Mike Lupica’s Newest Novel Goes The Extra Yard

The second book in Mike Lupica’s Home Town Series, The Extra Yard, is a fantastic follow up to The Only Game. The first book follows Jack Callahan as he overcomes a family tragedy and leads his Little League team to the World Series. This new book focuses on Teddy Madden, the team’s catcher from the first book, while he tries to make his dream team — the local competitive football squad!

For the first time in his life Teddy is super physically fit, has a great crew of friends, and he is excited to be starting junior high. He has gone from the kid who was constantly picked on at lunch, to the one who stands to be the first player picked for the team. The only hang up to what could be a banner year in Teddy’s life is the return of his dad, who moved away eight years ago. With the help of his friends, Teddy tries to make his football dreams come true and build a relationship with the dad he has never really known. It will be a year fraught with drama, on and off the field.

What makes the Home Team series, especially The Extra Yard, stand out from other sports middle grade novels is the rich, interesting characters and the meaningful family relationships. Not only do you get tons of football facts, games, and play calls, you also get to spend time with characters that you care about. Beyond the main characters Teddy, Jack, and Teddy’s family, you will also find yourself loving Cassie, the softball star who knows more about sports than nearly anyone (and who can probably play them better too), kind-hearted Gus, and Gregg, the owner of a surprising talent. Middle grade readers will surely see themselves in these characters, or at the very least they will find someone they want to be friends with.

For the football fanatic, Lupica does include loads of references to famous games, impossible to forget throws, and modern controversies (Deflatgate, anyone?). Though I’m a football novice, I found myself excited to learn about the art of the slant, the importance of knowing when to hold the ball and when to take a chance, and the family atmosphere that is built within a team. Given Lupica’s career at ESPN, and his many books for readers of all ages, it isn’t surprising that he knows how to craft a detailed sports novel that is also tons of fun to read. You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to love this one.

Readers can come up to the line of scrimmage expecting just a football novel, but Lupica has thrown a welcome audible and presented a fast, fun, meaningful read that everyone can enjoy. Tackle the first two books in this series, and hang on for a long run, since I am sure we will be hearing plenty more from The Home Team.

What sports novels do your middle grade readers sprint through?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 19, 2016.

Interview with David Litwack

Author David Litwack has published Along the Watchtower in June, 2013 and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky in May, 2014. The Children of Darkness, the first of the Seekers series, a dystopian trilogy, was published in June, 2015. It’s sequel, The Stuff of Stars, came out in November, 2015.

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Tell me a little about your book…
The seed of an idea is a curious thing. I went for a walk along one of my favorite places on Cape Cod. On one side was Vineyard Sound, with Martha’s Vineyard rising from the fog, and on the other a series of inlets of increasing size. The first  is called Little Pond and the next Great Pond. For some reason, I imagined young people growing up in Little Pond and envying those of Great Pond, wanting to find more from life than they had in their small village. From there, the story expanded. What if their limitation was not their small village, but a repressive authority that limited their potential to think and grow?

At the same time as I was developing this plot, the real world was changing. Increasingly, I saw on the news stories of oppression and rigid limits placed on freedom of thought: modifying school curriculum to restrict the sciences; rewriting history; destroying evidence from the past; restrictions on dress and diet; banning music and the arts; and severe punishments like stoning for daring to think differently.

Over time (several years), all these thoughts evolved in the Seekers dystopian trilogy.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

The urge to write first struck me at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. The next day, I had a column published under my byline, and I was hooked.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Of course, everything I write has some basis in my own life. But fiction is less about recording reality than stitching together bits and pieces of things you’ve experienced and combining them with your craft to make a story—one that will hopefully let the reader add their own life experiences to it and be moved in some way. I’m not one to think a writer must only write about what they know (how else do you get alternate worlds?). But you have to write about things you’ve felt.

Out of all the characters in your book, who is your favorite to write? 

I used to say that my favorite was Kailani from The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. She’s so mysterious, but at the same time wise, naïve and vulnerable. Now that I’m nearly done with the Seekers series, I think I’d say Orah. She smart and passionate in her beliefs, and a natural leader, yet she always doubts herself and questions her decisions—a trait that would be a good thing in some of our real world leaders.

Is your book part of a series, and if so, how many will there be?

The Children of Darkness is Book one of the Seekers dystopian trilogy. The second book, The Stuff of Stars, has just published.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the finale of the Seekers series, to be titled The Light of Reason. If all goes as planned, it will come out in November 2016.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing a novel may be one of the hardest things you can do, so it’s all challenging. But nothing is harder than writing the first draft. I don’t yet know the characters that well and, while I have a general sense of where the story is heading, I can take a wrong turn at any point and have to redo months of work. When I hit that point where I’m terrified the story has gone off the rails, I take a break for a few days. Almost always, it’s not as bad as I feared, and I can fix the problem with a modest bit of work.

Once I’m beyond the first draft, the rest becomes just hard work. I do lots of revisions, but I find it easier to fix the story than to write it from scratch.

There’s a reason why Hemingway once said: “Write drunk, edit sober!”

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To each and every reader, we’re partners in the story. I use my craft, and you use your imagination to flesh out your own unique version of the story. If I’ve caused you to re-experience some of the most intense moments of your life, then I’ve succeeded as an author.

To quote Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Do you plot your books completely before hand or do you let your imagination flow whilst in the writing process?

I usually conceive of a new book as a series of images and scenes, daydreaming about them while I finish work on the prior novel. I maintain a notes file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a  very rough draft, what some people call “scaffolding” or “riff writing” like improvisation in jazz. The file can get pretty chaotic. Every now and then I make a feeble attempt to organize it (when I’m finishing up a novel, I try to avoid distractions and stay focused on getting it out to the publisher). By the time I’m ready to start the new novel, I usually have about 20,000 words of loosely connected prose—20-25% of the eventual novel but probably 80% of its essence. I take a couple of months to read, edit and organize that file into a dense plot outline. Then I start a new file from scratch, cutting and pasting prose as appropriate.

It’s a messy process in the early going, but unlike those who start with a more organized outline, I need that amount of writing to get to know the characters and live in the story.

How long did it take to get from the ideas stage of the Seekers series, to the publication of all three books?

The Seeker series started out as a standalone novel called There Comes a Prophet. The initial idea came to me about eight years ago, and it was published in 2011. After producing two other novels, I decided at the urging of readers to go back and turn this standalone dystopian story into a trilogy. Prophet became The Children of Darkness(with a changed title, cover and publisher) and I’ve just published the second book, The Stuff of Stars. I’m hard at work on the third and final offering, to be called The Light of Reason.

Did you suffer from writer’s block at any stage? How did you overcome it?

I sometimes think writer’s block is just another way of saying that writing a novel is really hard. I try to keep writing, even if I think it’s going poorly. Then I see how it looks the next day. I remind myself that I can always revise or just throw it away. Nothing’s worse than staring at a blank page.

Long walks are another good way to get the creative juices going. Whatever the case, I try to avoid just sitting there and staring at the screen. Write, read or go for a walk.

How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?

Names matter, especially for a SciFi/Fantasy writer building new worlds. The names need to be consistent and reflect that culture. For the Seekers trilogy, where the people have been forcibly returned to something like our 15th century, I found the passenger manifest for the Mayflower, and borrowed names, mixing up first and last names to get ones like Nathaniel Rush or Thomas Bradford. All except for Orah. I wanted her to be different, a rebellious throwback to an earlier time. So rather than picking from the Anglo-Saxon, I chose a name with Hebrew roots. As an added subtlety, the name Orah means light.

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