My interview with Jason Lady, a fellow Black Rose Writing author, is something of a departure for me. This is the first time I interviewed a middle grade fantasy and science fiction author. I’ve have interviews with fantasy authors (Tina O’Hailey) and with science fiction authors (Joseph Carrabis), but I never interviewed a middle grade author.
Writing to that audience, I think, takes a special talent. Word choice- nothing too complicated, but nothing too simple. Setting- easily identifiable and easily pictured. Storyline- keep them engaged without scaring the heck out of them or scarring them forever. Talent and patience goes a long way in achieving a desired result.
I found the interview with Jason not only interesting and entertaining, but comfortable, like wearing comfortable jeans and a favorite sweatshirt and sipping a cold beverage on a back porch. Two guys exchanging a laugh and a story. I think you’ll enjoy this interview. I know I did.
What was it that made you decide you had a story to tell and to become an author?
When I was in high school, I wrote my first book: a parody of Robin Hood that starred all the kids on my cross-country team. I wrote it by hand in these giant spiral-bound notebooks. I think when it was getting passed around on the bus on the way to meets and at the lunch table, and everyone kept asking if I’d written more in the story, and they were apparently enjoying it and it was making them laugh, I knew then that maybe I had something I could share with the world.
As an author or writer, what sets you apart from others?
I think something that sets me apart is that I don’t write all the time, honestly. I go for months without writing anything new! Sometimes I feel guilty, following writers on social media and seeing how much they’re writing every week, every day. Some writers are working on more than one manuscript at once, which I can’t fathom. I’ve found what works for me is to write seasonally. A few months on, a few months off. Of course, when I’m not writing, I’m thinking up ideas. My wife is a great sounding board, and we’ll discuss my ideas together and refine them as time goes on.
What genre do you write, and why?
I write middle grade fantasy and science fiction. My imagination is a little crazy and those are the genres where I can really go nuts and do lots of fun, out-there stuff in my stories. I write for the middle grade audience because it’s the best of both worlds: old enough to appreciate more complex plots and character development, but still young enough to appreciate the zaniness in my stories. As people get older, they get so serious. Every story has to be so grim and dystopian. Middle school kids can still laugh and enjoy the weird, goofy stuff I like to write about.
If you were to name one or two books that you deem unforgettable and that had a major impact on you, what would they be, and why?
When I was in elementary school, I read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and they blew me away. The concept of a wardrobe in your bedroom could be a gateway to a fantastic world, just ignited my imagination. Plus, later in the series, Lewis wrote a prequel to explain where Narnia came from and where the wardrobe came from, too. That nonlinear storytelling just floored me. The amazement has stuck with me after all this time!
What authors do you read regularly? Why?
I’m a big fan of science fiction author Timothy Zahn, ever since his first Star Wars novels in the early 1990s. His stories are plot-driven and are filled with intriguing ideas that tickle my brain. And while his Star Wars books are great, I recommend his other sci-fi books: The Icarus Hunt, The Blackcollar, Cobra, and Night Train to Rigel.
If you were to have dinner with 5 individuals living or dead, who would they be and why?
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the architects of the Marvel Universe. I’m a comic book fan going back to elementary school, so I’d love to hear Stan and Jack talk about how they crafted their ideas. It would also be cool to meet some of my favorite musicians, like U2 or Mark Knopfler, though not being a musician myself, I’m not sure what I’d talk to them about except fanboy all over the place and embarrass myself! Another person would be my father, who passed away in 2018. I miss our conversations about music and about Marvel and Star Wars movies. I got the contract for my first book the year after he died. He was a huge reader, and I’d love to be able to have a conversation with him about my experience getting published.
What is your writing routine? When you write, are you a planner/outliner or are you a “pantser”?
I’m definitely a “pantser.” I come up with the story’s basic premise—kind of the “back of the book” basics of the story—and the general “who the characters are” and the setting. But other than that, it’s pantser city! I usually have a vague idea of where I’m going, but I consider each story a jigsaw puzzle that I’m assembling where I don’t even know what it will end up looking like, or even if I will use all the pieces in the box! I work full time, so my writing routine usually is writing a few pages on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
When writing, how much do you read? Do you read in or out of your genre?
I’m usually reading something, whether it’s a book or a comic book. My genre is science fiction and fantasy, and I read a lot of that, but I also like historical fiction, which I definitely do not write but I enjoy, anyway. Usually, books set in the Age of Sail (Pirates!) or World War 2. I also am known to read the occasional spy or military thriller.
Is there something you set out to do, but somehow, it didn’t work out for you? (In terms of writing, or something else you felt was important to you at the time?)
I currently work in Human Resources, but I went to college to work behind the scenes in broadcast news, believe it or not. Editing, writing, camera work, those kinds of things. I quickly learned it wasn’t for me and luckily, I found other career directions in the areas of corporate training, recruiting, new employee onboarding, and talent development.
What tips would you give to new or even experienced writers?
A tip I always tell people is don’t stop. It took me 13 years (!) to get published, with tons of rejections along the way. If I’d given up, I would never have had the experience of holding my book in my own hands or hearing from kids and their parents how much my books are enjoyed by them and how they help encourage kids to read.
How do you handle a negative critique?
Negative critiques are inevitable, and I try not to let them get to me. I remind myself that I can’t please everyone and that my positive reviews far outweigh the negative ones. I also resolved early on not to keep my ego too close to my work, and to keep in mind that I seek critiques to make my work better. Also, not every bit of feedback is something I must incorporate. Ultimately, I must go with my gut and decide what is right for my books.
Is there a type of writing/genre that you find difficult to write? Why?
I’ve always thought writing a mystery sounds really tough to do. They’re fun if you’re the reader, but as the writer you have to craft this mystery, figure out what the clues are, keep it hidden throughout the story—it’s hard for me to imagine. My stories have mysteries in them, but not to the extent true mystery stories do. They’re just so intricate and I really admire the craft that goes into them.
How important are the elements of character, setting, and atmosphere to a story, and why?
I think it depends on what kind of story you’re writing. In my two books, the stories each take place in nondescript small towns. Anywheresville, USA. It really doesn’t matter where the setting is. The important parts for my stories are the characters—who are they, what journey are they on, what problems do they have that they will work out over the course of the story—and the plots themselves.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters you create? How/Why?
Absolutely! Each of my books in the Magic Pen Adventure series stars a different middle schooler, and to some extent or another, they’re based on some aspect of myself from when I was a kid. For example, in my first book Monster Problems, the main character Brad is an artistic kid who feels like he isn’t good at any of his classes other than Art, and gets in trouble for drawing and not paying attention in Science class. This actually happened to me growing up, so when writing the character of Brad, I infused him with stuff from my past and insecurities I had when I was that age. I’m obviously not a middle schooler anymore, but I think certain problems are faced by all generations and by drawing on my childhood for inspiration, my hope is that I’ve made the middle schoolers in my stories authentic and relatable to young readers.
Is there an unforgettable or memorable character that will not leave your head, either of your own creation or from a book you’ve read?
A character that sticks with me is Spider-Man. In the comic books I read in the 1980s, he was a struggling college dropout trying to make ends meet as a young man living in New York City, pulled between trying to make a living and also live up to his responsibility to use his powers to fight crime. He had ups and downs with friends and girlfriends, his landlady was always on his case to pay his rent, his boss would yell at him, he’d have to fight bad guys while sick with the flu . . . as I’ve grown older, the more relatable Spider-Man is to me. Like most people, I juggle a ton of things and try my best, even when it’s not fun.
Tell us about your most recent book.
How did you come up with the concept? Super Problems is the second book in the Magic Pen Adventures. They can be read in any order. Each book in the Magic Pen Adventures stars a different middle schooler who gets a mysterious magic pen that makes everything they draw become real. Then they have to figure out how to erase what they drew before it’s too late and learn more about themselves along the way.
Super Problems is inspired by my childhood, where I would draw my friends as superheroes. At one point, my whole fourth-grade class were all superheroes that I drew in our own comic book adventures! Scott, the main character in Super Problems, draws his friends as superheroes using the magic pen, and POOF! They all become superheroes for real! Unfortunately, the super villain he created also becomes real, and a humorous and zany adventure ensues. Their superhero team is the Alpaca Defense Squad, and they are charged with protecting their school’s pet alpaca Bruce from the evil Stinky Sock. The Stinky Sock wants Bruce’s magic wool so he can create an invincible sock army and take over the world. The Alpaca Defense Squad finds out that being a superhero isn’t easy and the Stinky Sock is a clever and formidable foe. And protecting Bruce isn’t easy because he’s a bit of a demanding prima donna.
How did you come up with the title?
The first book in the series is Monster Problems, so I thought it made sense for the second book to have a similar title—it makes it easier to tell they go together! The book has superheroes in it, so I titled it Super Problems.
From your book, who is your favorite character? Who is your least favorite character? Why?
I don’t know if I have a least favorite character, to be honest. They all make me happy in one way or another. My favorite might be Bruce the Alpaca. He’s vain, he’s spoiled rotten, he knows his wool is a valuable commodity, so he is arrogant with an out-of-control ego, but he is so much fun to write! It’s also fun to write the other characters being exasperated and driven crazy by Bruce! And several parents and grandparents have told me Bruce cracks their kids up, which is a very rewarding thing to hear.
I hope you check out his work- not only for your kids but for yourself. Jason has something to offer to all. Like your favorite dessert, dig in!
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