,
which is why his parents are divorced. Small touches like that ground characters and bring them to life. My favorite – at least when it comes to the kids – is Ernie. He’s kind of the nerd, and he’s a comic book fanatic just like Derek and I were (or still are, actually). He’s also the comic relief, and I definitely want to start writing more humor into my books moving forward.

Me: Well, your books already make me laugh, so I can't wait to see how the humor develops as the series progress. And I have to say, I am amazed (and jealous) of all the concept art you have for the series. Where do you get these amazing masterpieces? Do they help your writing process, or are they mainly a treat for fans?

JSL: Derek and I did some of them, but the really good stuff is either done by friends, or people I’ve commissioned. A few were going to be a part of a trading card game based on a game the kids in our books play, but unfortunately that company was an early casualty in the economic crunch and the game was never finished.

Me: Aw, that's really too bad--because the card game they play sounds like so much fun. And BTW, there's a chance to win some of that fabulous art--signed, no less--in the contest I'm running this week--but we'll get to those details later. We have more important things to discuss first! The newest Grey Griffins book (The Brimstone Key) has an awesome infusion of steampunk, along with the more traditional fantasy elements. What inspired that change? Was it a challenge blending genres?

JSL: We live in a world fueled by technological advancement, so we thought it was important to introduce technology into our books. However, just as important, we didn’t want to date that technology. A few years ago, cell phones were the size of a shoebox, and we wanted to avoid our technology pinpointing an exact era. Steampunk was the perfect solution. It offered us technological advancement beyond what we have today, but it looks and feels old world – perfect for our series!

In terms of blending genres, we just wanted to make sure it was authentic enough to give the readers a pleasing experience – one where they never have to wonder if a goblin can drive a steam-powered
car. As long as it “feels” real, then in their minds it will be.

Me: Right. Plus, Steampunk ROCKS! *fist pump*

JSL: *shifts in seat, looking embarrassed by the spectacle I'm making*

Me: *blushes* *clears throat* As a fellow MG writer, I have to ask about school visits. How did you develop your school visit program? And even though I've seen you work a room--flawlessly I might add--I can't help wondering if you get nervous facing an auditorium full of energetic kids. Any tips for those of us who aren't so naturally hilarious?

JSL: I am so thankful to Scholastic Book Fairs for helping us get into schools from coast to coast. That’s one of the many benefits of working with Scholastic! Their sales reps have great relationships with schools in virtually every city in America, so we teamed with them whenever we could. Public speaking was definitely a learning process.

At first, we gave very boring commercials about our books. That’s not what kids were interested in. They wanted the stories behind the books – what in our lives inspired the stories they were reading. And nobody likes to get preached at, so instead of going through the writing process in a dry way, I try to keep everyone laughing. That way the kids are learning, but they don’t even realize it. The teachers are happy, the kids are happy, and ultimately everyone wins. And I’ll tell you, the older the kids the more nervous I get. Junior High can be a tough crowd, but I just remind myself that I was that age once as well. And since I haven’t matured past 8th grade anyway, it’s easy for me to connect.

Me: Yay for not maturing! I think being a large child is crucial for being a MG writer. Or at least that's how I like to justify my often immature behavior. And my huge toy collection. *blushes* Since a lot of my followers are unpublished writers--including myself--can you share a piece of advice to help us on our journey? Is there anything you've learned along the way that you wish you'd known at the beginning? Any mistakes we should try to avoid?

JSL: There are million things I wish I knew now that I didn’t know then… and I’m still learning today. The best advice I can give is to not give up! The only people who are guaranteed failure are the people who quit. This is a business filled with rejection, but you only need one agent and one editor to like your book – then the masses will decide if you get to keep writing. I’ve talked to dozens of authors – many of them with awards and huge sales numbers – who always worry that their last book might be their last. We’re all filled with self-doubt, but you have to push through. It’s incredibly rewarding, but writing isn’t for the feint of heart.

I also recommend any book on writing written by Donald Maas or Noah Lukeman – both are brilliant agents who know what they’re talking about – and the fact that they are giving this insider info on writing is worth the cover price and more!

Also, write what you love – not what you think the world is looking for. Glittering vampires will fade, and so will fallen angels. Don’t worry about what’s hot, write what’s in your heart – that passion will translate through the computer, onto the page, and the readers will connect with your story in an exciting and intimate way.

Me: That is fabulous advice! I'll have to check those books out--once I catch up on the mountain I call a TBR pile. Or make a dent in it at least. :) And even though this is Grey Griffins week, I know you also have another project coming out--which you have been very hush hush about in the past. Can you give any hints or secrets to satisfy those of us who are a tad on the impatient side?

JSL: I signed a three-book deal for a new YA series that are collectively being called “CHAOS BOOKS.” The first is titled INVASION, and its an underdog story, which I love because let’s face it, most of us in this life are the underdog.

The hero, Colt McAlister, is forced to move from San Diego (my dream home) to a Phoenix suburb after his parents are killed by a drunk driver – but he soon finds out the driver wasn’t drunk at all – he was sent to kill Colt’s mom, who was about to blow the lid off of a mind control program being run by a multi-national biotech company. That company is actually a front for something much bigger that is
happening, and if Colt doesn’t step up to save the world, we’re in a lot of trouble --- I don’t want to give away the ending or some of the plot twists, but you can kind of tell from the title what the world faces. There’s a little bit of the TV show FRINGE, some STAR WARS, and even my first attempt at a bit of a love story.

It was a blast to write, and I’m really proud of the final outcome. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

Me: Ooo, sounds AWESOME! I can't wait. And San Diego is my dream home too! Maybe I'll end up there someday... *wistful sigh*

Well, thank you SO much for taking the time to come hang out today, and for sharing such incredible information with my followers. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed it. And thank you for writing your amazing books. I know how much I love them, so I can only imagine how much kids must love them--which is the most important thing.

For those of you who want more information about Jon and his books, check out his fabulous new blog and website. And he's been kind enough to donate some awesome prizes for a contest--signed books, signed posters--even a signed ARC. AND he drew inside the books!!!! Could he be any cooler?

To enter, you need to fill out the contest entry form here.

AND--I'll give one extra contest entry to everyone who comments on today's interview. Just make sure you let me know what name you entered the contest under, so I can find you in the spreadsheet.

Be sure to stop by tomorrow as Grey Griffins week continues with another giveaway--one I've been inspired to do because of what an awesome help Jon's been for me. You'll see all the details tomorrow. :)


  1. I love when writers/authors help promote. Because at the core, that's part of what blogging is all about. Awesome! I'll be under the same name. Laura Pauling Great interview!

  2. Awesome! Thanks Shannon. J.S. is a stud.

  3. Great interview. The tip on connecting with the Scholastic Book Club (if you're with Scholastic of course) was a good one. I'd never thought of that.

  4. Great interview! I love how he encourages the kid(s) in us!


  5. Great interview! I had never heard of the series, but I'll have to go and check it out now, 'cuz it sounds so good. Thanks!

  6. +JMJ+

    Lewis already had me at the reference to The Goonies, so I was completely floored to hear that these books are MG Steampunk. Yeah, baby!!! =D

    And I'm glad to hear his books will be available at Scholastic Book Fairs. I have two school-aged brothers whom I make a point to pick up from school whenever Scholastic comes visiting. What a good older sister I am, aye? ;-) LOL!

    PS--I've entered your Grey Griffins Giveaway! =)

  7. Fantastic interview, Shannon! I can see why you were excited! :)

    I like the advice about not giving up. So true!

  8. First of all, you had me at " GOONIES with a sprig of HARRY POTTER"...

    Also, Colt McAlister is pretty much the coolest character name EVAR. Oh, and his story sounds pretty bad ass :)

    Awesome interview!!!

  9. Great interview! It's amazing to me how 2 people can collaborate on something as complex as a novel. Very cool - and with limited arm wrestling apparently. Love the steampunk elements too :)

  10. Awesome interview! I need to get my hands on some J.S. Lewis books, stat.

  11. Great interview! I'm very interested in reading his books, they sound great!

  12. My son, Wyatt, is already begging me for this book. I love the advice - never give up. I also love the way he approaches the kids - keep 'em laughing = brilliance. :-)

    Another great interview, #1

  13. Great interview. I'd never heard of the Grey Griffins series until you mentioned it so I'll definitely check it out.

  14. Great interview! He blows me away. I have got to read his books now. I am never going to get any work done!!!!!

  15. When you get published you two should go on tour together.

    What a cutie!

  16. Every day, my TBR pile gets a little larger...

  17. That was a fun interview. His new series sounds pretty cool.


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