I haven’t added anything new to my blog in about a month. Like a lot of people I know, I’ve been pretty demoralized by the results of the U.S. election and what the outcome means for so many marginalized groups, many of whom were already suffering.
Meanwhile, I’ve been sitting on an interview with 2017 Middle Grade debut author, Jonathan Rosen, and his book Night of the Living Cuddle-Bunnies. I loved learning more about his process of crafting a humorous MG narrative and about his path to publication. Crafted in the spirit of Goosebumps, Cuddle Bunnies is exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a kid.
I’ve been struggling with when to post my interview because it’s so hard right now to do things that are normal. But I think books like Jonathan’s are going to be very important for kids as we all try to get through the next four years. They’ll offer worlds of relative safety, full of humor and adventure where middle grade readers can escape.
So on that note, I’ve got a bit of information about the book followed by my interview with Jonathan.
Here’s a bit about Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies:
Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His best friend, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.
That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.
KD: What inspired Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies?
JR: Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies is based on my own experiences with murderous stuffed animals as a kid. Okay, not really. The truth is, I’d had an idea for a while of wanting to write a story of cute, but evil stuffed animals. They’d be the hot Christmas toy, so everyone would have them and they would get into lots of mischief, combining violence with humor. Sort of like an updated Gremlins.
At around the same time, my previous book went about as far through the editorial process as you can go without getting picked up…twice, with two different houses. I was bummed, but both places got back to me with different reasons why not, but they both shared the same line, “We LOVED the humor.” So, I took that evil stuffed animal story and set out to make the funniest book I could, which was fun, because I LOVE dark humor, and it wound up that that story finally made it through.
KD: The description of your book reminds me of Middle Grade classics that I loved like Bunnicula and Goosebumps? Which books were important to you as a kid?
JR: What’s funny is, I’ve gotten many people to say it reminds them of Bunnicula and I’ve never read it. I knew of it, but never read. However, the Goosebumps books I liked a lot. There’s that dark humor thing again! I, also, loved the Narnia books, but would say my favorite though, was the Choose Your Own Adventure series. My parents bought each one for me and I tore through them. Devouring each one as it came. Each book sent me to a different location and I loved that I felt like I had some control over the stories and I was the main character.
KD: What can you tell us about Devin Dexter?
JR: When the story starts, Devin is unsure of himself. He’s funny, but is a follower and scared and reacts to things instead of taking action. He’s a bit overlooked by his parents and overshadowed by his sister and his cousin. By the end, he’s forced to take the lead and confront things on his own.
KD: Can you describe your path to publication (how you got an agent, landed your book deal, etc.)?
JR: It took me quite a few years to find an agent. During that time, I went to conferences, and learned whatever I could and kept trying to improve. When my previous stories went far, it had done so without the aid of an agent. Editors had seen some of my writing at those conferences and requested the full manuscripts. I was fortunate to get that far, but things are so much better with an agent, especially one who believes in your work. When I wrote Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, I got offered representation within weeks of submitting and then the book got picked up shortly after that. So, it really is about putting in the work and getting better while you’re waiting for that break to happen.
KD: I think mastering MG voice and humor are some of the toughest things in children’s writing. Any advice for aspiring Middle Grade writers?
JR: This is always a tough question and I have seen many authors answer it differently. Some say they think you’re born funny or you’re not. To some extent, I believe that. I think humor is one of the toughest things to do. Word choice and structure of a joke has to be perfect and I really spend a lot of time trying to get that perfect structure to make a line the funniest it can be. However, I do think that if you’re able to find a joke funny, you can then find it in you to write humor. Like anything else, it takes work and learning to craft structure. Watch movies and comedians. A stand-up comic has to structure his lines to get the maximum laughs out of the punchlines. They’re great to learn from. It’s funny to say, but I take comedy very seriously.
As far as voice, maybe, it’s because I’ve read middle grade forever that it feels natural to me. Or it could be that I’m just immature and never grew up. Also, I taught that age for a long time as well as coached kids that age for many years now. So, I’m constantly hearing them speak along with what they say and their speech patterns. Read middle grade books, but more importantly, really listen to that age speak,
KD: What’s next for you? And when will we be getting a look at the Cuddle Bunnies cover?
JR: Right now, I just finished another middle grade book and am going through revising it before I send to my agent. That one is just about done. I, also have to get moving on the sequel to Cuddle Bunnies and send that one in. As far as the cover goes, I just got a look at the unofficial one this week, but was threatened with torture if I dared show it to anyone. So, after it’s complete and official, I can’t wait to share it!