Getting to Know: Gareth Wronski

When I was signed by my awesome editor at Aladdin, Amy Cloud, one of the first things I did was look up what other books she was working on, to learn her style and to see what kind of company I was in. I’ve since had the pleasure of reading many fun and amazing books of hers as they released, such as The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone, The Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry, Jennifer Weiner’s first book for kids, The Littlest Bigfoot, and I Am Fartacus (you read that right!) by Mark Maciejewski. But I admit to being most intrigued by a title called Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy, which was in my genre (humorous sci-fi) and pitched as a cross between The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not too shabby!

Luckily, I got to read an advance copy of Holly Farb and get to know the author, Gareth Wronski, through a writer’s group we both joined. Holly Farb sets a high bar, not only for our genre but for middle grade books in general. Get this for your kids! And if you want to learn more, as I did, here’s a Q & A between me and Holly’s creator:

Q: I like to ask sci-fi authors: if given a chance, would you like to go into space yourself?

A: I’ve honestly never given it much thought, since I was so thoroughly unexceptional in school that it didn’t really seem like something possible, but… yes, I guess I would if given the chance. I could see myself doing quite well as the lone person aboard some space station, shuffling around my potato garden, mumbling to myself.

Q: I’m sure most readers can pick out some of such influences for Holly Farb as Star Wars and the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Can you name some less obvious examples?

A: The Wizard of Oz. I always thought of the book as basically like if Dorothy’s tornado was actually space pirates, and instead of whisking her away to Oz she ended up in space. And then the various supporting characters are like the Tinman, Scarecrow, etc. There was even a yellow brick road and Emerald City thing I was trying to do at one point but I think I gave up and just settled for there being a gold floor during one chapter. That level of effort is why I will never go to space.

Q: What sparked the creation of your story?

A: I was feeling pretty down and wanted to write something fun that would cheer me up.

Q: What, if any, story details change most drastically from first draft to last?

A: The biggest thing was that it was much shorter. The first draft was about 20k words versus the final one of around 60k. I think the most significant element not in the first draft was the President character.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing about the debut publishing process?

A: Probably how slow it is. [nervous laugh]

Q: Do you write full time or also have a “day job”?

A: I’m trying to do the writer thing full time.

Q: What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?

A: For kids who like to write, I would say to figure out what it is you enjoy writing and then not let people dissuade you from doing it. Your sensibilities as a person are the most interesting part about you as a writer, so you want to keep them safe. And above all, just try to have fun. Starting to write at a young age is great because you have so much time ahead of you to experiment and see what suits you and what doesn’t.

For adults who want to write for kids, I would say the important thing is to not think you’re better or smarter or wiser than your audience.

Q: Of your cast of colorful characters, do you have a personal favorite?

A: It usually changed whenever I read it, but right now I would say Holly.

Q: What’s one interesting tidbit about yourself or your book that you haven’t admitted online or publicly yet to anyone?

A: Other than the fact that it’s a 100% accurate true story? Something I’ve never said is that it was previously called A Very Galactic Story, a title pretty much entirely inspired by a Harry Potter YouTube musical.

Thanks, Gareth. Holly Farb rocks!

Gareth Wronski was born and raised in Toronto. After watching Star Wars as a child on his grandparents’ VCR, he decided he wanted to tell science fiction and fantasy stories of his own. He currently resides in an old house by the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario, where he lives in constant terror of roaming swans. You can find out more about him at or say hi on Twitter @garethwronski.

Spider Man

My bio in my new website mentions this fact: I never smoosh spiders. It may seem like a small and strange thing to mention, though it’s not only part of my dedication to try to do no harm, but it also seems to be an ongoing theme in my fiction.

One of my early middle grade novels, SECRETS OF THE FIRE SEASON, centers on a boy whose pet tarantula gets left behind as his house is evacuated due to approaching wild fires. For various reasons, he goes back to try to save it. Even if you’ll never get to read that one (nearly acquired once, but no cigar), in the first BEEP AND BOB book, Bob’s best friend Lani has a trio of big, pet spiders. And though Bob hates spiders almost as much as he hates space, near the end Bob is put in the position of either letting one of the spiders float helplessly into a black hole, or risking his life by trying to save it.

I won’t tell you how it ends. If a dog in a kid’s book is at risk, you’d know that its chances of survival wouldn’t be high. But a spider? They never die in kidlit, right? Um….

On Giving Up

When the generous and talented author Tara Lazar recently posted the cover of BEEP AND BOB book one for the first time online (, she asked me to write something about my writing process. Though I was tempted to be flip and funny, I decided rather to talk about a painful but true step in the creation of my upcoming chapter book series: giving up. Here’s what I said:

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the very first peek (one year before publication) at the cover for book one of my upcoming chapter book series, BEEP AND BOB (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), which I write and illustrate.

Though BEEP AND BOB is my debut series, it is far from the first kidlit book I was supposed to publish. That honor goes to a picture book I wrote years ago. I assembled an illustrated dummy, submitted to the finest publishers (in an envelope with stamps!) and waited for greatness. Of course, for that and a second book, only rejection followed.

Luckily, around that time I found the organization SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). While networking at SCBWI conferences, I found a great community of dedicated and generous creators, always there with support. I also found an agent, who picked up my first middle-grade novel. She began to submit and got some genuine interest from well known editors. Once again, I waited for greatness. But once again, even after a couple more mg novels and some almost-sales, came our friend rejection.

Of course, this story is heading for that age-old chestnut that the key to any success is PERSEVERANCE. Try and try again, and then try some more. It’s all about dedication and endurance. However, I also discovered one new gem that, for me at least, became a crucial part of the puzzle: GIVING UP.

Obviously I didn’t give up writing or I wouldn’t be here, but at some point after being endlessly battered by the waves, I gave up in the sense of letting go – letting go of being attached to the goal of publication. I stopped struggling so much and gave myself permission to just spit out whatever wanted to come out, no matter how silly or wild. In a short time, I had a draft of BEEP AND BOB, which is about a boy who is reluctantly sent to school in space, and his lost alien buddy. I let it burst with humor and heart, which for me are the two most important ingredients of my work.

But it didn’t take much stepping back to realize that trying to sell a zany, debut, sci-fi chapter-book series about unknown characters was going to be a quixotic challenge. Rare was the agent who even said they represented chapter books (I had since left my first agent). So back to perseverance, and that horrible chore of submission that all writers know.

Luckily, this time things turned out different: I was soon signed by the awesome Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary, and within a month of submitting she sold it in a four-book-deal to Aladdin. Please don’t tell Natalie, or my editor Amy Cloud, that BEEP AND BOB was really just an exercise in embracing failure.

Besides Natalie and Amy, I’d like to thank Nina Simoneaux, who designed this cool cover (I provided the color character spots). Hope you enjoy! And never give up giving up.

Batman v Superman v…Tweedledee?

I sometimes feel bad the kids of today don’t have all the cool things I had as a kid: Superman. Batman. Star Wars. Oh, wait…

Speaking of superheroes, I recently went on an archeological dig in my mom’s apartment in Brooklyn, and unearthed (brace yourself comic collectors!) a rare, original, unpublished Batman layout!

batman cartoon

I didn’t say it was Frank Miller! Yes, it was I, “Jonathan Michael Roth”, who did both the writing and the “pichers”. Probably around 1st grade. Thousands of drawings later, here’s one I salvaged from early high school (I keep telling you, kids: practice, practice, practice!):

batman drawing

But when it comes to ancient treasures, my favorite find is what I can safely say was my earliest (around 5th grade) attempt at a novel. Did the Caped Crusader figure prominently in this tale? You bet. And like a post-modern mash-up, the Man of Steel was also a main character. But the mashing goes deeper! My story’s villain, Mr. Mxyzptlk (which I actually somehow spelt correctly, unlike ‘Metropalis’ and ‘Gothem’), in some kind of bizarre rage sends our heroes to the dark, fantastical setting of what was certainly the hippest and coolest book to any young boy reader at the time: Alice in Wonderland.

Okay, well it was the coolest book to me. So what amazing things happen to SUPERHEROES IN WONDERLAND?! Well, like with Alice, mostly talking, I’m afraid. Superman and Batman meet Tweedledum and Tweedldee. And the Cheshire Cat. And the Mad Hatter. And then the plot kind of spirals out of control and putters out after page 50 (plots are always my greatest struggle).

The amazing thing is that it’s printed in neat small printing on lined paper (Mead notebook, of course) in pencil. I was obviously way more disciplined back then. In fact, I just did a rough word count, and it clocks in at more than 10,000, which is around my current word count for each book of my chapter book series Beep and Bob.

Of course, that’s before adding the “pichers”. So write on, kids! And save all your old papers, because they just might amaze and embarrass you someday…

superfriends pg 1  superfriends pg 2

Snow. Snow. BOOK DEAL!! Snow.

Winter 2016 so far: a historic blizzard followed by lots of shoveling out cars (if you could even find yours) plus one day off school, no make that two, no three, no four, count em’ five! Then I got a book deal and now it’s snowing again, which is nice because it’s a federal holiday so we won’t have to make it up during June and…

Wait, did I just say book deal? Book deal?

Maybe my brain is still half-frozen, because I seem to being seeing a listing in Publisher’s Marketplace announcing that Jonathan Roth’s illustrated chapter book series, BEEP AND BOB’S HORRIBLE ADVENTURES IN SPACE, has been placed at Aladdin Books, in a four-book deal, by the awesome agent Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency.

In other words: time to run down the street yelling “WOO-HOO!” (Actually, the road is slushy and slick where they plowed, and more snow is falling, so maybe I’ll just emote out the front door, mindful of not startling neighbor Stu too much).

Still: WOO-HOO!!!

In Uri Shulevitz’s wonderful picture book Snow, a cold, gray city transforms into a bright, beautiful landscape of white. And it all starts with a single snowflake.

Writing is like snowing. First one word. Then a second. Then a third. Then they melt. But then the words start snowing again, and after years of piling and drifting and shoveling them aside, a few look like they’re finally going to stick, little black letters on a beautiful landscape of white called a book.

To be continued…!