Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Joshua C. Carroll, Author of The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves

middle grade, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, Texas, Joshua c carroll, adventures of sarah ann lewis, memory thieves, upper middle grade, rural scifi
Today we are interviewing Joshua C. Carroll about his upper middle grade / rural sci-fi / thriller novel, titled "The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves."

*Starting Thursday, August 8, the book will be 99¢ for several days, and then it will slowly increase until it goes back up to the normal price of $6.99 on Thursday, August 15. Get it on Amazon by clicking here.*

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Sure! I’m 38 years old, and I live in Fort Worth, Texas with my wife, daughters, foster daughters, and a Miniature Schnauzer named Ginger. Besides writing, I also love to make music (I play a handful of instruments), take pictures, and cook.

Describe the plot of your new book, “The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves,” in a few sentences.
Sarah Ann is, at its heart, a story about a girl learning to accept and be accepted by the people who love her. But while she’s learning that, she’s being stalked by spies, uncovering family secrets, falling into secret laboratories, and meeting mad scientists, intelligent animals, shapeshifters, and all kinds of other interesting characters. In the end, she learns what she’s really made of and what it means to accept her own identity.

Who do you think would most appreciate your book?
I wrote this book, first and foremost, for my oldest daughter. But I also wrote it for myself. We’re both huge fans of books like A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Hobbit. She loves the Percy Jackson series, and I love a good sci-fi with alternate dimensions. So I packed little bits of all of that in here. Anybody, young or old, who likes those books will find plenty of fun little Easter eggs in Sarah Ann. But this book has also been a bit of a hit with other foster and adoptive families. There are some strong themes in the book around truly belonging to the family that has chosen you whether you were born there or not. Being a foster dad myself, it does my heart good to see it resonating with other kids and parents in similar situations.

Tell us about your protagonist, Sarah.
Ahh, Sarah. I feel like she’s one of my daughters. Like a lot of kids her age (13), she’s curious about the world around her and hates going to school, but she also really cares about doing what’s right, even when that gets her into trouble. She’s had a hard life, and she lives with her Grandpa on some land in the country outside a small town in Texas. She sees herself as a nobody from nowhere, but—without spoiling anything—she’ll have to get over that if she’s going to save the day.

The book is set in 1988. What made you decide to set it during that period?
I grew up in the 80s, near the area where the book is set. In a lot of ways, the world was just as crazy then as it is now. We were in the tail end of the Cold War, and I remember doing bomb siren drills in school. But on the other hand, it was also simpler and slower. I wanted to share a bit of that world with new readers who can’t imagine what life was like the phone was connected to the wall by a coiled cord and most people didn’t even own a computer.
middle grade, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, Texas, Joshua c carroll, adventures of sarah ann lewis, memory thieves, upper middle grade, rural scifi
Author Joshua C. Carroll.

On a similar note, since life (specifically technology) has changed so much since 1988, did you find it difficult to capture the period in your writing?
I definitely had to fact-check a lot of things. There’s a dot matrix printer that plays a fun role early in the story, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen one that I had to look up some of the details. But mostly, it felt simpler writing a story where people aren’t constantly staring at screens and texting each other and posting things to social media.

Your book has elements from multiple genres – written for the upper middle grade audience with elements of rural sci-fi, mystery and thriller genres. Was this something you intended to do from the start? Or was it something that evolved as you wrote?
I just can’t focus on one thing at a time. It’s the story of my life. I’ve always been interested in lots of different things, and so when I set out to write this story, all these disparate elements found their way into it organically.

Without giving too much away, tell us about the Memory Thieves.
Ahh! That’s the question, isn’t it? Let’s just say that the Memory Thieves may or may not be who you think they are at the beginning.

Sarah must team up with strangers she would normally be at odds with. Can you tell us about Sarah’s relationship with these strangers? Does her perspective of them change as she gets to know them more?
Her relationship with these people, whom she learns are called The Sentinels, is complex. There’s a lot of fear and distrust up front and a sense of wonder as she learns more about them. People she thought of as stuck up or scary turn out to be good friends. There’s hurt and betrayal, loyalty and self-sacrifice. In the end, they become family to her.

Do you feel being a father affected how you wrote your book? Did you ever bounce ideas off your children?
Oh, absolutely. I’m working through the sequel right now, and just this week, I described a situation to my oldest and said, “How would you react?” Her response became a chapter.

Are there any authors who have influenced your writing style?
I hesitate to answer this question, because I know my writing style is very different from my influences—most of whom are long-dead and British. But if I had to pick modern authors whose writing I admire and aspire not so much to emulate but to learn from, the list would include Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher, Orson Scott Card, Brandon Sanderson, and Robin Hobb. Gaiman’s prose is magical. Butcher’s stories are so much fun, beginning to end. Card is a master of weaving complex, difficult themes into his stories in a way that feels both subtle and inevitable. Sanderson builds the most insane worlds and magic systems that have their own beautiful logical framework. And Robin Hobb (who also wrote some amazing books under the name Megan Lindholm) creates such wonderful, believable characters.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve written blogs and that sort of thing for a long time, but I didn’t start writing fiction until around 2013.

How do you think you've evolved as a writer since when you first started?

I’ve learned a ton, mostly by writing short fiction. I tended, at first, to focus on the plot and see my characters as objects that helped the plot advance. Since then, I’ve learned to focus in on and “play” with my characters like my kids do with their dolls until I feel like I know them. What motivates them? What do they care about? What scares them? What are they lying about? What do they need that they aren’t even aware of? And how do those things drive their behavior, their decisions, and ultimately, the plot that they generate?

What do you like about the upper middle grade genre?
Upper middle grade is a horribly underserved segment. There are lots of kids who have a hard time reading or feel that reading is a chore, and for them, there are shelves upon shelves of light-hearted, safe, easy-to-read, short little books full of fart jokes and pictures. There’s nothing wrong with that. But even at 7 years old, my daughter was blowing through those so fast we couldn’t keep up. When she was 8, we read The Lord of the Rings together, and she loved it so much that, as soon as we finished, she read through it again on her own. That—and the incredible success of the Harry Potter series—told me that, whether the industry wants to admit it or not, there are plenty of young readers who are hungry for longer, more complex books. And that’s exciting to me. There’s an opportunity to introduce these young bookworms to ideas and themes and worlds that are new and exciting to them without having to dumb-it-down. There’s a chance to treat these kids like the young adults they’re becoming. So far, they’ve responded really well to Sarah Ann, and I’m excited to keep exploring that space.

Do you have any favorite middle grade books?
My all-time favorite is The Hobbit. I remember reading that (not for the first time) in my 6th grade reading class. Our teacher, Mr. Bo, did the voices for all the characters, and they were just amazing. I’ve yet to read a modern book for that age group that comes close to capturing that level of magic, though there are some young YA books that are pretty great.

What are your goals as a writer for the next ten years?
I want to finish this series and write a bunch more, and I want to figure out how to better connect with middle grade readers and their parents. It’s a tricky market to get into, and a lot of writers give up and move on to other markets. I just see it as a fun challenge.

How have your readers responded to the book so far?
The responses have been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve truly been humbled. I’ve had several parents send me photos of their kids reading the book, and I’m planning to print them all out and put them next to my writing desk.

Is there any aspect of writing you don't like?
I don’t dislike any part of it, but yeah, some parts are harder than others. For a lot of writers, this great emotional rush happens when they’re getting the words onto the page, but they dread the revising and editing. I’m wired backward from that. Getting the story out in the first place is a ton of hard work, but I love honing it and crafting it into a story that I’m proud of.

Have you ever had writer's block? If yes, how'd you deal with it? If you have not had writer's block, why do you think you haven't?
I think writer’s block is more or less my default mode. But if I can make myself sit down at the keyboard, get into the right head-space by reading a bit of what I’ve already written, stay off of social media, and trust that the words I write will turn into something good later even if they’re awful right now, I can usually make some progress. I’m terribly slow, but I’m steady, and in the end that’s what matters.

What do you have in mind for your next project?
I’m working on the sequel to Sarah Ann right now, and I have two other novels outside this series that are already in the works. One is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi that involves quantum computing, data mining, and an alien substance that can be manipulated so that its molecular structure changes. The other is a story of a time traveler stuck in the body of the son his mother would have had if he had never been born. I’m really excited to get those out into the world.

Is there anything else you'd like potential readers to know about your book?
Well I don’t, but I’ll pass on a message from a young lady who reviewed it: “If you don’t order, you will live a very sorry, miserable, horrible life, knowing you did not order a book that is AWESOME.” I nearly died laughing when I read that review, and I don’t think I stopped smiling for a week.

“The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves” excerpt:

What Sarah doesn’t know… 
...could doom us all. 
It’s 1988 in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and 13-year-old Sarah is about to be swept out of her boring life and into a world of danger. 
Spies are coming for her. The people next door are not what they seem. And Sarah’s family has been hiding something. Something BIG. Something not even Sarah knows. 
The fate of the world hangs in the balance. But for Sarah, all that matters is rescuing her family. What’s left of it, anyway.  
If she fails, the Memory Thieves will learn their secrets, and as a result, millions around the world will die. But to save the people she loves, Sarah will have to team up with strangers she isn’t sure she can trust. Strangers who aren’t even human
This story is not what you think. 
A captivating blend of rural sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and thriller, the first book of this genre smashing series will have you begging for more.

More Information
Buy the book on Amazon.
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