“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Joe Lawlor

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Joe Lawlor is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Joe’s debut middle grade novel BULLY.COM, EerdmansBooks For Young Readersreleased earlier this month, on 4/01/2013! Congratulations, Joe!

Here is Joe's biography:

Joe Lawlor works as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher.  He enjoys the challenge of working with adolescents, while secretly taking notes on his target audience.  He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and young son.

BULLY.COM description:

Jun never wanted to be a detective. He’s a shy kid, better at interfacing with PCs than people. But his world turns upside down when the principal accuses him of posting pictures on the school's website that expose the eating disorder of one of his classmates.
To prove his innocence, Jun has seven days to track down the true cyber bully. 

Jun's investigation will bring him face-to face with computer hackers, a jealous boyfriend, and more than one student who has been a victim of bullying. He discovers along the way that everyone's story is more complicated than it seems -- and that the people he meets have more in common than they think.

Here are links to Joe online: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon,

And now it’s time to hear from our guest.

Smack Dab Middleview with BULLY.COM author Joe Lawlor

1. What does your main character Jun want?

To clear his name.  He’s not a cyberbully and he’s determined to prove it to the principal.  He quickly discovers that his computer know-how isn’t the only reason he’s been accused.  He was spotted on the same library computer from which the blog was sent, and the timeframe his class was in the library matches the time the blog was posted.  Everything is against Jun, except for the fact that he’s innocent.

2. What is in Jun’s way?

Hunting a cyberbully isn’t easy.  The anonymity of the internet means anyone in school could be a suspect.  Then there’s Jun’s personality.  He’s a computer geek, better at interfacing with PCs than people.  Interviewing suspects is the last thing he wants to do.  He’ll have to overcome his natural shyness if he wants to clear his name.

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

I believe in outlining.  I meticulously laid out all my clues and followed my outline to the letter.  Along the way, however, Jun began whispering in my ear.  He had other ideas about the path he should follow.  The whispering was faint but insistent.  Ultimately, I took some detours.  It made for a great deal of extra work, but in the end I had a more character-driven story.

4. Was BULLY.COM always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

I am a sixth grade language arts teacher.  Middle-grade kids are my job.  All day, I drink in their energy, their insecurities, and their silly sense of humor.  I know their language, and their tribal customs, so when it came time to write my cyberbullying story, which may have been better suited to a high school setting, it had to be a middle-grade novel.  It’s the world I know.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

Middle grade kids are a bizarre blend of sophistication and silliness.  They’re old enough to wrap their brains around twisty plotlines and grapple with complex character emotions.  And yet, they still think it’s hilarious when a classmate rushes into homeroom with bedhead.  For an author, this is an attractive combination.  I can tackle tough topics while sprinkling the novel with moments of humor to lighten the tone.

6. Is there any downside?

As a teacher, I believe the best way to learn new words is to be exposed to them in the context of a well-written sentence.  Despite this, there are just some words that don’t belong in a middle-grade novel.  Ubiquitous, quixotic, idiosyncratic—all these words are in the penalty box until I decide to write more adult fiction.

7. A question Joe asks himself: Why write middle grade fiction?

Because growing up, I was the middle child.  Because I teach middle school.  Because at 40, I’m middle aged.  It’s hard to be stuck in the middle, but good writing is all about conflict and what better place to insert a protagonist than caught between two immovable forces.

Thank you for joining us for a Middleview today at Smack Dab Blog, Joe! Congratulations, again, on the release of BULLY.COM; we’ll look for it on bookshelves!


  1. Love all your definitions of "middle"! We never do grow out of being a "middle," do we? Thanks for stopping by, Joe!


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