Local author visits with young fans in Newton

Sparta's Wendy Mass at Black Dog Books

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  • Sparta-based author Wendy Mass speaks with children about her newest book, Bob, at Black Dog Books in Newton on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Photos by Mandy Coriston

  • Wendy Mass' latest book was prominently displayed at Black Dog Books in Newton, in anticipation of an author talk and book signing held Thursday at the independent bookstore on Spring Street.

  • Black Dog Books in Newton held an author talk and book signing with local children's author Wendy Mass on Thursday June 28, 2018. Mass read to her young fans from her new book, Bob, and answered questions on the new book and her numerous others.

By Mandy Coriston

— Sparta-based children’s author Wendy Mass writes well-traveled characters — some journey to far-off lands, and some even go to space — but she didn’t have to travel far to visit with some young fans. Mass held an author talk and book signing on Thursday afternoon, June 28, at Black Dog Books on Spring Street in Newton, and she was thrilled to share her new book, Bob, with children so close to home.

Bob, which is Mass’ 25th book geared towards young readers, tells the story of Livy, who goes to Australia to visit her grandmother. Livy gets more than she bargained for when she becomes reacquainted with Bob, an odd little creature of mysterious origins. Bob was co-written with Newbery Medal-winning author Rebecca Stead, the first collaboration of its kind for Mass.

"Rebecca was inspired to write the Livy story on the way back from a trip to Australia, and left a cliffhanger at the end. She contacted me and asked if I would like to write the other character,” Mass said, “And that character was Bob. We created some ground rules for working together, like not outlining the plot in advance. We decided to do it like an improv act, passing the chapters back and forth.”

Mass said that writing Bob with Stead was like having a pen pal.

“This was special, because there was no pressure. We took our time writing it around our other solo projects,” Mass said, “Writing this way was an adjustment, but I think it’s a richer story because of it.”

The book, which was seven years in the making, was released on May 1st of this year.

Bob isn’t Mass’ only magical character. She has infused a bit of the mystical into her Willow Falls Series, as well.

“I like to think you can turn a corner or lift a rock to find a bit of magic,” she said, “I try to write this series as realistic fiction with a magical twist.”

Mass has also written stand-alone books which explore the universal truths of coming of age. Asked how she keeps such a well-worn topic fresh and real, Mass said, “I think everyone has their own personal experience with coming of age and finding themselves. Thinking about it like that helps me write new plot lines.”

In her Space Taxi series, Mass takes a leap away from the earthly troubles of adolescence and sends her characters — a boy named Archie, his dad, and their talking cat, Pockets — on mystery-filled adventures all over the universe.

“I like to break out of the mold by writing different genres,” Mass said, “It keeps me sharp to write such different plots.”

Mass also exercises her imagination by reinventing the fairy tale in her Twice Upon a Time series, in which she speaks from the point of view of both the prince and the princess. The latest in the series, Robin Hood (The One Who Looked Good In Green), sends the titular hero and his Maid Marian on an adventure into space. Published by Scholastic, the book was released May 29, 2018.

Mass said she creates all her quirky characters by putting them through a questionnaire of sorts.

“None of them are based on real people. I come up with a character and I do an imaginary ‘interview’ with them, until they seem real.” So real, in fact, that two of her books have been optioned for film. “The Candymakers and A Mango-Shaped Space have both been scripted. I’ve read them, and they are really good. Now we just need producers.”

Judging by the eager faces of the dozen or so young fans who gathered to spend time with Mass, her carefully crafted characters have become beloved friends. A woman named Debbie brought her 9-year-old daughter Talia up from North Caldwell to meet the author. “She’s a huge fan,” Debbie said, watching Talia light up with a big grin upon meeting Mass. “She wants to be a writer, too, and this was well worth the drive.”

As if she didn’t want to miss the story, Yeava, the black dog who inspired the name and logo of the bookstore, lay quietly in the hallway outside the reading room as Mass treated the kids to a few passages from Bob. Yeava’s human ‘mom’ and shop owner Catherine Cassidy said, “We’re extremely excited to have Wendy here. I really admire her work, and she has such an ability to relate with children-and their parents, who often read the books as well.”

Mass was delighted to have been invited to the bookstore, which opened in July of 2016.

“I’m really happy to be here today. I was so excited to see this store pop up in Newton. Between here and Sparta, we now have two indie bookstores,” she said, “We’re just so lucky to have them!”

Black Dog Books is located at 188 Spring Street in Newton and is open every day but Monday. The shop can be visited online at www.blackdogbooksnj.com. Information on all of Wendy Mass’ books, signing events, and parent and teacher resources can be found on her website at www.wendymass.com.

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