Friday, February 26, 2021

Guy Friday-- Jason Henderson Celebrates Guys Read Pink Month

If you're a middle grade librarian and don't know about the following author, start making a list of books you need to order for your students right away! Jason Henderson writes the very exciting Alex Van Helsing series (Vampire Rising, Voice of the Undead, and Triumph of Death), The Young Captain Nemo trilogy, (Young Captain Nemo and Quest for the Nautilus, with the third book, The Serpent's Nest, coming out 9 March!), as well as the adult titles The Book Man  and California Tiki: A History of Polynesian Idols, Pineapple Cocktails and Coconut Palm Trees with Adam Foshko. 

He was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for our Boys Read Pink celebration. It's always fun to hear what authors have to say about books. Enjoy!

Give us your age in terms of what movies or television series were popular when you were 12. What kind of middle school student were you? Do you think you would have had different interests if you had been a girl? 

o   This is such a fun question! When I was 12 years old the most popular stuff was certainly Star Wars which just then had wrapped up for the time being with episode 6. At this time, the Star Trek movies were incredibly popular as well, plus if I think of that summer, I believe there were even two competing James Bond movies. So it was a really great time for what we would now call genre-- action and comic-book-related stuff and all of that.

o   The truth is I don't think there would have been very much difference as far as any media that I was consuming if I were a girl, because those things that I just listed were incredibly popular across the culture, maybe with Star Trek coming in 3rd. But what was invisible to me was the literary culture that was enjoyed by women and girls and that was more or less ignored by young men. Men and boys didn't generally read things like Judy Blume or the suspense novels of Lois Duncan but I have to tell you that we probably should have. I'm not even getting into the true classics, where women tended to—at least once—read books like Little Women or Pride and Prejudice, and men did not—I didn't read those books until I was well into adulthood.

o   I probably haven’t changed a lot since middle school. I was a little serious and I was already interested in writing. I was editor of my school newspaper. I was fairly lonely but being lonely isn’t the end of the world. My best friend then is still my friend and I talk to him nearly every day, since we work together.

What type of books did you like to read? Can you remember any books with female main characters that you enjoyed? 

o   A loved Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, and how we get to see her take a leadership role in her family, and we also get to see her grow up in those books.

o   Going off the top of my head the first thing that pops to mind is Psycho II by Robert Bloch and Cujo, both of which were new novels and indicate the kind of thing that I was reading at the time. I also really loved short story collections, many of which were at this point almost twenty years old, like especially the Alfred Hitchcock collections and the much newer Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Actually, short stories made up most of my reading, because I remember I also really loved to read Twilight Zone Magazine, which featured new horror fiction every month.

o   I remember even then Stephen King freely employed female main characters, and a little later, writers like Dean Koontz would write their suspense novels and often employ female or male main characters. But spy novels and action novels remained heavily male-centered.


 What reasons for reading a book with a girl as the main character would you give to a middle school boy who doesn’t think he should read one?

o   There are so many reasons but now I think the main one is that all that really matters is the story, and how the character relates to the story. For instance in The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling's gender is relevant to the story because she is trying to Excel inside of an educational system that has traditionally promoted mainly men. So it's an interesting conflict to see her navigate.

o   But I was always surrounded by strong and competent women, so to me I'm mainly interested in whether the story appeals to me and you get the protagonist that you get.


 In Young Captain Nemo books, Misty holds her own with Peter and Gabriel. Were there reasons you chose to include a girl instead of having a trio of boys? Do you find writing female characters at all difficult? (And remind me of any female characters in Alex van Helsing. It’s been about ten years since I’ve read those!)

o   The gender dynamic in the Young Captain Nemo books is almost identical to the gender dynamic in the Alex Van Helsing books, which is that you have this super competent female member of the trio who also is frankly a little bit more emotionally evolved than they are. But I actually write them simply the way that I would write myself if I had their background and interests. I don’t write Misty as a girl—she’s just a genius and she happens to be a girl. And unlike in the world of The Silence of the Lambs, Misty doesn't have to deal with an organization that is traditionally aligned against her because of gender. So far it has not come into play.

o   The truth is I like books where smart people solve problems under pressure. And I don't care about the genders of the characters so much as I want to be intrigued by how they solve those problems.


 Are there any books with girls as the main character that you would recommend to my students?

o   My reading is all over the place. I think Jennifer Ziegler’s Brewster Triplets books are hilarious. Way on the other side of the spectrum, in the adult realm,  Intensity by Dean Koontz is un-put-down-able. And I think a middle-grader could read it. It’s amazing. And you can’t go wrong with The Silence of the Lambs. Coraline by Neil Gaiman has a female lead, of course, and is so, so brilliant.

o   Also, from my own, I have two I can think of—Ronnie Van Helsing is the lead of my graphic novel Sword of Dracula, and I have a female lead Frannie Cohn in my surfing-horror book Night of the Book Man (Written under the name Peyton Douglas), which is very close to YA.

           o   There are so many books!

Many thanks to Mr. Henderson for his great answers, and check here on March 8 for a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday review of The Serpent's Nest!

1 comment:

  1. Great interview questions! The answers were unpredictable. Just finished CITY SPIES and loved the strong female characters. The guys may be more prominent in the sequel coming soon. Beth Schmelzer