I’ve featured Beth McMullen’s Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series as well as her Lola Benko, Treasure Hunter series. When I heard the premise of SECRET OF THE STORM, I couldn’t wait to spread word. It comes out on March 1, 2022:
Twelve-year-old Cassie King’s father always told her the universe was on her side. All she had to do was work hard and things would go her way. But then Cassie’s father died, her mom retreated into herself, and her best friend traded her in for the popular crowd at school. The only thing Cassie still has is the volunteer work she does at the local library, a place where she can leave her troubles behind. Unfortunately, classmate and school outcast Joe Robinson is always there doing the same thing.
One day, while Cassie and Joe are leaving the library, a bizarre storm hits, trapping them in a narrow alley. In the storm’s aftermath, Cassie discovers a bedraggled little kitten abandoned in a smelly dumpster. Cassie feels an immediate connection to the kitten and takes him home.
But the kitten—who Cassie names Albert—is a little odd, with impossible strength and agility for a creature his size. At one point, Cassie swears she sees plumes of smoke rising from his water bowl, and one afternoon, while Albert is alone in her room, a strange symbol appears on the closet door. With new friend Joe’s help, Cassie figures out the symbol is a map. But a map to what?
The friends soon discover that Albert is much more than he appears and is in grave danger. He needs Cassie’s help in ways she never could have imagined. Keeping him safe is the first thing Cassie has believed in for a long time. But is she strong enough to face down a sinister enemy moving ever closer and protect everything she loves?
In our last interview, you said, “I’ve only very recently figured out that ‘success’ is fluid and does not travel in a linear trajectory.” How did you come to this realization, and in what ways, if any, has it helped you?
I just finished writing my tenth book for a traditional publisher. Some days, I think this constitutes a successful writing career so far. Other days, the fact that none of my books have taken off in a bestseller kind of way makes the whole thing feel pointless and like a failure. What I’ve learned, slowly and sometimes painfully, is that the negative thinking doesn’t help. It’s like throwing roadblocks up in front of myself. So now, instead of feeling crushed by defeat, I think about small steps I can take in the direction I want to go. Microgoals, so to speak. Forward momentum, even a little, helps beat back these feelings of failure.
What a great strategy! And I love the premise of SECRET OF THE STORM. A kitten? Magic? Sign me up please! Without giving away spoilers, which part of the book was the most fun to write and why?
I am a total cat person! Yes. No denying it. So getting to write about a cat with all his cat behavior and mannerisms and quirks and ridiculousness was really fun. In the Lola Benko series, there is a parakeet who is my favorite character. Writing that parakeet made me think I might be able to do justice to a cat. I hope my fellow cat people out there agree!
I am also a cat person, and I definitely agree! This book also contains a lot of humor. What do you find most difficult about writing humorous stories, and what do you find most rewarding?
If, when I’m revising, I can make myself laugh, I know I am in the ballpark. I am a huge fan of humor. If you can get a reader to laugh, you can draw them into stories that might have other, more serious aspects to them. It feels like a sort of contract between author and reader. Most of the humor I write is from the POV of the character. The world around her is a little bit ridiculous, a little absurd even, and she’s commenting on that. The hard part is making sure what is funny fits the character it is coming from. I have to keep myself and what I think is bananas out of it.
Fitting the character is definitely key. Lastly, what stories would you like to see more of and why?
There were these books that Scholastic sold in the early 1980s at their school book fairs that were paranormal ‘true’ stories – first hand accounts of haunted houses or ghost encounters and so on. They were totally ridiculous and badly written but I could not get enough of them. I have tried to find them in the ensuing years, but they seem to have mysteriously disappeared.
I’m not sure the world needs books like these but they sure were fun.
For Beth McMullen’s other books, go to https://www.bethmcmullenbooks.com/books