Karina Glaser recently interviewed debut author Margaret Dilloway about her middle grade novel, MOMOTARO #1: XANDER AND THE LOST ISLAND OF MONSTERS, published by Disney-Hyperion on April 5, 2016.
About the Book:
Xander Miyamoto would rather do almost anything than listen to his sixth grade teacher, Mr. Stedman, drone on about weather disasters happening around the globe. If Xander could do stuff he’s good at instead, like draw comics and create computer programs, and if Lovey would stop harassing him for being half Asian, he might not be counting the minutes until the dismissal bell.
When spring break begins at last, Xander plans to spend it playing computer games with his best friend, Peyton. Xander’s father briefly distracts him with a comic book about some samurai warrior that pops out of a peach pit. Xander tosses it aside, but Peyton finds it more interesting.
Little does either boy know that the comic is a warning. They are about to be thrust into the biggest adventure of their lives-a journey wilder than any Xander has ever imagined, full of weird monsters even worse than Lovey. To win at this deadly serious game they will have to rely on their wits, courage, faith, and especially, each other. Maybe Xander should have listened to Mr Stedman about the weather after all. . . .
About the Author:
Margaret Dilloway grew up in San Diego, where she still lives with her three children, husband, and a Goldendoodle named Gatsby. She majored in art at Scripps College. Her hobbies include gardening and hiking. Currently she teaches creative writing at a public middle school, which means she is qualified to be in any riot squad.
Talking about XANDER:
Karina: What I loved most about your book was the incorporation of Japanese folklore into your story. What initially inspired you to write this story, and what is your own connection to Japan?
Margaret: I’m half Japanese– my mom was born in Kumamoto Japan (on Kyushu). I had a board book about Momotaro when I was little, written in Japanese. My mom would read it to me and I’d tell it to myself using the illustrations. As a young adult, I found the book again at a store and bought it. I thought the concept– the oni who cause all the bad things to happen to humans and the warrior who must defeat them– was begging for a fresh retelling. And Japanese folklore is full of monsters– we see Western culture borrowing from the tales heavily in video games and movies– I wanted to show their origins in a new way.
Plus, it was important for me to have Xander be half-Japanese. To be “half” of something is often seen as a negative– if you’re half, can you ever be whole? In Xander’s case, it’s a strength because of how his powers work.
Karina: This is your first middle grade book, but I know you have written multiple books for adults. What led you to write a book for a middle grade audience, and how was the process different from your previous books?
Margaret: Because I’m a nut, I decided I wasn’t busy enough and I wanted to learn a whole new genre. Everything about writing a middle grade book is different. You have to consider that adults will be buying this book for kids, so they have to approve of it; but the kids want something that pushes the boundaries.
It took a few years of me working on it, off and on, to get it right. The voice was the most difficult thing, because I am not actually a 12-year-old boy. But after spying on my son and his friends, I was able to channel enough of that attitude into the book.
It was a lot of fun to write, too. My other books tend to be more serious, but my natural voice is more humorous. I was glad to get a chance to use that.
Karina: I know you have kids and that you teach creative writing at a middle school. Have quirks or personality traits of your kids or the kids you teach end up in your characters? Any examples?
Margaret: My son and my husband heavily influence Xander. They’re quick with the snarky comments, just like him. Some of Xander’s dialogue is lifted directly from my son (I asked first!). I haven’t written any MOMOTARO books since I’ve been teaching– I’ll have to see with the next one what happens. Let me tell you, though, my sarcasm muscle gets a mega-heavy workout every day with those kids. They respond well to a good comeback.
Karina: I noticed on Goodreads that your book is listed as Momotaro #1. Is there a sequel planned? (I hope so!)
Margaret: Yes! MOMOTARO BOOK 2: XANDER AND THE DREAM THIEF comes out in April 2017. It’s all about Xander dealing with the aftermath of his new powers– they come at a cost– and a character called the baku, who can eat your nightmares but when used wrong can eat all your good dreams, too.
Margaret: Gatsby the Goldendoodle, who has his own website and is the basis for Inu, the heroic dog in the story! We also have two cats who mostly ignore me unless they need food.
Karina: Oddest job you ever had?
Margaret: Taking photos of newborns at peoples’ homes. This company would go into hospitals and offer free sittings to try to get people to buy super expensive packages. I drove all around Washington between Seattle and Olympia. The odd thing about it was how these people, strangers, would give me their babies and disappear while I took photos. I could have totally kidnapped like three dozen kids! Also, I was terrible at using the equipment.
Karina: Writing rituals?
Margaret: I have a couple cups of coffee, then get to work. I need a break about an hour and a half in, so I go to the gym or take the dog for a walk or something. If I run into a problem, I’ll go do errands and kind of daydream about how to solve it.
Karina: Favorite dance music?
Margaret: 80s, baby!
Karina: A literary location that is on your bucket list?
Margaret: Everywhere! I haven’t been to Ireland or Paris yet.
Karina: Three favorite middle grade novels?
Margaret: Linnets and Valerians by Eileen Goudge, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
About the Interviewer:
Originally from California, Karina Glaser came to New York City for college and has stuck around for nearly twenty years. She has had a varied career teaching and implementing literacy programs in family homeless shelters and recruiting healthcare professionals to volunteer in under resourced areas around the world. Now as a mother, one of her proudest achievements is raising two kids who can’t go anywhere without a book. She lives in Harlem with her husband, two daughters, dog, cat, and house rabbit.