Author Interview with Liz Coley & Review of The Captain’s Kid

I’m thrilled to have author Liz Coley here for an interview. I met Liz at the Indiana state library conference after her YA novel, Pretty Girl-13 was chosen as the winner of the Eliot Rosewater Award. (More on the Eliot Rosewater Award here.)

Liz is a brilliant writer, but also very humble and down-to-earth. I must say I was so nervous to meet her, but it was awesome! She is a definite rock-star in my opinion. Pretty Girl-13, her first novel for young adults was suspenseful & excellent. Liz’s newest book, The Captain’s Kid, was released in October 2016. I’ll be interviewing her about the book, as well as including my review below. I hope you enjoy “meeting” Liz as much as I did! And, please, let me know what you think about The Captain’s Kid. You can purchase it from Amazon here.

About Liz Coley (from lizcoley.com)

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Liz Coley has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction, Winter’s Regret, and You Are Not Alone.

In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by HarperCollins and HarperCollins UK in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. Foreign translations have been published in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, and Traditional Chinese. German and Simplified Chinese are in the works.

Liz lives in Ohio, where she is surrounded by a fantastic community of writers, beaten regularly by better tennis players, uplifted by her choir, supported by her husband, teased by her teenaged daughter, cheered from afar by her two older sons, and adorned with hair by her cats Tiger, Pippin, and Merry.

Liz invites you to follow @LizColeyBooks on Twitter and Instagram, like Liz Coley Books on Facebook, and visit her website at lizcoley.com, where you can watch the Pretty Girl-13 book trailer, download editing tips, and read her confessional blog postings “Scenes from a Life.”

Author Interview with Liz Coley

Question 1. The Captain’s Kid is a much different genre than your previous novel, Pretty Girl-13. How did you decide to write science fiction? Have you always been a fan of sci-fi? 

I have always loved sci-fi, from the fifth grade when I read the age appropriate Wrinkle in Time and the age inappropriate Thuvia, Maid of Mars. My seventh/eighth grade English teacher was a huge sci-fi fan as well and even used sci-fi in curriculum, so I was in heaven in middle school. I actually got into the writing biz specifically to write sci-fi for tweenagers. I call Pretty Girl-13 “the book I accidentally wrote.” In fact, if you stare at it closely, you’ll see that a science fiction question was at the heart of the story: if you had the choice to remember or forget the worst things that had ever happened to you, what would you do? I tackled that from both the realistic therapy angle–reintegrating memories–and from the sci-fi angle–deactivating memories at the neuron level. Science fiction is still my favorite genre to read.

Question 2. Were any of characters in The Captain’s Kid modeled after real people you knew? If so, which ones? 

Brandon is somewhat a reflection of my oldest son Ian as he was at that age–precocious in math, physically uncoordinated in normal gravity, very hungry, addicted to video games, unable to keep clothes off the floor, and unaware of his leadership potential. The theme of vegetarianism was completely informed by my younger son Connor’s commitment to becoming a vegetarian around the age of 10. Everyone else hopped onto the page via my imagination.

Question 3. Are you working on any other novels at this time? 

I used to be disciplined and write one story at a time. Now I find myself with a variety of tales at the halfway point. There’s a thriller-mystery that I think of as a mashup of Rashomon, Oedipus Rex, and Breakfast Club called We Thought We Knew You. There’s a story about one of my favorite calming pastimes, Balancing Stones, about self-forgiveness and healing. There’s a lively romance that takes place in the bureaucratic upside-down high-rise that is Purgatory, tentatively called Living Down Under, and there’s a weird reincarnation mystery story I’m trying to wrap my head around. Also, I’m dabbling in playwriting.

Question 4. What age group do you feel The Captain’s Kid would appeal to most?

The Captain’s Kid seems to have two audiences. The obvious one, tween/teen boys and girls, ranges from a precocious 10-year old reader to a reluctant 16-year-old reader, with the sweet spot at about 7th-8th grade. Then there are the grown-ups who want a nostalgic read, a clean space adventure with teenage heroes, real life problems, and a first kiss.

Question 5. The acknowledgements mention that you wrote The Captain’s Kid for your two sons. That’s really cool! Did they help you brainstorm to come up with any of the characters or ideas in the novel?

The original version of The Captain’s Kid started as something I wrote in spiral notebooks while the boys were at Taekwondo and piano lessons. After I typed up each scene, I would read it to them in bed as part of our nightly 45 minutes or more of reading aloud. They were extremely helpful as far as their unedited natural reactions, whether laughing with or at me. Since I don’t work with outlines, they made me as anxious to know what was coming next as they were. As a vegetarian, Connor did take real exception to one part of the story and refused to listen for weeks! That little episode showd the impact of fiction on developing minds and codes of ethics.

Question 6. If you had to explain The Captain’s Kid in one sentence or less, what would it be? 

When thirteen-year-old Brandon Webb set out on his first interstellar voyage, he little suspects that the fate of a failing colony will come to depend on his courage, creativity, and compassion.

Question 7. Anything else you would like to say about the novel? 

I’ve met a lot of middle schoolers through school visits who still like being read to. Maybe they haven’t told their parents, but they’ve told me. So I recorded myself reading The Captain’s Kid as a YouTube serial–no fancy production values–just me being a mom and reading aloud, chapter by chapter. My dream is that kids who don’t enjoy reading because of reading challenges will find the series and take the opportunity to read along with me, the book in their hands and my voice in their ears. I branded the series “Undercover Reading,” and if nothing else you should check out the neat morphing logo I designed for it.

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About The Captain’s Kid (from lizcoley.com)

Whenever his parents went out on missions for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon Webb was left behind on Luna, left to dream of journeying between the stars, meeting aliens, defeating villains, saving the world. Now it’s his turn for adventure, permitted at last by the captain, his father, to join a year-long trip to a failing colonial planet on an emergency resupply run. Or so he’s told.

Brandon’s former dreams could turn to nightmares when the starship is sabotaged, the alien holds secrets about his past, the villain is on the right side, and the world isn’t ready to be saved.

Librarian Laura’s Review of The Captain’s Kid by Liz Coley

First, let me point out that I am not a reader of science fiction. However, I am so glad to have read The Captain’s Kid! I couldn’t put it down, mainly because the story line was so intriguing with just enough mystery to keep it moving along at a quick pace. Additionally, the main character, Brandon Webb, the “Captain’s kid,” was such a unique teenager. Smart as a whip, he still has the boyish clumsiness and goofiness that allow him to keep a positive attitude in perilous situations. With both parents working for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon grew up in an intellectually charged environment, which is clear by his genius in math and computer programming (or “hacking,” as some would refer to it). Brandon’s mother, missing and presumed dead, never returned from a space mission four years prior to Esperanza, a war-torn planet.

One day, Brandon’s father, Gordon, receives a call, and he’s back working for the SSC and planning a resupply mission to Esperanza. Having promised Brandon to never leave him behind, he must make good on his promise. So, Brandon is about to go on his first space mission, a “nube,” embarking on a year-long voyage on the starship named RELIABLE to Esperanza, the place his mother was last alive. He is nervous, but also very excited, having always dreamed of journeying in space.

When Brandon boards the ship and meets some of the other “space kids,” the trip becomes even more interesting for him. There’s Karthik, the son of RELIABLE’s head cook, who quickly becomes his best friend and confidant. And then there is Audrey, whom Brandon is instantly smitten over from the start. If only he can play it cool and not screw up his chances with her, being the klutz that he is. When Brandon becomes the main target of sabotage, however, he has to figure out who on the ship could be an enemy and why they are trying to put a stop to the mission and his life. As the RELIABLE gets closer to Esperanza, Brandon grows closer to Audrey, the danger aboard ship intensifies. Can Brandon and his friends figure out a way to save the mission, and themselves in time? You’ll have to read it and find out for yourselves. You won’t be sorry – it’s a great adventure with a neat ending. The book is well written, and very clean. Middle grade kids, young adults, and adults alike will enjoy this fast-paced space adventure.

Another really cool thing about this book is that Liz has a YouTube channel (LizColeyBooks) with a read-along serial of this book read by Liz herself as part of the Undercover Reading series. Anyone is welcome to subscribe and listen to Liz narrate this story and others.

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

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All of Jon Klassen’s picture books are fabulous read-alouds which will have children and adults begging to read them over and over. There is a central theme of a hat in each of his picture books so far: I Want My Hat Back, This is Not my Hat, and the latest, We Found a Hat.

In We Found a Hat,  readers will be delighted by two adorable turtles who seem to do everything together. Who doesn’t love turtles?! The only problem is that they have found a hat, together, of course, but there is only one hat, and two turtles. What are they going to do? And they admit the hat looks very good on both of them. Just the sight of a turtle wearing a hat causes a lot of laughter, as they can’t see a fool thing while wearing the hat. The story is divided up into 3 short parts, with some repetitive phrases, but ultimately building up to a delightfully surprising end.

Klassen’s simple, but textured illustrations allow the reader to get so much out of the story. Watching the turtles’ eyes focusing on different parts of the pages will give the reader clues as to what is going on in the story and foreshadow a possible outcome. However, the surprise ending will leave readers laughing with joy. Maybe there really is a way for the turtles to be together and both have a hat?! You’ll have to read it and find out for yourselves. I would highly recommend all of Jon Klassen’s books for students in grades K through 6. The tales are really fitting and enjoyable to any age.

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

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Am I all set to tell you why I love Nanette’s Baguette? You Bet!

Mo Willems has done it again – created a hilarious tale with lasting characters and unique illustrations. Willems, rock-star author and illustrator of many favorites including the Elephant & Piggie series, Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon picture books,  never fails to delight young readers and adults alike. Nanette’s Baguette is written completely in rhyme, sparking silliness and creating a build-up in tempo with every new page. The story follows young frog, Nanette, on her very first trip to the bakery to get the baguette. Sure, Nanette is able to get the baguette with no problem (you bet!), but it’s what happens after she gets the baguette that will have readers in stitches. Perhaps my favorite scene from the story reads like this, “This is as bad as it can get. Maybe Nanette will move to Tibet. Tibet is as far away as you can get. Nanette would need a jet.”

The illustrations of the French village are completed by paper-model, allowing Nanette and the other characters to really jump off of the pages in a lifelike manner. Nanette’s Baguette is a joy to read aloud, even though it’s easy to get tongue-tied if you read it too quickly. This adds to the humor of the situation, of course, making it one of the best read-alouds to come across my desk in a long time. Also, I have to mention that I am hungry for a warm baguette each time I read Nanette’s Baguette. The story would pair nicely with a bread tasting time! Fabulous work, Mr. Willems!

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

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The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles has no name, but a very important job. He delivers messages from bottles to their recipients. Some of the messages are sad, and some must be carried for quite some time before they find the receiver. However, most of the messages bring happiness, “for a letter can hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl.” He lives alone, along the sea with only one tree and a loyal cat who follows him on his travels.

One day , the Uncorker finds a bottle with an unusual message about an upcoming seaside party, but its unclear who the message is for ,or even who the message is from. He attempts to deliver the message, inadvertently letting multiple townspeople in on the invitation to the party. A surprise awaits the Uncorker (and the reader) when he arrives at the seaside party. The whimsical illustrations and heartfelt story-line make this a picture book to be remembered, and to be read and shared over and over again. This is one you’ll want to add to your library, as well as your home collection.

I Yam a Donkey by CeCe Bell

9780553496642_9ffdfThis is one of my favorite read aloud books for the elementary classes (K-6). Lower elementary may not get the grammar humor as much as the higher elementary kids, but they do love the book. Especially when I give the yam and donkey very different voices. One little boy said “How do they sound like that!?” This is one of the many reasons I love my job so much!

It’s a silly story made up of the banter back and forth between a very proper yam and a very grammar-deprived donkey. The poor yam is getting very frustrated and the poor donkey just doesn’t get it. One of my favorite things about the book is that it uses old phrases that I say all the time, such as: “For Pete’s sake” and “Good Grief.”  Grammar nerds like myself will swoon for this story. I have read it so many times and the kids beg for me to read it again. It’s a hit, every time!

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt

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I haven’t yet reviewed any children’s picture books on this particular blog, but this book was so fantastic that I couldn’t resist! As a children’s Librarian, I see a ton of children’s books pass through my office, and the Crayon series by Drew Dewalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers are some of the best. The first book in the series is called The Day the Crayons Quit. It is delightfully funny and witty, with scenes that children and adults alike absolutely love. I especially loved it for read-aloud story time for grades 1 through 6.

However, the new installment The Day the Crayons Came Home is even better than the first book! Dewalt and Jeffers have outdone themselves with a new masterpiece, detailing the woes of quick-witted crayons who have been left behind and forgotten by Duncan over the years. For example, poor Maroon Crayon is left in the couch and broken in two when Duncan’s father sits on him. Pea Green Crayon decides that he no longer likes his name and changes it to “Esteban…the Magnificent” as he sets out for new adventures. The stories become more hilarious as the book goes on.

I can hardly wait to share this book with all of my elementary classes for story time. I know they will just adore it as much as I do. I can hear their high pitched giggles now. If you like to read and know a kid (or adult) who appreciates a story – I would highly suggest getting a copy of this book (or checking it out at your local library, of course.) I think this will be one of those instant, “Please read it again, Mrs. Jones!!” books. Just a hunch… #every crayon counts esteban