Author Spotlight: Erik Jon Slangerup
|© Jaime Santillán
May 27, 2022
We are excited to feature author Erik Jon Slangerup and his debut middle grade novel, MOLLY AND THE MACHINE (Aladdin/ Simon & Shuster), out on June 7. Enter to win a copy!
|cover art by Oriol Vidal/ design by Laura Lyn DiSiena
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Hi, I’m Erik Jon Slangerup, and I write books for kids. If you ask Jimmy Adams, my good friend from second grade, he’ll tell you that he remembers me saying I wanted to children’s books when I grow up. I don’t recall saying this myself, but I trust Jimmy. So maybe it’s what I always wanted to do. Even still, it took me awhile to get there (both writing and growing up).
I started out writing picture books, and loved it, but after publishing three, I got a little stuck. Then a brilliant writer and editor friend, Wendy McClure, suggested that my voice was more suited for middle grade. She was right.
Congrats on your MG debut, Molly and the Machine! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Thank you! I’ll tell you, this book—with all of the weird things I got to put in it that are so close to my heart—is really a dream come true. Crazy to think it’ll be out in the world soon, after living in my head so long, you know?
Molly and the Machine could be described as an 80s sci-fi action adventure, in the spirit of movies like ET and The Goonies, with maybe a girl-power twist. But some of the inspiration actually came from an earlier era. When I was a kid in the 70s, I was both terrified and fascinated with the prospect of being eaten by some giant creature. Weird, I know. But I grew up on old monster movies with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, as well as early mecha anime by Yoshiyuki Tomino. That’s where the idea came from for a giant robot to scoop up Molly's brother and swallow him. And Molly has to use all of her ingenuity to track down the robot and save her brother. Molly’s got a knack for gadgets—just imagine if MacGyver were an 11-year-old girl from rural Ohio.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
My road was a little of everything. I published my first picture book, Dirt Boy, back in 2000, then a couple more after that. But afterwards, I got busy with my day job. For many years, I was a writer and creative director in the ad business, which was also fun, but demanded a lot. So it took me awhile to carve out the time and finally come back around to my first love, which is writing for kids. In between, I developed a read-aloud storytime app called “StorySnacker." And one of the snack-size stories from the app seeded the idea for Molly and the Machine. Writing the draft and finding an agent took me a few years, but I eventually got representation from a connection over a random coffee one day. After that, things moved really fast.
None of this would have happened without taking a few sabbaticals from work, which I highly recommend if you can swing it. (I also recommend always saying yes to coffee!)
What projects are you working on now?
At the moment, I am deep in revisions for Molly and the Mutants, the sequel to Molly and the Machine. This time, just as Molly’s life takes a turn for the better, she and her friends in Far Flung Falls find themself up against some giant mutant killer frogs, with long, sticky tongues that can catch a lot more than flies. They're super gross, and I’m really excited it.
After that, I’m set to work on a kind of steampunky, paranormal adventure set in the 1870s Frontier West, based on some really strange, obscure folklore around the true identity of Bigfoot that I grew up hearing when I was a kid.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? Recent ones?
As a kid, when I wasn’t digging through a Mad Magazine, I loved The Hardy Boys Mysteries, even though some of them might’ve given me nightmares. Later on, I was really inspired by Steward and Riddell's The Edge Chronicles and Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. And I adored anything by Nancy Farmer, especially her Sea of Trolls. Their imaginations all helped inform Molly’s world in some way.
More recently, I’ve really enjoyed Christyne Morrell’s Kingdom of Secrets, as well as B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, and Tae Keller’s When You Trap a Tiger.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same as you'd give to aspiring authors?
I think I’d tell a younger me to worry a little less about making a living, and focus more on chasing what you love—even if it takes a while to catch it. To aspiring authors, I’d say: Don’t be afraid for your writing to dig deep into your your own little weird obsessions—they’ll be more relatable than you think.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve been a professional writer for more than 25 years, but I’ve never learned how to type. It’s true. I hunt and peck. But somehow it works for me.
Where can people find you online?
People can find me online at my website, erikjonslangerup.com. I’m also occasionally on Twitter at @erikslangerup.
Erik Jon Slangerup is an award-winning children’s book author who writes strange, tender, action-packed tales. Molly and the Machine, an 80s sci-fi adventure, is his debut middle-grade novel, releasing June 7, 2022 with Aladdin Books. The sequel, Molly and the Mutants, will be released in 2023. Erik has written several picture books, including Dirt Boy, which made the Children’s Choices Reading List. He also co-created StorySnacker, the Webby-nominated read-aloud app ranked “Top 5 Apps in the World for Family and Kids.”
Erik is the father of five (soon six!), and lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and family.
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