Friday, September 30, 2011

Brooklyn THRILLS from Matt de la Pena

I'm new to the world of Matt de la Pena. I knew of him and his work and heard others speak of him around the children's literature water cooler. So I had to know more and educate myself about this award winning and highly talented writer. And was I ever glad that I did. At this year's LA SCBWI event I came across his first picture book A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (Dial Press, 2011). If you have not seen this book, stop what you are doing and check it out. It is amazing. I was mesmerized by the book.

Matt de la Pena
When I heard he had a story in GUYS READ: THRILLER I was very excited to see what he would bring to this anthology. Kicking off our series of author interviews from GRT, Matt was gracious enough to let us steal away some of his time to talk about his involvement with this awesome project.

What brought you to the GR:Thriller project?

Matt: I was lucky enough to be approached by Jon (Scieszka) and Jordan Brown (Editor at Walden). I'd never written a "Mystery" or "thriller" story and they thought it'd be fun to have a few writers try something outside their comfort zone. I'd read the first book, Guys Read: Funny Business, and loved it, so I jumped at the chance. I really thing Jon has an awesome and relevant thing going with the Guys Read series. I'm so happy to be a contributor!

This was your first middle grade story. How was writing MG different for you? What were the challenges (if any)?

Matt: I finally got to curse at will. Kidding, of course. I didn't do much differently, to be honest. Tried to stay away from the language. But my characters are all growing up too fast, so I don't shy away from moments of (street) sophistication. There's maybe a dash more innocence, I guess. And it was the first time I've ever written a scene at a school. That was interesting. Ninety-nine percent of my stuff takes place outside of school grounds. But it was fun to drop into a junior high and let the scene play. It helped that there's a school across the street from my apt in Brooklyn. That was my model. I'll tell you this, writing this middle grade story definitely makes me want to write a middle grade novel. It felt like a good fit. I have some ideas . . .

In your opinion what makes a Thrilling story? And can you tell us why you decide to stay with a more grounded-in-reality tale?

Matt: "Believing in Brooklyn" definitely veers more toward the mystery side of the Mystery/Thriller category. For me as a reader, the stakes are always building in a good mystery or thriller. Each bit of conflict build on what comes before. Things keep getting ramped up until the story explodes. And I've always loved love working with reality. I think reality's ugly and beautiful and magical enough. In this story, I wanted to play with reality. Maybe there's something magical happening. Maybe the main character is going to believe in magic. Or maybe he'll be forced to look at magic in a new way.

Matt's story was also featured on the Boys' Life magazine website here:

Why do you think thriller stories resonate with young readers?
Matt: Something is happening. I was a reluctant reader when I was in junior high and high school. If a book or story took a minute to warm up I was gonna probably toss it down and go play some hoop at the park. Thriller stories are all about high stakes. A good one hooks the reader early and doesn't let go.

Growing up, we all have our boogeymen. What scared you the most? Does this influence you writer, ever?

Matt: Spiders freak me out. Still do. Give me a lion or a bear or a cobra any day. But you toss a spider in my hair and I'll jump out of a building. At least you know what you're up against with a big-ass beast. It's the little things that worry me. The things that hide in corner or are too small to see. Sometimes the scariest thing in the world is your own brain. The thoughts and obsessions that can take over. I love writing about that stuff.

The Wolf Spider.... yikes!

And finally - scariest/most thrilling book you've ever read? Why?

Matt: Stephen King books get me. He's so good at making you turn the page, sort of dreading what you might find.

Agreed! He is the master of dread. One of my favorite horror books is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. That book is done so well it bothers me. Someday I'll write a book like that - for middle grade of course!

I want to give a huge thank you to Matt for his time, and a very special thank you to Kellie Celia at Walden for all her help with our THRILLER celebrations. Stay tuned for our interview with Margaret Peterson Haddix. 


  1. Great post!

    I'm awarding your blog with the Versatile Blogger Award!