Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
My book is fiction: a novel called Maybe There Are Witches. It comes out June 13, 2023, from Fitzroy Books, an imprint of Regal House Publishing.
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
A middle school girl moves to a small town and discovers that her great-great-great-grandmother was executed for witchcraft there in the 1800s. After she finds a message addressed to her in a century-old book, she realizes that she and two local boys must stop a deadly catastrophe predicted by a 19th-century witch.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
I like to call it a spooky middle-grade book. I think that term gives you a better sense of the story’s tone than “contemporary fantasy horror,” which would also be technically correct.
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
The book’s been fortunate to get some positive reviews from some very talented writers, but the one I’ll probably remember the most came from an author I’d met in a Zoom meeting who was the first person to offer to write a blurb. I sent him the manuscript and he texted me two days later to say, “Dude! Just read the first 50 pages. It’s good as hell. Totally caught up in it from the git-go.”
The review he eventually wrote might’ve been a little more polished, but I was really on cloud nine that he reached out just to say that.
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
It’s so weird that you’re asking that, because my book is exactly like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan, except they’re on the hunt for a whale that bit off a man’s leg and then swallowed a clock. (Wait, no…that’s not right. That’s the autobiography I’m working on; it’s called Moby, There Are Witches.)
Actually, Maybe There Are Witches fits into a subgenre that seems to be surging right now: scary books for young readers that have a sense of humor. Some of my influences are middle-grade authors I look up to like Ellen Raskin (author of The Westing Game), John Bellairs (author of The House with a Clock in Its Walls) and Louis Sachar (author of Holes).
- Why this book? Why now?
I tried to write the sort of book that I would’ve enjoyed reading when I was around 9-13 years old. But the only way I could think to do that was to try to write a book that I’d enjoy reading now, and just hope that my 9-13 year-old self would get with the program.
If I were a faster writer, this book would have been out years ago! But I think the extra time added some layers to the story.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
I thought about this question and realized that my day job—my career—is the best job I’ve ever had. I’m a community college professor, and, while there are occasional frustrations, I get to work with a diverse bunch of—mostly—sincere and thoughtful students, and I get to work among colleagues who are inspiring. I’ve been very lucky.
Even if my book sells millions of copies, I’ll probably still teach. I just won’t teach summer school anymore. Or overload classes. And I might stop grading papers and going to committee meetings. So, once I’m rich, I’ll still teach…until I get fired.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
I didn’t set out to write a book that had a theme, or a lesson. I just wanted to write something scary and entertaining. But after I was done with this novel, I realized that it’s also a story about the stages of friendship, and the ways that we try to understand the people we meet as we get to know them better.
I’d like readers to take away this idea: there’s more to everyone than what we think we know. And more often than not, the time we spend getting to better know the people in our lives is time well spent.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
When I started writing Maybe There Are Witches, it was a darker story, and I would probably have associated it with a song like Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Season of the Witch.” But the book I ended up writing is a bit more fun, so I’m inclined to think it needs a sprightly Danny Elfman theme, along the lines of the Beetlejuice main titles.
In terms of food, zucchini bread is the official sponsor of Maybe There Are Witches. Please enjoy some zucchini bread, or perhaps some zucchini muffins, as you read this.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I tend to read a few books at the same time. As I write this, I’m reading Tracy Badua’s middle-grade novel Freddie vs. the Family Curse and Sayaka Murata’s novel for grown-ups, Earthlings. I’m also listening to a nonfiction audiobook called Something Wonderful: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution by Todd Purdum, but it will take me a while because I don’t have any road trips planned…until the end of June, when I’ve scheduled a few author events in different cities! That’s the real reason I scheduled readings and book signings: so I can knock out more audiobooks.
Learn more about Jude on his website.