Publishers' Preview: Books in the Middle: Five Questions for Kiyash Monsef

This interview originally appeared in the January/February 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Books in the Middle, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Once There Was a young woman forced by circumstance to take over her father’s struggling veterinary practice. No one told her she would be charged with caring for magical beasts — and saving the world.

1. If I had a dollar for every writer who told me of their childhood love for the d’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths…what is it about that book?

Everyone has an illustration that’s stuck with them. For me, it’s the kraken rising up out of the ocean. And for a lot of people it was one of our first exposures to really old stories and a deep, continuous mythology. They’re unapologetically complex, internally referential, and ask a lot of young readers, visually and narratively. When you work hard to enjoy something at a young age, it leaves an impression.

2. First novel, congrats. What was the most difficult part?

Bringing my heritage into the story. For years, I resisted exploring Iranian themes in this book. Finally, I felt brave enough to make Marjan my main character and address things I experienced growing up Iranian American. A rich storytelling tradition opened itself up; it transformed the book. If there’s something you’re resisting, it might be a good idea to notice that, ask yourself why, and at least explore it.

3. Who is your favorite mad scientist in film or literature?

My favorites are capable scientists, mad or not. Egon Spengler is my favorite Ghostbuster. Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary has a great science team that solves problem after problem, and it’s so satisfying. My favorite “mad” scientist is Dr. Henry Jekyll. The combination of reckless self-experimentation and the addictive nature of power and freedom from morality — which ultimately leads to self-destruction — makes for as pure a tragic mad-scientist story as there is.

4. I’d love to see your unicorn again. Will we?

I think it would prefer to remain hidden, but it’s possible we might meet it again.

5. What do you think would happen “if tomorrow everyone woke up to learn that dragons are real”?

We’d see reactions from wonder to fear. It would challenge everything we think we know about the world and our place in it. We’d see the best and worst of humanity.

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Photo: Jane McGonigal.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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