From the minute I saw the cover of EngiNerds, I was all in. I love the way the super smart ‘nerd’ boys are just average tweens in so many ways. This makes them relatable even when their adventures get wild. In the first of the series, Ken and pals discover the cool robots that appeared mysteriously on their doorsteps are not all positive. Sure, they can be awesome but they can also be destructive. Soon, the boys find themselves in a desperate race to save not only themselves but also the world.
From the beginning, EngiNerds is fast paced, thrilling, action packed adventure and chaos. I love this stuff! What influenced your desire to write this kind of book?
One of my missions as an author is to reach the so-called “striving” or “undiscovered” reader – the kid who hasn’t yet experienced the thrill of an awesome book. EngiNerds came from a desire to write the sort of fast, fun, and funny novel that might just hook that kid, that might help them take a step toward becoming an active, avid reader. When doing such writing, I often consult the 10-year-old Jarrett still living inside me. He’s great at keeping me on track.
The gang of four, led by narrator Kennedy, remind me of my (now teenaged) son’s friend posse (often camped out in my living room, devouring everything in the pantry 🙂). Are the EngiNerds boys based on people you knew as a kid? Is the younger version of yourself in there somewhere?
I think all books are products of the mixing of experience and imagination. So, yes, there are definitely bits and pieces of me and my friends in this book – I, too, was a living room-camper, everything in the pantry-devourer! – but much of that has been blurred or even completely obscured by fiction and the necessities of the story.
EngiNerds has MacGyver-ish tinkering (duct tape, chop sticks, etc) and hungry insane robots but also a heavy dose of humor. What are the challenges of writing ‘funny’?
I think ideas for funny stories come from looking at the world a certain way, and I’ve got no shortage of ideas. The difficulty lies in the execution of these ideas, of course, and the biggest challenge, I think, is voice. A lot goes into getting a voice “right,” but two of the most important considerations for me are word choice and rhythm. Sometimes, the addition or removal a single syllable can make or break a sentence, and determine whether or not a joke “lands.” And, of course, some words are just funnier than others. Like futz. That’s a downright hilarious word.
It looks like we have to wait until February 19, 2019 for the sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds. ( I can hear your fans groaning 🙂 ) Can you give us a teaser to tide us over?
Sure! I can tell you that Revenge of the EngiNerds picks up pretty much right where the last book left off. It’s once again narrated by Ken, but this time around, instead of hanging with Dan, Jerry, and John Henry Knox, he’s stuck spending most of his time with Mike Edsley, who readers might remember from the very last chapter of EngiNerds. There’s also a brand new character – Mikaela Harrington. Yes, a girl. She crashes one of the EngiNerds’s meetings, and has some big news to share – news you might be able to guess at based on the book’s cover. Oh, and Kitty is around, of course, making plenty of mischief.
Who are your favorite authors?
How much time do you have? And can I come back in a few days and add a couple more names to the list? Just kidding, of course. But seriously, I’m finding new favorite authors (and books!) all the time.
My favorite kid lit writer as a kid, and the author who really got me excited about writing my own stories, was Walter Dean Myers. I still love him, and share his books with others as much as I can. Other authors who’ve influenced me and my style include Jerry Spinelli, Daniel Pinkwater, and Beverly Cleary. And some new authors I’m super excited about are Kelly Yang, Kat Shepherd, Armand Baltazar, and Saadia Faruqi. But seriously – I can go on and on and on. If anyone out there wants to hear more (and share some of their own favorites!), come find me and we’ll chat!
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I think I would’ve fallen in love with these things sooner or later, no matter what – but I attribute my discovery of my love for them at such a young age to the influence of my family. My mother, father, sister, and brother are all big readers, and my parents both write and publish as well (not fiction, but in academia). Growing up, I was surrounded by books, and whenever I asked for a ride to the library or bookstore, my parents got in the car and took me. I had four wonderful reading role models right there in my home, access to tons of books, and was always allowed to choose whatever I wanted to read.
I was lucky (really lucky). So many kids grow up without these things. Which is why I spend a great deal of my time doing all I can to help get books into kids’ hands, and why I do my best to model good reading as an author and am constantly spreading the word about the importance of access and choice.
What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?
READ! I read just as much, if not more than, I write. And I believe I MUST read that much in order to write, and write well.
But that’s an obvious, kind of boring answer. My other favorite thing to do when not writing is EAT. Sometimes out at a fun restaurant, sometimes a dish that I’ve cooked myself at home, sometimes while curled up on the couch with a good book. I mean, is there anything better? A great book. A delicious snack. Mmm… I know what I’m doing after we finish this interview.
What are you working on right now?
LOTS of stuff! I’ve got a few new Middle Grade and chapter book series in the works, and I just put the finishing touches on a picture book. I also spend a lot of time helping run the MG Book Village site, and the past several weeks have been dominated by #KidsNeedMentors, a project that Ann Braden, Kristin Crouch, Kristen Picone, and I are launching to connect classrooms with kids’ book creators for the duration of the 2018-2019 school year.
How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?
There are lots of ways! I’ve got a Contact form on my website, and messages there go directly to my e-mail inbox. I’m also on social media (probably more often than I should be…). If readers are on Twitter or Instagram, they can find me at @Jarrett_Lerner (Twitter) and @jarrettlerner (Instagram).