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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Interview: James Ponti, author of City Spies

I'm so excited to have author James Ponti here today to chat about his fantastic new middle-grade book, City Spies...

City Spies 
By James Ponti 
Source: from pub for review 

In this new series James Ponti brings together five kids from all over the world and transforms them into real-life spies.

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI6 agency. 

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t. 

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sara is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team. 

No one said saving the world was easy… 

 Q1. What three words best describe City Spies?  

Action, Humor, Heart. 

 Q2. Grab a copy of City Spies and answer the following: 

Favorite chapter? 11 – The flashback chapter to when and where Mother first meets Sydney at the Wallangarra School for Girls.  

Favorite page? 217 (although a little bit of 216 and 218) When they’re riding the Eurostar and Kat explains how she connected the crimes using the inventory code stickers visible on the computers in the crime scene photos. I really like writing the scenes where Kat shows her stuff. (I just finished one of them in book 2 and it may be my new favorite.)  

Favorite setting? I really enjoy the Three Lions Inn, the MI6 controlled hotel they use while staying in Paris.  

Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser: 137 – Brooklyn’s first day as a spy is spent bouncing from person to person who each try to teach her a specialty of spy craft. Along the way she runs on the beach, gets lost in the woods, tries code breaking using Scrabble tiles, and learns some magic tricks.  

 Q3. What inspired City Spies? How did the story come to be?  

Literally the day I submitted the first draft of my book Vanished, (which was the second book in the Framed series) my wife and I flew to London to visit our son, who was spending a year of college in the UK. Because I’d just finished book 2, I spent the trip trying to come up with the plot of book 3 and started thinking about taking those characters to Europe to see the amazing things we were seeing. By the time we reached Paris, I’d decided not to bring the Framed characters to Europe but rather create an entirely new series that visited the great cities of the world and that became City Spies.  

 Q4. City Spies has five awesome, smart young protagonists...if you had to pick one word that best represents each one, what would it be? 

Brooklyn: Hacker 
Paris: Hero 
Sydney: Rebel 
Rio: Magician 
Kat: Genius 

 Q5. For the readers who aspire to be spies, what are the three best, most important skills or traits you think a great spy must possess?  

Patience, Intelligence, and the ability to see without being seen. 
Q6. Who is your favorite spy (real or fictional)? Why?  

I’m going to cheat and pick two. I love James Bond, but my favorites are actually two real life spies. The first is Roald Dahl, who everyone knows as the author of books such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but during World War II, he was a spy with British Intelligence, which is something I talk about in the book. I also love the story of Virginia Hall, another World War II spy. She was determined to help the US government and was rejected first because she was a woman and later because she lost the lower half of her left leg in an accident. Undaunted, she ended up working for British Intelligence and was eventually considered by the Germans to be the “most dangerous allied spy.” Her story is amazing and my nod to her is that my female spymaster Tru limps like she did.  

 Q7. Any hints or tidbits about what we can expect in book two?  

Book two deals with the new dynamic on the team now that Brooklyn has established herself as a star and especially how that affects Sydney. The mission involves an MI6 mole who is hunting them while they hunt the mole and a mysterious death of a spy who passed away of seemingly natural causes while on vacation in San Francisco. 

 Q8. Fill in the blanks: 

I’m really awesome amaking spaghetti. 

I’m really embarrassed to admit I avoided reading for the longest time. 

The last great book I read was Let’s change it to first (there are too many to choose from lately and they’re all adult mysteries) but the first great book I read was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which is the book that hooked me on adventure and mystery.  

 Q9. If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by City Spies, what would it look and taste like, what would you call it?  

Just like a good spy, it would look like an ordinary vanilla cupcake but would have a surprise filling. I’m thinking multiple variations each with an unexpected flavor like strawberry, chocolate, custard. I’d call it the MI6 and you wouldn’t know what you’d gotten until you took a bite.  

James Ponti was born in Italy, raised in Florida, and went to college in California. After receiving a degree in screenwriting from the USC Film School, he began a career writing and producing television shows for the likes of Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, Spike TV, History Channel, and Golf Channel. James loves writing, travel, and the Boston Red Sox. He lives with his family in Maitland, Florida. Website Twitter Facebook 


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