Friday, October 1, 2010

Lisa Graff is in the house!

I'm so happy to have my pal, Lisa Graff, stop by on her blog tour today!

Lisa's new book, Sophie Simon Solves Them All, is a hilarious romp, perfect for the younger set.

I love this book!

Lisa is also the author of some other favorites of mine:

Umbrella Summer
The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower

The Thing About Georgie

So, let's chat with Lisa:

What was the worst job you've ever had?

I've had a whole slew of weird jobs, but probably the strangest one was my work study job during my freshman year of college, back when I was still pre-med (this did not last long). I worked at an eye research lab at UCLA, and one of my many tasks there was to cut up frozen rat eyeballs into microscopic slices and stick them on slides for examining. It wasn't very, um, appetizing, as you might expect, but I must have a bit of a macabre streak, because I actually enjoyed the job quite a bit.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

My middle school had the very strange practice of hosting a "money jump" during the school-wide assembly at the end of each semester. Twice a year, the name of every student who had received straight A's on their report card that semester would be put into a hat, and one was selected to jump--in front of the entire school--across a long taped-together strip of dollar bills. As far as you could jump, that how much money you got to take home. I remember specifically that after the jump, the entire student body would count out loud as Mrs. Rouse, the language arts teacher, slapped the bills into the winner's hand -- Twenty-six! Twenty-seven! It was very dramatic.

Anyway, I'm sure you can see where this is going. At the very end of seventh-grade (a year in which I was so awkward that I wore stretch purple leggings almost every day), I was called down for the money jump. I didn't really want to do it. Sure, it was cool in theory. Who wouldn't want to earn money for good grades? But the idea of having the nerdiest (and, let's face it, probably least coordinated) kids in the school jumping for cash in front of hundreds of their classmates was obviously a potential disaster in the making. And so of course I fell flat on my butt. I earned exactly four dollars. The most humiliating part of it was when the entire school counted out my earnings as Mrs. Rouse doled out the dollars to me -- Three! Four! . . . And that was it. I was the least successful money-jumper in the history of Big Bear Middle School.

What was the book that made you fall in love with reading?

The first book I remember absolutely devouring was Around the world in 80 Days. I was in fourth grade, and I had found the book randomly on the library shelves, without anyone suggesting it to me, so it really felt like was just mine--a book that no one else in the world had ever discovered before. I loved it so much that I actually built a fort in my room by nailing a blanket into the wall (I'm sure my mother loved that), the sole purpose of which was to read that one book. I would it in there, for hours, curled up with the outside world miles away, completely absorbed. It was magical.

What is your stupidest fear?

I am afraid of very many things, but the absolute stupidest one is that I will walk into my bathroom some morning, bleary-eyed, and discover a boa constrictor in my toilet. This actually happened to my parents (twice! Well, it was the same boa, but it made two appearances before they caught it . . . ) when they lived in Mississippi, before I was born, and I must have heard the story so many times when I was a kid that I became downright traumatized. I fully realize that the chances of this happening to me are slim to none, but still to this day I feel the need to check inside every toilet before I squat, just in case.

What word or phrase do you drive copyeditors crazy with (e.g., use too often or incorrectly)?

I just think I might just use the word 'just' just a tad too often. But it's just a habit I just picked up somewhere. (Ugh. Seriously, my 'just' usage is out of control. I can't help it.) I also have absolutely o idea how to use semi-colons, so I try to avoid them at all costs.

Who is your literary crush (besides me)?

You! Definitely you! :) Also George Bernard Shaw. And Louis Sachar. And Katherine Paterson.

In the realm of fictional literary crushes (specifically The Hunger Games), I will proudly declare myself a member of Team Gale (although Peeta's not too shabby, either . . . )

What's one thing you thought would be in your story (a character, plotline, them, etc) that didn't end up in the final version?

I always write several drafts of a book, and so much changes between the first and the last draft that sometimes the two are barely recognizable. That said, Sophie Simon definitely went through the least changes of any of my books. There were two chapters in the book that were greatly modified for the final version, one from the teacher (Mr. St. Cupid)'s point of view, and one from the point of view of a ring-tailed lemur (!!). Fortunately, my very wise editor encouraged me to change those things. There was a truly awful scene in Pete's Pet Store, which will never see the light of day. I'm not sad about that in the slightest, except for losing a very sassy parrot who didn't make the final cut. Maybe she can sneak her way into a different book . . .

If you could combine three of your favorite children's books into one, which books would they be and how might you blend the stories or characters?

Oh, this is such a good question! And hard. Hmmmm. I will pick . . . Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Graceling, and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! In this new book, entitled Don't Let the Graceling Be a Wimp!, Greg does his best to get through middle school without being stuffed in a locker, with the help of his best friend, Pigeon, whose secret grace is the ability to shout really loudly. And, um, there's sword fighting.

You used to blog about conducting beauty experiments (which was highly entertaining, by the way). Which one was the biggest failure? Success?

A yes! That was about two years ago, when I was attempting to try all of the beauty advice from six women's magazines in six months. I got through five months before my medicine cabinet (and my brain) pretty much exploded. It was lots of fun, though, if also extremely weird.

Definitely the most ridiculous thing I did during that period (and there were a lot of ridiculous things) was to give myself a beehive hairdo, which I word--with fake eyelashes and blue sparkly nails--on a five a.m. plane trip to Arizona. Because, you know, why not? I actually set off the metal detector at the airport because of all the bobby pins I had stuck in my head. (I think it was something like 87. It was a little insane.) So I'm not sure if that would be considered a success or a failure.

The things I liked the most were the small, creative tips that were easy (and cheap!) to implement, and actually somewhat useful. Like putting powder on your face before you foundation, to make everything last longer. Or dabbing a bit of lip gloss on your eyelids for a quick pick-up if you're out and about. Or (my favorite) using a quick swipe of hand sanitizer on your armpits if you're ever caught without deodorant (the hand sanitizer kills the bacteria under your arms and thus the smell as well--who knew??) My absolute least favorite thing I did--including the numerous weird haircuts and dye jobs I suffered, which were also brutal--was the day I had to boil four cups of rice in far too much water, then let the leftover water cool . . . and then I had to drink it. It was slimy, milky, definitely putrid, and it did not, as claimed, do a single thing to clear up my complexion.

I see on your web sit that at one time you wanted to change your name to Lisa Graff, Great Scientist. What would be your second choice?

Hmmmm. If I had to change my name now I would probably choose to go by my middle name, Colleen, which I love.

Okay, here's a problem for Sophie Simon to solve:

Your teacher has chosen a cheese factory for your class field trip. All the kids in the class would rather tour a nearby chocolate factory, but just can't seem to convince the teacher. They're looking to you do do the job. How would you do it?

Oh, my! How could anyone ever choose between cheese and chocolate? Two such wonderful treats . . . Well, short of inventing a time machine so that they could travel to both during the same school day (probably a difficult task, given Sophie's constant lack of funds), she would most likely have the students mention to their teacher the amazing health benefits of chocolate (Did you know, for instance, that it can help lower high blood pressure as well as prevent blood clots? Bring on the cacao!), as well as its fascinating history (discovered in the Amazon 4,000 years ago, used as an Aztec health elixir, and finally unleashed to the world by Spanish monks . . . It's practically a soap opera!)

The teacher, however, might counter with some fun facts of her own--cheese has its own fabulous health benefits, for one thing (preventing hypertension and osteoporosis, anyone?) and the study of different methods of cheese making around the world could fill up a social studies class for years. So really Sophie would be left to choose which group truly felt the strongest about their particular dairy product. To do this, she would most likely unleash the wisdom of Solomon, and threaten to set both the cheese and the chocolate factories on fire if neither side would come to a decision. And whoever agreed to go with the other for the sake of saving their favorite food would be the victor. (If no one agreed, well, I guess everyone in town would have the makings for a lot of cheese and chocolate fondue parties . . . )

Thanks for the fabulous questions, Barbara, and for letting me stop by!

Want to win a free copy of Sophie Simon Solves Them All?

Farrar, Straus & Giroux is giving away a free copy of Sophie Simon Solves Them All to one lucky blog reader! Just send an email to, along with the name of this blog, for a chance to win (winners will be notified within the week). Or follow along on the rest of Lisa's blog tour for more chances. For the full schedule of stops, visit


Anonymous said...

Barbara and Lisa: I enjoyed this interview so much! You two write some of the funniest stuff I've ever read. Lisa you've got to use this for a first line:

I was the least successful money-jumper in the history of Big Bear Middle School.

It's priceless. As are you!

Augusta Scattergood said...

Terrific questions and hilarious answers.
You two make quite the team!