Monday, December 16, 2013

Interview with J. Scott Savage

This week I'm delighted to share with you an Interview with J. Scott Savage, author of several books for middle-grade readers including Case File #13: Zombie Kid, which I reviewed in the last blog (see below).

ML: Why do you write middle-grade fiction?

Scott: There are great things about writing for readers of different age groups. Adult fiction is fun, because you are writing for your peers. YA gives you more gray area to work with—not just good and bad. I like writing middle grade for two reasons. First, it is a time of discovery. Kids at that age are still exploring so many things, so anything is possible. Magic is still real in their lives. Second, if you write it well, middle grade can appeal to all readers. I love books that an entire family can read together and enjoy.

ML: Name three of your favorite middle-grade fiction characters and tell us why they’re favorites.

Scott: Hmm, fun question! I’ll start with James Henry Trotter from James and the Giant Peach, because he epitomizes the belief in magic at that age. Parents eaten by an escaped rhinoceros? Man, that stinks. Crazy aunts, a little guy with green crystals, a giant fruit, talking human-size insects? It’s all part of the story and he never once thinks, “Obviously I have gone insane with grief.”

Next, I’ll go with another Roald Dahl character, Matilda Wormwood from Matilda. I would sum her up in one word, resiliency. She has one of the worst families ever, a crazy headmistress, and a pretty messed up life. But she finds the library, teaches herself to read, gets revenge on her parents, and takes on the headmistress. And all the while, she is still so nice that everyone likes her. Who wouldn’t want to be Matilda?

Third, I’ll go with a kind of trick answer and pick all the great sidekicks. Sidekicks are awesome characters. They’re loyal, funny, they keep the story interesting and save the protagonist on many occasions. They almost always have their quirks, but in the best books they figure out how to use those quirks to their advantage.    

ML: What makes a great middle-grade story?

Scott: Most important to me is characters I care about. I want to root for them, believe in them, see them learn and grow. Second is magic. Not just magic like wands and spells, although that is fun too. But discovering magic in the world where we live now is just as amazing. I want to be shocked and surprised. I want to see a flower spring up where I only saw concrete, a caterpillar turn into a butterfly before my eyes. And finally, like I said above, I love a book that can entertain an eight-year-old and an octogenarian and the same time. 

Me: What are the most important pieces of advice you would give to children’s writers?

Scott: Don’t try to be the next . . . The best middle grade authors aren’t trying to copy someone else’s style. They are taking what’s inside of them and finding a way to get that down on paper. Give yourself permission to be different, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and you will also be giving yourself permission to make something wonderful.

ML: Name some middle-grade children’s authors you consider to be great writers (or middle-grade books you consider to be among the best) and tell us why you think they are great.

Scott: Oh, gosh there are so many it’s hard to know where to start and even harder to know where to stop. Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, Lynne Reid Banks, Roald Dahl, J. K. Rowling. All of these are authors that I’ve loved and loved to watch my kids love. Middle grade has some of the most amazing enduring stories ever.

ML: What do you do to market your books?

Scott: Whatever I can. J So much of how well a book does once it’s out in the world is out of the author’s hands. One thing I was told early on, and have passed on to other authors, is do what you love. If you like blogging, blog. If you like visiting schools, visit schools. But if you don’t enjoy standing up in front of 300 kids and trying to teach and entertain them for 40 minutes, don’t do it. It’s a waste of your time, and more importantly theirs. Almost nothing you do will have near the sales impact you expect, so do the things you would do whether it resulted in a single sale or not.

ML: Name three personalities, living or dead, you’d like to have dinner with. Tell us why you chose them and what food you’d serve them.

Scott: Well, I’ll limit it to literature related people. I think I’d choose Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Jane Austen. Then I would have a menu of foods that just makes your mouth water to think read about it. You know those books that have feasts, and everything on the menu sounds amazing and magical? That kind of meal. And I would just sit back and listen to the masters talk about reading and writing, and soak it all in.

ML: Is writing your full-time job? What do you like doing in your spare time?

Scott: It has been in the past, and it probably will be again. But right now I have a day job to keep the bills paid. I love doing anything with my wife and kids. Reading, games, camping, hiking, movies. An ideal evening for me is a great dinner, book shopping, and a movie I’ve been waiting for. All with my family. 

ML: Do you have any advice for parents whose children don’t like to read?

Scott: If a child doesn’t like to read, it’s almost always because they view it as work. They need to find a book that turns on the idea light of, “Wait, this is actually fun!” Once they discover that, nothing will stop them. Until they hit the age of dating, cars, jobs, and then it’s just about reminding them of amazing new books.

The most important thing is to find them something they love to read. It doesn’t matter if it is a comic book at first, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or something that looks too young for them. That’s fine. Just let them flip the reading switch from work to fun.  

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J. Scott Savage
 is the author of the Farworld series and the Case File #13 middle-grade series. He grew up in Northern California and now lives in Utah with his wife and four children.

Scott has held too many jobs to count, including: a mall Santa, French chef, CEO of a dot com, plumber, radio station talk show host, and the guy who sits in the little photo developing booth. He has completed one marathon and hopes to complete another when the memories finally fade away. He loves reading, writing, camping, playing games with his family, and especially hearing from and meeting his readers. To e-mail him or schedule a visit, come to his website


  1. I enjoyed this interview, Scott and Maggie, especially Scott's advice to writers and to parents: write what you love, let kids read what they love. Works for everybody!

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