It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Reese Eschmann, the author of
A girl with hearing loss and a boy adjusting to life in a new country connect through their love of comics and get entangled in their own fantastical adventure.
Twelve-year-old Etta Johnson has Loud Days where she can hear just fine and Quiet Days where sounds come from far away and she gets to retreat into her thoughts. Etta spends most of her time alone, working on her comic book about Invisible Girl, the superhero who takes down super villain Petra Fide and does all the things Etta thinks she can’t.
But when Louisa May Alcott, a friendly Goldendoodle from across the street, disappears, Etta and the dog’s boy, Eleazar, must find their inner heroes to save her. The catch? LMA has run onto a magical train that mysteriously arrived at the station near Etta and Eleazar’s houses. On-board, they discover each train car is its own magical world with individual riddles and challenges that must be solved before they can reach the engine room and rescue LMA.
Only, the stakes are even higher than they thought. The train’s magic is malfunctioning and spreading a purple smoke called The Fear through the streets of Chicago. Etta and Eleazar are the only ones who can save the city, save Louisa May Alcott—and save each other.
Let’s talk to this superb author about her magnificent book!
This is Reese. Everyone say, “Hi, Reese!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Reese! Tell us about yourself!
Hi! Thank you so much for having me! My name is Reese Eschmann, I’m from Chicago, and I’m a kidlit author! ETTA INVINCIBLE is my debut middle grade. It’s a contemporary fantasy about magical trains, new friendships, and choosing hope over fear. I’m also the author of HOME FOR MEOW, which is a fun-filled chapter book series about a cat cafe! Before I became an author, I worked as a school social worker. When I’m not writing, I enjoy taking naps with my lazy hound dog, gardening, and baking!
What was the inspiration behind ETTA INVINCIBLE?
When I was in grad school, I would take the elevated train in Chicago to campus. In December, Chicago has something called the “CTA Holiday Train” which is a festive, decked-out train car covered in pulsing string lights that sometimes surprises people on their daily commute. It’s such a bright contrast to the other gray trains and the equally-gray winter days, and it also struck me as strange that you could just have this zany, fun experience in the middle of the day, but then you still have to get off the train at your stop and go about your business as usual. I was inspired to write a magical train that was just as weird and magical and (seemingly) impermanent. I want readers to see the train as I do: filled with endless possibilities, a place to return to over and over again. But I also want them to know that sometimes coming back to face the real world after going on an adventure is the most magical thing we can do.
What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?
I was at work! I got an email from my agent that said, “Hey! I’m at the dentist! Can I call you when I’m done?” which is pretty hilarious. My heart started pounding immediately—I knew the only reason my agent would want to call me from the dentist chair is because she had good news! But I assumed the news was only that there was an editor who was interested in ETTA and wanted to take it to acquisitions. I never dreamed that there was already a deal on the table! I took an early lunch break and sat on the grass outside the school where I was working. I remember that it was a gorgeous, warm day—unusual for early spring in Chicago! My agent called me and told me that we had an offer from my wonderful editor, Alyson Heller, and the team at Aladdin books! The rest is history 🙂
Okay, that is one of the best offer stories yet!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on ETTA INVINCIBLE?
I discovered that Chicago has a bunch of underground train tunnels that were built over a hundred years ago. The tunnels were made for miniature trains that were supposed to carry cargo around the city. They connected to a bunch of the big department stores downtown, but they were never actually used because the mini train project lost funding before it was completed and there were issues with the building permits. A lot of people didn’t even know the tunnels existed—until they flooded the basements of a bunch of department stores in the 90s!
I also re-discovered how much I love Louisa May Alcott! The dog in ETTA INVINCIBLE is named after her. At first, I was paying homage to my childhood love of LITTLE WOMEN in the name only, but as I worked on ETTA INVINCIBLE, I started incorporating more and more of Louisa May Alcott’s wisdom into the book. I found so many similarities between the themes of her work and my own, especially when it comes to forging your own path in the world. I love Louisa May Alcotta, and I’m so happy she ended up becoming such a big part of my book!
Finally, while working on ETTA INVINCIBLE I discovered how fun it is to collaborate with an illustrator! I got to work with the amazingly talented artist Gretel Lusky to bring some of Etta’s comic panels to life! It was so cool seeing how, with just a few panel descriptions, Gretel could illustrate something more beautiful than I even imagined! She really brought the superhero character Invincible Girl to life, and her illustrations make me giddy every time I see them! I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I think Etta and Eleazar would love hanging out with Maya, Eli, and Frankie from the MAYA AND THE RISING DARK series by Rena Barron! They’re all kids from Chicago who have magical adventures and end up becoming heroes themselves, so Etta and Eleazar wouldn’t have to travel too far to end up in Maya’s world! They’d probably all go to C2E2, one of the Chicago Comic Cons, dressed as their favorite heroes. I wouldn’t be surprised if some magical shenanigans went down while they were there, and it was up to the five of them to save the Con!
We need this crossover to happen!!!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I love middle grade because you can merge so many themes and genres into one story. Middle grade aged kids have so much happening to them at once—new friendships and first crushes and wondering whether magic is real. I love the freedom in middle grade that allows me to tackle emotional coming-of-age themes and difficult situations in
the middle of a fun, whimsical adventure. In ETTA INVINCIBLE, I wanted to take a character with a more literary voice and throw her into a Roald Dahl-esque story. She fights gummy worms and mechanical dragons and emerges from her story with a heart full of hope and bravery. Middle grade stories are able to balance silliness and sadness in such an approachable, refreshing way, and I absolutely love getting to work in this space as an author!
Any hints about your next book project?
I’ve got a couple projects in the works, but one that I’m really excited about includes a journey to space! I was inspired to write it when I went on a writing retreat to Death Valley National Park on the California/Nevada border. It’s a certified Night Sky Park, which means it has some of the best stargazing in the country. After a long day of writing, we’d drive into the desert and sit on top of our car, staring at the stars. It was a really wonderful experience and I’ve been itching to write a journey into the stars ever since!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
The most surprising part of my publishing journey has been realizing how many steps there are to getting a book published! I think I underestimated how many times I’d have to read my own book—hah! After completing multiple rounds of revision with my editor, there were still copy edits, sensitivity reads, and multiple proofreading rounds to get through! I knew that publishing takes a LONG time, but I didn’t fully understand how many people are involved in getting your book ready for publication!
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading some Junie B. Jones books! They’re so funny and help me get in the right mindset for writing kidlit! I’m also excited to read THE TRYOUT by Christina Soontornvat, and I recently finished MAYA AND THE LORD OF SHADOWS, the third book in the MAYA AND THE RISING DARK series by Rena Barron. It was AMAZING and such a perfect, thrilling end to a wonderful middle grade series.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
While writing ETTA INVINCIBLE, I learned how important perseverance and community are for people pursuing a career in writing or publishing. There have been so many times during this process when I’ve been close to giving up, but both Etta is a character who perseveres when things get tough, and her story reminds me that I can keep going, too. I’m incredibly grateful to have a wonderful support system of agents and editors, friends, family, and other writers around me to encourage me and give feedback when I need it. I wouldn’t be here without them! So my kick-butt advice would be that it’s okay to lean on other people and trust them when you’re struggling. Writing (or any other job) doesn’t have to be lonely or solitary, and, as Etta says in ETTA INVINCIBLE, perfection isn’t real—you shouldn’t feel pressure to make your life or your work “perfect” before sharing your accomplishments with others.
Absolutely. A hard thing to remember sometimes, but an important one!
Thank you so much for joining us, Reese!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out ETTA INVINCIBLE!
It’s on shelves now!
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Thanks for reading!