Any time of year is appropriate for a creepy MG read, so I jumped at the chance to review THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER. The author, Summer Rachel Short, sent me a hardcover book, bookmark, and handwritten card, and I laughed when colorful paper mushrooms fell out of the card. Summer graciously agreed to answer a few questions and sent wonderful pictures from her launch, but first, here’s quick plot summary in her words.
THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER is a lightly spooky STEM novel that features eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist, Maggie, and her conspiracy theorist/YouTuber best friend, Nate, who have to solve the mystery surrounding a strange glow-in-the-dark fungus that’s spreading through their small town. Kirkus Reviews called the book, “packed to the gills with fun.”
I guarantee you’ll keep turning the pages of THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER into the wee hours of the night, eager to find out what happens next. Here’s a warning: make sure mushrooms aren’t glowing before you put them in your mouth! You don’t want to turn neon blue or worse, morph into the evil Spore King.
Now for my interview with author Summer Rachel Short:
1) Summer, what was your inspiration for this highly original book?
There were two key moments that helped inspire THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER. The first was a 1980s documentary on fungi that I stumbled upon on YouTube several years ago. It had an ominous soundtrack and featured all sorts of bizarre and fascinating fungi. That spurred my curiosity and I did some more research and learned about some even crazier types of fungi. I tucked all that information away in the back of my mind. Then later, my son, who was ten at the time, told me he wanted me to write a story about a character named Root Beard who would have literal tree roots for his beard. The idea of a character who was part human, part something else was interesting to me. I then remembered the fungi documentary and those two elements became the inspiration for a key character in the book. The rest of the story grew from there.
2) That’s pretty wild! What is your favorite place and time to write?
My best time for writing is early in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up and before my mind is cluttered with to do lists and all the other things we all have going on. I usually go upstairs into an empty room and work at home. Though in the past, I’ve written at coffee shops and the library, which is nice for a change of scenery.
3) It’s great that you have an empty room to write in at home. Can you describe your journey to publication?
I majored in journalism in college and took a number of creative writing classes as well. I wrote a number of short stories and had hopes to one day write a novel. But life got busy. I started my career, had kids, and put novel writing on the shelf. Every now and then, I’d pull out a notebook and jot down some ideas for a book and even get the first couple chapters down, only to abandon the whole thing a week later. Then about five years ago, something changed and I all of a sudden had this burning desire to really make this dream happen. I joined writers’ groups, found critique partners, attended conferences, and studied writing books to learn about craft. From there, it took about two years of writing (including writing and querying another novel) before I got the idea for THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER. In the fall of 2018, I submitted that manuscript to a writing contest called Pitch Wars and was selected to be a mentee. From Pitch Wars, I received helpful feedback on how I could strengthen my manuscript. That winter, I revised my book and then in early 2019 I got my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin. Early that summer, we went on submission and sold my manuscript and a sequel to Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. On September 22, THE MUTANT MUSHROOM TAKEOVER was released into the world!
4) I wish I could have attended your launch – the above photo shows the awesome cookies you served – but I’m thrilled there’s going to be a Maggie and Nate sequel. What tips can you give to new writers?
I think one of the things that helped me the most was connecting with other writers early on. Finding people who were pursuing the same goals as me really helped me to keep going when I felt discouraged. Being a part of writers’ groups also allowed me to get feedback on my work, which is so important for growth.
A final piece of advice I have would be to enjoy the journey. I think most of us get into writing because it’s something we love. We want to create characters and worlds and tell stories. But sometimes the joy of the process can get sapped over time. If writing has lost some of its fun and excitement, it might be time to refill the well. For me, reading good books, listening to music, and spending time with friends and family often help me feel more inspired and creative.
5) Thank you for your wonderful advice. How can readers connect with you?
You can find me at my website: https://srachelshort.com on Instagram: @summerrachelwrites Twitter: @Summer_Rachel_ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/summerrachelshort
I’ll finish with a fun fact: Summer is a member of the Roaring 20s group of debut middle grade and young adult authors that includes Josh Roberts, author of WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE, and many others. Here is her bio from http://roaring20sdebut.com:
Summer lives in North Texas with her husband, three kids, a yellow lab, and one very fluffy kitty. Before spinning tales about mutant mushrooms, she once worked as a science reporter for her university’s newspaper, where she wrote on topics like nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes.
She enjoys exploring new places with the family, playing tennis, and dreaming up ideas for her next book.