Elissa Brent Weissman is the author of multiple novels for middle grade readers. Nerd Camp won the 2011 Cybils Award for middle grade fiction and was a best summer novel for kids in The Washington Post. (Look for Nerd Camp 2.0 summer 2014!) Her most recent book, The Short Seller, was a must-read in Girls’ Life magazine and was featured on NPR’s “Here and Now.” She lives in a rowhouse in downtown Baltimore with her husband and two nerds-in-training. Learn more at her website.
What’s the funniest prank ever played on you?
When I was in high school, all of us with “W” last names had our lockers in a row, and we constantly played pranks on one another. The best was when someone put White-Out over the numbers on my lock. I could spin it and spin it, but there was no way I’d be able to get my lock open!
What is the most vivid or realistic dream you’ve ever had?
I have really vivid dreams, and I very often remember them. The craziest one was around the time I got my driver’s license. I dreamed that I’d stolen my parents’ car, and then I got stuck at the side of the road. In the dream, I thought to myself, “Well, this is a dream, so as long as I get the car back before I wake up, I won’t get in trouble!” The rest of the dream became a mission to do just that. Oh yes, it was very meta.
What food item would you remove from the market altogether?
If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?
If I just got to hang out, I’d like to be stuck in Top Chef, so I could eat all the awesome food. If I had to compete, I’d go on Dancing with the Stars. It’d be fun to learn to dance like that, especially because I wouldn’t be expected to have a lick of talent going in.
Have you been told you look like someone famous?
Not someone famous, but I have often been told I look like some other everyday person. People often confuse me with someone they once met, or they ask if I have a cousin so-and-so because we look exactly alike. Other people insist we’ve met each other when I’m 100% sure we haven’t. I guess I have a familiar face?
If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?
Early wakeups. I am not a morning person, but I don’t have a choice with two little kids. I’m not asking to sleep until noon (which I used to do), but 9 or 10am would be a dream!
In terms of your writing, how would you like to be remembered?
The way a reviewer once described one of my books: “A lot of kid appeal with substance.”
If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?
I wouldn’t choose a different path by any means, but it’d be nice to go back in time and be able to apply everything I’ve learned about the business side of being a writer—especially when it comes to promotion—to my first couple of books.
What do you do to get into your writing zone?
I leave my house and go to a coffee shop. I can’t focus at home. I also recently discovered that I can get into the zone more quickly if I ended the previous writing session in the middle of a scene or chapter, instead of at the end of one. This way, I can jump right in to finish the half-done scene, and by the time I’ve finished that chapter, I’m ready for the creative power it takes to start a new one.
What is your favorite accomplishment?
I consider my book The Trouble with Mark Hopper to be an accomplishment in itself because I (successfully, I think) wrote a book about two characters with the same exact name, and the reader can tell which one I’m talking about throughout. That took some serious characterization muscle! That book is also the only one of mine to be translated, which I also find super cool. It’s available in South Korea with a beautifully-designed cover—but I have absolutely no clue what it says. Google Translate tells me the title means “Brothers of the Conditions.”
Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?
I have ideas in mind in terms of theme, but readers bring their own experiences and perspectives to a book. That means different readers will take away different meanings, and they might find things I didn’t even know were in there. But now that you mention it, I do like the idea of a hidden message! Perhaps I’ll try to add a secret code in my next book. Something involving the third word in the second paragraph on every fifth page….
Do you pay attention to others’ strong reactions to your work? Does that affect what you create?
I get ecstatic about positive feedback, and I try not to get discouraged about bad reviews (or lack of reviews, which might be even more difficult to face than bad reviews). But specific reactions do affect what I create. For example, I wasn’t planning on writing a sequel to Nerd Camp, but that book really seemed to resonate with readers, so I decided to give it a try. Even more specifically, I was very surprised to hear from so many Nerd Camp readers that they really liked the character of Zack. If I were to have written a sequel initially, I probably wouldn’t have even had him in there again. But so many kids told me that they loved him and wanted to see more of him, so I made him a central character in Nerd Camp 2.0—half the book is from his perspective.
If you could interview any author (past or present), who would you choose?
J.M. Barrie. I think he’s a brilliant writer, and such a fascinating person as well. I’m sure he’d say incredibly clever things, no matter how boring my questions. I think I’d have to steal some questions from Author Turf anyway, just to make sure he feels appreciated and inspired.