Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors: Five Questions for Mylisa Larsen

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2022 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors, 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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In Playing Through the Turnaround, a group of misfit middle schoolers learns more from jazz class than just music.

1. Who was at your lunch table?

I sat with a bunch of quirky band kids, even though I wasn’t in band. I’m glad they let me in. Argument for the sake of argument was a big thing at that table.

2. What music did you listen to while working on this novel?

Thelonious Monk. Vanessa Collier and Laura Chavez in a tiny club in Syracuse. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Doreen Ketchens. Miles Mosley playing the bass like I did not know a bass could be played. The research was all glorious.

3. What was the most unexpected difference between writing picture books and writing a novel?

When I’m writing picture books, I can do other things — learn to knit, take up raising chickens, paint the siding. I can dip in and out. But novels! All my brain can think about is the novel. Even when I’m taking a break, my brain will be all, “What’s up with Quag’s mom? Is Cassie going to be okay?” I never feel like I’m driving the bus when I’m writing a novel until way late in the process. I’m standing in the aisle, hanging on to seat backs, while the whole thing careens along the road.

4. Who was your favorite middle-school teacher?

I didn’t have a Mr. Lewis, unfortunately. But I loved our school librarian, who helped me find every book in that library with a horse in it.

5. What’s your model for a great school story?

Kids have complicated lives in and out of school, and school is useful in a story as a place where those lives bump up against one another, against authority, and against new ideas. Pat Schmatz’s Bluefish is as complicated, heartbreaking, and beautiful as life. Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist is Ocean’s Eleven with middle schoolers. I like Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind and John David Anderson’s school-skipping story Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. Gary Schmidt uses school as a foil for all the wildness taking place in What Came from the Stars — there’s also another civilization, grief and memory, an O’Mondim roaming the beach. I like a school story with a lot going on.

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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. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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