Current Giveaways

Word Spelunking’s temporary hiatus is now permanent. All requests are closed and there will be no new content. Thank you to everyone I’ve worked with and everyone who has read and supported this blog. Y’all are awesome!!

Aeicha @ Word Spelunking

Author Assistant Services

Are you an author in need of help and looking for an assistant on a full-time, part-time, or as-needed basis? Well, then I'm your gal! Learn more about the services I provide HERE.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Spotlight {Interview, Excerpt, Giveaway}-- The Castaway Kids and the Pirates Zactrala Island

I'm excited to be spotlighting Jon Stremel and Chris Graue's middle-grade adventure, The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island, today! Below you can read an excerpt, check out my interview with the authors, and win a copy of the book...

by Jon Stremel and Chris Graue

Danny Herrera is an overweight, 13-year-old misfit from San Francisco, California who lives with his lazy, bullying uncles. They decide to send Danny away to Fat Camp during his last summer before high school as a cruel punishment. Instead, Danny gathers his group of unlikely friends and devises a plan to steal a boat and escape their horrible situation in order to have the perfect summer they feel they deserve.

Rough seas, ruthless pirates, and a mysterious island turn Danny's pleasure cruise into a dangerous quest for survival he and his friends will never forget. Will this be the last summer for the Castaway Kids? Or can Danny become a strong leader and prove to everyone he's not a lost cause?

Find the book: Goodreads / Amazon / Createspace 

from Chapter 4

A gentle breeze rustled through the leaves of the bush behind which Danny was crouching. He tried to put the previous night’s argument out of his head as he held up his binoculars. Focusing the lenses, he pointed them towards the bright yellow school bus, patiently loading the students as they arrived one by one. A man in military camouflage checked the name of each one off of a clipboard as they waved good-bye to their parents.

“I still think we should have brought more road flares,” came Miko’s voice over the walkie talkie.
Danny knew this had more to do with Miko’s penchant for things that set on fire and less to do with the actual details of the plan, so he ignored her statement. Besides, if all went well, they wouldn’t need to use a single one of them. He spotted Eugene’s parents driving up to the bus stop. “Ok, everyone look sharp. The bird is in the air.”

Shayla’s voice crackled over the radio, “That means Eugene’s here, right?”

Danny took a moment to collect himself. They’d been over these codes a thousand times. He tapped the walkie talkie to his forehead, “Yeah, that’s right. Remember, don’t let Eugene ’s parents see you.”
“Ten Four,” Miko answered.

“Seven Eleven!” Shayla, of course, meant “ten four,” but Danny knew this was as close as she was going to get. He put the binoculars back up and watched Eugene and his parents get out of the car. Eugene looked nervously over his shoulders, visibly trembling. Hold it together, Eugene, don’t give us away.

The army-print man found the name of the next kid on his roster as Eugene crept up. He had been instructed to be sneaky, but it was coming across a bit more suspicious than Danny would have liked to see. He picked up his radio, “Now!”

Shayla sprung from an alleyway and made a beeline for the camouflaged man. She smacked right into him, causing him to drop his clipboard. “Oh, I’m sorry, mister, I didn’t see you there!”

The man bent over to pick up his papers, “That’s all right, it just means the uniform is working as-”
Shayla cut him off, “Say, you look like the outdoors type. Maybe you can help me with my toad.” She produced an oversized Pacman frog from her pocket, “I want to give it a name, but how am I supposed to know if it should be a boy’s name or a girl’s name?”

While the man tried to deal with Shayla’s intrusion, Eugene, his eyes fixed wide in fright, floated behind him and up the steps into the bus. He found a seat and waved out the window to his parents. Danny got on the radio, “The sparrow is in the nest.”

Shayla grabbed the radio in her pocket. The camouflaged man hadn’t noticed as he was rotating the frog in his hands and examining it closely. Her mission complete, she didn’t let him finish his thought before snatching back the frog, “You know, maybe I’ll just call it ‘Sam’ to be safe. Thanks anyway!”
She made her escape, back the way she came. Danny smiled at the success of the plan so far. Eugene shot him a thumbs up out the window of the bus, but then Danny looked back towards the curb. Eugene ’s parents were still standing there. Danny shook his head and waved his hands wildly back to Eugene. He got on the radio, “We’ve got lingerers. Plan B, everyone, Plan B!”

 “Ha! Yes! Firing up the flares,” Miko could hardly contain her excitement. The last couple of kids got checked off the list and on the bus. The door closed and the bus started to move. Great, now we definitely need Cody, Danny thought.

Danny hoped for the best, fired up his go kart, and exploded from the bushes. He bounced along the uneven sidewalk, but the little two-stroke engine struggled to keep up.

The sidewalk was crowded. He hadn’t counted on it being trash day, and the added obstacles made Danny’s drive something of a slalom course. He darted past a rather confused looking dog tied to a light post when Miko came in over the walkie, “Everything’s set up here. Give me a buzz when you turn up 10th street.”

Danny looked up and checked the street signs. The intersection he was currently crossing was 10th, and the bus showed no signs of slowing to turn. “Mayday! Mayday!” He screeched into the radio, “The driver is not, I repeat not using 10th street!”

This was exactly the moment he had been dreading. There were two routes to the freeway that the bus driver could have taken. Danny had planned to have both covered, but Cody’s refusal had left him a man down.

Horns honked all around Miko from the backed up traffic, “What do you want me to do? I’ve got like a dozen of these flares going off in the middle of the street.”

They had to stop the bus before it got on the freeway. Once that happened, Eugene would be long gone, headed off into a wilderness that wouldn’t be expecting him. Danny knew that if Eugene was caught, he wouldn’t last long before confessing the entire plan. Their entire summer hinged on getting Eugene off that bus. “You have to try and cover for Cody. Book it to 8th street! Move the flares!”
Miko froze at the order. She looked at her line of glowing red road flares. “Awesome.”

As Danny fumbled with the walkie, an old woman in a tattered pink robe and mismatched curlers in what remained of her thinning, grey hair wheeled her recycling bin out to the curb. Danny swerved hard right to keep from plowing straight through her, managing only to clip the corner of the container with his bumper.

“Watch where you’re going!” She wailed after him, but Danny had bigger fish to fry now. Sparks shot up where the undercarriage scraped the curb and Danny was flying down the road on the wrong side of the street.

A convertible slammed on its brakes to stop short of plowing into Danny. He tried to weave back onto the sidewalk, but his tires were too small to climb back up the curb.  The bus was pulling ahead, and Danny couldn’t afford to lose it. He swung back out into the street, splitting the gap between two passing minivans.

Her hands straining to contain a dozen roaring road flares, Miko sprinted past a row of shops. She held them up over her head, the flames shooting backwards, giving the impression that she was some sort of Wile E. Coyote experiment gone awry. Danny’s voice crackled over the radio, “The bus is turning, are you in position yet?”

Miko was not in position, and she wasn’t sure if she’d make it in time. She had no free hand with which to communicate this back to Danny, but she kicked her pace into a higher gear.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a shortcut. She could chop off an entire corner by passing through two sets of glass double doors in the plaza to her right. She broke towards them as fast as her legs could carry her, through the confused crowd.

Danny had made his turn, still in hot pursuit of the bus. He had no idea of Miko’s status, so he dare not lose sight. Eugene’s face pressed up against the window. He mouthed something, but Danny could not take his eyes off the road long enough to read his lips. His white knuckles gripped the steering wheel tightly, the ball of his foot aching from the unnecessary extra force with which he pressed down on the gas pedal.

And finally, at long last, brake lights. The bus came to a sudden stop and so did Danny. “Great job, Miko!” Danny barked over the radio. “We got it!”

“Got what?” Miko managed to fumble her radio on. “I’m almost there, I promise!”

Confused, Danny pulled over towards the curb. He caught a glimpse around the bus where, rather than a pile of road flares, he saw a line of traffic cones blocking off the lane. On the sidewalk, overseeing the disarray he had created was a grinning Cody.

Miko finally arrived, her flares still burning. She chucked them into the street before she had a chance to notice the cones. “What?” She asked no one in particular. She tried to act casual while catching her breath. Looking over, she saw Cody watching her. “Oh. Hey. Glad you came through.”

He shrugged. “I had some things to take care of, but I guess I do kind of want to go.”

Miko smiled back at him. “Cool man, but I think we should run. I’m pretty sure I just ran through a whole bunch of public places screaming with flaming sticks above my head.”

“Oh. Yeah. Good idea!” Cody and Miko disappeared behind a nearby dumpster.

Eugene gave another thumbs up out the back window. Breathing a sigh of relief, Danny returned it. Inside the bus, Eugene opened up a small canister from his backpack. From his vantage point, Danny could not see the swarm of mosquitoes, but he could see the sudden flailing of the other kids attempting to swat them all away. A moment later, amidst the chaos, the emergency exit hatch on the bottom of the bus dropped open and Eugene rolled out, latching it behind him. He crawled back to Danny’s go kart and squeezed into the second seat, “For a minute there, I thought we weren’t going to make it.”

Danny smiled, “The Castaway Kids never leave a man behind. Now let’s steal ourselves a boat.”

Check out my hilarious interview with Jon and Chris...seriously, these guys are awesome and this is one of my fave interviews ever!

Q1. What three words best describe The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island?
Jon Stremel: Epic - Gratifying – Fun
Chris Graue: Three – hundred - pages

Q2. Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give your book a try?
Jon: “The perfect book for people who would rather watch a movie.”
Chris: Dude, this interview is going on a book blog. I don’t think you should say that.
Jon: I stand by my assessment.

Q3. Grab a copy of The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island and answer the following:
Favorite chapter?
Chris: Chapter 4, Eugene’s Escape

Favorite page?
Chris: 106-107. It contains the sheet music for a song that some pirates sing in the book. We’ve already had a couple people record versions of the song and send them to us. In fact, if YOU record a version and email it to us at, you get a free copy of the book (if we post it). Check out the sheet music and other versions at

Favorite character?Chris: Eugene is the greatest, really. He was the main conduit for the jokes we would crack with each other while writing the book.

Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:
With one last pull, the gun accidentally fired three bursts into the air. “Oh my yikes…” Shayla whispered. She tugged with all her might and finally pulled the gun inside, but she knew that it was too late.

Q4. Can you tell us the story behind the story of The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island and how the book was written? What was it like with two authors writing one book?
Chris: This was actually kind of a crazy story, and I’ll tell it all so that I can brag on Jon’s behalf.

Jon: I’m really far too humble.

Chris: WAY too humble. We had long wanted to write a book together, but Jon ended up having to join the Navy so that he could pay his student loans. This put us on hold for a long time until Jon decided we had to find a way to make it work. I flew out to where he was stationed in Virginia Beach when he was in training for deployment.

Jon: My schedule was a little lighter because it was more like classes than actual duty.

Chris: Right, except the classes were on ridiculous things for his specific job on deployment: boarding foreign vessels. When they headed out on deployment, Jon’s job would be to board ships they came across with a small team of people, and potentially fight and subdue anybody that caused problems. They had to train him not to be scared to fall off a boat, so they pushed him off a two story building. They had to train him to take a punch in the head-

Jon: Which is actually really scientific. They punch you in the head all day.

Chris: So he’d leave at like 4AM for these classes, get beat up for several hours, return home, read what I’d done, and then start throwing down more pages with me.

Jon: We didn’t finish the book before I got deployed, so that slowed us down even more.

Chris: Finally, we figured out that if I emailed new pages to Jon, he could print them out, put them on a clipboard, and take notes while he was working. He had to scan and email them back to me. He’d also shoot me notes for the illustrator like, “I’ve seen some of the actual people like we have in the book…none of them wear shoes. Tell him to erase all their shoes.” We finally got it done and out just before his ship got a few days in port in Bahrain.

Jon: I’m actually still currently on deployment, as we got extended another couple of extra months. Need me to bring anything back from the Middle East?

Q5. What do you hope young readers will walk away with after reading The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island?
Jon: I want kids to put this book down and go out and change the world by improving themselves. I want to empower kids to reach their goals on a big scale through diversity, teamwork, and determination.
Chris: I hope they walk away with more copies to give to their friends.

Q6. In The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island, your characters are on the hunt for the perfect summer…what does the perfect summer look like to you?
Chris: A swimming pool full of fresh guacamole. We’re both originally from Southern California. There’s a lot of things that are fairly summer-ish here year round, but avocados really don’t taste quite right in months that have an R in them.

Print Books OR Ebooks?
Jon & Chris: Print

Starting a book OR Finishing a book?
Jon & Chris: Starting is far too overwhelming. Finishing by a landslide.

Hero OR Villian?Jon & Chris: Villain! Always!

Food fight OR Water balloon fight?
Chris: If you have a water balloon fight after a food fight, they cancel each other out, right? Because it cleans it up?

Marvel OR DC?Jon & Chris: Marvel

Q8. Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at ___.
Chris: Hackey sack.

I’m really embarrassed to admit that___.
Chris: I still love ska music.

The last great book I read was ___.
Chris: The California that I Love by Leo Carrillo

Q9. If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
Jon: We actually had a cake made! We attached a picture (that's me on the left with Mark Amado, the baker).
Chris: You’d have to ask the Navy what their cake recipe is, though, because they made this on the boat. I call it the MRE Paperback Ration.


Win a copy of The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Isand!

There are 3 ways to win a book:
1. By entering the music contest Chris mention in question 3 above in the interview (in bold)

2. By entering the giveaway on Goodreads

3. By entering the giveaway hosted right here!

-US only
-will end 11/22
-winner will win a paperback copy
-must be 13+, one free/main entry per person
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-I am NOT responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes
Fill out the Rafflecopter form:


Unknown said...

I believe that my granddaughter would love to read this book - The Castaway Kids and the Pirates of Zactrala Island, by Jon Stremel and Chris Graue, I believe it will be fun to follow Danny, and his friends Eugene Milo and Shayla in their escapades

Unknown said...

I served with Jon in the Navy. Glad to see his book getting the spotlight it deserves.

Unknown said...

Thank you so very much granddaughter will be delighted. and I am happy.