Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Joy McCullough!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Joy McCullough, the author of


A girl with a passion for science and a boy who dreams of writing fantasy novels must figure out how to get along now that their parents are dating in this lively, endearing novel.

Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton—almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday.

Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild.

Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?

Let’s talk to this excellent author about her awesome book!
This is Joy. Everyone say, “Hi, Joy!”

Joy McC

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Joy! Tell us about yourself!

Thanks for having me! I grew up in San Diego and now live in the Seattle area with my family. My background is theater and I wrote plays for a lot of years before turning to kid lit. My debut novel was a young adult historical called Blood Water Paint, and I’m super excited to have my first middle grade novel published now with A Field Guide to Getting Lost!

Where did the idea for A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST COME FROM come from?

I was lost in a park! My dad was visiting and we were exploring on Bainbridge Island. We weren’t seriously lost, but we couldn’t find the parking lot and my dad made a joke about being lost in the park. It immediately struck me as the spark of an idea.

Ha! Nothing like real life shenanigans to provide a story idea!

What is your favourite thing (or things if you can’t pick just one) about writing middle grade?

That hope is a given.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST?

I got to do a bunch of penguin research, because Sutton’s mom is a scientist studying penguins. Most of the research didn’t end up in the book (though some did), but it was really fun and interesting. I was sad to learn about how climate change is affecting emperor penguin migration.

I also discovered that you never quite know where a story idea might lead. When I first got the spark of Field Guide’s idea, I thought it would be a picture book. And another writer might have made that work, but I couldn’t. Then I thought it might be a chapter book. That’s what I drafted and we put on submission. My editor, Reka Simonsen, saw the potential in the story, but she thought it should be middle grade and the story grew from there!

I already knew I loved Seattle—this is my chosen home—but it was really fun to set a book here and be very specific about the neighborhoods the characters live in and the places they go. It made me love it even more.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Ooh, well Luis is a huge fan of fantasy novels, and especially portal fantasies. So I think I might send him to Narnia (during the peaceful reign of the Pevensie siblings, of course). I think I would send Sutton to the world of A Wrinkle in Time, because I think she and Meg Murray would really get along. (And also Luis recommends A Wrinkle in Time to Sutton in Field Guide.)

Was it tricky writing from the perspectives of two main characters? Any tips for writers looking to tackle multiple points of view in their novels?

Dual POV is supposed to be very tricky, and for me it has been on other projects. With this one, it came very simply and I’m afraid I can’t pinpoint why that is. (Hopefully I’ll be able to recreate it again in the future!)

Here are some things that I think are useful to keep in mind:

1) Make each character’s voice distinct enough that a reader could randomly open to a page (without obvious clues) and know from a few sentences which POV they’re in.

And 2) make sure each POV character has equally weighted stakes and desires in the story. Dual POV misses the mark for me when I’m way more invested in one character than the other.

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

Everything? I’ve finally learned never to say never. For many years of being a playwright I thought I’d never write a novel. Then I wrote a whole bunch of middle grade novels and thought I’d never write YA. Then I ended up debuting with YA, but I thought I’d never write picture books. Guess what I’m working on now?

Any hints about your next book project?

My next middle grade is called Across the Pond, and it’s coming in spring of 2021. It’s about an American girl whose family moves into a Scottish castle, and it’s inspired by the time my family spent living in Dundas Castle outside Edinburgh when I was very small. I got to go to Scotland to research, which was an absolute author dream!

So cool! That sounds like a fantastic trip!

What are you reading right now?

I’m eagerly awaiting my turn with Kit Rosewater’s The Derby Daredevils, though my son pounced as soon as it arrived, and when he finished my daughter grabbed it. In the meantime, I’m reading a gorgeous graphic novel called This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Keep writing the next thing. With the caveat that of course breaks are important and we all need to fill the well sometimes, I’ve been well-served during a very long journey to publication by always getting moving on the next project as soon as I’ve sent one out the door. My heart pours into the new thing, and it makes the rejections (or later, reviews or other disheartening publishing speed bumps) sting less because my enthusiasm has moved on.

Great words for a writer to live by!

Thank you so much for joining us, Joy!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out
It’s available now!

A Field Guide to Getting Lost


Connect with Joy on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website.

Click here to enter to win a copy of A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST!
Contest closes Wednesday, September 2nd at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

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