Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Dan Unmasking heros in our midst today and always

Eager and worthy readers!!

Its been a while since I had an kids book author on here for a real heartfelt interview. Chris Negron is a debut author of Dan Unmasked a gem of a middle reader about friendship, super powers, daily unsung  heroism, baseball,  loss, comics and so so much more! I had the thrill and honor of interviewing him after i called him on the phone to tell him he was an honoree of the Indies Introduce new voices panel for summer fall 2020 for middle reader and YA. 
His answers are in bold my questions aren't. 

Dan Unmasked comes out Tuesday July 28th!  Get your copy here:    

Thank you Harper Collins and ABA for all of your brilliance with introducing me to this book and getting the word out!
PLEASE ORDER Dan Unmasked on this website through Books Inc!

Chris Negron, welcome to the blog! Please introduce yourself in your own words! 

I've always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn't until Dan Unmasked that I understood how much I've always wanted to be a middle grade
author specifically. It's strange how you fall into a thing seemingly out of nowhere, because you find you might have the right voice for it, then look back to realize you were heading in that direction the whole time. So
many of the movies and stories I love are about bands of kids coming together to solve big problems, it's a wonder I didn't see it before, but I'm so happy I'm here now, trying to add what I can to the middle grade canon.

 Chris Negron, debut author of Dan Unmasked 

1. Explain what it was like to record or that call from me about your debut book Dan Unmasked being listed as an Indies Introduce Summer/Fall 2020 winner? 

 Recording the session for the Children’s Institute was awesome, if a little nerve wracking, but oh, that call from you! I was so floored! My editor had emailed me that a call would be coming in, so I knew something was up, but not exactly what. I worked really hard to stay by the phone all day, and don’t you know as soon as I walked away from it, you called and I missed it! But you left a great voice mail, and I got back to you as soon as I could. Then, when it became clear that you weren’t just a dedicated bookseller on a panel who happened to select my book for an honor, but that Dan Unmasked really meant a great deal to you personally, I confess I got a little emotional. Even if you probably didn’t realize it because it was our first interaction – I was really working hard to hold it together! 

I had a tiny piece of paper by my side and attempted to jot down every little detail while we talked but still messed up some of it. Oh my gosh, I think I got your name wrong in my first follow up email! After we hung up, I ran to my wife with that little sheet of hasty notes and told her everything. Drew, I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank you enough for that conversation, for my book meaning so much to you, and for your part in it being honored as an Indies Introduce pick for Summer / Fall 2020. Now meeting you in person and making a visit to Books Inc. Palo Alto has become a new reason to make it through this pandemic. I sincerely hope you’re a hugger! 

 2. There will be a later Worthy Reader interview that will expand on this one and the one linked here about the Dan Unmasked specifically which will be released the day Dan Unmasked is launched (details below). Why do you think debut books are so important to read and review? 

Authors actually talk about this amongst ourselves quite often. Our books are kind of like our kids, and I have friends who have published many now, and I know they try not to have favorites, just like one would never pick a favorite child. But honestly and maybe a little secretly, a lot of us will always think most fondly of our debuts. I think maybe it’s because these are the books we slave over for years to get just right. Often they’re the ones that convince agents to finally sign us, and by definition as our debuts, of course they’re also the first ones to sell to a publisher. They have meaning as milestones on our overall journeys as writers, but I think it’s even more than that. If you ask me, they represent us the most. I know for me it felt like I finally learned to be a writer for real during Dan Unmasked’s evolution. 
Ryan Thomas Durham of #rhymerreads loves Dan Unmasked, to devour it and as a family story time! 

This book was my fifth completed manuscript, but my first one written for a middle grade readership. It (and the people who worked with me on it) taught me how to revise and edit. It taught me how to write endings. It taught me how to mine my inner self, my feelings and emotions, the mental and physical matter around me, to reach for something that is truly meaningful to me and, if your reaction is any indication, hopefully resonates with readers as well. That’s not to say that subsequent works won’t be as great (I mean, come on, all my books are going to be great, right?) – or, in the case of some writers who really hit their stride as the books mount – even better than their debuts. 

But there’s definitely something special about those first books. In my opinion, debuts establish us as authors - our voices, for sure – but even beyond that, they lay the groundwork for the important themes and big questions that we keep coming back to again and again in our subsequent projects. Most of us have little niggling ideas or concepts that won’t leave us alone. As each book passes, we find ourselves tackling those questions in new and interesting ways, or from different angles. Identity is super important in life and also in novels, and I think our debuts are usually the best ways for readers to glimpse the first seeds of our identities as authors being planted. That’s probably why they might get a little extra attention from critics and readers, and I actually think that additional scrutiny is totally merited and, in fact, critical to sending us steaming down the tracks our core ideas tend to lay out before us.

 3. Your responses on this post are priceless To follow up on your response, what is your personal relationship with independent bookstores? 

What’s your professional relationship with independent bookstores? When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a pharmacist. Is that a weird way to start this answer? It probably is, but bear with me here. Every Sunday my mom would take me and my sisters to church, and afterward she pretty much always needed something at the local town pharmacy. I actually don’t know quite what she or my sisters got up to while we were in there, but for me it was all about the newsstand section. Specifically, the row of comics at the bottom of that section, barely visible unless you bent low to find them. I’d sit cross-legged in front of those random issues and flip through as many as I could before I was finally dragged out. Once in a while I’d look up from this comic or that one long enough to eye the pharmacist behind his counter, filling orders, and I’d think, “My gosh, on his breaks, he only has to walk about ten feet to read all the comics he wants!” Career goal conclusion? You got it, pharmacist. 

As the years went on, those Sunday pharmacy visits changed to Saturday mornings at the giant Walden Flea Market with my dad (which, sadly, no longer exists but even so gets a brief mention in Dan Unmasked). While he hunted for auto supplies or whatever else one buys at a flea market, I spent all my time sifting through old comics boxes at several favorite vendors. Then came trips to my small but wonderful local town library, and the discovery of the fabled comics shop. I’ve frequented so many of those, I couldn’t possibly begin to name them all. Soon followed by college, where I had a secret desk (at least, I thought of it as my desk) up in the stacks of Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library. It gave me comfort, I think, to write my papers and probably a lot of pseudo-code surrounded by those musty old books, as if someday maybe I’d even be a writer. (Imagine!) But it wasn’t until adulthood, after our move to Atlanta, that I turned this constant seeking out of books and literature and stories, from comics to fantasy novels, from horror tomes to the classics, into a discovery of the glory of the independent bookstore. 

This city has so many great ones, from Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, to Read it Again Books in Johns Creek, to the one hosting my launch party on July 28th, Foxtale Book Shoppe in Woodstock. I could fill paragraphs with countless others I’ve encountered since diving into writing, including of course yours, Books Inc. Though I don’t live in the area and haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, I can tell from afar that your store has the same characteristics that made me fall in love with visiting these others – a wonderful, friendly staff with a penchant for literature and reading and readers. Not only that, of course, but a yearning to support us authors by lifting us and our work up through events and interviews like this one. Had he been more exposed to them, my younger self would’ve adored independent bookstores because they would’ve surrounded me with books in the same way I worked so hard to surround myself with them. Likewise, my older, author-self is amazed by independent bookstores because they and the people who own and work at them strive so tirelessly to do just that – introduce readers young and old to the power of books and the stories that live inside them. 
Chris Negrons debut book Dan Unmasked 

 4. In your experience what role do independent bookstores play in our current world? 

I think of a couple of specific images when I ponder the role of indies in today’s reading world. The first pictures that come to my mind are from the many awesome literary festivals we have here in the Atlanta area. From huge ones like Decatur Book Festival, where each location or stage has a different bookstore just outside, waiting to connect the books authored by the latest speaker with the inspired readers walking out of the session, to smaller ones like Dahlonega Literary Festival, where Foxtale is always around to do the very same thing. 

As I said earlier, independent bookstores are more often than not the ones who “introduce” the right readers to the right books in so many different ways, and for me those festivals, where sometimes the crush of people makes me wonder how in the world the indie folks are keeping track of it all, are a great example of that generosity of time and energy. It’s a little sad for me this year, with my book coming out during a pandemic, that those festivals aren’t happening, at least not in their usual format. I would’ve loved to have seen my book at one of them, in the hands of a harried-appearing but actually completely organized indie bookseller who had agreed to spend that entire day not being able to enjoy the sessions as any passionate reader probably would like to, but by hand-selling the right books to the right readers. The willingness to break away from the store model like that always makes my jaw drop a little as I watch them rush around. Introducing books to readers is a key symbol revealed by that image, I think. I always marvel at those types of people at parties, don’t you? The ones who simply must introduce person A to person B. 

There’s usually nothing in it for these matchmakers other than being able to stand back and witness a new friendship blossom. The right book in the right hands is kind of like that. A new friendship, which is particularly important to me, since Dan Unmasked ends up being so much about friendship. These same types of personal sacrifices of time and energy and urges to connect and introduce are wrapped up in the second image my mind conjures when I think about the role of indie bookstores in today’s reading world – you and your fellow ABA Indies Introduce panelists reading and reviewing so many books over what must’ve seemed like a relatively short period of time, just to be able to narrow the list and present to your community of peers – and your other community, the readers in your local areas – the debuts you decided to “introduce” to them. You guys are just like those matchmakers at random parties, actually. How much fun it must be to step back and watch new friendships between books and readers develop! 

Chris and Drew's segment of Indies Introduce
presentation at ABA's Virtual Children's Institute.

 5. What makes a book worthy of being read? What makes a debut book worth reading? Especially a middle reader book? 

 Wow, that’s a tough one. Books are so different from each other, and there are so many different genres with different goals and readerships, I don’t think there’s a single, all-knowing answer here. What makes one book worth one reader’s time and another book worth another reader’s time? It’s so subjective. I can only say what I hoped to do with Dan Unmasked, and maybe leave it at that. First and foremost, I wanted to tell a thrilling story featuring elements I love – comics and baseball – that was also heartfelt. As writers, sometimes we’re processing through things in our real lives via our work, which may sound a bit familiar to readers of my book, and I can say for sure that I was asking myself several key questions as I wrote this story. What does it mean to love things? What happens when we explore why? Why is it so important to be able to lean on our teams, to keep them together through the tough times? What happens when we blame ourselves for something out of our control? Even worse, when we hold inside how much we’re struggling with the emotions stirred up by that guilt and grief? So I don’t think I can answer what makes any book worth reading, middle grade or not, but I hope the exploration of those key questions through a story that’s also filled with plenty of action and a little bit of mystery, too, makes Dan Unmasked a book readers are happy they cracked the cover open when they turn the final page and slap it closed again.

PLEASE ORDER Dan Unmasked on this website through Books Inc!

 6. What are you working on now? What’s next for you as a writer? What do you do now that you are sure to blow readers away with your stellar debut book Dan Unmasked which is a book for all ages coming out Tuesday July 28th? 

Ha, thank you! Blowing readers away would be wonderful, but I think I’ll be just as satisfied if they’re simply entertained, and find something in Dan’s story that carries meaning for them. My second book, tentatively scheduled for July 2021, is The Last Super Chef. It’s in copy edits now, so we’re nearly to the finish line! It’s about an eleven-year-old named Curtis who’s not only a mega fan of the most popular cooking show on TV, “The Super Chef”, but is quite an accomplished junior chef himself. He also has a secret: the Super Chef is his long-absent father. When an opportunity opens for kids to compete in the last televised contest the Super Chef will ever host, Curtis decides he must make the list. But when he gets to New York, Curtis learns the Super Chef has some secrets of his own. He also finds even stiffer competition to win than he expected. He’ll have to cook his heart out if he wants to go home with the big cash prize – and maybe even more importantly, the truth. So that’s what’s next for me as far as books, but as a writer? Interesting question. 

I definitely have a lot more of these middle grade stories in me, and I love writing in this genre. Writing kid lit makes me feel like I’m reaching the readers I want to reach, the minds and hearts I’m hoping to touch. I’ve been spending a lot of time conceptualizing what I suppose we can call book three. Very little writing – though I have written a chapter one that I’m pretty sure is getting tossed (this may disappoint a critique partner or two who’s read it) – but a lot of thinking about what the next thing I have to say is, what the next question I want to raise and explore is. Once I have it straight in my head and the underpinnings of the right plot all laid out, I’ll start to write it and see where it goes. That’s always the fun part.

Thank you to The American Bookseller Association, Books Inc, Books Inc Palo Alto, HarperCollins publisher and HarperCollins Children's Publishing

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