‘Jack and the Geniuses’: A GeekDad Q&A with Gregory Mone (+ Giveaway)

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Meet Jack and the Geniuses. No, they’re not the newest YouTube pop singing sensation (at least, not yet). Rather, they’re three orphan siblings who are, actually, geniuses. They also happen to be the stars of the brand-new middle-grade STEM-focused books by Bill Nye the Science Guy and Gregory Mone!

The tough part of Jack’s life is that, well, he’s not actually a genius. His siblings, Ava and Matt, are. Ava speaks multiple languages and builds robots for fun, and Matt is super into astronomy and math. Where does that leave Jack? Well, Jack is curious and knows how to ask all the right questions. Which, when you stop to think about it, might be even better!

Jack and the Geniuses at the Bottom of the World is the first book in the series, which releases next week. Since it’s cowritten by Bill Nye the Science Guy and science journalist (and novelist!) Gregory Mone, the book obviously features science in a big way. But it also features fun. A lot of fun.

Nye and Mone set out to integrate real science facts with a compelling and engaging story about a bunch of kids who set out to solve a mystery. Think of it a bit like the Hardy Boys or Tom Swift for 2017.

We had a chance to chat with Gregory Mone about the book and his plans for the series. And how he originally met Bill Nye (which is probably not how you’d imagine).

We’ve also got THREE copies of the book to give away to lucky readers. Enter using the fields down at the bottom, after the Q&A. Good luck!

GeekDad: You’re a children’s author and science journalist, and by your own admission, that’s not a common pairing. But it also makes you perfect for Jack and the Geniuses. How did you originally get connected to the project?

Gregory Mone: Bill and I met a decade or so ago while I was out in Los Angeles reporting a story for Popular Science magazine. We had a great chat and actually ended up going surfing together. A few years ago, when he started looking for someone to help him reach kids in a new way, we reconnected. He wanted a collaborator who had some experience writing fiction for kids but could also tell real-world science and exploration stories. I don’t think there are all that many people writing science journalism and middle-grade pirate novels and adventures.

Plus, we’d surfed together.

GeekDad: Had you worked with Bill Nye before? As a science journalist, I imagine writing a book with Nye is sort of like an actor making a movie with Tom Hanks. That might not be a perfect analogy, but there had to have been some anxiety going into it, right?

Mone: We’d never officially worked together before, so there was definitely a little anxiety. But once the story started coming together, and we started filling it up with exoskeletons and self-driving cars and inflatable vehicles, everything kind of clicked. I think the biggest argument we had was over which name was funnier: Bob or Hank.

Hank won.

GeekDad: What was the writing process like? How did the two of you work together to get the words on the page?

Mone: He wrote a letter, then I wrote the next letter, and we kind of went back and forth like that for years before realizing it was totally inefficient.

Actually, the process is always changing, but my two favorite parts have been the conceptual stage and the finishing touches. We’ve had some great brainstorming sessions going through the big themes and ideas – desalination, green power plants, better batteries, and so on. I’ve always thought my brain was crowded, but his mind is totally packed. Streamlining and focusing our ideas has been really fun.

We also had some weird little arguments when the book was done. Bill is surprisingly passionate about grammar.

GeekDad: How much research was involved?

Mone: An enormous amount. I’m really big on research when writing fiction. And the science had to be accurate. Given Bill’s experience and all the years I’ve been writing about strange people building strange contraptions for various magazines, there was no shortage of ideas. Most of the research actually involved following up on those ideas and making sure we were getting everything right.

My favorite part was learning about Antarctica. The first book is set down at McMurdo Station, the U.S. research base at the South Pole. The three kids – Jack, Ava, and Matt – venture down there with their mentor, Hank (Bill won!), to find a missing scientist. We wanted to accurately render that world, but we didn’t have time to travel there, so I interviewed a bunch of people, including an amazing planetary scientist at Georgia Tech named Britney Schmidt. She goes to McMurdo every year, and she offered some really interesting and often funny background.

Apparently, McMurdo has 24-hour pizza. Plus, everyone carries candy bars into the field because they burn so many calories. That’s the kind of thing young readers need to know.

GeekDad: This is the first book in a planned series. How many books are you planning for? Do you already have an outline in place for where the story is going?

Mone: We’re writing three to start, and those have been extensively planned and plotted. The second one is finished, and we’re deep into the third one now. In each one, the idea is to take kids on an adventure while introducing them to new science and fascinating technology. Story always comes first, though, and each book is defined by a central mystery, so ideally the kids won’t even know they’re learning.

GeekDad: What kind of kids do you think will be naturally attracted to Jack and the Geniuses? Who are you targeting?

Mone: Bill puts it best in his dedication to the first book: “Every kid of any age who seeks knowledge and adventure.”

As for me, I write for myself. I’m still 12 years old in my imagination. I just happen to have a family and a slightly graying beard.

GeekDad: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

Mone: A passion and respect for science and this amazing planet we live on. And the power of curiosity, too. The narrator, Jack, isn’t as smart as his siblings, but he’s immensely curious. You can get pretty far in life chasing questions.

GeekDad: How much of you is in the book?

Mone: There’s a little bit of both of us, I think. You’ll see some of Bill in the Hank character, and there’s a little of me in each of the kids – especially when Jack’s thoughts drift off on completely random tangents.

Wait, where were we?

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