Author Spotlight: Shawn Peters
|© Amy Schupler Veaner|
Dec. 24, 2021
We are excited to feature author Shawn Peters and his debut middle grade novel, THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER (HarperCollings), coming on January 18, 2022. Enter to win a copy!
|Cover art by Petur Antonsson, Design by Corina Lupp|
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Well, I’m Shawn Peters, husband of one, father of two, and the son of two writers (one a sports reporter, the other a sit-com writer/producer). By day, I’m a creative director and copywriter for small agency in the Boston area, but I’ve been writing professionally for more than twenty years, ranging from TV shows about cops and beauty makeovers to articles about fantasy sports and being a married dad of two. I’d tried my hand at screenplays and had a few near-misses, but I never thought about writing a book. After all, I had never taken a formal creative writing class in my life and I thought all novelists had Masters degrees or at least portraits of Hemingway and Bronte on their walls.
7But when my kids got to the age where I started reading middle grade books to them every night, doing all the voices, hearing the words out loud, I rediscovered the magic of those books. I grew up on Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, John D. Fitzgerald and Judy Blume, and they were all still SO good. And then I got to read series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and those books made me realize that middle grade was a place where I could tell the kinds of stories I’d once channeled into my screenplays, but for a more specific, more eager audience. I knew I could be funny and emotional and create fictional characters who had a core of truth in them. So I gave myself a year to write a first draft, literally holding myself to at least one new page a day, and that book ended up being my debut… though it took another six years to sell it.
Congrats on your debut middle grade novel, The Unforgettable Logan Foster! Tell us about the book and what inspired you to write it.
The book is a fun, funny, action-filled adventure (perfect for kids who get bookstore gift cards for the holidays) and it’s about Logan, a 12-year-old, neurodivergent orphan who has a truly photographic memory and zero filter. Living in an orphanage in El Segundo, California, he has given up any hope of ever being adopted and is more focused on finding the younger sibling he suspects may be out there, even though he has very little proof. However, when he’s fostered by a seemingly kind, slightly strange couple—Gil and Margie—things start to change for him. He can tell his new foster folks are keeping something from him, but even his one in a billion brain can’t figure out what it is… until the entire family is attacked by an earthquake-slinging supervillain. It turns Gil and Margie are superheroes and superpowers are real. The entire industry of comic books, Marvel movies, video games, theme parks and halloween costumes are all just a cover-up for the hidden truth that it’s all true and being regulated by the Multinational Authority for Superhuman Control (aka MASC).
As for the inspiration, I definitely wanted to tell a story with the scope, action and humor of Rick Riordan’s series, but I also wanted to explore a venue that was away from magic and gods, and I was such a comic-book kid growing up. Also, it was right at the time that educators I knew, including my wife who was teaching 5th grade, were really shifting to a strength-based understanding of neurodiversity. Between my wife’s classroom reports, my own coaching of youth sports teams, and a close friend of mine whose son is on the autism spectrum, I became inspired to create a story about a kid who has been made to feel different their whole life, but who suddenly is the most “normal” person in their family. The idea of a kid like that being the hero of their own story just became something I had to get out onto the page, and hopefully into the world. As for Logan’s truly photographic memory, capable of retaining everything he’s ever seen, read or heard, that’s a super-skill that no one on the planet really has (at least as far as I know). But when I was Logan’s age and younger, I did have elements of it, where I’d actually not only remember the answers to test questions, I could see in my mind’s eye where they were on the page of the textbook I’d read the night before. So I did the author thing of taking my own little quirk and turning it into a full-blown superpower. Isn’t that every kid’s dream; that the thing that makes you feel different could also make you feel special? That’s very much at the heart of this book.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I’d say it was like a slingshot. Nothing but building tension for a loooong time, stretched-out and then rapid acceleration. For five years after I wrote my first draft, I was revising, sharing it with a few people, querying and getting a handful of full requests, with some of the agents having the book for up to a year before finally passing. I even had a close friend who passed it on to an editor who had her own imprint at the time and she liked it, but mulled it over for almost 18 months before telling me she just couldn’t pull the trigger. But then, my wife (also my biggest fan) asked if she could share the book with her 5th graders at the elementary school in our town where she taught. I was thrilled to get real feedback and I did classroom visits when they finished the book. This gave me the opportunity to ask the kids what they liked about the book and what they wished I’d done differently.
It was eye-opening, both because they loved it enough that I knew I couldn’t give up on it, but also because their perspectives really helped me do one more big revision. Soon after that, I entered it into the Marblehead Festival for the Arts and won, and a year later, got an email from Rick Richter at Aevitas and his assistant, Caroline, saying they were “smitten” with the book. Within two weeks, I was signed, and after working with them for a few months, we went on sub and sold at auction few weeks later. I signed my paperwork and met my amazing editor, David Linker in person for coffee in late February of 2019, and two weeks later… meeting anyone in person for anything went away. Obviously, the pandemic has been a global tragedy, but a year stuck inside wasn’t the worst thing for a debut writer revising their first novel.
What are your favorite classic MGs? How about some recent ones?
The thing about books like James and the Giant Peach, The Phantom Tollbooth, and, of course Charlotte’s Web was that reading them as an adult made me feel almost the same was as when I read them as a kid, and that says a lot. And there’s something about The Great Brain and the rest of that series that I still just adore. It was the first “really smart kid as a hero” book I ever read.
But the new books that I’ve read in the past decade? They are amazing, too. Rick Riordan is an absolute machine, and I was deeply inspired by the way he used Percy Jackson’s demigod lineage to reframe ADHD and dyslexia into something kids didn’t feel ashamed about. And I have absolutely been blown away by wider ranges of voices that are out there now. Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera and Amari and The Night Brothers by B.B. Alston are two unreal debuts that came out just in the last year, and I’d do hours of happy dancing if my book could ever be considered in their stratosphere. I also think that Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, and Thanks A Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas should be required reading for kids to build empathy. Oh, and look out for Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence coming out in 2022 from Sonja Thomas. It’s got a heartwarming story, tons of STEM Girl power and I think kids are gonna love it.
What projects are you working on now?
Book two of The Unforgettable Logan Foster series is in revisions and should be out within a year of the debut’s launch, so that’s super exciting (all puns intended). I’d love to tell more of Logan's stories and see what happens when he gets a wee bit older, but readers and writer alike will have to wait on that. Plus, I have a current MG novel WIP (totally outside of the Logan-verse) that is about a middle-schooler going through a tough year (braces, hormonal awkwardness, and his folks getting divorced) who finds a cursed smartphone that could make everything worse, or maybe a few things better. I’m super excited to see if there’s a home for that new one.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
I’d tell my younger self to triple my output before I became a father. I thought I was busy when I was a young guy in my 20s, trying to make it in the entertainment industry, but I had no idea how much free time I really had. I also would tell that kid to just keep dreaming big and celebrating every tiny success. I was pretty good about both, but I could have been kinder with myself along the way and put some of that “worrying” time into “writing” time.
As for aspiring authors, my advice is actually different: seek out feedback from people you respect and who are willing to invest in your success—ESPECIALLY kids if you’re a KidLit writer. Getting perspectives from people that you cannot give yourself is the greatest gift you can get. If you are afraid of feedback, you either need to get over it, or pick another pursuit.
Thanks for the great advice! What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Well, people who know me personally know this, but the rest of the world would have no idea that I grew up in a home where two separate families chose to live together for nearly 20 years. My parents and their best friends, who had a daughter who was almost a year older than I was, moved in together in 1973 and we all shared a household until the 90s. It was partly a hippie thing, but also it was four people who realized if they pooled their financial, experiential and parenting resources, they felt they could live a better life together than apart. And yes, someday I need to write about it, but I haven’t decided what’s the right way to do it.
That may be one of the most fascinating answers we've gotten to that question! Where can people find you online?
Always a good idea to start at my website, www.ShawnPetersWrites.com , which is where I’ll have links to buy books, any events that are going on, and even a gallery of fan art (I have a bunch from the kids in my town who read those early drafts.) I’m also on Twitter quite a bit https://twitter.com/ShawnTweeters although if you like nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns, I’ve got another account that’s https://twitter.com/DnD_DadJokes . And I’ve been making superhero puns for teachers who have reluctant readers and Marvel/DC fans at https://www.tiktok.com/@writtenbyshawnpeters
Shawn Peters is a husband and father of two living in Metrowest Massachusetts who has written a little bit about a lot of things in a lot of places. His career includes ads for for massive brands, fantasy sports articles for ESPN, TV scripts for makeover shows and cop car crashes, and even essays about domestic date-nights that ran on the back page of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. Now, his
debut MG superhero adventure novel, THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER will be released by HarperCollins on January 18, 2022, with a sequel planned for a year later.a Rafflecopter giveaway