“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Ari Goelman

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Ari Goelman is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Ari’s debut middle grade novel THE PATH OF NAMES, Arthur A. Levine, released earlier this month, on May 1, 2013! Congratulations, Ari!

Here is Ari’s biography:

Ari Goelman has published about a dozen short stories, most recently in Strange Horizons, Daily SF, and Fantasy Magazine.   He is a past winner of the Writers of the Future competition, and a graduate of the Clarion West writers workshop.  Publisher’s Weekly has described his work as “outstanding” and “lovingly constructed,” while The Harvard Crimson has described him as a master of “sci-fi, fairies, and the urban ghetto.” 

His academic work has been published in the Journal of Architecture, Planning and Research as well as Environment and Planning A, and has been covered in places as diverse as the Brookings Institute and The New York Times.  He lives in Vancouver with his family and the rain.

Here is a description of THE PATH OF NAMES:

Mysteries, mazes, and magic combine in this smart, funny summer-camp fantasy -- like THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY for kids!

Dahlia Sherman loves magic, and Math Club, and Guitar Hero. She isn't so fond of nature walks, and Hebrew campfire songs, and mean girls her own age.

All of which makes a week at Jewish summer camp pretty much the worst idea ever.

But within minutes of arriving at camp, Dahlia realizes that it might not be as bad as she'd feared. First she sees two little girls walk right through the walls of her cabin. Then come the dreams -- frighteningly detailed visions of a young man being pursued through 1930s New York City. How are the dreams and the girls related? Why is Dahlia the only one who can see any of them? And what's up with the overgrown, strangely shaped hedge maze that none of the campers are allowed to touch? Dahlia's increasingly dangerous quest for answers will lead her right to the center of the maze -- but it will take all her courage, smarts, and sleight-of-hand skills to get her back out again.

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

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

Smack Dab Middleview With THE PATH OF NAMES Author Ari Goelman

1. What does your main character, Dahlia, want?

Dahlia’s goals change through the course of The Path of Names.  At the beginning of the novel, she mostly wants to stay home, play video games and practice magic tricks.  Once she arrives at summer camp she sees two little girls walk through the walls of her cabin, and immediately becomes determined to figure out how the ‘trick’ was accomplished.  So, at first, she just wants to know how the magic works.

As the book goes on, though, she becomes more and more concerned with figuring out what happened to the girls, and more importantly, how to help them. She’s still curious, but increasingly, her curiosity is motivated by the desire to set things right.

2. What is in her way?

Ignorance.  Not just her ignorance of magic, but also her ignorance of her own need for friendships and relationships.  Plus, of course, there’s a bad guy with magic powers.  Not to mention the usual contingent of mean girls in her bunk.  And, come to think of it, her best friend isn’t exactly the most helpful guy in the world, not for most of the novel.  Neither is her brother.  Fortunately, Dahlia is not the kind of person who lets a few little obstacles - like everything and everyone - stop her.

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 knew right away that I was writing a summer camp story, involving ghosts and reincarnation and an old murder mystery that threatens to spill into the present.  The rest very much emerged as I wrote it.  Dahlia’s character – feisty and so independent she’s almost anti-social -- was totally not what I had in mind.  I think that she might have come out that way partly in opposition to the kind of girly heroines in the picture books I was reading my daughter at the time.

4. Was THE PATH OF NAMES 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 actually intended The Path of Names to be YA.  When I first wrote the novel, Dahlia was aged 13, and I actually aged her up to 15 on the advice of my writing group colleagues who (quite correctly) told me I needed an older heroine for it to be YA.   I found an agent (the fabulous Lindsay Ribar), and she submitted it to publishers based on it being a YA novel. 

Cheryl Klein (my editor at Arthur A. Levine) then convinced me THE PATH OF NAMES would work better as a middle grade book.  On the face of it, her reasoning was based on the lack of a strong romance component in THE PATH OF NAMES.  I personally believe that Cheryl also has magically acute editorial powers, and somehow picked up on the fact that Dahlia worked better as a thirteen-year-old.

The first thing I did to make it work better for middle grade readers was to restore Dahlia’s age to thirteen.  (Thank god for the find and replace function...)  Aside from that, it was mostly taking out curse words and eliminating the occasional reference to sex from the conversation of the older characters.  I think it was a really minimal transformation, because it basically was already a middle grade novel thinly disguised as a young adult novel.

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

I think there’s a ton of freedom in writing for middle grade readers – they aren’t as wedded to various genre tropes as older audiences might be.  You can mix fantasy and humor and serious themes in the same chapter and your middle grade reader won’t bat an eye.  Also, it seems to me that the focus in middle grade is much more on story – the kind of ‘what-happened-next’ element of fiction.

6. Is there one MG-related question you wish you could answer about writing, your book, or the author's life, but have never been asked? Here's your chance to Q &A yourself. What did you like to read when you were in the middle grades?

Everything!  I had a terrible time in 5th grade.  That was the year my school district switched from a junior high (starting in 7th grade) to a middle school (staring in 5th grade), and for me, at least, it was a terrible transition.  They didn’t prepare very well for the change, and the upshot was I went from this little elementary school class where everyone had known me since I was five, to this huge middle school, where I knew no one.  I already liked to read, but suddenly, books became my essential sanctuary.  And I read everything.

The MG books I remember most fondly are fantasy classics like The Silver Crown and The Sword and the Stone, but if it had pages and little words printed on it, I would read it. This led to me reading a lot of very bad books, but it also led to me reading dozens of terrific books.

I was somewhere in the middle grades when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time.  I read a bunch of those very dark MG (or were they YA?) books that were in vogue back then – The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, etc.  I read most of Richard Peck’s books (The Ghost Belonged to Me, etc.) about teenagers who see ghosts, all of which were no doubt lurking somewhere in the back of my brain when I wrote The Path of Names.  One of my hopes for The Path of Names is that it serves some of the same purpose for MG readers today, that all those books did for me back then.

Thank you for joining us for a Middleview at Smack Dab Blog, Ari. Again, congratulations on the release of THE PATH OF NAMES! We’ll look for it on bookshelves!


  1. Thanks for visiting us, Ari! And congrats on your release!


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