Spies with Bad Breath and B.O. Issues: Peter Millett Interview

PeterMfullversionSure, it’s December and this is my first interview of the year. Your point?

I’m returning in very high style with international flavor. I am very pleased to welcome writer Peter Millet. He’s from NEW ZEALAND. He writes fun books. Read on.

What led you to write about Johnny Danger?

My wife is a sixth-grade teacher and she asked me to write another middle-grade comedy series to read to her kids. We both share a similar sense of humor and she appreciates the jokes I hide away in my stories just for her. Anyone who is a fan of The Office or The Simpsons will be able to spot what game I’m playing behind the scenes. I am an eternal prankster and I love surprising people with the unexpected.

JohnnyDangerI also love sending up institutions that have become overly serious. We don’t need another brooding, sophisticated, muscular teen spy – we need a spy with bad breath, BO issues, wearing his dad’s old prom suit, and being genuinely confused about saving the world or finishing off an intense session of Minecraft.

Do you think living in New Zealand informs your writing and/or illustration? If so, how?

I’ll answer this question in a slightly different manner. After the Great Recession of 2009-11, New Zealand’s book scene was reduced to one specialist children’s publisher, one specialist children’s editor and no literary agents. (For the entire country!) Sadly many authors were forced to give up their writing dreams and do something else. A very unfortunate situation indeed. Prior to the recession my writing was influenced by our remoteness, wildness and uninhibited Kiwi attitudes. However, after the recession, everything has changed. Now it’s about overcoming staggering odds to continue the dream of writing children’s books.

mrgum If you could collaborate with any living children’s author or illustrator, whom would you choose and why?

Easy answer – an English children’s writer called Andy Stanton. He is the king of UK comedy with his outrageous midlde-grade series called Mr Gum. Working with Andy would be like goofing off on a SNL set or hanging around with younger, less portly member of Monty Python. I asked him about collaborating on a book one day and he flat out said no.

Hah, that Andy, he’s always the joker…

If a children’s book character, past or present, could move next door to younger you, which one would want it to be?

It’s a toss up between Peter Pan and Charlie Bucket (from the chocolate factory).

Firstly, Peter is my namesake. So that’s the logic behind that decision. I think flying would be seriously cool fun. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Just how does one take a lavatory break at 2,000 feet wearing tights? I’m honestly not sure.

Charlie BucketSecondly, I spent many years of my life searching for a golden ticket amongst sticky chocolate bar wrappers. Potentially this accelerated the over pimple-ization of my face. Befriending Charlie would have avoided that unpleasant scenario. In turn, it also would have led to me meeting my writing hero Roald Dahl.

What are you working on now?

Three things:

I’ve just finished a three-week project filming a high tech, over the top, computer animated trailer for Johnny Danger. I pulled out all the stops on this one. The idea is to have kids share and enjoy the entertainment factor of the trailer alone. It includes a new story line created just for the trailer. I love to innovate and hopefully this quirky trailer is a hit. See for yourself:


I’m also working on a rhyming picture book and a possible dramatic middle grade story featuring an abandoned elephant.

Here is my website:   www.petermillett.com

I’ve published around 30 books over 16 years and it still feels like day one of my career. Hopefully I’ll feel this energized 16 years from now!

Johnny Danger will be published by Penguin Australia and it comes out in approximately nine weeks time:


For those readers who can’t wait that long, I have three free copies of my earlier superhero comedy series ‘Boy Zero’ available on a first in – first served basis. All I need is an email address and confirmation you have access to Kindle software.


Thanks, Peter!

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Why I Should Shower More Often

I have to learn THE SAME THINGS over and over. This is not a metaphor or a deep insight; it’s a sad truth. Especially with writing novels. There is no carry over from one book to the next.

Take today, for example. Go on, take it! I kept putting off my shower, using it as a reward for hard work accomplished. We Vernicks are hosting a whole mess of people for Thanksgiving and our house has gotten a little over-cluttered. Understatement. And so I’ve been trying to get little writing tasks and big house cleaning tasks done, along with the myriad errands and details of daily life. With the promise of a hot shower when all was done. Or maybe when some was done.

I was vexed–vexed, I tell you–by the fact that I needed this THING to happen in my novel. And my ideas for making it happen were so pathetic. I felt bad for me. And I wanted a hot shower.

buffalo snowBecause it is COLD. SO COLD! I’m not complaining, exactly, because I think all weather complaints should rightfully go to Buffalo, New York at this point in time. But I WANTED that hot shower, and kept pushing it back.

So when I finally took it, moments before starting dinner, I had worked for it! And it was good! It was so hot! And while I was thinking of nothing more complicated than rinsing shampoo from my hair, a sentence came to me that very matter-of-factly explained how that important thing would happen in my novel.  I didn’t even ask my brain to think about that!

I have never been able to find the exact quote, and I’ve probably mentioned it before, but the director Mike Nichols once said the greatest thing in an interview. It was something like this: “You know what’s so great about your subconscious? It has the same sense of humor as you.” I know what he means. My own personal subconscious sometimes delights me. It can be also be so thoughtful, on occasion, when considering the plots of my book. And it is very, very partial to hot showers.

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How To Knock Off Your To-Do List

Hi. I’m back. At least for today.

spamI figured I could send you all a spammy email about my Promising New Technique For Getting Things Done!!!!!!!!! Or I could post this on my long-dormant blog. I’m guessing you deduced which route I took. Because you’re all super smart like that.

Have you been meaning to, say, vacuum? Exercise? Straighten up or at least eliminate the tumbleweed problem in your dining room? Post on your long-dormant blog? I have figured out a way to get all that done. And more!

Decide to write a novel.

And then, when it’s time to sit down and do the actual writing, you’ll find yourself accomplishing feats you never thought possible!

IMG_0247I took a wonderful class with Patti Gauch at the Highlights Foundation two weeks ago and I came home raring to go. For that whole hilly drive home, ideas and excitement, plot lines and emotional growth were bursting with impatience to get out of my head and onto paper.

Patti is a uniquely brilliant teacher. She taught us (there were eleven of us) what I would have guessed was unteachable–first showing examples of very particular techniques in books she admired–mostly by Gary Schmidt–and then sending us off to write. And she keeps sending us these lovely, inspiring emails. It’s almost enough to make me actually sit down and write!

I came home wanting to ignore the demands of daily life. I wanted to lock myself away and write, write, write. But days passed before I found the time to sit. And then I realized it was really important that I vacuum. And start to clean my office. Also, Thanksgiving’s really soon and we can’t have dinner for 27 with our house looking like THIS.

Edith HoughtonNow you, too, can be super-productive like me. It helps if you say it out loud, too. Like, “Hey friend, I’m planning to work on my novel today.” And then just wait! You might even do some not-novel-writing writing. I did! I handed in the probably-not-even-due-yet Author’s Note for my next nonfiction picture book, With a Baseball in her Hand. About this girl right here, Edith Houghton. I could look at that picture all day. And I might. Did I mention I’m writing a novel?

It’s simple. You can “write a novel” too!  Try it!

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Wait. I have a blog?

There will be lots of exciting stuff going on in 2014:

Screaming at the Ump comes out March 4. I get extra nervous awaiting reviews of a novel. (The potential for meanness is greater. It really is.)

Water Balloon, the paperback, comes out in April.

Edgar’s Second Word, illustrated by the purely brilliant Priscilla Burris, hits shelves in June.

And I’m doing a bunch of interesting things—teaching a picture book revision workshop this month at a Michigan SCBWI event. Speaking with three brilliant educators at NCTE in November. Celebrating one of those big birthdays with my sisters in Puerto Rico in February (even though my birthday is in April).

But right now, I’m working awfully hard at treading water. So I think this blog is taking a little break. (It had already been taking a break. But now I’m announcing it.)

I’ll miss you. But I’ll be back.

Anything below this line is not part of my blog–wordpress sometimes slaps an ad or video here.

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Girl Meets Squash: Pat Zietlow Miller Interview

I’m feeling very prescient. When I created this blog, I pictured it as a place to explore all kinds of literary friendship, but most especially those of the inter-species variety. While I did not specifically envision it as a place for discussion of the bond between a human child and well, a squash, I am delighted beyond measure that it is playing exactly that role. I also didn’t know that A) I’d find this picture online or B) be inexplicably charmed by it. But I digress. As I am always wont to do.

MeToday it is my great pleasure to welcome the fabulous Pat Zeitlow Miller to the blog. Her debut picture book, Sophie’s Squash, has been honored with no fewer than four starred reviews. FOUR! STARRED! REVIEWS!

You’ve taken interspecies friendship to a new dimension! Please tell us how you came to write about a girl who develops a close, personal relationship with a squash.

I owe it all to my youngest daughter, Sonia. When she was still small enough to sit in the front of the grocery cart while I shopped, she latched on to a butternut squash. When we got to the checkout, she was rocking it like a baby, and it was very obvious that particular squash was never going to be dinner.

CoverI took her friendship with that squash and made it more permanent and more intense, and Sophie and Bernice were born.

While Sonia liked her squash, she was never as attached to it as she was to her blue blanket and her stuffed pig. After her relationship with her squash ended, she did temporarily develop feelings for a bag of Gold Medal all-purpose flour, which she creatively named “Goldie.” I could sense disaster looming, so I ended that relationship before my living room was covered with flour. Not all love is meant to last.

Did you ever get attached to an inanimate object?

Not the same way that Sophie gets attached to Bernice, but I did have a little blue stuffed dog that I took along on a family trip to Michigan because, as I told my family, “He’s never seen it!” My parents still recall this fondly.

Are there any characters from books you read as a child that you think of as your friends? Any you wish had moved next door to childhood-you?

 I really liked Anne of Green Gables. She was a more adventurous child than I was, but I think she would have been a great next-door neighbor. I could have been Diana. I read the whole series several times, and liked learning about Anne and Gilbert’s children too.

And, when I read The Boxcar Children series, I identified with Violet. I think I would have gotten along very well with her. We were both quiet and bookish.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming books, Sharing the Bread and The Quickest Kid in Clarksville?

Sharing the Bread is a story about how an entire family works together to get a mouth-watering, old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner on the table. It’s got a lot of warmth and love and togetherness. And everyone cooks, from the youngest to the oldest. It’s coming out in fall of 2015 from Schwartz & Wade.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville is about two girls who idolize Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph. They start out by competing to see who’s faster, but end up coming together to support each other and honor Wilma’s achievements. It’s coming out from Chronicle Books.

What are you working on now?                           

I have several picture books in process. One is an ode to rocks. Another features a duck and a detective, and the third is about a very young and very determined football fan. And I just wrote a first draft that could be about a boy or a bear. I’m still trying to decide.

Thanks so much for stopping by Pat! You can learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller by visiting her website.

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UMP cover reveal

Do you know what’s fun?

Watching video of baby elephants learning to walk? Yes.

Searching for the missing library copy of Eleanor and Park? Not so much.

(You’re good at this.)

Getting to share the cover of your 4/1/14 middle-grade release?

WINNER! We have a winner!

screaming at the ump coverHere it is, in all its glory.

Also fun: An interview with the great Pat Zietlow Miller about her talk-of-the-town debut, Sophie’s Squash.

If you look up squash, by the way, you’ll see that its pronunciation is listed as skwosh, which is all kinds of fun too, no?

Come back next week to meet Pat and learn how her picture-book character came to choose a skwosh as her best friend.

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Happy International Friendship Day!

This holiday snuck up on me. I didn’t get you ANYTHING. I am so sorry. I hear it’s a big holiday in Paraguay. A tiny bit less so in New Jersey.

I think I shall celebrate by going to the beach today (singing the “Stronger than the Storm” jingle), and with this illustration of my favorite picture-book friendship. (Please do not infer anything about what I might look like in a bathing suit from this.)

I have a good idea! I’ll also mention Natalie Lorenzi‘s site, Biblio Links, an incredible resource all teachers and librarians should be friends with (international or not). Check it out–it helps teachers and librarians do their most satisfying work–linking readers with the just-right-for-them books.

By incredible coincidence, today’s post is about Bogart and Vinnie. Actually, Natalie was the one who told me about International Friendship Day AND she was together enough to get today’s entry posted at the appropriate time.  Like I said…she’s all kinds of wonderful.

Enjoy this day!

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