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What made you want to write children and pre-teen books as opposed to young adult and adult books, which is what's hot on the market today?


Pre-teens are an interesting combination of childhood sweetness and a strong interest to explore the world around them. I also find them easy to talk to, and have to admit that teenagers can be a tad scary to me. So I have to go with what I love.


Please tell us a little bit about the Moonbeam awards. How did you get chosen, what was the process like and how did it feel to win?


I’ll answer the last bit first. I could say my co-author and I were “over the moon,” and that’s true. The Moonbeam Children’s Book Award program is dedicated to supporting childhood literacy and life-long reading, as we are. These awards bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and we’re proud to have been selected.


Do you find that ElsBeth, the main character of the ElsBeth series, is reminiscent of you in any way? If you do, how so?


Well, I admit to being an incorrigible tomboy. And I’d have to say my temper does sometimes get the better of me. I also love animals and plants … and I may not be the smartest bulb in the pack, though I have my own genius. Unlike ElsBeth, I’m excellent at math. So yes and no. ElsBeth is a reflection of me and several others who are dear to me.


One of my favorite characters in the series is Bartholomew the Frog/Native American Wampanoag Prince. How did you come about the concept of Bartholomew?


My family has Native American roots and I’ve always felt spiritually close to these. And I’ve always loved frogs, having spent many summer days catching and letting them go.


When my son was small, he and two of his buddies caught a huge bullfrog in a fishing net. These were tough little boys but the frog was so enormous they were freaked out. I took over, and while the frog looked on bored and imperious, I untangled and released him. He took straight off some distance into the lake, then stopped. He turned, stared back at me with a large golden eye, and … swam directly back. He hopped up on the dock and sat right beside me. The boys had been watching and they lost it! It was one of my top animal moments ever, and I do feel frogs are quite magical.


Please tell us a little bit about The Space Adventures of Siddhartha Blue, the boy book series that you are currently working on. What is it about, how soon do you anticipate its release, where did the inspiration of that come from?


There seems to be a greater challenge to interesting middle grade boys in reading. One of our first important reviews, though, highlighted that our ElsBeth books were also broadly reaching boys, despite a female protagonist, and speculated this might be due to the ensemble cast of characters and lively adventures. We hope that any young person can identify with at least one of the books’ main characters. So we’ve actually always wanted to write and have written for both boys and girls.


But I love adventure, and space is a boundless frontier for challenges, mysteries and opportunities to drop down in on a people and their planet, see their science and art and their humor, and find out more about our own world in comparison. How could we resist?


We see the series as “Star Trek” meets Huck Finn and at least five books, possibly more. Space, after all, is a large palette. The first book is begun, but we have several more ElsBeth stories to tell so don’t have a release date for it right now.


How did your husband come to participate as the co-author of ElsBeth and the Case of the Castle Ghosties?


Chris is a fantastic editor and he edited the first two books. He’s also a published poet and offered to write a poem for the back cover of The Little Cape Cod Witch Cookbook. I also always discussed story lines, characters and themes with him on our long walks in the woods, so it was an organic process for him to contribute more. Chris is a complete word addict so his participation was a matter of fate.


When you are not writing, what do you do to unwind?


We have a huge organic garden and there’s always something to weed, pick, cook or preserve. We live in the western Maine mountains and lakes region, with a family camp on a nearby lake and a river bordering our back yard. I love, love, love the outdoors so can canoe or kayak or hike at the drop of my pen. When not outdoors or in the kitchen, my nose is in a book, an addiction worse than chocolate.


What was the artistic vision behind the covers of the ElsBeth series and have they contributed to your success in any way?


I worked the cover concepts with the terribly talented artist Melanie Therrien. I particularly love turn of the century artwork and wanted that type of feel. Melanie has a whimsical style that relays the tone of the books beautifully. She reads the books, has her own vision of the story and characters and settings, then together we work concepts and designs until we come up with something we like. The covers and internal illustrations produce wonderful responses and without a doubt have contributed to the success of the stories.


What do you think is the most important element for a children's book to have in order to keep them engaged?


In a word – fun. There should be suspense, mystery, a greater adventure. Readers love finding out more about characters and the larger world and what happens. But most importantly fun is what carries the story and carries the reader along with it.


In a world where technology has become commonplace, do you see this as an advantage or disadvantage in the literary world, especially for your target audience? Expand on your answer.


The overwhelming number of technical options and their rate of change can be a disadvantage to getting a story out, while any way to communicate to more people and communicate better is an advantage of technology in the literary world.


Stories, however, are what we communicate, and technology does not itself account for the human experience of a story well or poorly told. We can be as delighted or moved by an acoustic guitar as by 32-tracks of symphonic electronic playback.


Our own story is that we began with little technology. We produced print books only and sold these directly to the many independent bookstores on Cape Cod that support local writers heart and soul. We were able to be interviewed by local papers, do book signings, meet our readers and parents face to face, and develop a warm and deep understanding of our audience – all very low or no tech.


Now we use more and newer technology to produce ebooks, of course, to build a better website, to expand our social media, and to enhance the design and layout of our books.


Our highest priority is to tell a better a story and create a better reader experience. This includes learning or hiring professional services for technology expertise we need.


Because it’s also true that new technologies enable the communication of stories and reader experiences not possible before and without it. Technology is a broad spectrum of tools that open up and make possible the telling of new stories and the creation of new reader experiences … while it always comes back to the telling of the tale.


A Review Board Interview with J Bean

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