Walk, run, or skate to your nearest bookseller or library: today is Roller Boy’s book birthday! Written by the exceptionally talented and gracious Marcia Strykowski, Roller Boy is compelling from start to finish. The middle grade story centers around Mateo Garcia, an inner city Hispanic boy whose dreams are crushed when he fails to make the school’s baseball team. But when one door closes, another opens, and Mateo soon finds himself with a growing passion for roller skating. There’s an appealing crush, a best friend who makes the baseball team, a group of dangerous bullies, a hardworking single mother who desperately wants a better life for her two children, and a severe gluten allergy that affects every aspect of Mateo’s life. You can’t help but root for Mateo as he struggles with his changing identity, and cheer for his success at the end (no spoilers here – you need to read it!)
Marcia, congratulations on the publication of Roller Boy! I was honored to receive an advance copy and to have the opportunity to interview you for our Writer’s Rumpus audience. I’m brimming with questions!
Thank you very much, Laura. I’m so glad you enjoyed Roller Boy and am happy to answer your questions.
Question #1: What was your inspiration for Roller Boy? How long did it take you to write from initial concept to finished copy?
Like all my projects, Roller Boy went through many phases. If I’m remembering correctly, it may have started as a short story about a boy who played the saxophone. Mateo as the main character came first without too much thought. My children were involved in roller-skating years ago, which later inspired Mateo’s interest in the sport. At some point I realized he had celiac disease, which is not a big part of the story, but he does need to avoid eating gluten, an unfortunate condition for many kids these days. I would guess the writing itself took me about four years, off and on.
Questions #2: I was exceptionally impressed with the pacing in Roller Boy. Can you describe your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or something in-between?
Unlike many writers who have to cut, cut, cut, for novels I have to add, add, add. I usually write very short drafts in longhand. When I transfer to type, it becomes the first revision. I write thin and then I go back in and plump up my chapters. I don’t outline what will happen, I just draft a basic story. I usually have a solid beginning and ending to start with and then additional middle scenes come to me as I polish and revise.
Questions #3: What was your process for finding your publisher, Fitzroy Books?
I sent Roller Boy to several publishers and came very close to a contract with one. When that didn’t work out, I scoured the internet again and discovered Fitzroy Books when searching for small presses open to non-agented submissions. An imprint of Regal House Publishing, Fitzroy is new and growing fast. Here is their tagline:
THE SLIGHTLY IMPERTINENT OFFSPRING OF REGAL HOUSE PUBLISHING
Question #4: Can you describe your publication process?
With Fitzroy, I sent a complete final version of my manuscript a couple of weeks after signing the contract agreement. A Fitzroy editor went through and made some suggestions. We continued to polish for several months and during that time the cover was created, as well. Other than an initial discussion on what I liked and didn’t like about covers, I wasn’t involved until it was completed. It was a wonderful surprise to see the final results. Soon after, Advanced Reader Copies were sent out to various reviewers. Fitzroy does a great job keeping to schedule and they always respond quickly to emails. The whole process—from offer to release—took about thirteen and a half months which is pretty fast in this business.
Question #5: I was very impressed at how well you captured the voice of a middle school Hispanic boy. How did you tap into that?
Well, thanks for saying that, Laura! I tried to get into his head, but otherwise I just let his voice roll out naturally. No matter what race, religion, sex, or otherwise, I feel voices are individual to each person. Someone might read Roller Boy and think a particular boy they know would never say one of his lines, but to me these are Mateo’s thoughts and expressions only, and aren’t meant to be representative of any particular group of people. To give an embarrassing example, I sometimes say “my my, sweet potato pie!” but I doubt any of my friends do.
Question #6: Roller Boy is your third middle grade novel, after Call Me Amy and Amy’s Choice. Was anything about this book’s journey different from that of your other books?
My first two books were written in first person and although fictional, they were set in a very specific time and place—a small fishing village on the coast of Maine during 1973. Roller Boy also started out in first person, but then I changed it to third which really brought it all together. With Roller Boy, I had to do a bit more research, especially since I’m not involved in the skating world and I don’t live in a big city.
Question #7: I know firsthand that you are also a talented picture book writer. Can you share what topics you like to write about?
I enjoy writing character-driven picture books and I attempt to find and reveal the heart in those stories. I like funny plots too, often with animal characters. I also adore historical fiction and picture book biographies.
Question #8: What are some of your favorite books?
My all-time favorite reads include Miss Rumphius, Library Lion, The War That Saved My Life, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Invention of Wings, The Great Gatsby, Anne of Green Gables, and many more from classics to contemporary.
Thank you, Marcia. Congratulations again on Roller Boy! I truly loved it and am excited to share information about your upcoming launch events:
Sept. 29, 2018 Roller Boy Release Party at the Hampstead, NH Public Library in conjunction with their 130th Anniversary Open House celebration. Drop in anytime between 10 and 2.
Oct. 6, 2018 Children’s Author Festival from 11-3 in conjunction with Strawberry Banke’s Fall Fest, a popular annual event in scenic Portsmouth, NH.
Oct. 13, 2018 Barnes & Noble Book Signing from 12-3 in Salem, NH.
ALL ARE WELCOME!
Marcia Strykowski works at a public library and is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is also the author of Call Me Amy, chosen for Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of 2013 and shortlisted for the Crystal Kite Award, and its sequel Amy’s Choice. Find out more about Marcia and her books at www.marciastrykowski.com