Matt Stevens, Middle School Private Eye, is hired by Vinny Biggs, Franklin’s Underworld Boss, for a seemingly simple job. But in a school where one well placed squirt gun shot can “kill” your reputation forever, Matt has only a few days solve a case with “more twists than a candy addict on a swivel chair.”
The Big Splash is a clever mafia/crime underworld spoof with a fast paced, twisty plot and a big heart. You have the boss and his goons who deal in forged hall passes and the like, his femme fatale squirt gun assassin Nikki Fingers (think a 12 year old Angelina Jolie), kids who dared to cross the boss and are now on the “outs” (social death), and even Pixy Stixers, kids who will do anything to get another (sugar) fix.
I absolutely adored the writing, the humor, the characters and the realizations Matt came to during the case such as, “Waking up at 5:00 means you’re industrious, an early riser; waking up at 4:45 means you have trouble sleeping.” And “Once you’re convicted by a jury of your peers, it’s hard to get a new trial.” And my favorite (because it is sooo true): “I had recently come to realize that it was extremely rare to find friendships in which doing nothing special was the most fun thing you could ever hope to do.”
I loved this novel so much that I begged author Jack Ferraiolo to let me share it with my readers. He’s agreed to provide 3 signed copies of the hardcover that comes out today! But before I get to the details, let’s have a little chat with Jack.
What is your one line pitch for The Big Splash?
The Big Splash is like a hardboiled detective novel meets Goodfellas set in a middle school.
Yes, your book does read just like a noir mafia movie – is it safe to assume that you got some inspiration from other classic films like The Godfather?
Yup, it’s safe... The Godfather 1 and 2 (let’s not talk about 3), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Double Indemnity, Bugsy Malone...Also, old radio shows from the forties (particularly Pat Novak For Hire and Jeff Regan, Investigator). And of course, everything written by the “Big 3”: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald.
Were you witness to the kind of humiliating take-downs that occur in your book when you were in middle school?
Worse. And that was just the teachers...you should see what the kids did to each other. By the end, everyone in school had been humiliated, and there was nobody left to be the bully. It was an interesting philosophical conundrum, akin to one hand clapping or empty forests full of falling trees.
Can you tell us a bit about the origin of the idea for the book and your road to publication?
I remember driving home from work one night, listening to an episode of Pat Novak for Hire in my car, and thinking that I’d love to write something like that...something fast and sharp and tough. For some reason, I thought it should be set in a middle school... I think it was because when I was a kid, I wanted to navigate my world as an adult would... I wanted my own mode of transportation, my own space (like Matt’s office), and my own place to grab something to eat (like Sal’s bar in the book) outside of adult jurisdiction, where I didn’t have to explain the who, what, or why of my being there...
So great, I had a book idea...I bought a bunch of steno pads and wrote it out long hand. When I finished, I stood back to admire my accomplishment. Unfortunately, I didn’t stand back far enough. It stunk. Luckily, I knew it stunk. Unluckily, I had no idea how to fix it. So I boxed it up and put it out of sight. In that time period, I worked on a couple of shows (O’Grady and WordGirl) in which I was forced to write and rewrite scripts under really tight deadlines. It was like going to writer’s camp.
One morning, out of the blue (about 3 years after the “Steno Pad Debacle,” as I like to call it), I woke up with the beginning of The Big Splash in my head. Rather than pull out the stenos and be embarrassed (which might have shamed me into not writing ever again), I decided to start from scratch. I finished the book in two months.
As to being published, I did a lot of research on sites like Ms. Snark, Evil Editor, and the Verla Kay Blue Boards. Then I did what most writers do: I sent out query letters to agents, got a bunch of full and partial requests, went with the agent who made an offer and I connected with the best (the amazing Stephen Barbara)... Stephen suggested some revisions, I revised, he sent it out and received some strong interest really early. The book went to auction, and Amulet won the bidding. My editor (Susan Van Metre) is incredible: sharp, funny, and full of great ideas. I’ve been very lucky.
Stephen Barbara is amazing. I am seriously going to read everything he agents. But back to you… You just won a daytime emmy award for your writing on the animated series WordGirl. Congrats! What was the ceremony like? Did you get to meet some celebrities?
Thank you! The ceremony was unbelievable... Black tie at the Lincoln Center in New York City. It was exciting... glamorous... I was more than a little out of my element. There weren’t really any “celebrities” there, as this was the ceremony for all the people behind the scenes on a production (writers, lighting designers, make-up people, etc.). However, I did see Elmo and Alex Trebek, and now I suppose I’ll begrudgingly admit they aren’t the same person...
Is your writing process any different when you write for TV as opposed to when you write a novel?
Yes and no. I approach it with the same discipline: start at the same time every morning, get the first draft out as quickly as possible. It’s all about rhythm and momentum. The difference is that scripts are more short, sharp bursts, whereas writing a novel is like long-distance running: pace yourself, try to string together longer scenes, describe everything (as there won’t be any visuals to help you out...). Either way, I’m a huge believer in the healing power of the revision process...which is drastically different between the two...
What projects do you have in the works? Will we ever see a Big Splash sequel (I hope so)?
I think the Big Splash will have a sequel...still waiting to get the official word. I stepped down as the head writer for WordGirl to have more time for other projects... although I’m still writing individual scripts. I’m also trying to invent a machine that will keep pace with (and hopefully tire out) my 2-year old daughter. It involves 16 hamsters, 12 pots of coffee, some Bon Scott-era AC/DC, and about 1400 rubber bands. I’m on the verge of a technological breakthrough...I can smell it...
Thank you so much Jack for stopping by!
Check out Jack’s websites http://www.bigsplashbook.com/ (where you can get a FREE squirt gun while supplies last) and http://www.jackferraiolo.com/ (where you will see a site still under construction).
Simply leave a comment on this post for your first entry. Sharing a middle school memory of your own will get you an extra entry. Linking to this contest from your blog (or Facebook/MySpace) will get you 2 extra entries. For each comment you make on any of my reviews, past, present, or future you get 1 extra entry (for a list of books read this year, look at my sidebar). One of top three commenters during the contest period is guaranteed a book (raising your chances to 1 in 3) while the second two winners will be randomly chosen from all eligible entries. So comment away. And trust me, it’s worth it!
Contest open for two weeks until Midnight CST September 3, 2008. US and Canadian residents only.