One of the best parts about being a professional journalist is getting to meet interesting and wonderful people. Recently I had the honor of re-visiting a really fun writer that I first talked to about three years ago.
I’m speaking of rabbi-turned-novelist Stacia Deutsch. At that time Deutsch and her partner, Rhody Cohon, were best known for their time travel books meant to excite her “new congregation” of elementary school age kids. The Blast from the Past series was created to make history as interesting as it was fun. The women are best-selling authors in both their names and under pseudonyms. In fact, Stacia told me, “I recently walked into a Barnes and Noble and saw nine of my books on the shelves, none of which had my name on them!” In total, the pair has written more than 40 books.
Ah, the writer’s life! But for Deutsch, she’s thrilled with the knowledge that kids are indeed reading, learning and enjoying her words and that she remains anonymous (of sorts), so that she can be there for her three teenagers at all times.
“I have a good friend who is on the best sellers’ list, and she spends her life literally flying all over the place talking about her latest book,” Deutsch said. “I have the privilege of being on the very same list, but I get to see my kids every day. Now Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (the latest book that topped the New York Times bestseller’s list) does have my actual name on it, but it’s in itty-bitty print somewhere on the back!”
Her new books cross different genres and age spans. The first is a movie novelization called The Smurf’s Movie, and the other, what Deutsch calls a “very sweet teen romance” called In the Stars, both of which recently came out on Amazon.
While Deutsch is thrilled to entertain and inform kids of all ages, she loves writing adventure stories for kids in second and third grades the most. “The tween market is where the market draws in the most audience. In fact that’s how In the Stars came about. A senior editor at Simon and Shuster knew that I had written adult romances and thought it would be a great idea to write one for teens that had some heart in it. There’s a lot of criticism for young adult novels, so I didn’t want it to be anything I’d be embarrassed about and that it would be acceptable to parents.”
With three teens of her own, what did they think about Mom writing a story like this?
“You know, they think it’s awesome! I have two boys and a girl. I did have them help me out with plotting and language. After all, not being a teen, I wanted to be sure I was on the right track with what teens go through, how they use language and what interests them. Most writers will tell you that all their characters are shades of themselves, but every generation is just a bit different. I did think back to my own antics and car stories, but language and technology are always changing, so I’m listening for tone and wordplay.”
When thinking of romance novels, most are written with women in mind. Boys/men don’t like to ask for too much information or even want to be caught reading one, but Deutsch has some definite opinions on this subject. “Most of these stories truly are written by women, for women,” she said. “It’s that warm, fuzzy feeling. But having teen boys myself, I hope they’d see that a book like this would help them learn how to behave around girls, how to treat them and see that there really is a greater story that they can relate too. That it would help them to see that the hero is someone to emulate. But I also have to emphasize that any plot worth spending time reading should be compelling enough to be of interest to most of its readers.”
On the flip side of a tween romance-is the aforementioned The Smurfs Movie book. Deutsch explained how a novelization of a movie is done: “First, you have to understand that when I get the script, the movie hasn’t been made, so it can be a bit confusing. After all, we can’t watch it and get the feel for the characters. This was especially so when we were writing the book that accompanied Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs! Here, the Smurfs are well-known; not much has changed-in fact there’s still only one lone female, Smurfette! But as a ghost writer we honestly don’t know if we’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head until after both the book and the movie are out. The dialogue needs to be harmonious if it’s going to be successful.”
Besides the Blast to the Past series, Deutsch and Cohon have also written several Dragon Ball Evolution chapter books, the last four new and updated Nancy Drew mysteries, Batman: The Dark Knight and many others.
Another thing that Deutsch has been doing in conjunction with her books is speaking to kids at many of the county’s schools. She’s learning from these visits as much as she’s teaching. “I love to start by asking how much kids know about the most well-known people in history,” she said. “Since one of our Blast to the Past books is on Abraham Lincoln, I do ask about what they’ve been learning about him. I’m always pleased hear from the kids about what they’ve done in class. Teachers aren’t given nearly enough credit for all they do. It’s through their teachers that kids find their love of learning and reading.”
One thing that does scare Deutsch is the way publishing in the country is going and how it affects the kids. As she explained, “Before the advent of self-publishing, the social networking sites, You Tube and even e-books, there was a true editorial process. Now things are very uncertain, very unclear. While In the Stars came out as an e-book and I’m on Twitter and Facebook, I’m really not sure just how all of this will play out. Anyone can now theoretically write a book and call himself or herself a writer, without even a hint of the manuscript having been read over and checked for any inaccuracies or false statements.”
As for the future and what it holds for Deutsch? “I’m actually going to start a Master’s of Fine Arts program in creative writing at the University of Colorado. I’ll go for 10 days each summer. I felt that it was time to broaden my horizons. I have a couple of ideas about what I’d like to do. Tween adventure, coming of age narrative, non-fiction. I have a real love of reading, so I’m really game to try anything!”