Swanky Seventeener Matt Landis recently chatted with Sweet Sixteener Sarah Reida, about her fantasy middle grade novel MONSTERVILLE: A LISSA BLACK PRODUCTION (Sky Pony Press/Skyhorse, September 20, 2016).
Beware what lurks beneath your bed. . . . It could lead to a monstrous adventure…
Thirteen-year-old Lissa Black is miserable when her parents force her to move from New York City (the perfect home for an aspiring writer/director/actress) to Freeburg, Pennsylvania, nowhere capital of the world. There’s nothing to do there, except play her little sister Haylie’s favorite new game, Monsterville, and hang out with her new neighbor Adam.
But when a walk in the woods lands her face-to-face with a swamp monster hungry for brains and then a Sasquatch that moos, even Lissa can’t call her new home totally boring. With Adam’s help, she catches the culprit behind the drama: a shape-shifting goblin who’s fled from the monster world of Down Below.
And what do you do with a creature that can be literally anything? Make monster movies, of course! Lissa is convinced that Blue will be the secret to her big break.
But when Haylie goes missing on Halloween, Lissa, Adam, and the monster must venture Down Below to stage a rescue—and face the real Monsterville, which is anything but a game.
Monsterville is a fusion of The Boxtrolls, Jumanji, and Candyland, weaving together friendship, family, and monsters into a funny fantasy-horror brimming with heart from a great new middle grade voice.
About the Author
Sarah S. Reida received her B.A. in English from St. Louis University and always wanted to be a writer, but took a detour to attend law school and start a practice that helps veteran small businesses. She and her husband Scott are proud to own a roomy house in the Atlanta area, as this means they can fill it with rescue animals. Their daughter – coming November 2016! – will be raised to love reading, animals, and Costco (which is magical).
Matthew: How did you come up with the idea for your MONSTERVILLE?
Sarah: I always wanted to write a book where a board game came in handy on a journey, and I always wanted to write a book involving monsters, so this one just came together. It started with the board – I didn’t write a formal outline for this one, but I did design Monsterville the game. In writing, I actually followed it pretty closely, which doesn’t happen too often with traditional outlines (in my experience).
Matthew: What was the hardest part about coming up with the title for Monsterville? Or was it always called that?
Sarah: I had the hardest time with a title. It was LISSA BLACK AND THE MISFIT MONSTER when I queried it to agents, and before we went on submission, my agent and I both knew we wanted to change it. MONSTERVILLE: A LISSA BLACK PRODUCTION is much more in keeping with the spirit and heart of the book. And, it’s catchier!
One of my favorite books of all time is THE WICKED PIGEON LADIES IN THE GARDEN by Mary Chase. It is amazing. Read it. Read it now! Time travel, and creepy old paintings that come to life, a haunted mansion. . . and it is called – let me repeat – THE WICKED. PIGEON LADIES. IN THE. GARDEN. Why? Why did they do that? <time travels and smacks person responsible in face>
Matthew: Specifically, what was the hardest part about writing/revising this book? Was there something particular to the topic/research that made it difficult?
Sarah: I had fun researching this one – I read a lot of film books (love, love, LOVE Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT) and watched a lot of films. I did have some trouble with the movie references, though, as my parents imposed zero filter on the movies I watched growing up (A FISH CALLED WANDA has been my favorite movie since I was eight), so I had to get smacked down on some of the references for being inappropriate. That was hard – excluding references to movies I loved because they were too mature or obscure for the audience.
Matthew: What’s the best writing tip you have to offer?
Sarah: Never worry about your opening until the end. It’s just getting cut anyway. MONSTERVILLE’S opening actually starts on something like page 10 or 15 of the draft I queried; once I finish a book, that’s when I know where the story begins and what the voice should sound like. Once I have that down, I sit down and write the real opening.
Matthew: Who’s the “perfect reader” for MONSTERVILLE?
Sarah: MONSTERVILLE’S a bit of a hybrid book. It’s a fish-out-of-water book with Lissa (the main character) moving from the city to the country. It’s an adventure book with the characters effectively being trapped in a board game (think Jumanji with monsters). It’s also educational because Lissa sees the world through the lens of a camera, so kids learn about film terms and film-making (there’s a film glossary at the end and a more extensive one on http://www.lissablackproductions.com). And it has a lot of humor, particularly in the interface between the city kid (Lissa) and the ginormous country Boy Scout (Adam). If any one of those aspects appeals to a kid, they’ll enjoy it.
Matthew: Was Halloween a super big deal in your house growing up? Were board games? Did you want to be Lissa when you were in middle school—shooting, directing, etc? I guess what I’m asking is: what parts of this story arise from you, specifically?
Sarah: Halloween wasn’t a huge deal. I always felt cheated because we lived out in the country and didn’t have trick-or-treaters or a reason to decorate our house. When I got married, I compensated by having the wedding on Halloween and decorating each table with a Halloween theme. Our wedding favors were scary books, like MISERY (appropriate for a wedding, eh?) and SOMETHING UNDER THE BED IS DROOLING (CALVIN AND HOBBES).
Board games weren’t big, either. Movies, however. . . I am so fortunate to have grown up near one of the only remaining drive-in movie theaters (Skyview in Belleville, IL). I remember every single movie I’ve ever seen there, and I still associate those movies with the drive-in.
As for the correlation between Lissa and me, I definitely see it. I’m really interested in screenwriting. Also, I dream in cartoons and catch monsters.
Matthew: OK time for the lightning round questions. Favorite writer?
Sarah: Stephen King
Matthew: The most recent book you COULD NOT PUT DOWN.
Sarah: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, until I got about 2/3 in and realized all the characters were utterly unlikable and that I ultimately didn’t care what happened to them.
Matthew: The weirdest job you’ve ever had?
Sarah: Maybe this one. Writing is unlike any other industry.
Matthew: Robot or zombie apocalypse. Which is more likely?
Sarah: Robot. We already have our robot leader. He is a highly sophisticated, well-oiled machine who just won his 28th Olympic medal in Rio this year.
Matthew: When/where is your prime “writing” time?
Sarah: Robot During the day, so I can write on my balcony and yell at my cats for attempted chipmunk homicide. (I am a writer. I have cats).
Matthew: When What were you reading when you were Lissa’s age?
Sarah: Every Fear Street book by R.L. Stine. Also, Sweet Valley High.
Matthew: Sarah, you rule. Thanks for doing this, best of luck with MONSTERVILLE. Go Lissa. Go Sarah. Boom.
Matthew loves history, but not in the old, awful, kill-me-now-please kind of way. His passion is convincing students that the past is actually hilarious, shocking, tragic, disturbing, and altogether UN-boring. While getting his graduate degree in History at Villanova, he realized that there was yet one more way to do this: write contemporary young adult books laced with history to convince students that the past isn’t awful. That’s a huge reason why he wrote The Judas Society, a YA contemporary thriller which comes out from Sky Pony/Sky Horse in Spring 2017.
So if you found out Benedict Arnold was your ancestor, and the descendants of America’s Revolutionary heroes were hunting you down, what would you do? Seventeen-year-old Jasper Mansfield is about to find out.