I love middle grade! Boy, do I love middle grade! This is one of the reasons I am so crazy about Walden Pond Press – they are an amazing middle grade imprint full of all sorts of interesting stuff written for the 8-14 year old range. I was super-excited for the chance to work with Walden Pond on the blog tour for their new title The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson. (I’ll tell you all about why shortly…)
Fellowship for Alien Detection is the story of Haley and Dodger – two middle schoolers from different parts of the country who basically have nothing in common. Well, there’s one thing – they’re both developing some very interesting theories about extraterrestrial life and how it all relates to the mysterious happenings in a small town in Arizona. What Haley and Dodger are about to discover will change their lives and even, you guessed it, the fate of the world.
This is a truly delightful book and I am so excited to be the very first stop on the blog tour. The tour is going to be full of bonus content, give-aways, and Q&A with Kevin Emerson, so you’ll want to follow it along every stop for the next twelve days. If you click on the handy banner below you’ll be taken to Walden Pond’s blog tour site for the complete listing.
As part of the tour not only am I posting a short review BUT Kevin Emerson answered a few questions for me and I get to share them with you (and, y’all, these are some great answers. Gave me a lot more insight into the book. I LOVE when an author does that) AND Walden Pond is generously providing a copy for one lucky person! Hooray!
4 Reasons I Love The Fellowship for Alien Detection SO HARD
1. SCIENCE FICTION! We’ve had a real demand for this at my library, both with the teen crowd and the middle grade audience. I think MG needs to catch up. Overall, I think one of the things middle grade needs more of is genre fiction and this is a stand-out example. It’s classic sci-fic (Aliens! Science! Other worlds! Awesome freaking spaceships!!) and classic middle grade: the discovery and sense of wonder about the wide world? Those go together hand in hand, don’t you think? Emerson knows they do and this book sure shows it.
2. Setting, setting, setting! I really think one of the things kids like the most about Rick Riordan’s work is the way the action takes place all over the country (and the world). It doesn’t feel urban, it doesn’t feel rural – it feels like the world. Fellowship has that too – there’s believable small towns and fancy suburbs, out West and back East. Emerson is really good at establishing place and how it can shape who you are. And you know what that means? It means when the super-cool aliens and spaceships show up? That feels like a totally believable setting too.
3. Action! Yup, this book is, as they say, “action-packed”. But what I really enjoyed was that the action never felt forced. I love that the word “detection” is part of the title because besides this being a very cool science-fiction story with aliens and spaceships and all it is ALSO a story with a lot of detection and solving going on thanks to our intrepid protagonists and that, naturally and in the best of ways, leads to some really clever, well-plotted, and whiz-bang action sequences that makes this book just fly.
4. Our amazing protagonists! I have truly saved the best for last. What REALLY makes Fellowship for Alien Detection great is the protagonists, Haley and Dodger. They do not fall in love, they do not flirt with each other. They push and pull at each other and become friends and learn from each other. It’s AWESOME. They make each other stronger and more interesting and, each in their own right, they are complicated characters who want things and learn things and mess up and even change. Haley and Dodger are smart and independent and yet still obviously middle-schoolers. You root for them and you empathize with them (I recognized a lot of myself in Haley, which made more sense when I read Kevin Emerson’s answers about characterization, but I really felt for Dodger). They are characters I loved spending time with and I know middle-grade readers are going to as well.
I know, now you’re dying to read it. As you should be. BUT WAIT! Here comes the most exciting part of the blog: Kevin Emerson’s interview, which involves awesome answers and a reference to Duane Barry. Hang on!
Kevin Emerson Interview
I’m always interested in what draws writers to specific genres. What’s the appeal of science-fiction for you as a writer and/or you as a reader?
This is my first attempt at writing sci-fi but the genre was probably my first love as a reader. I love both the speculative nature of it, thinking about the possibilities of space travel and far off worlds, of time travel, and I also love the way that it allows you to pose big questions about the human condition, to wonder where we really fit in and what really matters. I like the serious versions, like Ender’s Game, but I also love the more absurdist visions, like Douglas Adams or Kurt Vonnegut. With FELLOWSHIP, I tried to do a little of both. That’s actually one of my favorite things about writing middle grade: it’s a great age to pair funny and serious, big questions and small, like, ‘what is the point of life?’ with, ‘how am I going to NOT kill my brother right now?’
This book is also seriously influenced by 100 hours of X-Files episodes (There were more episodes than that, but we don’t talk about those). Haley is somewhat my Scully, and Dodger is somewhat my Mulder. Actually, Dodger is more my Duane Barry. And The Alto is Alex Krycek. Only like 5 people are going to get those references. (I GOT THEM! DUANE BERRY, OMG!)
Related, I love knowing how authors found themselves writing middle-grade fiction! Did you know this was a genre? How did you decide this was a middle-grade story you wanted to tell?
I learned about middle grade fiction as an elementary school teacher. My favorite students were fifth graders, and I fell in love with books for that age. Sharon Creech really made me want to write middle grade. Philip Pullman, too.
There were two original inspirations for this book. One was a cross-country road trip I took when moving from Boston to Seattle (via Graceland, Texas and Roswell). The second was a certain kind of student that I’ve run into a few times: the anxious, over-stressed, over-scheduled kid who seems too grown-up, too serious, and too exhausted for her age (sometimes they were boys, but more often girls). The kind of kid who was already thinking about the college applications and resumes even in middle school. Some of them had really motivated parents, but others had parents who would just shrug and say, “We tell her to chill, but she doesn’t.” I always worried about those students as much as I admired them, and that’s where Haley came from.
I knew it was a middle grade story from the start because I felt that a story about trying to find something alien and other-worldly was also a story about trying to get away from what was completely familiar and every day, like our families. From the first draft, I knew that the essential conflict of this story was that pull between being your own adventurer, and being a member of a family’s adventure (which usually seems much more boring). It something I always pushed and pulled against as a teen.
I actually had an editor who wanted to buy this story a few years ago, except he wanted me to take out the parents and age up the kids. I had to say no. Haley and Dodger on the road with their parents was the book. That, to me, is one of the essential middle grade conflicts. Also, I wanted to write a fun version of alien business that wasn’t too dark, and certainly didn’t have any steamy romance. (ick!)
One thing I loved about the book was that you included strong, interesting male and female leads. Can you talk a little about the process and decision regarding that?
Haley and Dodger were born from different types of students that I have run into over the years. Haley, as described previously, and Dodger as the inward boy who feels all wrong in his body, in his life, but can’t find the key to balance. As a teacher, I always enjoy students like Haley, because they’re so smart and game. You can discuss really sophisticated topics and they’re so into it. And I always empathize with the boys like Dodger because I felt that way, at that age, (though I was a bit more outwardly successful than he is).
The thing you always want to tell the Haleys is, keep burning that fire and going for it, but also, relax. It’s a long journey. There’s plenty of time. But of course you sound like an old sod if you actually say that. And to the Dodgers, you just want to (gently) shake them and be like, man, just be you, on the outside, like you are on the inside. Be a quirky, interesting, messy painting in progress. It’s okay if it’s abstract art. Let the world know that you don’t know where you fit, and see what happens then. You might be surprised.
Both characters were really obvious to me from the get-go, though it did take me many drafts to really zero in on their journeys. Same for their families. Haley’s is supportive and moderately laid back, trying to meet their daughter halfway. Dodger’s is caring too, except they don’t know how to show it. I started the early drafts of this manuscript before I had kids of my own, but now that I have two (daughter, 7, and son, 2), I feel like the two dads in the book, Allan and Harry, each have pieces of me in them (Allan got the good parts, Harry less so).
I revised the plot logistics of this book so many times, but Haley, Dodger and their families, and Suza, have been the same kids all along.
This book has some really great location pieces! How do you work to create believable settings – even if they involve aliens and spaceships?
Most of the key sets in this book are real places I’ve been, or are closely based on real places. Even the caverns are heavily influenced by Carlsbad Caverns (which used to have its own scene in an early draft). I take a lot of pictures when I’m places, and I keep a journal, or at least notes on my phone about the important signs, smells, stuff like that. I love travel; it’s when my senses are at their peak. Part of what was really fun about this book was adding the weird and extra-terrestrial to these concrete places, taking that sense of possibility and making it come alive.
One of my favorite books in the world is a road atlas. I love to sit in the passenger seat and just study it. And those strange places you find, when you’re a week from home and just driving, disconnected from your inbox, places like Roswell or a forest road somewhere in Arizona, those are the places where life feels big and full of possibility, the places you remember years later even if the only thing you did there was eat at a Denny’s, or snap a photo of a series of rock spires while munching on a trail mix bar. So, the great fun of writing this book was to take a trip like that, and to find the big answers to the questions that new map always poses.
Thanks for letting me go on and on!
Kevin Emerson has never been abducted by aliens, at least not that he remembers. He has been to Roswell, but all he found there was a cool key chain. Kevin is the author of a number of books for young readers, including the Oliver Nocturne series, Carlos Is Gonna Get It, and The Lost Code, the first book in the Atlanteans series. Kevin is also a musician. His current project is the brainiac kids’ pop band the Board of Education. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two children. You can visit him online at www.kevinemerson.net or tweet with him at @kcemerson.
Such big thanks to Kevin for the interview and everyone at Walden Pond for the opportunity to be part of this! Don’t forget to stop by Walden Pond’s blog to get the full tour info. (So many chances to win! so much more to find out about Fellowship!) And if you want a chance to win Fellowship for Alien Detection from me? All you have to do is be a US resident and leave a comment on this post by March 11. I’ll chose one winner at random. And even if you don’t win, you should still read Fellowship for Alien Detection, - it’s an amazing middle grade title. If you can’t rush out and buy your own copy, go check it out from your library and, if they don’t have a copy, request they purchase one. Highly recommended all round!