Nan Marino writes middle grade books, lives in New Jersey and eats way too much candy. Her debut novel, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me (Roaring Brook, 2009) received a 2010 Golden Kite Honor Book, was a 2009 Bank Street Best Book, and made the Chicago Library Best Books list and the New York Public Library Best Books for Reading and Sharing. Her second novel Hiding Out At the Pancake Palace will be out in April of 2013. Nan lives with her husband and a very large dog near the Jersey shore, where she works as a librarian. For more info, visit her website and blog.
Let the conversation begin!
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I’m not sure I write in any one genre. My first book was historical fiction. My next book is contemporary with a fantasy element. No matter what I write, my audience is always middle graders. I never intentionally set out to write children’s books, but every main character I think of happens to be between the ages of ten and fourteen. When I was in library school, I came across a table filled with children’s books. I picked up the book, Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan and that hooked me forever on middle grade literature.
How do you recharge your creative batteries?
I live near the Barnegat Bay so I do a lot of staring out at the water. I love to drive, especially if I can manage to get lost or find a road I’ve never been on.
Any advice to share with aspiring writers?
Dig deep. Tell the story that only you can tell.
Can you tell us about the book you’re working on? Is it coming easily or have you run into road blocks?
There are always stops and starts. It’s part of my writing process. Right now, I’m in the middle of a first draft. I got the idea for this next book while getting stuck in traffic. By the time I got home I raced to the computer and started writing. Pages flowed but I had no idea why certain things were there. For example, there’s a fishing net in the story and it seems to be very important to every single character, but I’m not sure why yet. I might need to go for another long drive to see what happens.
Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?
My first book Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me took place in the town where I grew up. There were things in that book that I took straight from my childhood–a neighbor who sings, the family who had extravagant parties, the feeling of closeness in a neighborhood. My next book is more made up.
Planner or a procrastinator? Example?
I’ll answer this question. . . later.
How many words have you written in one writing session?
I never count words. It’s all about moving the story along. Some days are more productive than others. But I try to tell myself that those days where I spend time staring at the computer or undoing what I already wrote are important too. Although it’s a much better day when you notice that the page count is growing larger.
How did you celebrate your first book being published? Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish?
Right now I only have one book out in the world, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle And Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me. When it came out in 2009, my sister was a 5th grade teacher and we had a book launch party with the fourth and fifth graders in her school. Also at the library where I work, they threw a surprise launch party for me too. The book takes place in 1969 and the party had a 1960s space-aged theme. It was amazing.
So many doors have opened up because of being published. I’ve met some great kids and their teachers through school visits and Skype. I’ve had dinner with authors that I’ve admired. Not to mention I’ve had the opportunity to work on a second book with my amazing editor. It’s been so much fun.
A few weeks ago, some students and teachers from an elementary school book club drove almost an hour to meet me for lunch at the library where I work. We ate sandwiches and chatted about writing, favorite books, school, and even car tires. It would be impossible not to be excited about being published after listening to a bunch of kids talk about your book characters like they are real people.
If you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them?
Neither. I’d give them away. Not sure who’d they go to, but I’d try to find someone who wanted to be there.
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
Yes! I have a middle grade book, Hiding Out At the Pancake Palace, (Roaring Brook Press) coming out in the beginning of 2013. I’m really excited about it. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl named Cecilia who discovers that the boy who traveled into her tiny town in the middle of the night is actually a famous musical superstar named Elvis Ruby. During a televised talent show, Elvis froze on stage. Now, he’s hiding out in the Pinelands of New Jersey to escape the paparazzi. A national celebrity magazine has offered a ten thousand dollar reward for news of his whereabouts, but Cecilia’s not interested in the money. She’s been searching the Pinelands for a mythical song and hopes the talented musician can help her find it. While the two go on their search, one by one people in the town learn the secret of the boy’s true identity. By the way, the Jersey Devil, a prominent figure in Pineland’s folklore, makes an appearance in the book too.
I did research on secrets for this book. Did you know that most people keep a secret for about 72 hours? It’s a hard thing to keep. There was a study where researchers took two groups of people: one group was told a secret and the other group wasn’t. When they showed both groups a hill, the ones who knew the secret believed the hill to be steeper. People really feel burdened by them.
Are there certain characters you would like to return to?
I get asked a lot about what happened to the best friend of the main character in Neil Armstrong is My Uncle. She’s never in the book. She moved away in the beginning of the story. I’ve never done a class visit without someone wanting to know. It would be fun to tell her story.
Ever participated in a parade? What did you do?
This is not a happy memory. When I was in Brownies in second grade, I was chosen to carry the American Flag down the main street in our town. Right as we got to the most crowded part of the street, my shoe slid off. I was afraid to stop and get it because I was holding the American flag. The girls in the rows behind me tried kicking it back in my direction, but it’s hard for eight-year-olds to kick a shoe and march at the same time. Our troop would never break its marching formation so I walked down the crowded street holding the American flag wearing only one shoe while two boys on bicycles pointed and smirked and followed us. Adults shouted from the sidewalks but the scout leaders were oblivious. Finally when we got to the end of the block, they noticed. To this day, I check my shoelaces whenever I hear a John Philip Sousa song.
Do you collect anything?
Rocks. Not fancy rocks. I collect rocks with words on them and I have a bunch that I picked up from special places. Vacations. Important days. Sad days. Happy days. Sometimes friends have given me rocks from their moments too. I love to hear their stories.
It started when I was 12 and played hooky from swim team practice. I stood outside pool building, watching through a window on a November day while my team did their laps. The afternoon was long and cold, and I spent the hours alternating between wanting to go into the practice and enjoying the time by myself. I remember picking up a small rock and deciding to keep it as a memory of that day. I still have that rock. And many, many others.
Do you come up with your book titles?
My first book was originally called One Small Step but my publisher already had a book with that title. My editor and publisher came up with Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me.
For my next book, I got title suggestions from the people who I work with at the library. They’re the ones who came up with Hiding Out At the Pancake Palace.