Roger Mantis by Tom Alan Brosz Blog Tour and Giveaway :)

Roger Mantis by Tom Alan Brosz
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Publisher: Tantrum Books

Baseball is Roger McGillicutty’s whole life. That is until he wakes one Saturday to find he is no longer a normal eleven-year-old boy. He's a five-foot-tall praying mantis.

Roger has school on Monday, the carnival comes to town next week, and his baseball team is poised to play their biggest rival in one week. Being a giant bug will seriously cramp Roger’s style!

To Roger’s surprise, his parents and friends are supportive. Even his dog isn’t spooked. But not everyone’s thrilled about Roger’s change. Some people are frightened and others would like nothing more than to squash him into the ground like the bug he is.

And when Little League officials oust Roger from baseball, his world collapses.

When a reporter from the city comes snooping around rumors of a man-sized baseball-playing praying mantis, Roger must choose between hiding his true self or being the hero he's always wanted to be.

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Tom Alan Brosz actually is a rocket scientist (sort of), having done design and engineering work in the private space industry back before the private space industry was cool. His qualifications for writing this book are that he has experience in raising children who like bugs, and raising pet mantises for those children. Normal-sized mantises, of course.

Author Interview

What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was Castle Falcon. I used to tell my kids stories at night. I always preferred just reading to them, because inventing a story on the fly isn’t easy. but the kids really liked the ones I told them, since they were in the stories. So, I’d look around the room, see something to build on, and go for it. I told them once that someday I’d put these all in a book.
One Christmas, my kids presented me with a yellow loose-leaf notebook. Inside were sheets with summaries of all the stories they could remember.
“Here’s the stories,” they said. “Do the book.”
Of course, then I had no choice. It took me almost three years to finish. I accumulated 127 rejections on it before I eventually published it myself in 2012. I suspect the length, 146,000 words for a kid’s book, had something to do with it. I elaborated quite a bit on the original bedtime stories.

Roger Mantis was my attempt to show I had another book in me. Starting a book is the hardest part for me, and I cast around for inspiration. One was a list of “famous first lines” in books, and I looked at the first lines of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
“What if this guy was just a kid?” I thought. “And what if the story was fun, not depressing?” Since Roger’s story was originally pretty episodic, plotting wasn’t a problem, and I had a first draft in a month, with a version of the Kafka opening line as the beginning.

Do you have a specific writing style?
Humorous, I hope. I want my books to be fun. It’s really hard for me to write uncomfortable or painful scenes, although they’re sometimes necessary. I have a lot of fun writing dialogue, and plow through it so fast that I usually just skip the punctuation and quote marks and clean that up later. If I’m lucky, my characters pick up the story and run with it.

How did you come up with the title?
I named the protagonist “Roger,” which is “Gregor” spelled backwards. Sort of. “Roger Mantis” is a takeoff on a baseball player of the 60s, Roger Maris.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I wasn’t really pushing one. Persistence in the face of adversity shows up a lot. Roger is not a quitter. I wouldn’t think of it as a good metaphor for tolerance. Being tolerant of a giant insect is kind of pushing the envelope for anyone.

How much of the book is realistic?
Everything except Roger the Giant Bug is as real as I can make it, especially the environment of the mid-70s. The people of Roger’s town are probably a lot more accepting than they’d be in real life, but in real life Roger would probably end up in a tree surrounded by people with torches and guns, and that’s not the story I wanted to tell.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not really. I visualized my home town in some of the scenes, but the kids in the book are completely imaginary. I didn’t play sports in school, and I know there were sports nuts like Roger in my school, but I never hung out with them.

What books have most influenced your life most?
As a fiction writer, the SF and fantasy of my younger years included famous writers like Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Lovecraft, Bradbury, and many others. I loved the classics, like Wind in the Willows, Mary Poppins, Dr. Doolittle, C. S. Lewis, Kipling, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and T. H. White’s Once and Future King. Most of my reading was from writers for young people that don’t see a lot of exposure now. Danny Dunn, Tom Swift, the Mushroom Planet Books. Authors like Evelyn Lampman, William Pene DuBois, and many others. Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder was a special inspiration for Roger Mantis, about a boy who gets wings. Roger’s night flight in my book was a version of a flight over San Francisco at night in Snyder’s book.
More recent favorite authors include Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, and Terry Pratchett. I read George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, but oddly, not Game of Thrones.
There are probably a dozen authors I will remember later.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
That’s a tough one. My writing is informed by most of the authors I’ve read. When I was younger, I wanted to write like Ray Bradbury. Later, I wanted to write like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Of course, nobody really can.

What book are you reading now?
I read some new books, but often re-read old favorites. “Comfort reading.” I just finished The Terry Pratchett “Discworld Science” series. I’m severely handicapped that most of my lifelong favorite writers aren’t writing any more new books.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I love discovering new authors, especially if they’ve already written lots of books. The Kindle “sample” function is a godsend. I discovered Jonathan L. Howard, Phillip Reeve, and Richard Kadrey this way.

What are your current projects?
I’m not really sure. If Roger Mantis takes off, a sequel is probably in order. It’s very hard for me to start a book, and I greatly envy writers who are cranking on two or three new ones at any given time. I can’t focus on more than one story at once.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Well, my publisher and editors, of course, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for. I belong to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and I have gotten a lot of good support, information, and encouragement from members at conventions and meetings.

Do you see writing as a career?
I’d love to make a living writing. So would every other writer—it’s not as common as writers would like. I’m not sure I’m prolific enough. The most successful writers turn out at least one book a year, and some writers a lot more.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not that I can think of. Anything I might add now just goes into my notes for later books (like the exterminator van joke), which is where I also archive things that get cut out but I still like. Never just delete things you can’t use right now. You never know when they may be useful later.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It started with voracious reading. When I was a kid, I didn’t have a local library except the one at school, and I never lived anywhere with a real bookstore. Some books were sold at the drugstore. I swept the school library for anything that looked readable, mostly science fiction and fantasy, and then went back and read them all again. Some of those books I’ve probably read fifty times, and I still have copies of my childhood favorites.

And then? I think every fan of a book genre gets the idea that they could write this stuff. Then the trick is following through. Where real writers come from are the ones who cross the finish lines, not the ones who start out. Even just completing a first-draft manuscript is a fairly rare event compared to the numbers who start one.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Aside from sequels, I have idea folders for a YA fantasy The Lightning Horse, and a light romance novel built around the parents in Castle Falcon. I haven’t started on either of them. I actually have a YA “vampire” book completed, but it’s kind of sitting on the shelf right now.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Oh, Lord yes. Everything. Getting started on a book is hard enough. Then sitting down and writing it. Plotting is a difficulty for me. Trying to come up with original characters. Sometimes I think I’m just changing clothes on a character and moving them to another book.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Tough call. Either Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, I suppose. Gaiman has a gigantic imagination, and writing skills that probably make a lot of new writers wonder if their word processor might not be more useful as a boat anchor.
Terry Pratchett was a master of wordplay and character. Every now and then I’ll write some clever play on words, witty phrasing, or unique description where I sit back and go, “Damn, that’s good.” If I’m lucky, I manage that two or three times in a book. Terry Pratchett could pull off two or three on almost every page.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No, thank goodness. My wife is disabled, and travelling at all is difficult. I work at home and like it. I managed to get to Reno and Sparks on a trip back to the Midwest, and check out a hotel that was one scene for my vampire book. I can do an amazing amount of “travel” using Google Earth and its Street View, and actually “drove” a highway I used in a book so I could describe the scenery.

Who designed the covers?
For Roger Mantis, my publisher, or specifically, Danielle Doolittle and Daniela Frongia.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Other than just getting started on it? The editing process with the publisher. Bet no author ever said that before, right? My episodic humor book got slowly wrung into something with more heart and personality. Characters got deeper, and more complex. But each bit of demolition and rebuilding made the book better.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Persistence. I got a publisher after 78 rejections.
I had to hone point of view—my first book was omniscient, moving from one character to another. Roger Mantis was close third person, and you really have to keep the brakes on your own mind to stay in the mind of the character, much like first person.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Again, persistence. You can’t lose the game if you refuse to quit playing.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope they have fun. I like reading books where you come out the other side happier than when you went in, and I like writing them. I don’t think I could write a book without a happy ending if I tried. There are great writers whose readers are improved and made more thoughtful by their writing. I don’t think I’m one of them.
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” – Mark Twain.
Works for me.
My wife (and main beta reader) says that for her Roger Mantis is about accepting the hand you are dealt, and making the best of it.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? What books/authors have influenced your writing?
I had to change the time of Roger Mantis to the 70s to make it work (the modern age of cell phones and internet would have blown the story out of the water in the second chapter), so anachronisms had to be carefully screened. The entire story takes place in a short time, and I had to carefully work up a timeline for each day to make sure it all stuck together.
Research is always difficult, but it’s kind of fun. Thank God for the internet. For Roger Mantis, I had to find out how Little League rules worked at the time, and a bit about mantis biology, although I got to mess with that a bit.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?
Fantasy or science fiction. A lot depends on exactly why Roger turns into a mantis, and to be honest, I’m still not sure about that. Hey, Kafka never had to answer that question.

Do you ever experience writer's block?
Writer’s block is probably my ground state. The question should probably be, “are you ever not having writer’s block?”

Do you write an outline before every book you write?
Not usually. Sometimes I write one in the middle if I’m having trouble keeping track of things.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Not really. And I’m not sure that’s a normal problem for writers. The problem comes when I like something I write, and it actually stinks. It would be a lot easier if a writer could routinely look at something he’s done and say, “Ugh. That needs to be reworked.”
If all writers could do that, you wouldn’t need test readers, or editors. Remember, the classic phrase is “Kill your darlings,” not “Kill the junk.”

What is your favourite theme/genre to write about?
Fantasy and science fiction. I started writing for younger people, and it seems to be sticking. I might want to try hard SF, but it’s not a big part of the younger genres right now.

While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
I have to jump into the head of most of my characters to write them. Then the trick is to remember who they are, and not make them sound like me.

What are your expectations for the book?
I’m hoping it sells well enough that the publisher is happy they took it on. I’d love to see it get into Scholastic, or have a movie made

What is your favorite genre of book that you read?
Science Fiction and fantasy, although there are many exceptions. I suspect most writers tend to write what they like to read.

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