An Indies Introduce Q&A With Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of Book Scavenger (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), a Summer/Fall 2015 Indies Introduce title for middle-grade readers and a top Summer 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List pick.
For 12-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol, Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online gaming sensation Book Scavenger. Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. When Emily and her new friend, James, discover an odd book that they believe is from Griswold himself, they must race against time and from clue to clue to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game — before those who attacked him come after them, too.
“With elements of travel, adventure, mystery, famous authors, codes, online games, books, and two book-loving 12-year-old friends, Book Scavenger has just the right ingredients for the perfect middle-grade novel,” said Angie Tally of The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
Bertman is a graduate of the University of California at Irvine and earned her MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. When she was 18, she interned for a magazine in Manhattan and has worked in publishing ever since.
How did the idea for Book Scavenger evolve? What was your inspiration?
Jennifer Chambliss Bertman: “Evolve” is a great word to describe writing Book Scavenger. I started the book in 2003 and continued to rewrite and revise the story until it was sold in 2013. In order to stick with the same idea for 10 years, inspiration needs to strike many times over. But what was there in the beginning, and what stayed with me throughout the process, was the desire to write a book my kid-self would have loved.
I grew up in the ’80s on a steady diet of Steven Spielberg movies, with Goonies being my all-time favorite. The best sort of story, in my opinion, was the kind where an ordinary kid gets caught up in an extraordinary adventure. Throw in the camaraderie of a group coming together to solve a problem, and I was hooked. I loved books like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Egypt Game, and The Westing Game. I also took a healthy dose of inspiration from the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a childhood favorite that my parents exposed me to. When I set out to write a bookish adventure set in San Francisco, these were the influences swirling around in my head.
Book Scavenger is riddled with literary history. How did your research for the book impact your writing process and influence the setting?
JCB: Knowing I wanted the characters to go on a literary scavenger hunt, I delved into researching San Francisco literary history. I was familiar with some of the city’s history but mainly on a surface level, and it was fascinating to learn more. There were several filters I used to focus my research: Would this be interesting/relevant for young readers? Is there something here that would work well with a physical scavenger hunt? (Many landmarks with literary significance no longer exist.) And what would my character Garrison Griswold be drawn to in designing his scavenger hunt?
As part of the excitement for the release of Book Scavenger, readers are hiding — and seeking — copies of the book in public locations all over the country. What do you hope to see grow out of this nationwide adventure?
JCB: It has blown my mind to see something from my imagination play out in real life, even if only to a lesser degree. At the most basic level, I hope readers have fun with it. Already I’ve heard from many teachers and librarians who have been inspired by the hunt and plan to incorporate similar activities into their classrooms and book groups. That’s amazing to me, and I hope it continues. Seeing an actual book-and-puzzle-loving community form and thrive, especially if it could serve as a resource for teachers and librarians, would be my ultimate fantasy outcome.
You have been involved with books and publishing for many years. What led you to writing?
JCB: My love of reading and hearing good stories led me to writing. When I was very young I liked to make books. I folded white paper in half and stapled the spine, drew illustrations with my smelly Mr. Sketch pens, and narrated stories for my mom to write down until I knew how to write them down myself. I dreamed of growing up to be an author like Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, James Howe, Lois Lowry…
In my teen years, I tried to write my own stories but I found it frustrating. I compared my writing to published books and the disparity between the two was plain to see. I felt like I had great stories in my head, but I didn't know how to get them on paper. It was easier to sink into someone else’s world than try to make up my own.
Then in college I took a creative writing class to fulfill an English requirement and the spark reignited. The teachers I had in college, and then in graduate school, helped me understand that becoming a writer is a process. You aren’t tapped on the head with the gift of excellent writing and storytelling skills. Writers are grown. It takes exposure to stories, thinking about what makes a good one, practice, and dedication.
As an author and obvious book lover, what role do you think indie bookstores play in their communities?
JCB: Indie bookstores feed the soul of their community. Of course they are a great resource for books, but they offer so much more: personalized recommendations, educational programs, literary events, and activities for all ages and interests. A computer algorithm can match you up with books similar to others you’ve read, but your neighborhood bookseller will remember the nuances of your taste.
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (Henry Holt for Young Readers, Hardcover, 9781627791151) Publication Date: June 2, 2015.
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