Science Book a Day Interviews Steve Hockensmith

steve-hockensmithSpecial thanks to Steve Hockensmith for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself

Steve Hockensmith became an entertainment journalist, writing about pop culture and the film industry for The Hollywood ReporterThe Chicago TribuneNewsday and lots of magazines and newspapers you’ve never heard of. Hockensmith switched to an industry that he knew would offer dependable stability for decades to come: publishing. Hockensmith is not known for his business acumen. Nevertheless, his first novel, the Sherlockian mystery/Western Holmes on the Range, was a finalist for Edgar, Anthony, Shamus and Dilys Awards in 2007. In 2010, Hockensmith tried his hand at romzomcoms (romantic comedies with zombies) with Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Though a prequel to the hit “mash-up” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Hockensmith’s novel was 100% original. Well, 100% new, anyway. Most of the characters and settings came courtesy of Jane Austen, who’s been a real doll about the whole thing and hasn’t complained yet. In March 2011, Hockensmith completed the PPZ trilogy (yes, it’s a trilogy now) with the novel Dreadfully Ever After. – Adapted from Steve’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for writing this book?

I’d been talking with Jason Rekulak, the publisher of Quirk Books, about various projects, including a possible mystery novel and a middle-grade series Quirk had recently launched. So when Jason had the idea for a middle-grade series that combined mysteries with science, he thought of me. For which I will be eternally grateful! I loved the idea immediately and jumped at the chance to write the books. I was just lucky to find Science Bob to handle the science-y stuff. I’m the weaving-in-a-mystery/making-things-funny guy. When it comes to science projects and building stuff, I’m hopeless.

#2 – Your book is unique in including instructions for kids to build the gadgets in the book for themselves. What was the thinking behind this idea? What feedback have you had about this gadget construction from kids and adults?

Quirk specializes in books with unique hooks that are thoroughly integrated into the design and packaging. So I think that’s why Jason got excited about this idea. We’ve seen kid detectives and inventors before in books, but we’ve never seen step-by-step instructions for doing what they do. Jason thought — rightly, it’s turning out — that middle-grade readers would go nuts for that. Science Bob tests all the projects, then the staff at Quirk double-checks his instructions by building everything in the office before the book goes to the printer. So I haven’t heard any complaints yet about the directions and blueprints. All the feedback I’ve gotten from readers has been along the lines of “This is so cool!”

#3 – This book appears to be the start of a series. What is in store for our heroes? Why Nick and Tesla for their names?

The names are a shout-out to the great Nikola Tesla. Although these books are meant to be funny and there’s a lot of goofiness, I hope our sincere respect for scientists comes across. In fact, Nikola Tesla himself has a kinda-sorta cameo in book #4. Which is a roundabout way of saying, “Yes! There will be more Nick and Tesla books!” The second — Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage — comes out February 4. In it, the kids go up against a robot-building thief, create a few robots of their own (instructions included!) and learn a bit more about the mysterious disappearance of their parents.

#4 – The look and feel of the books seems familiar? What was your inspiration for different elements of the book? (e.g. design, plot, graphics)

I’m not sure where the original designer, Doogie Horner, drew his inspiration from. I just know I love it! The same goes for the illustrator, Scott Garrett. I’ve never met him or even spoken to him. Jason found him. But, wow, do I love his stuff. As for the plots, I’d say they were inspired by things like Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys, with maybe some Phineas and Ferb, The Simpsons and MacGyver mixed in.

#5 – Are you working on any other projects/books that you can tell us about?

Thanks for asking! (Writers are always looking for an excuse to promote their stuff.) I’m just finishing up the fourth Nick and Tesla book, Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove, and I’ll be writing the fifth one soon. I’ve also got a new mystery series for adults launching this summer. It’s the opposite of the Nick and Tesla books, in a way. Instead of revolving around science, it involves tarot readers and con artists. So I’ve replaced the scientific method with scams and the occult. The first book in the series is called The White Magic Five & Dime, and it comes out July 8.

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