Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Interview with Ted Neill, author of the new Mystery Force Series

Welcome to Smack Dab! Give us the elevator pitch for Mystery Force.

Mystery Force is about three kids who love mysteries (actually they hate mysteries, but they love solving them). They go on adventures where they take on evil doers and monsters while shattering the misconceptions and expectations of people who make the mistake of underestimating them.

Tell us a bit about the inspiration—your site indicates a friend of yours is a big part of why this book exists!

My friend Macy who uses a wheelchair and has an animal companion invited me out for ice cream a while back and said there needed to be more illustrated books featuring kids with disabilities as protagonists, so kids living with disabilities could see themselves as heroic.

What was is like to work with an illustrator?

I don’t know if my experience is representative, because I was so lucky to work with Suzi Spooner, one of the most amazing illustrators—maybe THE most amazing EVER, (I might be biased). It’s been amazing to see the characters brought to life along with her own interpretation, which always surprises me in the most pleasant way. I was lucky because I quickly felt I could trust her instincts, intuition, and imagination.

What was the writing process like? I’m always interested in how authors balance writing a book with writing a series.

This took me way back to writing for television—which I had not done since some of my college writing classes. Each book felt like it’s own episode, which I had to consider how it fit into the arc of the series, which in turn felt like a whole season that I had to conceptualize. The text was also very dialogue driven and had minimal exposition, as I knew I would be able to rely on Suzi to draw. So that felt like writing for T.V. as well.

What was the most surprising part of publishing?

The learning curve on this project has been how to represent and integrate the kids’ disabilities in a way that would feel “right” to kids living with disabilities. In earlier drafts I found myself trying to explain the kids’ disabilities, but my beta readers, like Macy, told me this was unnecessary and felt like I was falling into the trap of defining the kids by their disabilities. We didn’t want to do that.

The hardest?

For me the hardest is never the writing, it’s the marketing, in other words, how to we cut through all the noise and help readers discover these books.

Early on in the book, you say, “Kids in wheelchairs like sports too.” I love the simplicity and straightforwardness of this. I also love that you incorporate magical creatures. It seems (in part, at least) a way to show how we’re all the same—kids in wheelchairs like sports AND can have wild adventures. Is that why you incorporated these creatures?

The choice if these particular creatures such as karkadans, feather serpents, kitsunes, etc. . . . was for two reasons. One: I wanted to draw on mythologies outside western European (white) culture, in an effort to represent the wide variety of cultural traditions in this world. Two: as the series progresses, we wanted these lesser-known creatures to have to face discrimination from the more well-known mythological creatures, e.g. dragons, unicorns, which would be already well established in society. This way we hoped that the kids themselves could coach their companions on how to deal with stigma and discrimination. Instead of making the kids victims, we’d give them agency to help their friends overcome adversity.

What’s the young reader response been so far?

Young readers always surprise me with the things they like the most, and I love that. One reader told me she loved how wolpertinger venom makes its victims laugh uncontrollably for hours. Another, who uses a wheelchair, said she was so happy the first chapter wasn’t all about how sad and lonely Rasheed, the character who uses a wheel chair, is. Parents of kids with disabilities appreciate that these characters don’t have to “overcome” their disabilities.  

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to young writers or authors trying to get that first book down?

I never struggled trying to “get that first book down.” I always loved writing. My challenge was I wanted it perfect the first time. The best advice I got from a writing professor was: let it be messy. That freed me to make messy first drafts and has been some of the best advice I ever received.

Can you give us some sneak peeks or insight as to where the series will go next?

For sure. The next book will be introducing a peryton thief. If readers don’t know what a peryton is, well I’d urge them to look it out. There will be 12 books in this series in all . . . but I’m already planning a spin off. So Rasheed, Jonathan, Jojo, and their friends have many adventures to come.

Where can readers find you—even get involved in GoFundMe, etc.?

My website: https://tedneillauthor.com/

Mystery Force page: https://tedneillauthor.com/mystery-force-series

Mystery Force GoFundMe: https://gf.me/u/ywrhdw

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/therealauthortedneill

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