Hi guys! School for me starts in just a few days, and I’m super excited yet unready at the same time. I’m still in shock that I am a senior–yes, a high school senior! It’s still unbelievable, and I know this year is going to be full of craziness, fun, stress, and excitement. Speaking of craziness, fun, stress, and excitement, today I am inviting Rob Vlock on the blog to talk about his debut novel Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect, which is an exciting Middle Grade adventure full of, basically, epicness. I hope you enjoy this interview and check out his awesome book!
About the Book
Sven Carter—part boy, part robot—is on a mission to save himself from destroying the human race in this fun and funny MAX novel!
Ever since Sven Carter was caught eating a moldy blueberry muffin under the gym bleachers, earning himself the nickname “Trashmouth,” he’s been his school’s biggest outcast.
But he soon discovers that having a lame nickname is the least of his worries. After a horrible wipeout involving a bike, a ramp, and a chocolate-anchovy-garlic-mint wedding cake (don’t ask), his left arm just…well, it falls off. But before Sven can even remove the stray anchovy from his nostril, his arm drags itself across the pavement and reattaches itself to his shoulder!
That’s when Sven learns he’s not a kid at all, but a “Tick”—a high-tech synthetic humanoid created as part of an elaborate plot to destroy the human race. Now Sven, his best friend Will, and his tough-as-nails classmate Alicia must face down a host of horrors—killer clown-snakes, a giant Chihuahua, the stomach-churning Barf Bus, murderous roast chickens, and even Sven’s own brain—to save humanity from permanent extinction.
1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
Writing for me is such a delightful escapist activity. When I’m focused on writing a novel, everything else just sort of fades into the background. No matter what might be bothering me in the real world, I can stop thinking about it and sink myself into the world I’m creating for my characters. I can’t remember a time I didn’t like creating stories. I think it all stems from growing up in a family that loved books. When I was in elementary school, I used to write and record silly radio programs. Later, I’d make movies with my dad’s super-8 movie camera. Eventually, I worked as a copywriter and creative director in the advertising business. I guess writing novels just seemed like a natural next step for me.
2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
I love so many different genres, it’s hard to single one out. But science fiction is way up near the top of the list. I mostly read middle-grade fiction these days, and I LOVE it! But I’m also usually reading some adult fiction and graphic novels at the same time—I tend to juggle books. My favorite books? Wow, that’s not an easy one to answer! I’ll always adore Melville’s Moby Dick. I reread that one every couple of years. But as for non-dead authors, one of my favorites in kidlit is Jonathan Stroud. His Bartimaeus and Lockwood & Co series are among my all-time favorite recent novels! If I had to pick a writer who most influenced my style, I’d go with Douglas Adams. He was so wonderfully absurd! I’d like to think he and I would have had a great time talking books and mashing our brains over a few Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
When I’m not writing, I’m usually worried about the fact that I’m not writing! But I also do a lot of reading, I play trumpet in a jazz band and I love spending time hanging out with my kids. I wish writing were a full-time job for me, but like many authors, I have to supplement my income with a second job. I spend about 25 hours a week running a marketing consultancy—which is about as far from writing about killer robots as you can get.
4. Your first novel Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect follows Sven as he discovers his identity as a part-robot, part-human “Tick,” only to quickly join two of his friends on a mission to save humanity from extinction. How do you explore themes such as bullying, figuring out one’s identity, and teamwork throughout your action-packed, laugh-out-loud MG sci-fi adventure?
I’ve always been interested in outsider stories. And Sven, as a Synthetic, is kind of the ultimate outsider—he feels like he’s the only one of his kind on Earth. So, while the book uses a lot of humor and action, it still takes the question of identity and bullying seriously. Coming to terms with who you are and how to become the kind of person you want to be isn’t easy for most kids, so I wanted to talk about it in a way that would be funny and exciting, but not heavy-handed.
5. Although there may not be giant Chihuahuas, killer clown-snakes, and murderous roast chickens in real life, what was the craziest (and possibly most death-defying) adventure that you ever had?
I wish I could tell you I narrowly escaped being ground into sausage by super-intelligent mutant iguana bent on taking over the world, but I can’t. I can, however, tell you I’ve been struck by lightning while visiting the ruins of Pompeii, bitten on the foot by an immense spider in Sydney, and nearly bitten by an eastern brown snake in the outback. Not exactly the same as fending off a trio of homicidal roast chickens, but it’s the best I can do.
6. Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect is filled with so much crazy chaos that readers of all ages will be entertained and on the edge of their seats. How can inventive, imaginative, and fast-paced novels help enflame a passion for stories in reluctant young readers?
First of all, I’m a firm believer that reluctant readers simply haven’t found the right books yet. For them, sitting down with a novel can feel a little like standing at the base of a rock-climbing wall. Dense, dry, difficult books just don’t have a lot of handholds for reluctant readers to grab onto. That’s where short chapters, cliffhangers, humor, imaginative sequences and action scenes come in—they give readers something to grasp that helps them pull themselves along the storyline. Soon, they start anticipating those handholds and before they know it, they’ve finished the book. Plus, they’re building their reading “muscles” and having fun while they’re at it.
7. If you had to save the world along Sven, Will, and Alicia, what skills would you bring to help stop the Armageddon?
Does having a strong stomach count? I think watching Sven eat all those gross things might make me want to hurl! Apart from that, I’d just love to be even half as awesome as Alicia Toth! She’s smart, tough and so determined to do what’s right, no matter the cost to herself. I may have invented her, but Alicia is someone I really look up to!
8. The sequel Sven Carter & the Android Army reveals that Sven is one of seven Ticks stationed in North America to wreak havoc on humans. Could you describe to us what was it like creating six new characters that have the potential to save or destroy the whole world? What was the most difficult challenge you faced as you wrote the sequel?
Creating six new Ticks who have no idea they’re part of a plot to wipe out humanity was incredibly fun, while, at the same time, being so difficult. First, I had to find six unique potentially world-ending abilities for the Ticks. Then I had to create fleshed-out characters that meshed with those abilities in a way that seemed natural. And I had to work out the interpersonal dynamics that come into play when you put seven Ticks and three humans together in a super-high-stakes situation. But the toughest part was finding with ways for Sven and his friends to tell the other Ticks what they really are. If I had to show Sven explaining to six other characters that they’re actually Synthetics over and over again, it would have gotten stale really fast. Those parts of the book nearly killed me!!!
9. Have you developed any writing habits or techniques? How do you come up with zany ideas such as the Barf Bus and the anchovy-garlic-chocolate-mint wedding cake?
The best technique I’ve used to make sure I don’t lose momentum is called “Don’t Break the Chain.” You hang a calendar on the wall and draw an X on each day that you’ve spent at least an hour writing. After a week or two of consecutive X’s, it really hurts to see a blank day. Keeping that chain of X’s going gets addictive and that keeps me writing. As for inventing the zany elements in my books, I think it just comes down to my being a very immature, really, really strange person. Luckily, I have books into which I can channel that strangeness!
10. As a middle grade author, what do you like most about visiting schools and libraries and meeting young readers around the nation?
Meeting readers is amazing! It’s probably my favorite thing about being an author. I’ve gotten letters from kids telling me that I’ve inspired them to become authors when they grow up and it chokes me up every time. Even a half-hour Skype visit can inspire kids to write or do more reading—I try to do as many of those as I can. We’re lucky to live at a time when authors can connect so easily with classrooms!
11. Can we expect more from the Sven Carter universe from you in the future? What crazy ideas do you have stored up in your sleeve?
At this time, there are no plans for a third Sven Carter book. But I have been testing the waters with my publisher about a graphic novel adaptation. I’m keeping all my fingers (and toes) crossed for that. In the meantime, I’m revising a new novel called Mr. Puffy Wants to Take Over the World. Assuming it eventually makes its appearance in the world, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys Sven-style humor and action.
12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers?
Don’t do it!!! Just kidding. I actually have three pieces of advice:
1) Stick with it—Persistence may be the most important skill for an author to have.
2) Write what you love—Don’t set out to write what you think will sell; write what makes you happy. Agents, editors and readers will pick up the joy in your words.
3) Keep reading—Great writers are always great readers!
Thanks so much for giving me the chance to share my thoughts, Kester! These were some outstanding questions!
Thank you, Rob, for coming onto the blog! I’m so glad you enjoyed the questions, and it was great interviewing you!
About the Author
Rob Vlock writes fun, funny, fast-paced kids’ books that are perfect for reluctant readers. When he’s not writing, you can usually find him somewhere in the greater Boston area trying to make his trumpet sound like something other than a dying goose. It’s a work in progress.
Rob’s first kids’ book, SVEN CARTER AND THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster) comes out October 3, 2017. And look for Sven and his friends to return for book #2 in Fall 2018.
And, if you’re really a glutton for punishment, you can find some of Rob’s inane ramblings at http://www.robvlock.com.
Have you read Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect? Do you like MG sci-fi?
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!