Happy Monday morning to you, Stacy. On Saturday the wind was howling (again) and the rain was so heavy it left standing puddles around the neighborhood (again). The wet, windy outside made the cozy warmth of inside even more comfortable and appealing. I’m not taking any chances on the weather today. While it would be great fun to talk with you as we walk our dogs, let’s settle in cushy chairs for a chat.
Your journey from having a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and working in the field for almost a decade to writing for children has been one of many years of hard work and eventual success in writing picture books and chapter books for younger readers. On May 1, 2018 your debut middle grade book is set to be released by Random House. I am curious about the switch from writing picture books and chapter books for younger readers to a middle grade novel. What prompted this?
Ha, maybe I’m finally growing up. Actually, it’s probably because my kids are growing up. I originally tried to break into publishing by writing novels intended for adults. But every night, I was reading to my young children and loving it. I was the one asking, “Can we read one more? Please.” It slowly dawned on me that I wanted to write for kids. Now my daughters are long out of diapers and borrowing my clothes, my son--the baby of the family--is learning long division, and we’re all falling in love with new books. So the stories I want to write are changing too. Though I continue to read and write picture books.
According to data at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the chance of getting struck by lightning in a single year is 1/1,083,000 and if you live to be eighty years old the chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime is 1/13,500. Your main character in The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is struck by lightning. How did you decide this would be the event to change her life? Could you explain to us why this happened when she was eight years old? Do you know someone who has been struck by lightning?
Thankfully, none of my family or friends has been struck by lightning. Me neither. (Knock on wood.) For the story, I needed a major event that was realistic and rare, and also something that the reader could imagine. We’ve all experienced thunderstorms. They occur across the globe. In the book, the main character is struck by lightning at the age of eight, which is four years before the story begins. She is changed by the zap within days and learns to live and thrive with her newfound abilities, basically for those four years. She’s homeschooled and happy, but then her grandmother sends her to middle school, and suddenly she doesn’t know anything.
This lightning strike changed Lucy Fanny Callahan. Would you tell us about the changes?
The lightning strike rewires Lucy’s brain, and she becomes a mathematical genius. The medical term is acquired savant syndrome, and it’s a real thing. I’ve read cases about normal people after a head injury having sudden genius talents like the ability to do math as accurately as a calculator, or learn any language after hearing it a few times, or playing the piano without any lessons. Not only can Lucy add, subtract, multiply, and divide any numbers as fast as she hears them, she also memorizes numbers without effort and sees math in everything. For the four years before the story begins, she’s dedicated herself to learning higher-level mathematics. But the genius of savant syndrome always comes with a tradeoff. For Lucy, it’s OCD.
I have to ask: What is your favorite element in the final art for the book’s cover?
Tough question! There’s so much to love--the torn paper, the hand lettering, the lightning bolts, and the random math equations. I made a few small changes to the math for accuracy. And the cover has my name on it! I still can’t believe I’m going to be a novelist. Cue up Frank Sinatra, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you…”
Here’s the cover folks!
I hope you don’t mind answering a few more questions. We are both fans of our furry friends, dogs. In fact your picture book, Excellent Ed, is one of my favorite dog books. I know readers will want to know if a dog plays a part in this middle grade debut novel. What can you tell us?
Aw, thanks for being an Ed fan. Yes, there is a dog in the novel. Actually, there are several dogs, but one plays a starring role. Unlike you and me, Lucy has not been around pups. It’s a new and challenging experience for her. But dogs have a way of winning over even the weariest of humans.
Do you currently have a dog as a member of your family? Breed? Age? Name?
I have three dogs. They spend their days with me in my office while the rest of the family is off at school and work. I’m lucky. Every day is bring your dog to work day for me. There’s Pepper, a German Shepherd, who is almost nine. Jack is the big mutt (over seventy pounds) and he’s about seven. Our newest addition is a small, fluffy Chihuahua mix, who is about a year old. Her name is Munchkin. When we adopted her I had hopes that she’d snuggle on my lap as I write. Nope! She’d rather hang with the big dogs.
My students always want to know if an author has children, what their names are and their ages. Would you share this with us, please?
I tell people I have those three furry kids and three non-furry kids. Cora is my oldest and she’s in tenth grade. Lily is the easy-going middle child, who is in eighth grade. And then there is Henry, a fourth grader. So three kids in three different schools with three different start and end times keep me hopping.
Thank you Stacy for chatting with me today about your middle grade novel debut, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl and for the honor of revealing the cover. I promised myself I would read it closer to the release date but I’ve already read chapter one. Readers are in for a treat. I’ll have to shelf it or I’ll finish it in a single sitting.
If you are interested in learning even more about Stacy McAnulty (I was), please feel free to visit WeGrowMedia with Dan Blank, Mile High Reading with Dylan Teut, Literary Hoots with Emily, Picture Books Help Kids Soar with Vivian Kirkfield and Cracking The Cover. Stacy’s website is here.
Here is the description for this title as seen in the Random House catalog.
Middle school is the one problem Lucy Callahan can’t solve in this middle-grade novel perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Rain Reign, and Counting by 7s.
Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!
Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?
A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.