Q&A with John Martin and Scott Seegert Creators of SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH #SciFiJuniorHigh

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A look at the authors who wrote the book Sci -Fi Junior High- you can also enter to win a copy HERE.

1. Collaboration between two artists, especially a successful one, is a rare partnership. How did the two of you meet? What inspired you to collaborate?

Scott: We met the same way all great literary duos throughout history have—through our daughters playing travel softball together. When I discovered that John had all the same childhood influences I did, and could actually draw, working together on children’s books seemed like a no-brainer. Which is perfect for us.

2. What is the inspiration behind Kelvin and SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH? Did one or both of you always dream of going to school in outer space?

John: I had no dream of going to school in outer space. However, when I was a kid, I created a comic strip of a martian borrowing sugar from his astronaut neighbor in space. Scott and I wanted to collaborate with a middle school concept. For SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH, I suggested the story title and a basic premise that involved many types of creature students. Then Scott went to town developing the story alongside some of my character sketches. I do believe that our inspiration for Kelvin and his family is based slightly on the Robinson family in Lost in Space. Throw a bit of Charlie Brown and Looney Tunes into the mix, and voilà: SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH.

Scott: We like creating stories filled with as many bizarre creatures, strange locations, wacky gizmos, and oddball characters as possible, because that’s what we couldn’t get enough of when we were kids. Our first book series, VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE, dealt with the superhero/supervillain world, which fit the bill perfectly. SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH takes that up another notch, what with the entire universe and its contents at our disposal.

3. What are your writing and drawing routines like? Do you work together, separately, or a combination of both?

Scott: John’s studio and my office are located right next to each other in an eclectic old former electric trolley power station. We even have a “secret” door between our two spaces, allowing for top-secret middle grade book concepts to be passed back and forth away from the scrutiny of prying eyes. The close proximity really allows us to work as a team, more so than a lot of other duos, I would assume. We’ll brainstorm the main points of emphasis, and then I’ll begin the writing process and

John will work on character concepts and creating the feel of the world. Sometimes, I’ll have a specific look for a character or device in mind and John will sketch it up.

Other times he’ll show me some crazy thing he came up with and I’ll work it into the story. It’s a pretty loose system. There was one character I particularly liked—a bunny wearing goggles and a jetpack. We turned him into a plushy and made him the book’s villain.

John: Scott has named most of the characters, with a few exceptions, such as our main villain, Erik Failenheimer, who is based on a suggestion of mine. I changed our bully’s character design look based on Scott’s name. We even have a few co-named characters in the book.

4. What do you hope children will take away from this story?

Scott: Two things: first, don’t worry about trying to impress everybody. It’s okay to just be yourself. People (or, in this case, six-eyed aliens and giant talking slugs) will still like you—at least the ones worth having as friends. Secondly, we hope kids just have a blast reading it. We try our best to have something exciting or ridiculous or weird to read or look at on pretty much every page. We want even the most reluctant reader to keep turning the page to see what absurdness comes next.

John: We also feel that James Patterson is a perfect partner for us. He is “dedicated to making kids readers for life.” Hopefully this crazy-zany story will be a big part in making that happen!

5. There are so many incredible and zany references to science and technology. Did you have to do a lot of research to create SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH?

Scott: A little. Neither one of us had a real good grasp on how many light-years wide the Milky Way galaxy is, for instance. Or, for that matter, how far a light-year actually is (about 6 trillion miles, as it turns out!). But the book, like most works of science fiction, is a mixture of real science and…wait for it…fiction. For example, the need for artificial gravity at the school is real, but the solution, obviously, is not.

John: We are heavily influenced by the tech and designs from 1950s B sci-fi movies and literature. We have a few tech tributes to Star Wars, Star Trek, and others. Also a Rube Goldberg device and some fun nods to Three Stooges tech with poorly designed devices. Suspended sleeping chambers, portholes, wormholes, sliding elevator doors, mind transfer rays, and concerns over alien bacteria can be found in SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH. A good ol’ porthole can always get you into the story fast.

6. Kelvin has all sorts of alien peers at his school. Was it important to you to write about diverse characters, even among aliens?

Scott: When every student comes from a different planet, the diversity element is pretty much baked in. At least the way we wanted to do it, by creating as many unique characters as possible. That type of “diversity” doesn’t necessarily help readers find characters they physically identify with (unless they have six eyes, live underwater, or have constantly growing and shrinking brains), but the concept of getting along with classmates/people who appear different than you are is pretty universal.

John: We simply changed the setting, look, and skin color of the students, but with the same middle school Earth drama and issues that we recognize. Star Wars cantina scene meets middle school, with a dash of bullies, crushes, math equations, and alien food fights. After all, aren’t all gym teachers robots, anyways?

7. How do you think illustrations and visual art enhance a book, especially for a middle grade audience?

Scott: Growing up, my main sources of reading material were comic books and illustrated magazines like Mad and Cracked. I loved the art. It really kept me engaged in the material.

John: I grew up watching a lot of cartoons and monster movies on TV, like Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, Looney Tunes, Jonny Quest, The Jetsons, Godzilla, Frankenstein, and more. And I loved reading comic books, Mad magazine, and the Sunday newspaper comic strips. I have always known how impactful and powerful visual storytelling can be. If these forms of storytelling were good enough for Scott and me when we were in middle school, then they are good enough for readers of all ages! In fact, we still read comics and watch Godzilla movies!

Scott: We use art as a continuation of the story. The illustrations aren’t merely editorial, repeating what has already been covered in the text. We switch off between text and art to keep things vibrant and interesting. John and I work closely (as in sitting at the same table) to lay out the story in words and pictures. As I said earlier, we create books that we would have wanted to read as kids. The art is also a big draw (ba-da-bum!) for the more reluctant readers.

John: We also use a banter technique that very few creators use. Instead of the redundant use of “he said,” “she said,” “Then I said,” we use a character icon of who is speaking. This is a great visual/textual way to make it easy to understand who is talking in our comedic banter sequences. There are also a few illustrated sequences in the book that are very detailed—i.e., a busy alien cafeteria food fight. Every inch

of this two-page spread illustration has someone or something throwing alien food! A few illustrated scenes like this also really help draw the reader into understanding

this world Scott and I have created. In general, illustration can improve reading comprehension.

8. What’s the best part about writing for children, in your opinion? What’s the hardest thing about it?

Scott: I love writing for kids. Kids are sharp. More so than a lot of adults are willing to give them credit for, sometimes. And they don’t bring a lot of preconceived notions along for the ride. If they find your book to be fun and entertaining, they’ll devour it and ask for more. Our books are meant to be humorous, and I put things in the book that I think are funny. I never “write down” to an age group. That’s a big reason why I feel adults will enjoy reading our books along with their kids, particularly the younger ones. Kids are also honest. Brutally honest, sometimes. You usually know where you stand.

John: I really like creating, illustrating, and working with children’s books for a simple reason—it’s fun! I really want to share my childhood with children of today. Besides, what artist wouldn’t want to illustrate an alien with an underbite sloshing down a galactic school hallway? To be a kid-lit creator is very rewarding when kids come up to you and tell you how much they love your book or character. We are thrilled to hear parents tell us how their kids read our books over and over again. We are also delighted when librarians tell us that our books are favorites in their libraries and are checked out with so much regularity that they are falling apart.

9. What’s next for you both? Can we expect a sequel to SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH?

Scott: Yes, there will be a SC-FI JUNIOR HIGH 2. But all we can tell you right now is that it will involve aliens and robots and bullies and tentacles and spaceships and field trips to strange worlds and universe-threatening plushies and…dancing.

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