“A boisterous balance of potty humor and geek pride in this rollicking adventure…”

With less than two months to go until the first book of the EngiNerds series hits shelves, reviews are starting to roll in. Here’s one from Kirkus Reviews:

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A gang of science nerds unwittingly unleashes a squadron of destructive robots and must engineer a way to save the town in Lerner’s debut novel.

When a mysterious box appears outside Kennedy’s house, he enlists the help of best friend and fellow EngiNerd Dan to sift through the metal parts and hardware. Together, they piece together a polite but ravenous robot named Greeeg. The robot eats all the food in the house—refusing only radishes—and Kennedy discovers that Greeeg is both insatiable and unmanageable. The potential for catastrophe is fully realized when Greeeg propulsively “disposes” (that’s robot defecation) tiny, window-shattering, brown-black cubes. Is the robot from Grandpa K., Kennedy’s hero and a former engineer? Is it coincidence that his best friend also hates radishes? Unfortunately, Kennedy isn’t the only one with a robot problem. Eighteen bullet-farting robots storm town, and the EngiNerds must band together and use ingenuity to prevent the robots from consuming and destroying everything in their wake. Sci-fi readers will enjoy the science and tinkering, but dangerous excreta is pure schoolboy horseplay. The story includes clever duct-tape solutions, the construction of catapults from disposable chopsticks, and a good, old-fashioned water fight in this action-packed celebration of nerd culture. The absence of ethnic markers implies that Kennedy is white, but the surnames of the EngiNerds suggest a diverse assemblage.

A boisterous balance of potty humor and geek pride in this rollicking young engineer’s adventure, the first of two. (Science fiction. 8-12)

Visit the Kirkus website for more great kid lit reviews and recommendations, and keep an eye out for more EngiNerds-related information as the pub date approaches!

Sketchbook (06/01/17)

I’m about to embark on a revision of a manuscript, and in an effort to better sink back down into the world of the story, I’ve been looking through the drawings I did while writing the first draft. Here’s a look at some of them. Below you’ll meet a handful of the story’s main characters, and also find a few hints about what they get up to as events unfold.

. . .

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Uncle Carl

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“Mom”

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A suspicious Mr. Worrest.

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An exhausted Mr. Worrest.

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Barnaby St. James (not to be confused with Rich Uncle Pennybags, a.k.a. “The Monopoly Man”)

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The cockatrice — a supposedly mythical creature…

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A few selections from Uncle Carl’s library.

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A few selections from Mr. Worrest’s library (the cover story of GOSSIP was, sadly, pulled directly from an actual tabloid).

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MENTAL Magazine — the only thing our narrator is interested in reading.

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The curious contents of Mr. Worrest’s fanny pack.

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The search for Mr. Worrest.

Inspiration in a Chinese Restaurant

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I recently came across an article titled “That Song Doesn’t Mean What You Think.” Being someone who constantly mishears song lyrics – thus making it impossible to accurately understand the meaning of any given song – I took a look.

The article features ten songs, and if there’s a trend among them, it’s that people tend to brighten and simplify songs that are in fact written about dark and complex matters. Some of the artists included in the list have griped about this. But they should know better – an artist effectively cedes control over their work once they offer it up to the public. All they can do is steer a listener (or reader, or viewer) toward a particular meaning. For better or worse, consumers of art become co-authors, using their imaginations to fill in the gaps and arrive at meanings unique to themselves.

But that’s not what I’m really here to talk about. Because there was one song on that list that stood out to me for operating in the opposite way. Instead of twisting complex and dark into simple and bright, the public found depth and melancholy in a song that had decidedly humble, straightforward origins.

The song is Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion.” Maybe you know it. It’s a reggae-inflected tune built upon a series of infectious melodies. The refrain in the chorus is as follows:

Oh, the mother and child reunion

is only a motion away.

Taking their cue from the rest of the song’s lyrics – which, admittedly, steer listeners fairly forcefully in this direction – most listeners assumed the song was about a strained mother-and-child relationship, about a gulf that had formed between mom and kid that might be bridged if only one or the other of them would reach out to do so.

But what was Paul Simon actually singing about? A chicken and egg dish that he once ate at a Chinese restaurant.

“I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown,” Simon explained in an interview, and “there was a dish called ‘Mother and Child Reunion.’ It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, ‘Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.’”

Paul Simon is and was, of course, well aware of what happens to a work of art once it’s sent out into the world. He knew his fans wouldn’t be able to intuit from the song’s lyrics alone that he’d found his inspiration for it in a Chinese restaurant. And by adding moody phrases like “false hope” and “strange and mournful day” – and not mentioning anything about chickens, eggs, or Chinese restaurants – Simon gave listeners a strong shove a different way.

But the real lesson to be taken away from this anecdote isn’t one about purposefully vague lyrics, about the gaps that songwriters leave in songs for listeners to fill (and that those listeners often fill in surprising ways). The real lesson here is about inspiration, and about how it can creep up on you in the most seemingly modest settings and most seemingly common situations.

Paul Simon was out to eat. He looked at a Chinese food menu and – bam – one dish in particular caught his eye. According to the fount of all knowledge (i.e., Wikipedia), the curiously named dish got Simon thinking about a pet dog that had been run over and killed: “It was the first death Simon personally experienced, and he began to wonder how he would react if the same happened to his wife at the time.”

Obviously, not everyone’s imagination would take such a gloomy turn. But you don’t need to go dark to produce a great piece of art. What you do need to do is keep your eyes open and your imagination alert – otherwise you might just miss the next great idea, sitting right under your nose.

. . .

Listen to Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” here.

Read about the other nine “misunderstood” songs here.

Sketchbook (05/11/17)

For this trip into my sketchbook, I’d like to introduce you to a handful of the stars of one of my current works in progress. The first few characters might look like regular old unassuming kids, but let’s just say they’ve got some rather . . . unusual abilities — ones that very much come in handy when an ice cream truck-driving villain pulls into their town.

. . .

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Parker

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Chase

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Avery

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Zeke

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Very obviously NOT Ms. Collins.

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This guy drives an ice cream truck and has some evil plans up his sleeve. “Free shovel with every purchase!”

Sketchbook (04/21/17)

Unlike a lot of authors these days (at least those that I know), I tend to start new projects longhand, with a pen or a marker and, usually, a brand-new pad of unlined paper. I do this for a couple of reasons.

One is that I think I think better with a pen in my hand, as opposed to a keyboard beneath my fingers. Writing takes longer than typing, and that extra time lets me think a little more about the characters I’m creating and the worlds I’m building. Once I’ve scratched out a rough draft, once I feel I’ve figured out what sort of story I’m actually trying to tell, then I’ll move over to the computer, where I can work more quickly and confidently to bang out a second, and hopefully much less rough, draft.

The other reason I like to start new projects the old-fashioned way is that I like to draw. A lot. It helps me think things through, making the characters and situations I’m writing about feel a bit more real. Also, it’s just fun.

Recently, I thought it might be cool to share some of the drawings that have been popping up alongside the stories I’ve been working on lately. It’ll give readers a behind-the-scenes look at my works in progress, and maybe even inspire any aspiring writers and/or artists out there to do a little drawing themselves.

So here, completely contextless, are some selections from my sketchbook. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine why an alien might need to disguise himself as a human, or why a boy might suddenly find himself falling through a hole in space-time.

Enjoy.

. . .

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Angry aliens.

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One particularly angry alien.

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Convincing, right?

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Pro tip: avoid eating large meals before falling through holes in space-time.

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One of these things is not like the others…

ENGINERDS available for pre-order!!!

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Is there a farting robot-sized hole in your life? If so, and you can’t bear to wait a single day longer than you must to fill it, pre-order the first ENGINERDS book today! It will arrive on your doorstep the day it comes out (having perhaps been delivered by one of the below retailers’ very own fleet of flatulent drones).

You can pre-order RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT from any of the below sites:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BAM! (Books-A-Million)

IndieBound

. . .

EngiNerds

by Jarrett Lerner

The battle between boys and bots is on in this funny, fast-paced novel.

Ken is an EngiNerd: one of a super-smart group of friends—all nerds—who have been close since kindergarten.

They may be brainiacs, but they’re just like everyone else: they fight with one another, watch too much TV, eat Chinese food, and hate walking their dogs. Well, maybe not just like everyone because Ken’s best friend Dan has been building robots. He then secretly sent one to each of the EngiNerds, never letting them know he’s the mastermind.

At first Ken is awed and delighted: what kid hasn’t dreamed of having a robot all their own? Someone who can be their friend, clean their room, walk the dog, answer homework questions…how amazing is that?

But be careful what you wish for: Dan’s robot, Greeeg, may look innocent, but his ravenous consumption of food—comestibles—turns him into a butt-blasting bot. And once the other robots ‘come alive’ it’s up to the motley crew of EngiNerds to not only save the day, but save the planet!

ENGINERDS cover art is here!

I’m beyond thrilled to finally share the cover art for ENGINERDS! This first book in the series hits shelves Fall of 2017, with sequels to follow.

If you’ve always wondered what might happen if a horde of comestible-obsessed, dangerously flatulent robots was unleashed on your town, THIS is the book for you.

Follow the blog to keep up-to-date on all ENGINERDS-related info.

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