ALL FOUR KIDS: Interview with Scott Bly, Author of SMASHER

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Today, we welcome author Scott Bly, whose MG debut, SMASHER, released March 25!

About smasher-smallthe book: SMASHER is a fast-paced techno-thriller about computers, magic, and time travel, set in Los Angeles in the near future. A magician’s apprentice in the Renaissance era is recruited by a time-traveling bionic girl to help stop Gramercy Foxx, the most powerful media mogul alive, from releasing The Future — his most exciting and mysterious product ever.  They race against time to unlock the secret of The Future before the magical computer virus enslaves every human being on the planet.

Meet Charlie and Geneva: unlikely friends who join forces to in hopes of defeating the powerful, and seemingly untouchable technology mogul.  Geneva has liberated Charlie from the past and brought him back to her future to race against Foxx’s attempt to hold all of humanity in his grip.  Charlie, the sole possessor of magic in the future, and Geneva, who carries within her an unfathomable tome of scientific knowledge, are the only two people standing between Foxx and World Domination.

Becky Wallace:  Hi Scott!  Thanks so much for joining us on Fearless Fifteens.  And speaking of FEARLESS, you have two main characters who are brave and smart and so, so fun to read.  Tell us how you came up with the idea for SMASHER?

Scott Bly:  Hi Becky — thanks for having me!  I’m so glad you enjoyed reading SMASHER and appreciated the techie/magical fun of Charlie and Geneva’s adventure.  It’s a real honor to be interviewed here, especially since I’m a super-preemie fifteener.  I think it’s ironic that SMASHER and I will be over here in a cozy incubator for nine months before the blessed Fifteeners are welcomed into the world.

The idea for SMASHER came about as a result of a conversation I had with my editor the day we met.  I had stopped writing, actually, after a frustrating run at the entertainment industry after USC film school. I decided I would come back to writing when I had stories to tell, after I’d lived some life.

So I changed gears and focused my artistic efforts on the singer-songwriter thing in LA for a few years.  I also returned to the computer world, having initially been accepted to USC on a scholarship for computer engineering.  The computer business worked out nicely, helping small businesses in and around LA handle their technology needs.  I also taught computers to kids in K-8th grade.

One of my long-time clients happens to be a literary agent. One day she asked if I would help a friend who had been hit with a nasty computer virus.  The friend was a book publisher.

Her name was Bonnie Verburg, and she was—and still is—a vice president at Scholastic, and she had founded her own imprint called the Blue Sky Press. Her computer was filled with priceless documents, manuscripts, and various books-in-progress from award-winners such as Virginia Hamilton and bestselling adult authors such as singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

I talked to her the entire time I was working on her computers, and she had a million questions. “How does a computer get a virus?” “Once it gets a virus, how do you get rid of the virus?” “Why didn’t my firewall stop it?” “Now what are you doing?”

The ensuing conversation took many tangents over the next few hours, filled with analogies to boats and portholes and armed security guards, and she told me this was the first time she had an understanding of how her computer worked. She told me I was a storyteller. And she said this to me:  “In all the years I’ve been using a computer, you’re the first person who’s ever been able to talk to me about this in a way I can understand.  Have you ever thought about writing a children’s book?”

Well, it had, in fact, crossed my mind.  So, with the glint in my eye that comes only from the gut feeling that fate had just brought all of the parts of my life together into one critical moment, I replied as casually as I could manage, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it.”

“I would love to publish a novel that has a strong story, but at the same time as I’m reading the story, I’d like to be learning everything about my computer. So when I finished reading the book, I’d understand how computers work. And I think adults—people like me—would like to read it, too. We are all out at sea and wondering how computers work. Maybe you could try your hand at writing it.”

Bonnie was interested in learning about computers.  And I had found nothing in the educational world that had to do with computer education for kids.  Sure, there were thousands of technical instruction manuals, many of them fairly user friendly, even cute.  And there were software packages to teach kids how to use computers to make posters or do research.  But there was nothing to teach them about computers.  Little geeks like me had to dig that stuff out on our own.

But I didn’t want to write a computer literacy manual for kids.  That’s not as interesting to me as telling a story. Harry Potter was on top of the world.  If JK Rowling were a chemistry fan and she came out with the Harry Potter chemistry set based on the Potions classes, it would be the biggest selling chemistry set in history.  So I wanted to come up with a compelling story in which computer education played a part, but was not itself the driving force.

So, after a lengthy gestation period, I came up with approximately the following:  A boy from the distant past, with a special gift for a mysterious magical power, is brought to the future by a time traveling, butt-kicking technical whiz (who, of course, has to be a robot!) in order to help her stop an evil mastermind from combining magic with technology to take over the minds of everyone in the world.  And for good measure, let’s make it a computer virus, with the popularity of the iPhone so that people want to get it.

Then I spent an absurd amount of time writing dozens of drafts, the first of which was nearly 600 pages. What’s funny is that it started out as an action novel that would educate people about their computers, but the more I wrote, the more the characters and plot took over. We ended up editing out most of the computer “education” information, until it ultimately came out as the book you just read. Neat story, huh?

BW:  WOW! Most authors don’t get to hang out with editors and publishers till after they sign their book deal! Your main characters are two very different kids from two very different worlds — Charlie is a magic-wielder from 1542 and Geneva is a bionic girl from a futuristic Los Angeles. Which character do you most relate to and why?

SB:  Honestly, they are both sides of me.  I would say that I identify slightly more with Charlie, though.  He’s a victim.  He feels out of place in his home.  His brain makes him different from the other kids, and he runs his mouth, which gets him in trouble with kids that don’t appreciate his wit.  Yet when duty calls, and he is needed, he finds the strength to do what’s right, even when he’s abandoned, isolated, and up against impossible odds.

I also identify with Geneva — she has many of the same feelings of isolation and she literally questions her own identity.  I think we have all been there at some point in our lives, especially during those formative teen years when we’re deciding what groups to join, what to study in school, what choices to make in our personal life that will ultimately define our professional lives.  But Geneva was fun, because she gets to be the computer educator, and her enthusiasm for the technology absolutely comes from the joy I experience in the classroom — when a kid’s eyes light up over some technical detail that they can then go put into practice at home or in school — that’s the best part for me.

BW:  You come from an IT background and your knowledge totally shows in the futuristic elements of your story.  The details, from the high-tech communications systems to the DNA-modified gorilla (which was pretty scary, BTW), felt so real! How much were you able to draw from your own knowledge and how much did you have to research/invent?

SB:  The high point of my month is when Scientific American shows up in my mailbox.  I get to spend 50 or 100 pages reading about all of the latest scientific advances in physics, astronomy, cosmology, quantum mechanics, biology and high-tech — the list goes on and on.  It’s just a great and broad magazine for the science layperson like me.

So, how much research did I do for the book?  Very, very little.  Or an entire lifetime, depending on how you look at it.  There were certainly details about base-four math and how could that work as a DNA based computer language that I had to look into — it turns out that quantum computers basically operate on that principle.  And I spent a lot of time debating the different world-views from a physics perspective that could support time travel, and which flavor of time travel, etc.  I’m not sure that answers your question, though.  Does it?

I love that you dug the gorilla parts.  That was always one of my favorites while writing and editing.

BW: You’re from the LA-area. What inspired you to set your novel close to home?

SB:  Write what you know, man.  Write what you know.

Then make it different.  🙂

Time travel and the tremendous number of possibilities that can result from a world in which time travel is possible — that makes for some interesting ways to mix things up.  But I don’t want to reveal too much.

BW: What are you working on now?  Will there be more Charlie and Geneva in The Future?  😉

SB:  I’m actually working on the sequel to SMASHER right now, with a third bouncing about in my head.  So, yes, we will definitely be hearing more from Charlie and Geneva.  And in the more immediate Future, there will be additional story content from SMASHER that will be made available on the smasheronline.com site.  I don’t think that site is live yet, but it will be soon, so stay tuned.

I also have an unrelated teen romance ghost story that is simmering on a back burner while I’m stirring the SMASHER pot.

BW:  And since we are the Fearless Fifteens, tell us something that frightens you and something you’ll never fear?

SB:  Heights!  I’m so afraid of heights, it’s ridiculous.  I get vertigo when a movie does the crane over the edge of the building shot.  The Dark Knight in IMAX just about put me into a hyperventilating fit.

And needles.  I had a recurring nightmare about cactuses growing up, which I learned as an adult actually happened when I was a toddler.  So it’s particularly ironic that I’m engaged to an acupuncturist.

BW:  Haha!  I’m guessing you’ll get over that fear pretty quickly! Thanks so much for the interview. 

SB:  Thanks so much for taking the time to read it and come up with those wonderful questions! Remember — ANYTHING is possible!

Scott BlyAbout Scott Bly: Scott Bly has been a computer consultant in Los Angeles for over a decade. He has also taught computer classes and developed interactive educational games for elementary and middle school-aged children. Scott has collaborated and worked with a wide variety of computer specialists, from hackers and designers, to software developers and FBI Consultants. Scott’s debut Middle Grade novel, SMASHER, a fast-paced computer thriller, is scheduled to be published by Scholastic on March 25, 2014.

 

 

Becky headshots-Becky headshots-0007Becky Wallace is the author of THE KEEPERS’ CHRONICLES: THE STORYSPINNER, a magical adventure in which a case of mistaken identity exposes a young performer to a danger she could have never imagined and a secret her father died to protect. It will be available from Simon & Schuster in March of 2015. When Becky’s not writing, she’s baking cupcakes and teaching her kids ’90s dance moves.
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