Today, I'm very pleased to have the lovely and funny Maggie Lyons stop by for an interview. Maggie is the author of the MG book Vin and the Dorky Duet.
Q1. What three words best describe your middle grade book Vin and the Dorky Duet?
Adventure, humor, action
Adventure, humor, action
Q2. In one sentence tell readers why they MUST read your book.
A light-hearted romp is good for the health, especially for overscheduled middle-graders.
Q3. Now using as many sentences as you’d like, can you tell us a bit more about Vin and the Dorky Duet?
The moment he walks through the door and sees the sharky grin on his older sister’s face, Vin suspects Meg is hatching a plot. He’s right. Worse still, he’s central to the outcome. Meg tells him that their music teachers, parents—everyone—expect him to play her duet for trumpet and piano at the upcoming student concert. Vin is horrified.
Meg insists that his only escape route is to persuade another trumpet player to take his place. She has the hunky Brad Stewart in mind, and she challenges Vin to introduce her to him. Vin doesn’t know Brad any better than Meg does, but Meg points out that Vin is in two classes at school with Brad’s nerdy brother. Eyeballs Stewart is the last person Vin wants to befriend until Meg’s promise of a David Beckham autographed soccer jersey changes the seventh-grader’s mind. He has five days to accomplish his mission—Operation BS—before the concert practice schedule kicks in.
His game plan, thwarted by exploding fish tanks, magnetic compost heaps, man-eating bubble baths, and other disasters ultimately succeeds, but not exactly as Vin expects …
Q4. What inspired the story behind Vin and the Dorky Duet?
Inspiration wafted in from my love of music and my addiction to challenges—which I don’t always meet, I must confess. I was trained as a classical pianist and throughout my life music has been my favorite language. As for challenges, anyone who wants to live—as opposed to vegetating—must try to meet them, don’t you think? Vin and the Dorky Duet is about a challenge that a seventh-grader gamely takes on. Of course, his plan of attack produces unexpected results, but when was life 100 percent predictable? My challenge in writing the story is to encourage reluctant readers to turn a few pages. I’d be thrilled if the book succeeds on that level because enthusiasm for reading as a child is critical to success as an adult. Literacy is a must if you want anything like quality of life in adulthood. But that’s another story …
Q5. What do you hope readers will learn or take away from Vin and the Dorky Duet?
That anyone can write for children … just kidding.
Oh, you want me to be serious? Well, let’s see:
Life present challenges to us all, even plants. The trick is figuring out which ones are worth taking on and which ones should be avoided—something I’ve never been any good at. The challenges of learning to play a musical instrument are definitely worth taking on in my opinion and Vin’s. He plays the trumpet and enjoys it, except for those—thankfully few—moments of stage fright. On the other hand, the challenge of judging others is a delicate trap. Vin, like most of us, sometimes makes his mind up about people too quickly, as he discovers when he becomes better acquainted with nerdy Eyeballs. Personal relationships are also tricky, as Vin and his sister, Meg, are very aware, but nothing lasts forever and all relationships change over time, some even faster and more surprisingly than others.
In contrast to personal challenges, Vin becomes aware of challenges to the environment. He learns of the vulnerability of sea life. Did you know that if three female Western Pacific grey whales died today, the whole species could be wiped out?
Now, I don’t want my answer to your question to end with yet another bleak reminder of the results of humanity’s destructiveness. I hasten to assure potential readers that Vin and the Dorky Duet is a fast-paced romp in which these sober issues rocket by, rather like party guests intent on saying a fleeting hello to every single person in an overcrowded room to make sure no one has forgotten them. Vin’s main challenge is to play matchmaker for his sister, his Operation BS, as he calls it. It’s a quest that makes his life even more interesting and fun, and that’s what all challenges should be like.
Q6. Why did you choose to write middle grade fiction? What is it about MG that you love?
Because I never developed beyond MG myself …
Truthfully, I remember the fun I had as the mother of a rambunctious middle-grade boy—now turned serious adult. We shared jokes and enjoyed great stories together. I can use more expressive vocabulary in writing for MG readers than I can for younger readers, and I still get to indulge in that bubbling mix of innocence, escapism, imagination, and humor that is the wellspring of children’s stories.
Q7. Who are some of your favorite MG or children’s characters?
Who can forget Jerry Spinelli’s legendary Maniac Magee once they’ve met him? Or comedian Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III of Cressida Cowell’s hilarious Heroic Misadventures series? Or bright little Alice of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland? Or the young curmudgeon, Greg Heffley, of Jeff Kinney’s droll, gags-in-every-paragraph Wimpy Kid series? Or hard-pressed Alex of Frank Asch’s very funny Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius. Or the resourceful Billy Colman of Wilson Rawls’s powerful classic, Where the Red Fern Grows? Or the achingly innocent little boy in Gary Paulsen’s nostalgic A Christmas Sonata? Or courageous Jonas in Lois Lowry’s chilling The Giver?
Q8. What made-up world from any book would you love to visit? What would you do there?
I’d love to row my boat on a summer’s day around the gently lapping waterways of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows to meet Mole and Ratty and the incorrigible Toad of Toad Hall.
Q9. What’s the one book you think everyone should read at least once?
That’s as bad as asking me to name my favorite composer. It’s impossible to answer without wreaking a great deal of injustice. Can I list a hundred, two hundred? No?
Then I’ll name a book that comes to mind quickly because it’s unforgettably powerful and because I read it recently: Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee.
Q10. If you were to bake a Vin and the Dorky Duet-inspired cupcake what would it look/taste like and what would you call it?
Vin has asked me to bake a chocolate marble cake because he loves the one his
great-grandmother makes. It would be decorated with a tiny trumpet because that’s Vin’s favorite musical instrument and that’s what started him off on his disastrous quest. He wants to call it the Vindication cupcake because he thinks he carried out a pretty successful mission. Others might not agree with him in view of the mishaps that piled up around his game plan. But at least he’s right that we all need to keep our outlooks optimistic in a world that can throw a compost heap at you when you’re least expecting it.
Thank you so much Maggie for answering my questions and giving us all the chance to get to know you and your book!
Vin and the Dorky Duet
(a chapter book for middle-graders and tweens)
The moment he walks through the door and sees the sharky grin on his older sister’s face, Vin suspects Meg’s hatching a plot. He’s right. Worse still, he’s central to the outcome. Meg tells him that their music teachers, parents—everyone—expect him to play her duet for trumpet and piano at the upcoming student concert. Vin is horrified. Meg insists that his only escape route is to persuade another trumpet player to take his place. She has the hunky Brad Stewart in mind, and she challenges Vin to introduce her to him. Vin doesn’t know Brad any better than Meg does, but Meg points out that Vin takes a couple of classes at school with Brad’s nerdy brother. Eyeballs Stewart is the last person Vin wants to make friends with until Meg’s promise of a David Beckhamautographed soccer jersey changes the seventh-grader’s mind. He has five days to accomplish his mission—Operation BS—before the concert practice schedule kicks in. Vin's game plan, thwarted by exploding fish tanks, magnetic compost heaps, man-eating bubble baths, and other disasters, doesn’t work out exactly as he expects.
Watch the trailer
Read an excerpt of Vin and the Dorky Duet here
Children’s literature has always fascinated me. My parents read bedtime stories to me when I was a child and I read stories to my son when he was small. All I needed was an excuse to borrow books from the children’s library, and declaring myself to be a children’s writer did the trick. Studying the work of great children’s writers gives me the chance to indulge my love of that enchanting mix of innocence, escapism, imagination, and humor that bubbles out of children’s literature.