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Interview: February 21, 2017

Junior high can be a weird and wacky time for any kid, but just imagine what it would be like if you went to school in space! Kelvin Klosmo is not only the new kid at his junior high --- he's the new kid in the galaxy! As the son of Earth's two most famous geniuses, Kelvin is under a lot of pressure to become the star of his school. But what if he's not quite as smart as his genius parents? In SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH by Scott Seegert and John Martin, Kelvin learns about friendship, acceptance and, of course, space! Full of laughs and out-of-this-world entertainment, this book is an instant hit. In celebration of the release of SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH, Kidsreads.com's Dana Cuadrado asked Scott and John a few questions about how they worked together to write the book, their scientific research and what's next for Kelvin Klosmo.
 

Kidsreads.com: I’ve read that SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH is dedicated to a list of science fiction writers and characters who have inspired the two of you throughout your lives. Is there anything specific that inspired this story?

Scott Seegert: Oh, not just science fiction, but cartoons, TV shows and comic books, too. And it wasn’t really anything specific. SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH is a conglomeration of dozens of inspirations from our childhoods. And when I say “our” childhoods, it’s pretty amazing how similar John and my inspirations were. Sort of uncanny, really.

John Martin: Perhaps the adventurous Robinson family in LOST IN SPACE. Also a bit of the Jetsons feel to the family.

KRC: Teamwork and friendship is a large part of SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH. As co-authors, how do you two divide the work? Does one of you do all of the illustrations and another the writing, or is it an equal split? Are both of you involved in plotting?

SS: We get together and come up with the general plot points and the overall direction the story is going to take. Then I write it and John illustrates it, but we’re in constant contact during the entire process. My office is right next to John’s studio. Literally. We even have a secret hidden door between the two rooms so we can pass top secret information back and forth without being detected. BWAHAHAHA!!! (Seriously, we do.)

KRC: One of my favorite parts of SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH were the illustrations --- I particularly loved seeing all of the alien characters visually to get a better idea of what they looked like. Which character is your favorite, visually? Or which is the most fun to draw?

JM: All of them to be honest. If I had to narrow them down, the most fun to draw would be Lightyear, Grimnee, Brian or Rand-El.

SS: For me it’s the plushy version of Erik Failenheimer. He’s just the cutest little Evil Mastermind you’re ever going to see. And John does a great job of bringing all the emotions out of him through his facial expressions and body language.

KRC: As someone who is not well-versed in science, I felt like all of the realistic science aspects in the novel were quite believable and once I thought them over, they made a lot of sense. How much science research did you do in preparation for the story?

SS: Not a whole lot, to tell you the truth. The distance of a light year or the width of our galaxy are the types of things that needed to be looked up. Other aspects are considered science fiction standards, even though they don’t really exist, like artificial gravity. You can’t have everybody floating around the school weightless all the time, so it’s artificial gravity to the rescue. Hey, if it’s good enough for "Star Trek" and Star Wars, it’s good enough for SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH. Another example would be wormholes. They only exist in theory, but you need some way to travel across the galaxy in less than trillions of years.

JM: We went back to our old childhood science fiction movie influences with a bit of real science thrown into the mix. We also started following blogs and social media sites to stay current and informed. Scott and I would test out the premises verbally on each other in case we visited schools and had a real scientist in the crowd. Also, a way to squash that party pooper uncle who always comments: “You know a light saber could never work.”

KRC: The family dynamic is really fantastic and relatable with the Dad’s bad sense of humor and the annoying little sister. Did you two draw upon your own families when creating the Klosmo family?

JM: Yes!  Scott and I both have families. Each of us is married with two sons and a daughter which gives us plenty of good stuff to borrow from. The story consists of a lot of annoying sibling taunts, bad jokes, spouse disapproval sequences and comedic family drama, only set in a SCI-FI backdrop.

SS: I would say not specifically, but you can’t help but have your own family history play a role in the interactions between the Klosmos.  Actually, my kids might disagree with that “not specifically” statement when it comes to Kelvin’s dad and his…jokes.

KRC: There is a prominent theme of not living up to people's expectations in the novel. What would you say to young writers and illustrators who fear their work isn't good enough?

SS: In terms of writing --- keep working at it. You’ll never please everybody, no matter hard hard you try. But keep working and getting better until you please yourself. That’s really all you can ask for. And it can be scary putting your writing out in the world for other people to read and judge, be that your family, friends, classmates, critique groups, publishers, reviewers or whomever. Just having the courage to share your writing with others is a big accomplishment.

Oh, and get ready for rejection, because it’s coming. But if writing or illustrating is truly your passion, try not to despair and stick with it. I was turned down by dozens of agents and was close to packing it in before landing with Dan Lazar at Writers House, who has been fantastic to work with.

JM: Nonsense. Create-doodle-write! In fact, kids know how to create great stories. I have worked with their randomness during cartoon sketch battles. I’m an adult (barely) who is drawing and creating as if I were perpetually 12-years-old. And it’s never too late to start. We both began working in children’s books in our 40’s.

KRC: As a big fan of SCI-FI JUNIOR HIGH, I would love to know if it is going to be a series? If so, what can we expect in the next book?  If not, what else are you two working on now?

SS: Yes, there will be a second book! We’re actually working on that right now. We don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say the whole school now knows that Kelvin isn’t really a genius, so he has to learn to deal with that. And Erik is back and once again plotting to rule the universe. And this time he’s bringing an army with him.

JM: Yes, there is a sequel in the works. Sci-Fi Junior High 2: CRASH LANDING. It will have the same chaos as the first SCI-FI, but with a side story that involves wacky life forms on a wild planet.

As far as other projects, if we can write and Illustrate kids books that involve robots, monsters and weirdness with common life lessons, then we’ll keep doing what we're doing.