2017 debut author Dave Connis recently interviewed Brooks Benjamin, debut author of the MG novel MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS (April 12th, 2016 from Delacorte/Random House)
About The Book
All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.
At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?
Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor.
About the Author
In sixth grade, Brooks Benjamin formed a New Kids on the Block tribute dance crew called the New Kidz. He wasn’t that good at dancing back then. But now he’s got a new crew—his wife and their dog. They live in Tennessee, where he teaches reading and writing and occasionally busts out a few dance moves. He’s still not that good at it. His first novel, MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS will be released by Delacorte/Random House (April 12, 2016).
Were you in the middle of a dance battle when the idea of M7GLIT came to you? What’s your background on dancing? Recording a dance video and splitting your pants?
I was dance battling with my emotions. I was dance battling with the thought of which type of ice cream I should get at the store. Ben and Jerry’s was on sale, and I liked Ben and Jerry’s, but Talenti had a flavor that I loved, but it wasn’t on sale. I was so conflicted…but really, it was sort of the idea of a critique partner. She was talking about really embarrassing things that happened to her in middle school, and I mentioned, “oh, well I was on a dance crew in middle school” and she was like, “how are you not writing that right now?”…so I started writing it, and was like, “oh man, this is actually pretty good.”
I was actually really into martial arts and kind of put that into a lot of my dancing, so I would do a lot of spins and kicks and stuff. I thought, “man, this looks really good. If I was out there watching me, I’d be really impressed,” but no one was. Also, I’m quite experienced in both pants splitting and filming, but they’re mutually exclusive. I split my pants a lot in middle school, but it was never while recording. I also recorded a lot in middle school, but I never actually split my pants on screen. I kind of bridged the gap. I brought pants splitting and videography together, and I thought that was going to be something really beautiful.
In M7GLIT, you have this obvious tension between self-discovery and doing what’s expected. You sort of see that in all of the characters to some extent. Was that thread somewhat autobiographical? Did you have this specific tension in mind when you started writing?
I’d say that tension is one of the parts of the book that I drew the most from personal experience. I have an older brother, he’s ten years older. So when I was in middle school he was 22-23. He joined the Navy right out of high school…he was a swat team member, then he was police officer, then a fireman. He was a football star in high school. My brother is awesome, but he was that guy. Super athletic, super strong. Girls loved him. When he was 16 he actually modeled. For a while, I had this idea that I’ve got to be like him…I felt a lot of pressure to be a certain type of guy. I tried to play sports, and I was really really bad at sports…but I was really artistic.
You know, growing up in the south, boys play sports, like trucks, and go hunting and fishing. To this day, I have never been fishing and I’ve never been hunting. If I actually ever pick up a gun and aim it at an animal, I’ll just break down and cry. Anyway, there was a lot of pressure for me to act a certain way and I never was that way.
Once I decided that I didn’t have to be this certain type of person, I realized my dad was just as proud of me and that he loved me for who I was, and so did my mom. That made being me even easier. All of this discovering that you don’t have to be a certain kind of person to make others happy was a journey for me. Sometimes, when your parents discover that the thing you do that isn’t normal is the thing that makes you happy…then that in turn makes them happy. So my path of self-discovery, was closely related to my parent’s discovery of myself.
I’ve heard you say you love “group of friends” novels. What about “group of friends” novels do you like?
I absolutely love the idea of this close knit group of friends who aren’t alike on the surface, but they share things that are way deeper than what you can see at first glance. Another reason I like it is because I grew up in a very rural area. There were no kids. We didn’t live in a neighborhood, we lived on a farm, and there were no kids around. I never had that group of kids, neighborhood friends. You know, the one where we’d all get together and ride bikes and have little clubs and stuff. I got that a little bit at school, but there’s only so much time you spend at school…I craved that group of friends so much, so I think that’s what draws me to it.
So your author glitt (I’m creating a new term for swag) is based on the term “Find the moves that fit.” Though there’s still push back, culture is heading in a direction that wants kids to find the moves that fit. As a teacher, do you think there will ever be a time where what’s expected is patience while someone figures themselves out instead of to fit some sort of pre-distinguished mold?
I think if it happens it’s going to be very individualized. Like, one person at a time realizing that they need to stop trying to be this other person or be like their friend or a celebrity. As a society as a whole, I don’t think it will happen. I just think we’re such material driven beasts. We want what’s new, trendy, and fashionable, and we’re almost desensitized at being an individual…There are too many bull-headed and narrow-minded thinkers that push against being your own person…I don’t know. I think we’re nearing it, but it’s like the idea of infinity. We’ll never get to the end, but we’ll get closer and closer with each year and decade…It’s going to get safer to be yourself, but I don’t think we’ll ever cross the finish line. It would be awesome if we could though.
What year will MG rise up and dominate the world?
That will be the year 2019.
If you were the MG team captain in a dodge ball match against YA authors, who would be on your team?
Okay…I would…oh gosh. I’m going to select…for sure…oh crap. I’m so nervous. I feel the need to answer really fast because this is blitzkrieg, but here I am just wasting time rambling. I’m definitely going to go with…let’s see…we’re gonna go with Melanie Conklin because her book packs a punch, which means she’s got a good arm so she can throw hard.
I’m going to go with…Katherine Paterson, because BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is my favorite middle grade read. Stephen King because he did write a children’s book. I think it was EYES OF THE DRAGON, but don’t quote me on that. But since he wrote a children’s book, I’m choosing him. He’s going to be our front man and he’s going to be the guy who’s growing and snarling at the other team to intimidate them.
Dan Gemeinhart, if that’s how you say his name? The guy who wrote THE HONEST TRUTH, because his reads are always fast and toned and tight. He’s concise, and that’s the kind of athleticism we need on this team.
Lois Sepheban, because she’s going to bring the harmony. What she writes is lyrical, poetic, and beautiful. She’s going to be the one who–when the team is down and we’re about to give up, and Stephen King is about to go into a murderous rage–brings everyone back together and tells us the true purpose of the game, which is too…actually transcend dodgeball and…I’m not sure what the true purpose of the game is, but she would know which is why she’d be on my team.
Can you do a split?*
On a trampoline I can.
(Dave: whoa…that’s impressive. I wasn’t expecting you to say yes because the next question is why not, so…I’m going to ask it anyway.)
Because I don’t have a trampoline with me.
They make a musical out of M7GLIT, what are three song names?
Oh my gosh, that is awesome. Okay. The first of the three will be called Electric Slide Into Trouble. The second one will be a slower song. Lyrical. More contemporary dancing so Carson will be involved in it. It’s going to be called Backflip. And the last one is The Dizzee Freekz Ninja Kick The Door Down.
Which character in your book is the likeliest to be a closet magician?
Kassie. Definitely. She’s got some secrets.
In a dystopian universe, what happens to your book?
My book is discovered under a pile of fossilized leggings, and since it was preserved in all of the polyester and nylon, it is revered as a gospel and people abandon words and any other sort of communication other than dance. The society becomes a kinesthetic harmonic community that only communicates through body movements. Every child is taught dance from a very young age and…that’s what happens.
Favorite place to write?
Beside the window.
In your honest opinion, what’s happening to the bees?
I think there’s a gigantic nest somewhere deep in the forest of the rocky mountains and we just don’t know it yet. They’re actually forming some sort of advanced technology inside the hive, and they’re probably going to release it on the world in the year 2018 so we’ll never actually get to see the meteoric rise of the middle grade novel in the year 2019…which is a bummer.
About the Interviewer
Dave Connis writes words you can sing and words you can read. He lives in Chattanooga, TN with my wife, Clara and a dog that barks at non-existent threats. He’s one of twenty male librarians under thirty (probably).
When he’s not writing YA or MG, he’s probably working really strange part-time jobs, and doing other things that actually give my family the ability to eat food. He’s probably struggling with social media comparison, right now. He’s a member of the SCBWI, the Jedi Counsel, and has the propensity to daydream when ever he attempts to be an adult. His debut YA novel, THE TEMPTATION OF ADAM, comes out from Sky Pony in 2017.
*After I emailed Brooks the first draft of the interview, he responded with this: “I totally thought you asked me if I could do a flip!Which is why I said I could on a trampoline. HA! I don’t know how a trampoline would help me do the splits. But maybe they would. I’ve never tried them while on one.”