Monday, July 9, 2012

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Braden Bell and his newest release: 'THE KINDLING"

Homework? Of course. Crushes? Sure. But who knew seventh grade included superpowers?

I'm honored to share the news that Author Braden Bell’s long-awaited, and highly heralded Middle-Grade fantasy, “The Kindling,” launches this week. This is Bell’s second novel, and though he debuted with “The Roadshow,” aimed for an older audience, Bell always digs deep and writes what he knows. In the case of “The Kindling,” Bell is in his wheelhouse.

Braden Bell is a beloved, doctorate-wielding, middle-school drama professor who works amid his target audience. When he’s not at his computer deciding what new dangers and mayhem to inflict upon his characters, he’s doing what he loves best, teaching and conducting research amongst his adoring middle-school students. It’s really research by osmosis for a man who loves youth. Bell is the first to confess that he’s a man with two dream jobs.

Here's the blurb from the back cover of the book:

Loud shrieks sliced the air, followed by the smell of burning cloth. Conner looked over in time to see Geoffrey jumping up and down, yelling and shrieking. Smoke poured from the seat of his shorts while blue and yellow sparks snap-crackle-and-popped all around the heater.

All thirteen-year-old Connor Dell wants to do is pass pre-algebra, play lacrosse, and possibly kiss Melanie Stephens. He didn’t mean to set anyone’s gym shorts on fire or make school lunches explode. But now that the strange powers inside him have been ignited, Connor’s normal teenage life is about to go up in flames!

This fast-paced novel is non-stop fun for kids and parents alike. With characters you can’t help but root for, a plot that keeps you guessing, and plenty of humor, it’s a guaranteed thrill ride from cover to cover!

I’ll be reviewing The Kindling shortly, but readers need to know that this isn’t just another MG read. Bell’s The Kindling shines like a new penny, and that’s, in great part, because Bell does indeed know and love this age group. So I’ve asked the author to tell us a little more about The Kindling’s evolution, and why he switched genres to take on MG fantasy.
LC: Thanks for this chance to talk about The Kindling. I loved The Roadshow. Tell me why you switched genres from General Fiction to MG.

Author Braden Bell
BB: Thanks for that introduction! Wow! I hope to merit that some day. Your question was interesting to me because I've always written MG books. That's what I've read and written and loved forever. So, to me, The Road Show was the switch and The Kindling is the return. But, I realized that it probably doesn't seem like that since The Road Show was the first book I published. At any rate, I am pretty sure I have ADD and that manifests itself with genres I write. I get stories in my head and they don't all fit the same genre, so I jump around.

LC: Your comments in the Author’s Notes clearly show how much you love this age group. How long have you been a teacher, and what made you leap into the profession??

Bell and his middle school cast of "Annie."
BB: I'm really glad that does show up because I do love this age group! I wanted to be a teacher since I was a very young boy and walked past the faculty lounge and heard laughter. I wondered what was going on and thought it seemed fun. I started teaching in 1999 but took a break for a few years to pursue a different job. So I guess it's been about ten years or so.

LC: I read that your son told you he ha seen a creepy man in a cape walking around a neighborhood. You say that event prompted the question, “Why would such a person be out on such a night?” which became the inspiration for The Kindling. How long did it take you to go from that spark of an idea to the completed novel?

BB: I remember that night very vividly. I had wanted to write a book about teachers being a secret order of wizards or warriors but didn't quite know where to start. That moment sparked lots of images and questions that led to ideas and I stayed up all night writing two fight scenes--sort of the first and last battles. After that, it probably took another six months or so to finish the first draft. I'm not the fastest writer. It took me a few years after that though to revise it. I'm pretty uptight about that. I had lots of people--including students read it. Originally, it was written in 1st person with the 3 main characters alternating the narrative. I found it entertaining, but most everyone else found it distracting. So, I rewrote it in 3rd person. Anyway, it took a while.

LC: Many of the elements in the book come from your own world—teaching at a private school. How fun was it to tie your son’s experience and your teaching world together?

BB: It was extremely fun! I really enjoyed writing this. I love my school and students, next to my family and the Church they are my life! So being able to sort of celebrate that world and pay tribute to some beloved colleagues and students proved to be immensely entertaining for me. I hope other people enjoy it half as much as I did.

LC: I think entire families are going to love The Kindling. This is a very “smart” book. Your dialogue hits the tween-speak perfectly, while the narrative hits high literary marks. My first thought was, “Kids who read this are going to also learn a lot about great writing technique.” Was that intentional or is that just your style?

BB: Well, thank you! I mentioned I did a lot of revising--like maybe 30-something drafts. While I did that, I read books about writing and tried to incorporate what I read. I wanted it to be a fun story, but I did want to try to write well. I don't have literary pretensions, but I think that when you do something for kids, you ought to do your best work. So I really tried and I revised and revised until I felt good about it. Now, of course, I'm seeing things I missed :) I'm glad the dialogue rang true. I hear it all day long and wanted to do it justice.

LC: How does your experience with theater impact your writing?

Bell as Gus from "Cats"
BB: I have thought about that a lot. I guess one obvious way is that both of my books involve theatre as an activity the characters do. But beyond that, I think in theatrical terms. I am a very visual writer--I see everything very clearly and try to come up with the words to describe it. I am really worried about character and spend a lot of time trying to make sure they have credible motivations and other things. I often catch myself acting as I write, using gestures and facial expressions and even voice sometimes.

LC: I'm glad I'm not the only one who does that. I'm glad the camera on my computer is turned off so no one sees or hears me. I know you’re a drama teacher. Did you get some help on the technical stuff from the other teachers—namely the Science Teachers, or did you have some bad experiences in middle school chemistry too?

BB: I actually drafted the science teacher's help on that part. He was very kind to help me. LC: Tell us more about Connor and the gang. How did they develop?

BB: When I started writing, I had some specific students in mind. I borrowed their mannerisms, and heard their voices. However, once they got on the page they started evolving, and within a few pages, they had turned into their own people. I was surprised at how fast that happens. I know that may sound strange to people who've never written a book, but it's amazing how quickly characters take on a life of their own.

LC: I agree. Did your colleagues know about this book, and what did they think about the magical powers you’ve bestowed on these characters?

BB: A few colleagues knew, but not all that much. Life in a small private school is pretty busy--people wear multiple hats and so we don't have a lot of time to chat. Plus, I spend my lunch period writing instead of eating with the other teachers. For the most part, this will be a surprise for them. I hope they like it! A few were very kind to spend some time by taking part in the photo shoots we did for the trailers.

LC: What themes in the story are your favorites and why?

BB: That is a good question. It's kind of subtle, but the protective love of teachers for students really resonates with me. I don't think students know quite how much their teachers may love, worry, and care about them. Not every teacher, of course, but probably more than people think. It's a unique relationship and I think it's uniquely wonderful. I also liked the idea of accessing power through things you love, things that uplift you. That idea sort of came in a flash as I imagined teachers quoting poetry and singing songs during a battle. At first I thought it was kind of amusing, but then it seemed to have a lot of truth in it.

LC: Both of those themes come across so beautifully in the book. Well done. Readers will see some similarities between "The Kindling" and the Harry Potter books since it involves magic, students, and a school filled with teachers with special powers. I like that your characters are in loving families. What other elements set your story apart from Harry Potter?

BB: That is a good question and I'm glad you asked it. I think there are a few different responses to that. First of all, I acknowledge that there are some similarities. But, I think that they are caused by being in the same genre. Each genre has it's tropes and archetypes that are standard issue. For example, having a powerful, older teacher/mentor figure is a basic archetype in fantasy literature. We all love Dumbledore, for example, but he's not the first such character. Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi both preceded Dumbledore, and others preceded them.

Second, the magic that the characters in my book do is much different than in other similar books. It's based on a different system, has different rules and so on. That might seem like a minor thing, but it was something that I thought about a great deal.
Third, I think there are some superficial similarities that become less similar the deeper you go down. For example, an early reader compared the sigils to the patronuses from Harry Potter. That surprised me because I had never considered them as similar--to me they were very different. But, when I thought about it, I realize they did actually resemble each other externally--they are both formed of light, protect the characters and so on. However, the sigils are actually a part of the user's soul--the Magi use them for combat, as well as having them send messages. I think a wizard's patronus in Harry Potter is a different thing.

The teachers in Harry Potter use magic. The teachers in the Kindling use their love of their academic disciplines to gain power. Again--kind of a subtle distinction, but it seemed significant to me when I wrote it.

I will admit to being a huge, nerdy Harry Potter fan!

LC: Will we see a sequel to “The Kindling?”

BB: Yes! At least, I think so. The publisher is interested, but will want to see how this book does. But they have asked for the manuscript by August. Then, they'll make a decision. So, I'm spending my summer writing the sequel as fast as I can type. Can you relate? I think you've been there. It's funny to be releasing one book while writing the next one.

LC: Well, I absolutely loved the book and I can't wait to read it with my grandson. I hope families read it together. As I read it I saw so many opportunities to launch into meaningful discussions about honesty, loyalty, friendship, good and evil. It's a marvelous book, Braden. Thanks for the interview. ****

I'll be posting my review of The Kindling on July 20, and I doubt there will be any surprise when I write that The Kindling is my favorite read this year. In the meantime, please pop over to the book's web page for more information on the book and sample chapters. This one should be on every family's shelf. Here is an Amazon link to The Kindling's purchase page.

Braden Bell adores hearing from readers, and loves to answer questions about his books. He can be reached in oh so many ways.

Read about Braden's book: The Kindling

Author site/blog:
Twitter: @bradenbellcom


  1. What a fun interview! Thank you, Laurie and Braden. My 11 year old daughter LOVED The Kindling. I'm excited to review it in a few weeks. =)

  2. Thanks, Danyelle. I loved Braden's site and the photos of his own private-school teaching experiences. He's writing what he knows. I'm so glad you also loved it. I ordered an autographed copy for my grandson's 9th birthday. Can't wait to give it to him!

  3. How fun! It sounds like an amazing book for almost all ages! I'll have to check that out! :D I love new books and exploring the wonderful worlds within them.