What kind of siren call did it take to lure Chris Grabenstein away from the wacky world of writing commercials for TV and radio? The even wackier world of writing humorous middle school books with his former advertising boss James Patterson. But he’s no second fiddle. Grabenstein is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, The Island of Dr. Libris, Welcome To Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel and many other books, some of which are even geared toward adults. Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library won the Buckeye Book Award in Ohio. Grabenstein lives in New York City with his wife, J.J., two cats, and a dog named Fred. Learn a little more about Chris below and then meeting him in person at our book festival Oct. 15!
What books are you currently reading?
The Nix by Nathan Hill (my adult fix) and Full of Beans by the wonderful Jenni Holmes.
What’s it like to write books for kids, teens, and adults? It is difficult to go between different age groups?
These days, I mostly write for middle grade readers, ages 8-12. I started writing mysteries and thrillers for adults but have, more or less, surrendered to my inner sixth-grader.
When you come up with a book idea, how do you decide what age group to write it for?
I actually know that I want to write for the 8-12 crowd first and then try to come up with a story that will hold their attention. Something that hasn’t been done before.
What made you decide to have the Mr. Lemoncello books take place in a library?
I was inspired by all the librarians I met while doing school visits for my “Haunted Mystery” series of ghost stories. They were always finding books that kiddos would love to read. Their libraries were fun. I did not have a library or librarian like that when I was in middle school. So, I wrote the book as a tribute to all those who are making learning and reading fun. Because the more something is fun, the more of it gets done.
What’s your favorite board game?
Monopoly. And Risk. And Scrabble. And Life. Yes, I love a lot of ’em.
Is it hard to co-write books with another author such as James Patterson?
No, it’s fun. I have known Mr. Patterson since 1984 when he was my boss at J. Walter Thompson Advertising in New York. When we do a book together, he comes up with the idea and a very detailed outline. I execute against that outline and, more or less, deliver the first draft. He does the final draft. We touch base once a month on projects and have a lot of laughs.
Growing up, who was your favorite author? Who is it now?
In elementary school, I loved Dr. Seuss. In middle school, I discovered Mad magazine, which, according to their masthead, was written by “the usual gang of idiots.”
Do you miss writing for TV and radio?
Not really. Although it was a lot of fun. Especially radio. I loved creating “theater of the mind.” There are some things you can do on radio that you can’t do anywhere else. Like top a 5,000-foot-tall ice cream sundae with a giant cherry being put into place by a helicopter.
What do you think about Nickelodeon making a TV movie of your book? Are you involved?
I’m super excited that the Nickelodeon movie version of Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is now in production in Vancouver. I can’t wait to see what they do with it. I didn’t write the screenplay because movie adaptations are a process of elimination. My book is 300 pages long. The screenplay will be 90. Someone else will do a better job deciding what to cut out, what to make more visual, and what to keep in.
What are you looking forward to most about coming to Books by the Banks?
All that money! Books surrounded by banks! I hope some loose change or a mortgage rolls free and –
Oh. Wrong sort of banks.
The mission of Books by the Banks is to entertain and enrich the lives of people in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. The organization works throughout the year to present and promote authors, while celebrating the joy of literacy and lifelong learning through reading and writing.
The premiere event is the Books by the Banks Cincinnati Regional Book Festival held annually in downtown Cincinnati. The day-long festival, which is free and open to the public, features national, regional, and local authors and illustrators; book signings; panel discussions; and activities for the entire family to enjoy.