Jack At The Helm (The Berenson Schemes #3) by Lisa Doan (Lerner Publishers, 2015)
Kid Lit Frenzy is excited to welcome Lisa Doan to the blog. After reading her bio on her blog, I knew that an interview with her would be fun just like the Berenson Scheme books.
Alyson – Thank you so much for inviting me!
Lisa , I noticed that you have traveled a lot. Is there a country or part of the world that you would still like to get to and why?
So many places! Bhutan, Fiji, Costa Rica, Panama, China . . . the list goes on. But I really need to go to Ireland. I am a dual citizen (US/Ireland) and have not gotten there! (Blame my failure to win the lottery or otherwise come upon some extra money—Ireland is not as cheap as the usual places I go.) My grandmother emigrated to the U.S. from county Leitrim, and so I was eligible for citizenship through descent. I will go there, the question is—will I come back?
How has all your travel experiences and various jobs helped you in writing The Berenson Schemes series? And do you see more of yourself in Jack or his irresponsible parents?
I have been a vagabond and jack-of-all trades, and this can only be helpful in writing. While it’s true that you can write about something you know nothing about by researching it, real life experience allows you to know things you would never thought of researching because you didn’t know they existed. Real life experience gives you a level of detail that Google can’t deliver. The first Berenson book, Jack the Castaway, is based on Roatán, a Caribbean island I lived on for eight years. I know what the air smells like. That the pineapple soda tastes like bubblegum. That carrying a machete around is no more alarming than a grocery bag. That the sweet smell of wood smoke is actually mosquito coils. I know how the ocean changes—gray waves crashing over the reef during a northern storm and the sea as still and glassy as a swimming pool in summer. Research can only go so far in distilling a sense of place.
And now for the bad news—sadly, I am much more Richard and Claire than Jack. I look at Jack and his parents as having wildly different risk tolerance temperatures—Jack runs cold and they run hot. I run on the hot side—for example, at one point I was a Vice President of real estate finance in New York City . . . and then quit to teach scuba in the Caribbean. Not exactly careful!
When I think of the Berenson Schemes series, I think of early middle grade, especially 3rd and 4th graders. It is not always easy to write for this age group. Did you have a specific age group in mind when you started writing or did you just happen to find that you enjoyed writing for them?
I never had a specific age group in mind. It seems to me that you think up a story and it goes where it goes and then a publisher tells you who it’s for. In general, I do naturally write in middle grade territory—it feels so full of possibilities. Middle grader’s minds are wide open and they’ll go to any interesting place. I don’t feel a pull to write a dystopian YA, or about drugs and sex, or anything relentlessly dark—that’s just not my thing. I sometimes think it’s too bad it’s not my thing, as dark seems to get more respect than light. But, I don’t think you can really choose what you write—it’s an expression of personality and I prefer to walk on the sunny side of the street most of the time.
I saw on your website that you are a Doctor Who fan. I frequently wish for my own TARDIS. If you had one (including the Time Lord) what time period or place would you go to first?
I would start in medieval England and see if I couldn’t do something about Henry the Eighth. He no doubt suffered a traumatic brain injury from that jousting accident, and became a monster afterwards. I would keep him off that horse, or at least tell Anne Boleyn to make a run for it. Then I would use 1066 and All That, possibly the best history book ever written, to move backwards and forward through English history. Then I would end in London in the Victorian Era and somehow manage to meet Charles Dickens. Once I had him cornered, I would ask him to seriously rethink the end of The Old Curiosity Shop. (I was outraged when Nell died.) Mr. Dickens should not be surprised to see me, as he is well-acquainted with the Doctor.
My final stop would be right here in Pennsylvania to have a word with some of my ancestors, The Doan Gang. They were Tory outlaws and spies during the American Revolution, and were so naughty that it is said that you should “Never sneak up on a Doan dead or alive.” I would insist they stop robbing tax collectors and spying for the British, and also find out where they buried all the money they stole.
Of course, the Doctor would be furious with my meddling. I suppose that’s why he’s never come to pick me up.
From reading your bio, I can't imagine you ever having a stay-cation, but I would be curious to discover what 5 things you would do if you did the touristy thing in your current home town?
For all my traveling, I am not at all against staycations! I live in West Chester, Pennsylvania, so I would start with a visit to Valley Forge National Park and have a peek into the old cabins to see what life was like for a soldier during the Revolutionary War. Then, on to the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville—the original site for the famous “running out of the theater scene” in the 1950s classic movie, The Blob. The Colonial looks much as it did in the 50s and they re-enact the theater run-out scene every year. Third, I would stop for lunch at The Eagle Tavern for Fish ‘n Chips. The tavern has been in business since the 1700s and my naughty ancestors The Doan Brothers used to drink there. In the afternoon, I would rent a catamaran and sail around the lake at Marsh Creek State Park. Finally, I would stop for a beer at Ryan’s Pub—a small Irish tavern in the heart of West Chester Borough.
Some authors love to write from home in a special place in the house, others have an office they go to, and others like the local coffee shop. Do you have a preference for where you write? And can we get a glimpse of the space or the view from there?
In the winter, I write at home. Some writers use a music soundtrack as a backdrop to writing—I use lights. The lights around the window are cheery and my tiny fake fireplace (mainly it’s a lamp, shaped to look like a woodstove) looks almost real if you don’t stare directly at it. In warm weather, I go to the park. I bring a lot of snacks and my trusty NEO – a genius little tool for writing first drafts.
What was the first book that turned you into a reader and why?
I received Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess for Christmas one year—it was my first big book. I read it, then I read it again, and again, and again. Finally, my mom asked me if I had read it and I told her I had—ten times already. She said that wasn’t necessary, we could get another book. I said no, because I liked the book I had. I was enthralled with Ram Dass and the makeover of Sara and Becky’s attic.
What is your favorite indie bookstore and where is it located?
The Chester County Book Company! It’s right down the road and has a much bigger children’s section than your usual chain store.
About Lisa Doan:
Lisa Doan is the author of The Berenson Schemes series – Jack the Castaway, Jack and the Wild Life and Jack at the Helm. She received a master’s degree in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her extensive travel in Africa and Asia and eight years spent living in the Caribbean were the basis for the series’ international settings. She has hatched her share of harebrained schemes, including backpacking alone from Morocco to Kenya, hitchhiking across the Sahara with Nigerian car dealers, sauntering off on an ill-advised, one-person walking safari, and opening a restaurant with no actual restaurant experience. Her occupations have included master scuba diving instructor, New York City headhunter, owner-chef of a “sort of Chinese-like” restaurant, television show set medic, and deputy prothonotary of a county court. Visit the author and download free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guides at lisadoan.org.
Check out the other stops on the blog tour:
Mon, Mar 2 Just a Little Creativity
Tues, Mar 3 The OWL for YA
Wed, Mar 4 Once Upon a Story
Thurs, Mar 5 Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Mar 6 Children's Book Review
Mon, Mar 9 The Compulsive Reader
Tues, Mar 10 Books Unbound
Wed, Mar 11 Geo Librarian
Thurs, Mar 12 The Late Bloomer's Book Blog
One lucky winner will win all three Berenson Schemes books: JACK THE CASTAWAY, JACK AND THE WILDLIFE, and the newest release, JACK AT THE HELM. (U.S. addresses only.) Please complete the rafflecopter below.