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Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed children’s book author Jason Lady about his life, what inspires his stories, and the work that went into his fantasy adventure books, Monster Problems and Super Problems.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Jason Lady and I’m the author of two middle grade fantasy adventure novels, Monster Problems and Super Problems, both published by Black Rose Writing. When I’m not writing books for young readers, I work full-time in Human Resources.
If you ask me what my hometown is, I’m going to say several different places, because I’m an Army Brat and my family moved around a lot growing up. I lived in different places in Germany and Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Now I live with my wife in Cleveland, Ohio, where I’m working on a third book. I also have a goal to visit all the MLB stadiums—I’m about a fourth of the way there!
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I’ve written my own stories as long as I can remember. When I was very young, I remember drawing my own comic strips, inspired by Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes.
Then when I got slightly older, I got into superhero comic books, which inspired me to create my own comic book adventures, which I drew on paper, starring my own characters and following my own storylines.
Eventually I got impatient with how long it took to draw the story, so I decided to try my hand at writing something the length of a novel.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I started writing novel-length stories in high school. I wrote them by hand in these giant spiral-bound notebooks. The first book I wrote was a parody of Robin Hood that starred myself and all my friends from my junior year cross-country team. It was so well-received it got passed around to read on the bus and at the lunch table.
I think this is what got me used to sharing my work with others—there aren’t any jitters after a whole cross-country team reads and enjoys your story—and got the wheels turning in my brain for doing more writing in the future.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I think it was 2007 or so when I got the idea for Monster Problems. I’d tried writing a couple of manuscripts for adult readers that I completed, but I knew weren’t very good. They were lacking a special “something” that it was hard for me to put my finger on. It was my wife who suggested I write for middle schoolers, saying that I was a “middle school boy at heart” (She’s not wrong!). She and I then brainstormed ideas and she suggested a story about a middle schooler who gets a magic pen that makes everything he draws become real. I look that idea and ran with it!
When I look back on it, I am grateful to have such a supportive spouse who not only encourages my writing, but helps me brainstorm ideas, too! So, I wrote the first draft in 2007 and didn’t get published until 2019. It took me 13 years—and facing lots and LOTS of rejection—to get published. The moral of that story is, do NOT give up! Believe in yourself and your work, and keep moving forward.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Writing Super Problems was an interesting journey. Once I finished Monster Problems and started querying publishers, I knew I wanted to make this a series of books, each starring a different middle schooler who gets the magic pen the makes everything they draw become real. I figured it made sense to have a second book ready to go in case I found a publisher for Monster Problems.
I was in grad school from 2009-2012 so all my writing time was devoted to schoolwork for a while there, but once I was done, probably in 2014 or so, I began writing the next book, Super Problems.
My critique group read the first draft and gave me a lot of positive feedback. In 2019 when my publisher, Black Rose Writing, approached me about publishing Monster Problems, I went back and started looking at Super Problems. I saw it had a lot of weaknesses and could be better, so I completely re-wrote it, keeping most of the same characters but drastically revamping the story.
I was unemployed at the time so I got Super Problems rewritten relatively quickly. Monster Problems had only been released for a couple of months when my publisher solicited more books from their authors, and I had Super Problems already polished and ready to send! The result is, Monster Problems was published in 2019 and Super Problems in 2020, back to back! Sometimes I’m not sure how I pulled that off!
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Super Problems?
Each of these books in the Magic Pen Adventures series focuses on a different middle schooler who gets this magic pen that makes everything they draw become real. All of these kids are artistic kids like I was. None of them know what they draw with this pen will become real until after it happens, and it always creates a problem they have to solve. In each of these books, the main character is facing a conundrum or a dilemma that I faced when I was a kid.
In the case of my latest book, Super Problems, the main character Scott has just moved to a new town and misses all his old friends from his old school. He makes new friends, but at first he wonders if these new friends will ever be as great as his old friends. As an army brat who moved around a lot growing up, I found myself in this exact scenario several times.
As a kid, I would also draw myself and my friends as superheroes and have us in our own comic book adventures. My character Scott does the same thing in Super Problems, though he does it with a magic pen and not only do he and his new friends become superheroes, but the archenemy he created also becomes real! He and his friends have to figure out how to undo all of this before it’s too late.
I wanted to capture the excitement and the craziness of unexpectedly becoming superheroes, being in the middle of imagination running amok and dealing with the fallout, while at the same time coming to realize while you can move away and miss your old friends, your new friends can be just as good, if not better friends!
What were your biggest challenges with writing Super Problems?
My biggest challenge in writing Super Problems is the same thing that’s my biggest challenge with every manuscript I write—the middle of the story! I am pretty good at coming up with a beginning and an end, but the middle? It’s a huge struggle for me to connect the beginning to the end. You have to raise the stakes for your protagonists and not let the story drag. For some reason, that’s very hard for me. I usually need to stop and think very hard about what to do next before I keep going.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
My protagonist is based on me when I was that age. He likes to draw himself and his friends as superheroes and draw them in his own superhero adventures, which I did. He’s also just moved to a new town and misses his old friends, which I went through a few times. All of the Magic Pen Adventure books star a kid who is dealing with stuff I dealt with when I was a kid. I think that gives my books some authenticity they may not otherwise have.
Adults writing stories for kids can run the risk of not having their kid characters actually act and think like kids, or face problems that kids face. Luckily, I vividly remember the stuff I went through as a middle schooler. I’m obviously not a kid anymore, but some things are universal, and relatable by all generations of people.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
My antagonist is a living sock called Stinky Sock. Yes, you read that right. A sock, like you wear on your feet. He’s an evil, smelly, living sock, bitter at being forgotten about and allowed to lay around and be stinky. He uses his stinky powers to bring to life one sock from every pair of socks in town.
Every sock he brings to life, he adds to his fiendish sock army! I was inspired by the old problem we all have with socks, that we end up with 100 socks where we’re missing the other sock in the pair!
What is the inciting incident of Super Problems?
The inciting incident in Super Problems is Scott getting a magic pen, and before he realizes the pen is magical, drawing himself and his new friends as superheroes called the Alpaca Defense Squad.
The mission of the Squad is to protect the school’s pet alpaca, Bruce, from the evil Stinky Sock. Bruce has magic wool that the Stinky Sock can use to create invincible sock-soldiers and conquer the world unless the Alpaca Defense Squad can stop him!
What is the main conflict of Super Problems?
The main conflict of Super Problems is the Alpaca Defense Squad trying to keep Bruce the Alpaca safe from the Stinky Sock and his sock minions. But along with that, the heroes realize having superpowers and being superheroes isn’t as easy as it looks in the movies and in the comic books.
On the other hand, having superpowers is pretty cool. While they see a need to figure out how to use the magic pen to undo everything, they also wonder if they really want to go back to being regular kids?
Did you plot Super Problems in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I do some very basic plotting before I start. I nail down who the main characters are, where the story will be set, and the major problem the protagonists will face. Then I write by the seat of my pants! It means I get stuck sometimes and then I have to back up to a certain point and start again, but I’ve found this method to work for me. I like discovering the story as I go and encountering little inspirations along the way.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Super Problems need?
I am blessed with a ton of support with editing! My wife is my best critic and editor, and she does her own read-through of the story. I also am in a critique group of writers who take turns critiquing each other’s work each month, and they read Monster Problems and Super Problems and gave me valuable insights and editing expertise. I also have several middle school kids as beta readers, and I hire a professional editor to help polish the manuscript before my publisher looks at it. My publisher also does their own edit and gives suggestions. I figure after all of that, the book is as good as it’s ever going to be!
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
I would say discover what works for you as a writer. Some people like to take the first step of writing a detailed plot outline. Others fly by the seat of their pants, like I do. There is no right or wrong way, there is only your way, and we all have to discover what that way is.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Definitely! I am working on the third book in the Magic Pen Adventures. I don’t want to reveal too much more, except to say I’ve taken this same basic concept and found another spin on it. All three of these books are going to be pretty distinct from each other. I am finding the premise of the magic pen can play out in a lot of different ways. Different kids, different problems they’re facing, different challenges they face along the way. But they all have adventure, humor, and zaniness in common!
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am very grateful that I’ve had so much encouragement and support on the journey to being published. 13 years is a long time, and I couldn’t have done it without so many awesome friends, family, and colleagues helping me along the way in so many different ways. My name is on the books, but it is truly a team effort. It was worth the effort, especially when I hold my published book in my hands, or I hear about a young reader who enjoyed my books. If I can make a reader laugh, think, have their imagination stretched, or feel suspense or amazement, then I figure I’ve done my job well.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Jason Lady’s website: www.jasonrlady.com
Jason Lady on Twitter: JasonRLady
Jason Lady on Instagram: JasonRLadyAuthor
Jason Lady on Facebook: JasonRLadyAuthor
My books are available for purchase here: Monster Problems (A Magic Pen Adventure): Lady, Jason R.: 9781684334070: Amazon.com: Books
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