Author Talk: Mac Barnett

Mac Barnett, picture book and middle grade author, talks about his new middle grade mystery, The Brixton Brothers: the Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity. The Brixton Brothers is a funny mystery starring Steve, who’s obsessed with the Hardy Boys-like Baily Brothers book series. So when a true mystery crops up in Steve’s life, he knows all the tricks to solving the crime from his books. Right? Well, things always work out in the Bailey Brothers. How they work our for Steve is much funnier.

Mac’s stats:

Capture

And look! He shared a haiku:

It’s the first haiku I ever wrote, in third grade:

The wind is so strong
Although we cannot see it
It can knock down trees

What Mac has to say:

So, what were you like as a kid? Did you like school?

I pretty much loved school, with the exception of the nines times tables and President’s Fitness Award season.

What’s the grossest or most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a kid?

I was stung by a dead bee.

What’s one thing you’d love to learn to do?

I want to speak French.

What’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?

Valetta, the capital city of the island nation of Malta, is basically a huge, high-walled fortress that rich knights built to protect themselves from pirates. 

155

How did you get the idea for the Brixton Brothers? Billy Twitters? Guess Again?

When I was a kid, I fancied myself a brilliant amateur sleuth. I had mastered the art of detection as practiced by the Hardy Boys, and I waited around for a case to solve. But nobody ever hired me, so I mostly just snuck around my own house. So The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity revisits an old obsession. It tells the story of a kid who gets a big case and investigates it using the tricks of teen sleuths. The tricks don’t work very well.

Billy Twitters and the Blue Whale Problem and Guess Again! are both books that revisit shopworn children’s genres and dynamite some of their conventions.

3954183209_a90ab7ed36So, a brilliant sleuth. What was the most mysterious thing that happened to you?

I grew up next to a haunted house. At night, I would hear music and slamming doors even though nobody was living there at the time. And this was a real haunted house–not one of those Hardy Boys “haunted houses” where a ghoulish light turns out to be a smuggler’s signal.

How long does it take you to write a book?

That depends on the book. I do a lot of drafting and revision in my head, so I’m usually thinking about or writing a book six or twelve months before I have something to show somebody.

Where do you like to write? What time of day?

I write at my kitchen table, usually very late at night. During the day, I think I’m going to work, but I end up watching a Real World/Road Rules Challenge marathon or something. By midnight, I’m feeling focussed, and I sit and type until I fall asleep.

Say you couldn’t write. If you weren’t an author/illustrator, what would you be? Why?

Either a kindergarten teacher or a medievalist.

So for kids out there who loved the Brixton Brothers, what else could they read while they wait for the next book?

If you liked The Brixton Brothers and haven’t read any Hardy Boys books, check them out. And Ellen Raskin wrote some great, funny mysteries. The Westing Game is her most famous book, but I also love The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel).

And finally, what can we expect from you next?

Well, next year there’ll be another Brixton Brothers adventure, The Ghost Writer Mystery, plus a picture book about a giant robot and another one about mustaches, and also a very secret book that I’m not allowed to talk about right now.

More about Mac and the Brixton Brothers: