the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Lisa Doan and THE BERENSON SCHEMES #01 - JACK THE CASTAWAY

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Apr 01, 2014 @ 08:04 AM

We love middle grade, especially when it's by writers as smart and funny as Lisa Doan! That's why we're super excited for Lisa's new series from Lerner Publishing Group, which kicks off TODAY with The Berenson Schemes #01 - Jack the Castaway.

cover Castaway JPGJack's parents have been chased out of Tokyo, gone broke in Greece, and hosted Nairobi's least successful safari. Next they're taking Jack to the Caribbean, whether Jack wants to go or not. The Berensons have devised their latest get-rich-quick scheme - a new sport called 'drift-snorkeling.' With these experienced world travelers at the helm, what could go wrong? 

Jack's used to staying indoors and not taking chances. When his parents take him out on the water, he ends up shipwrecked. Now Jack has to survive on a tropical island...and avoid a whale shark that's cruising along his beach.

Lisa was kind enough to stop by for a chat. Welcome! 

Who was your favorite character to write and why? 

I have a natural affinity for Jack’s parents – Richard and Claire Berenson. They are backpackers at heart, and so am I. They are not naturals at parenting, and if* I had children, I wouldn’t have been either. One of the things I like the most about them is that they never acquired the adult habit of being afraid to look stupid. They dive into each new scheme with every confidence in the world that it will be a roaring success – despite vast evidence to the contrary.

*on the off chance that I did have children and have left them somewhere and you are one of them – call me! I’ll come pick you up!

mangrove bight houseWhat was the spark that ignited this book?  

I lived in the Caribbean for eight years and spent a couple of years traveling around Africa and Asia. You meet a lot of very interesting expatriates along the way. I knew I would set a book in a foreign location at some point; I was just waiting for the right story. Then I heard about ‘helicopter parents,’ which I thought was fascinating in a ‘I’m-so-happy-that-didn’t-happen-to-me’ kind of way. I just couldn’t resist writing the anti-helicopter parents. Then, of course, they could have lost Jack in the mall. But it seemed like it would be more fun if they lost him in a foreign country while in pursuit of a doomed get-rich-quick scheme.

Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I write in a house, so the soundtrack is slamming door, barking dog, ringing phone, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, UPS guy banging on the door, so more barking dog. Sometimes, when all that fails to inspire me, I put on headphones and listen to Binaural Beats – it’s just a tone that goes on and on, blocking out the rest of your life.

img001 1 2What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

I can’t say what is the strangest thing I asked Google for, but the strangest thing Google ever gave me was a YouTube video called Honey Badger Don’t Care. I was working on the second Berenson Scheme book, Jack and the Wild Life, in which a honey badger makes an appearance, and ran into this gem. If you have not seen this, you have not lived a full life. (Warning: naughty language!)

What is your favorite VCFA memory? 

Waiting to find out which advisor I would get for the next semester. I approached filling out the advisor preference list as I would a high stakes card game in Vegas – ear to the ground, taking note of how many people put down which faculty member and using popular choices as red herrings on my list. It was gratifying to see the assignments and know that all my calculations paid off! (PS – the majority of my classmates were mature individuals who approached this process as adults who were at a master’s residency, not a high stakes card game in Vegas.)

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus? 

Anything! I really knew nothing at all. I had written a book while I was living in the Caribbean, (a rambling 300 page tome featuring French-speaking rats). Then I returned to the states, but the book didn’t sell. (I can’t imagine why!). Then a second book didn’t sell, so I asked my agent if he thought going back to school was worthwhile. He said, “Well, if you go – go to Vermont.” When I arrived in January, I slogged through the snow in leaky Timberlake boots from the Goodwill and had never heard of the term “workshop.” (I had a vague idea we were going to sit around and congratulate each other on our work while sipping coffee.) Once, I remember sitting in Noble Hall, listening to a lecturer and thinking, “She’s so famous I had assumed she was dead.” It was all new to me.

We can't think of a better or creepier compliment!

Thanks so much for popping by, Lisa! Welcome, Jack!

Lisa says: I am a middle grade writer, Dickens lover (Mr. Micawber, anybody?), ex-Scuba diving instructor and ex-restaurant owner who would rather own a Tardis than a Mercedes.

Visit Lisa's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Topics: Lisa Doan, 2014 release, Lerner Publishing Group, middle grade

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