Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark, a new novel for kids. It's a sequel to Ethan Marcus Stands Up. She also has written The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold. She lives in the Chicago area.
Q: Did you know when you were working on your first Ethan Marcus book that you'd be writing another one?
A: I worked on the first Ethan book (Ethan Marcus Stands Up) for three years. I kept narrating the story solely in Ethan’s voice and it just wasn’t right, draft after draft.
In the eleventh draft, I switched the narration to five different alternating viewpoints and it all came together, then sold quickly to Simon & Schuster/Aladdin.
I felt there was more to the story and could envision the characters continuing their journeys. I asked my agent if we could pitch a second book. I wrote up a synopsis for a sequel, and the editor loved the idea. So the deal was made right from the outset for two books.
I'd never written a sequel before and that definitely had its challenges. I had to create new conflicts for each character, not repeating what had been done in the first book, and keep the plot moving forward.
Q: How do you think your characters have changed from one book to the next?
A: In the first book, Ethan and Erin enter their school's Invention Day competition but in the sequel, the stakes are higher. They're invited to attend a prestigious technology camp so now they're out in the larger world.
Confident Erin questions her abilities against a roomful of geniuses, and she has a few breakdowns. Ethan, like usual, sticks with his laid-back approach to life but soon learns that isn't going to cut it.
But perhaps the biggest change is that they realize in order to achieve their goals, they need to team up. And with their different personalities, that's not easy. That's a strong theme of the story -- that they learn to understand each other's differences and thrive because of them.
Q: What do you think the books say about sibling relationships?
A: Ethan and Erin are polar opposites, but they come through for each other in crucial moments. I think a lot of siblings have that deep kind of love/hate relationship. They annoy each other constantly but would stand up for the other in a heartbeat. My two older kids are like that, and I drew a lot from their relationship.
All of the characters in the book are very relatable. They go through friendship troubles, crushes, misunderstandings, awkwardness, and frustrations, but they all learn that they have a voice and can stand up for what they believe in and care about.
A: I think the multiple points of view with back-and-forth commentary will help readers understand that people see situations and experiences from their own lens, and we need to appreciate that not everyone draws the same conclusions we do.
There are also themes of perseverance and determination because the kids fail numerous times during their invention journey, but they keep trying. I also love how the characters come to realize they have more similarities than differences.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just sold my fifth middle grade novel, The Girl and the Lake. It will be published in May 2020 by Random House/Wendy Lamb Books.
The story is about a 12-year old girl who was abandoned as a baby in a small Wisconsin town. She teams up with her friends to save a contaminated, algae-filled lake, which is the town's livelihood. I'm very excited about this book. It has an element of magical realism, which is a new road for me.
A: I'm a huge observer of people and the world around me. Initial germs of ideas come from my kids, or kids I know, or things I experience in my daily life.
The spark of the idea for the Ethan Marcus books came from a comment my son said while I was helping him review for a science test. He needed to walk around our family room while I quizzed him. He told me that his “brain works better when I’m moving around.” I remember thinking, hmm…there’s a story there.
Also, I love candy. :)
--Interview with Deborah Kalb