Today, I have two amazing guests with me. You may already know them from my review of Nate Rocks the World here. If you haven’t already guessed, I have author Karen Pokras Toz and Nate of the Nate Rocks series with me today. They both answer some questions I had. I had an amazing time talking to the two of them, hope you do too!
Interview with author Karen Pokras Toz
Describe your series? What genre would you classify it into?
Nate Rocks is a middle grade series I created just over a year ago with the first book, “Nate Rocks the World.” Nate Rocks is about 10-year-old Nathan Rockledge. On the outside, he seems to be just an average kid. His family drives him crazy, and he doesn’t exactly love school. But he does have something he loves: drawing. Give Nathan a pencil and some paper and watch as he transforms himself into Nate Rocks – hero extraordinaire. I originally wrote “Nate Rocks the World” for the 7-12 age group, but I’m finding that all age groups are enjoying Nate’s adventures. I suppose we are all young at heart.
What other books have you written?
I’ve just finished up the second book in the Nate Rocks series – called “Nate Rocks the Boat.” In this book, Nate goes away to summer overnight camp. We meet several new characters and of course Nate has all new adventures.
How did you get into writing for children?
I recently wrote an article entitled “When Your Genre Picks You.” That is exactly what happened with me. I originally set out to write a book for adults. In this book, there were several flashbacks to when my main character was a child. I found these scenes to be my favorite to write and quickly realized I was writing in the wrong genre. People ask me if I write books for kids so I can re-live my own childhood. Maybe, but I think it has more to do with the fact that my brain thinks like a 10 year old. I guess that’s what happens when you have three children!
How did you come up with the idea for the series?
My oldest son has always loved to draw – especially cartoons. The original idea was inspired by him. He has several sketch books filled with his creations. My two younger children are also very creative and love to roll play and make up stories. I wasn’t sure when I first started writing that I would have a series, but I fell in love with Nate early on and just knew I had to write more.
When and why did you begin writing?
This is such a hard question for me because I really don’t know why. I started writing just a couple of years ago. I had never really been interested in it before. My strong subject in school was always math. One day, I felt like I had a story that needed to come out, and I decided to give it a try. I was instantly hooked.
How has your journey from writing to getting published been?
A lot of work! Honestly, writing the book is the easy part. After that, there is just an endless amount of marketing that goes into having a published book, whether you are self-published or traditionally published.
Who is you favourite character? Is there a character in the series you think the readers will hate?
Well of course I love Nate, but I do have a soft spot for Claudia (Nathan’s Mom.) She tries so hard to be the perfect homemaker, and she has no clue that she fails miserably. I wouldn’t say she is based on me, but I wouldn’t say she isn’t either. That’s all I’m saying. Hate is a really strong word, but I’m pretty sure my readers are not big fans of Nate’s sister Abby, or his classmate Lisa.
Did you base your characters one someone from your life?
Well except for Claudia (maybe) … yes. I think when we write we definitely pull real life situations into our stories. I definitely did. For my characters, I used bits and pieces of different people I’ve known over the years and then pulled them to the extreme. For example – Lisa – the annoying know it all in Nate’s class. We’ve all had to deal with a “Lisa” in school – but perhaps not quite to the same extent.
While reading Nate’s adventures, I thought it would be nice if there was a comic strip where these adventures played out. Have you thought about getting the books illustrated?
Yes! I actually wrestled with the idea of having the Nate Series be a graphic novel. In the end, I chose to leave out the pictures. I wanted the reader to experience Nate’s adventures the exact same way Nathan does – using his imagination. When I am finished writing the series, however, I would like to put out some sort of comic book or maybe a sketchpad with all of his drawings. I was thinking of having my son do the drawings.
If Nate could have a superpower, what would it be?
Oh but Nate does have a superpower – his imagination! Not everyone has the ability to completely lose oneself in a world of fantasy the way Nate does. Yes, he gets in trouble occasionally, but in the end, his imagination gives him the power to be a hero in real life.
How easy or difficult is it to write about Nate and Abby’s fights?
Is it bad if I say really easy? I had an older brother (and I might have been a bit of a pain.) We fought relentlessly and on the day he left for college, I cried myself to sleep. My two oldest children have the exact same dynamic that I had growing up – older brother – younger sister. I thought it would be fun to flip it around.
What was the hardest part of writing the series?
Finding the time to get it done. My schedule can get a bit crazy – especially once the kids start coming home from school.
Who designed the covers of the books?
I’m so glad you asked! I found an amazing artist. Her name is Deana Riddle and she is the founder of a company called Book Starter (bookstarter.com) I had tried to do my own bookcover, and it was a disaster! I posted a picture of what I had done on a group I belonged to on LinkedIn. Deana responded with her ideas and I was like, “Yes! This person so gets my vision!” She has been fabulous to work with.
Did you learn anything from writing your series and what was it?
Well as I mentioned before, I learned I love to write!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Was there somewhere in the books you felt stuck?
Yes – there were a few times I felt stuck. Every author has a different system. Some must work off an outline, some put everything on notecards, etc. I just sort of open my laptop and go. I have a general idea (for example – I knew I wanted to write about a boy who draws cartoons that come to life) but really, I just write as it comes to me … and often times, it just doesn’t. So, I’ll just put it to the side until it clicks. I’ve been lucky that I can usually get unstuck without too much time going by.
What are your current projects? When is the next book in the series coming out?
I’m currently waiting to receive Nate Rocks the Boat back from my editor. I expect there will be some revisions that need to be done. My hope is to have a release date of May 1st. As you can see, the cover art is complete. I already have plans for the third book and a couple of chapters written. The title is still up in the air. I have a few ideas, but I may open it up to the readers to see what they come up with… stay tuned…
Could you describe what happens in the next book in the series? Can we get an excerpt?
In the second book, Nathan goes off to overnight camp. Here is a small excerpt – a letter that Nathan writes home to his mother:
Sorry you couldn’t make it to visiting day. To be honest, you really didn’t miss much, although it was nice to see Dad. My friend Charlie’s mom and dad came in first place in the three-legged race relay. Dad and Mr. Jensen were also in the race. They were partners, but fell over each other after one hop and never finished. Then Abby hit Mrs. Jensen in the face with an egg that she was supposed to be throwing to me in the egg toss competition. Abby says it’s my fault. She says if I hadn’t been standing so close to Mrs. Jensen, she wouldn’t have hit her. If you ask me, Abby just has bad aim – or needs glasses – maybe both. Anyway, I hope you are having a nice time with Grandma and all of these relatives I previously knew nothing about. Perhaps we can have a family reunion when camp is over, so I can meet them. Miss you.
P.S. Remember Mama T’s dog Daisy? She finally had her puppies last week.
What book are you reading now? Which are your all-time favourite authors / books?
Believe it or not, my favorite genre to read is Historical Literary Fiction. I’m currently reading “Water For Elephants” by Sara Gruen. I have to say, I am really enjoying this book. It may be one of my new favorites. Another of my favorites is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. One of my favorite Indie books in this genre is called “Jonathan’s Cross” by ML Gardner. Outside of this genre, I’m a big fan of both the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series.
Give us three “Good to Know” facts about you, something you could not read just about anywhere.
- I am a licensed lawyer, although I do not practice law.
- From February through April, I work as a tax accountant (sounds fun huh?)
- I have never seen Star Wars (gasp!)
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to readers?
Reading is one of the best gifts we can give out children – please encourage the child in your life to read every day.
ebooks, paperbacks or hardcover?
Ebooks – I don’t go anywhere without my Kindle!
Cats or dogs?
Cats – oddly, I’m allergic to dogs, but not cats. I currently have two 7 month old kittens. They are crazy and awesome.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee! I’m a self-proclaimed coffee-holic, but I do enjoy tea at night.
Mexican and chocolate (probably not together unless it’s Mole.)
Vanilla or chocolate ice-cream?
Vanilla (I know – that really doesn’t make sense given the answer to the above question, but it’s true.)
What are 4 things you never leave home without?
Car keys, wallet, kindle, cell phone
Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
I’m defintiely a morning person. The where doesn’t matter so much. I have a laptop, so basically wherever I can be comfortable.
If you were deserted on an island, who are 3 famous people you would want with you any why?
- John Cusack (we have a thing for each other … he just doesn’t know it yet…)
- Rachel Ray (she could do all the cooking)
- Josh Holloway (watch Lost – you’ll understand)
List 3 of your all-time favourite movies?
Only 3? This is hard!
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Office Space
What is a movie or TV show that you watched recently and really enjoyed?
I actually have not watched TV (other than the news) in weeks, but I have the new series Alcatraz on my DVR and can’t wait to start watching it!
Ritesh: And now, I have some questions for Nate! Thanks so much for joining us today Nathan!
So Nate – what do you want to be when you grow up?
I really want to be a comic book artist. I think I’m pretty good at it, and I love making up stories. I’ve actually done a few already. Maybe one day I’ll show them to you. Abby says they’re dumb, but I think they are cool.
Speaking of your sister, do you two ever get along?
Sometimes she’s okay… I guess. Most of the time I just try to stay out of her way. She’s always in some kind of a mood – Mom says it’s just a phase, but so far this phase has been lasting as long as I can remember. Older sisters can definitely be a pain sometimes.
Getting back to your comics – where do you like to draw?
Anywhere really – just as long as I have a pencil and a piece of paper. Sometimes I get in trouble because I’m supposed to be doing something else, but I just can’t help myself. Once I get started; I just get lost in what I’m doing.
Do you get in trouble a lot?
Not a lot, but I have to be careful in school. There is this one girl named Lisa Crane, and she is so annoying. Her mom and my mom are best friends. One day I got in trouble for drawing in school when we were supposed to be taking a spelling test. Do you know what Lisa did? She went right home and told her mom, who of course called my mom. I mean – who does that?
But there are some cool kids in your class right?
Oh yeah – my friend Sam is in my class, and so is my best friend Tommy. Tommy and I have been in the same class since Kindergarten, and he lives in my neighborhood. Tommy’s house is where I go whenever I need to escape my own house … and get a good meal.
What do you mean? You don’t eat good meals at your own house?
Apparently you’ve never had my mom’s cooking! She tries and all, but no matter what she makes, there’s always something not quite right about it. Last night we had hotdogs. Easy right? Wrong! I had to chew each piece at least 100 times just to swallow it. Dad must be used to it or something because he never complains about mom’s cooking.
So your Dad is pretty easy going?
Dad? Yeah mostly. He works a lot, but don’t ask me what he does – it has something to do with numbers and data. I used to try to ask him about it, but no matter what you ask Dad, he always ends up telling some story from his childhood that you’ve heard a million times already.
Sounds like everyday is an adventure for you.
I guess it is. Being ten is kind of cool actually.
Ritesh: Thanks so much Karen and Nate for letting me interview both of you. And Nate, you really do rock the world!
About Karen Pokras Toz
Karen Pokras Toz is a writer, wife and mom. Karen grew up in Orange, Connecticut and currently lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and three children. In June 2011, Karen published her first middle grade children’s novel for 7-12 year olds called Nate Rocks the World. She is currently working on the second book in the Nate Rocks series, Nate Rocks the Boat, to be published in 2012. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Association of Independent Authors (AIA), and the Independent Author Network (IAN).
You can find Karen here:
About the Nate Rocks series:
You can see my review of Nate Rocks the World here.
Ten-year-old Nathan Rockledge cannot catch a break. After all, life as a fourth-grader can be hazardous what with science projects to deal with and recess football games to avoid. Everyone, including his best friend Tommy, seems to have bad luck when hanging around Nathan. Throw in an older sister who is a royal pain, a dad who is stuck in the past, and a mom who keeps trying to poison him with her awful cooking, and poor Nathan’s life as a fourth grader appears to be completely doomed.
Armed only with his sketchpad, his imagination, and his wits, Nathan Rockledge navigates the perils of the fourth grade in style, to emerge heroic, as Nate Rocks, proving that even a ten-year-old can accomplish great things.
Read what People Are Saying:
Author Karen Pokras Toz has a definite five star winner right here. Nate more than ROCKS! Great book for kids of all ages and for parents too. Characters that are true to life and a story that will definitely make you smile, laugh and endear you to one smart and talented young man named NATE!
I picked this book out to upload to my Kindle to “bribe” my son into reading….it’s always a fight. He LOVES the book and thinks it is his own autobiography! He too has a 13 year old sister that acts just like Nate’s older sister. He read for almost an hour the other night and wouldn’t even let me read one page to him, he wanted to do it himself. My son is a 10 year old 4th grader and I could not have found a book more perfectly suited for him! THANK YOU to the author!!
This is a fascinating and fun story that middle grade boys are going to love. Toz definitely has a finger on the pulse of this market. She knows what’s exciting to them and uses it to create a page-turner that will leave them wanting more.