Think you’ve had bad roommates?
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
In Suzanne Selfors’ “Wedgie & Gizmo,” a bouncy, barky superhero dog and an evil genius guinea pig move into the same house — and the sparks (and fur) fly.
Wedgie is so excited, he can’t stop barking. He loves having new siblings and friends to protect and he loves guinea pigs like his new friend Gizmo.
But Gizmo does not want to share his loyal human servant. He does not want to live in a pink Barbie Playhouse, or to be kissed and hugged by the girl human.
Gizmo is an evil genius.
He wants to take over the world and make all humans feel his wrath — but first he must destroy his new archenemy, Wedgie, once and for all.
Dun dun duuuunnnnn.
The book has already garnered much praise and several awards, and was recently announced as a finalist, in the “Books for Middle Grade Readers (ages 8-12)” category, for the Washington State Book Award (it would actually be Selfors’ second win, after claiming her first in 2013).
The WSBA is a program meant to honor outstanding books published by Washington authors. An award is given based on the strength of the book’s literary merit, lasting importance and overall quality. This year’s winners will be announced on Saturday, Oct. 13 during a ceremony at the Central Library in Microsoft Auditorium in Seattle.
The bestselling, Bainbridge-based author took some time to chat with the Review this week about the honor, her work and what the kids are into these days.
* This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
BIR: How does it feel to be a WSBA finalist? Did you know as you were writing it that “Wedgie & Gizmo” would be especially well received?
SS: It’s an honor to be a finalist for the WA State Book Award. Back in 2013, “The Sasquatch Escape” won in the children’s category, so this is my second time as a finalist. It’s doubly special because many of the other finalists are friends of mine, so, win or not, the night will be a big reunion.
Did I know that a story about a guinea pig who thinks he’s an evil genius and a corgi who thinks he’s a superhero, would get so much attention? Nope. A writer never really knows which of her books will break out. There’s a lot of luck involved. And librarians. They are a big reason why “Wedgie & Gizmo” is getting so much attention. They are selecting it for state lists, the Bluebonnet in Texas being the largest.
The audio version is up for some awards. And I recently learned that “Wedgie & Gizmo” won an award given by 15Love, a nonprofit started by the late tennis great Arthur Ashe, who was a big supporter of literacy. This award is for the best humorous children’s book of the year. I’m really excited about this award because funny books (like funny movies) don’t tend to receive critical attention, even though funny is what kids like to read.
BIR: What are some of the challenges of writing for such a specific demographic as “middle grade readers” — it’s not quite YA, but it’s also not exactly children’s stuff either, right?
SS: The “Middle Grade” term is a bit of a misnomer. The books in that category aren’t actually marketed to middle school students. They are really for elementary school readers. My sweet spot seems to be third- to fifth-graders, but I get lots of letters from adult readers who use my books as read-alouds because they enjoy the humor.
I wrote Young Adult for a short time, but didn’t really like it [as it] requires romance and sexual tension and all that teen angst. But middle grade feels like a natural fit for me. Adventure. Magic. Imaginary creatures. I’m still a fourth-grader at heart.
BIR: You’ve written about 30 books in slightly more than 10 years. What’s your writing schedule like to stay so productive?
SS: I don’t have a writing schedule. But I do write almost every day, just at different times and in different places. In the early years I’d write in the car while my son was at water polo practice. Now I write at Cups, or Hot Shots Java, or in bed.
I am always working on at least two contracts and always under tight deadlines.
One year I published six novels. That was a crazy time when I was writing a series for Mattel, a series for Little Brown and a series for Harper Collins under a pen name. I can’t believe I lived through that schedule. One book would be in rough draft, one would be in revision, one would be in copy edits.
I don’t want to do that anymore. One book a year sounds good to me.
BIR: Does the author of books for younger readers have a special deeper responsibility beyond simply crafting a good yarn (maybe demonstrating morality, ethics, inclusivity, etc. in a story)?
SS: The answer to this question is no. Kids’ authors do not have a special responsibility to impart moral lessons or to teach anything at all. Kids are smart and if you try to preach to them, they’ll see right through it. My goal is to entertain, pure and simple. And if my reader identifies with a character along the way, then that’s great. Because that is the power of a good story — it helps us understand that we are not alone.
BIR: Is there a subject and/or topic you’ve always wanted to tackle but have not — yet?
SS: What’s next? The next project is a book I’m writing with my son, Walker Ranson. It’s set in Tasmania and the main character is a wombat. It’s an adventure story, in the vein of “Redwall.”
And my latest book, “Wish Upon a Sleepover,” just came out. The premise: What would you do if your grandmother mailed your sleepover invitations to your DO NOT invite list?
It’s my first middle grade book set in Seattle and while it’s not really an “issue” book, I did create two characters who deal with anxiety, something I know a lot about. I’m very proud of this story.
Selfors will host a pajama party release celebration for “Wish Upon a Sleepover,” along with special guest, Island Treasure Award winner George Shannon, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9 at Eagle Harbor Book Company in downtown Winslow.
Visit www.eagleharbor books.com to learn more and purchase and advance copy.