Author Interview: Greg Fishbone on From the Desk of Septina Nash: The Penguins of Doom and the Class of 2k7

Greg Fishbone on Greg Fishbone: “My mother is a microbiologist and my father is an electronics engineer. I hope I’ve inherited some of their attention to detail even without having to peer through scopes at tiny organisms or circuits. I grew up admiring Dad’s work ethic and Mom’s storytelling skills, including her ability to describe her daily events in a perfect narrative arc. I have one sister, younger, so it was often up to me to keep her entertained. I developed my sense of humor, in part, from trying so hard to make her laugh.

“I was born in Boston and grew up in Massachusetts. Connecticut was the Deep South, Albany was the Wild West, and Maine was Way Up North. There was nothing to the east but the cold green ocean and cloud formations that we took to be Wales or Ireland. I have lived elsewhere, but I’m always drawn back to clambakes in the summer, foliage in the fall, snow in the winter, and baseball in the spring. My wife is from Philadelphia, but she becomes a rabid Bostonian during Red Sox games–I couldn’t be more proud!”

What about the writing life first called to you?

Writing is just something I’ve always done. I think every child starts out as a writer, as well as an artist, a singer, an acrobat, and many other things. As we grow up, our creative passions tend escape, one by one, with finger-painting as probably the first to go. Most people can hold onto one or two creative outlets as weekend hobbies, but I’ve always admired those few who pour their hearts and souls into one art form or another and try to build it into a career. I’ve chosen writing because it lets me create and destroy entire worlds.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I tried to write for people my own age when I was in my teens and twenties, but readers would tell me, “That’s great! I bet my little nephew would love that story!” It annoyed the heck out of me at first, but then I gave in and discovered that middle grade speculative fiction is a hub of creativity and quality in the publishing industry. It’s also a huge challenge to write, which is perfect for me because I enjoy a huge challenge–but not too huge. The main reason I don’t write picture books is that they’re even more challenging than midgrades, and I know my limits.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

For me, the path to publication was a quick walk up the front steps followed by a frustrating wait at the door. I’d hear activity on the other side, and sometimes a personal rejection letter would slip through the crack underneath, but the door itself remained closed, locked, barred, and sealed.

I used that time I spent on the doorstep to improve my craft, and today I’m actually grateful to all those editors who refused to put my early submissions into print. They weren’t the best that I could do, so it’s a relief that they only exist in manuscript form.

Your debut title is From the Desk of Septina Nash: The Penguins of Doom (Blooming Tree, 2007). Congratulations! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Back in the 1990s, I wrote a serialized superhero story for an online project called Superguy. It was a lot of fun and, amazingly enough, it had readers! After the series ended, somebody asked me what had become of the characters. I hadn’t thought about it before then but instantly I knew that Sal and Viyayai would be married and would have seven children. The entire story came to me all at once, with the purple-haired seventh child, the missing triplet, the penguins, the mad scientist, and everything else.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I first wrote The Penguins of Doom as a comic book script but couldn’t find anyone willing to draw or publish it. Meanwhile, I started adapting some of my other Superguy stories into novels. In 1998, my first novel submission to a publisher led to a series of requested revisions until my first rejection in 2001. After that came a series of rejections on a bunch of different books, including The Penguins of Doom. In 2004, I rewrote The Penguins of Doom in the form of letters from Septina’s point of view, and the book sold in 2005.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

The biggest challenge I faced was finding a voice and writing style for this story, because I already had the characters and plot. A third-person omniscient “Rod Serling” type of narrator worked great for the comic book script but not for the novel. I tried again in Quinn’s voice and–no offense to Quinn–it went nowhere. Septina’s voice worked better, but it took a while for me to realize that she should be writing the book as a series of letters to the people in her life. I actually sprang awake at five in the morning and shouted, “Letters! She could be writing letters!”

It’s the same story it’s always been but now it works.

Your publisher, Blooming Tree, is based here in my home city of Austin, Texas. Could you describe your experience with the house? How would you describe it to another author?

Blooming Tree Press is an independent publisher that’s small but growing fast. I originally had my heart set on a larger publisher but now I’d tell other authors to keep the smaller houses in mind. Everyone at BTP is so talented and professional, and the books get a lot of personal attention. The company is putting out more books each year, becoming better recognized, and launching a graphic novel imprint, so it’s an exciting time to be working with them.

You’re involved with the Class of 2k7 cooperative promotional effort. Could you give us some insight into the history of this campaign?

Sure. I had the idea to start a marketing collective in early 2006, when I was totally overwhelmed by all the marketing and promotional work that authors are expected to do these days. I figured that a group of authors working together would be able to accomplish things that no one of us would be able to do alone, and I was lucky enough to attract a group of awesomely talented classmates to join in.

The Class of 2k7 is a group of 39 children’s and YA authors who have joined together to help promote each other’s debut novels to booksellers, librarians, and teachers. We’re all being published for the first time in 2007, so we’re like a graduating class–hence the Class of 2k7.

How would you describe your role?

I’ve been elected class president, and that’s been a great honor and a whole lot of work. We’ve delegated a lot of the tasks to organizing committees and regional coordinators, but I do most of the website coding and serve as a point of contact for inquiries that come in.

What have been the joys and challenges along the way?

We’ve been rolling out elements of the Class of 2k7 campaign one at a time–the website, a collective blog, a discussion forum, a chat room, a media folder, etc. Each item has been a challenge, but it’s also given us new ways to make our group into a “one stop shop” for booksellers, librarians, and teachers looking for fresh new books from fresh new voices.

We’ve gotten a nice write-up in Publishers Weekly, a podcast, and mentions on a whole bunch of great blogs including yours. Every time someone’s taken notice of the group, it’s been a huge buzz of excitement for all of us.

What are the plans for the future?

We’re about to distribute the first issue of our quarterly ezine and there will be events and tours throughout the year. Our biggest plans are to celebrate the release of our books, starting with Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (Little Brown, 2007)(author interview), which is out right now. Hopefully we can make enough noise for all of us to stand out among all the other choices out there.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I feel like I’m too green at this to be giving advice to anyone else but here goes… Be professional. Be patient. Be humble. Learn something from every book you read, and never stop trying to improve your craft. Most important: Never give up!

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I spend my days in a law office, staring at legal documents and wishing that I could be writing instead.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m continuing to develop a consistent style while branching out in new directions. My agent is shopping around a sports series of mine and is looking at a fantasy novel I just sent her, and my current work-in-process is a mystery featuring a pair of young detectives.

In the immediate future, I’m working on an audiobook/podcast companion to The Penguins of Doom which will be available for free download at ( It will be called The Love Song of Prescott T. Goode and will take place at the same time as the printed book and with the same set of characters. I’m really psyched that Blooming Tree Press is letting me try something with this that’s never quite been done before.

Cynsational Notes

Publisher Interview: Miriam Hees on Blooming Tree Press from Cynsations.