Easy as Pi: An interview with Wendy Mass,
“If you think it's tough being the Supreme Overlord of the Universe, try being his son. Or, more precisely, his seventh son.”
So laments young Joss, narrator of award-winning author Wendy Mass's latest novel for tweens, Pi in the Sky (Little, Brown, 2013). While Joss's older brothers all have important jobs in the dark-matter world of The Realms—like inventing species, inspiring artists, and directing sunsets—Joss just delivers pies. Granted, the pies are stuffed with the secrets of the universe, but still…
When a sassy Earth-girl named Annika accidentally views The Realms, her solar system—along with Joss's best friend and his friend's parents—disappears from the space-time continuum, and it's up to Joss to bring it back. Easy as pie? Hardly. But with help from Annika, his brothers, and the late scientist Carl Sagan, Joss rises to the challenge.
Fun, fascinating, and fast-moving, Pi in the Sky is a first foray into science fiction for Mass, whose The Candymakers (Little, Brown, 2010) was a New York Times bestseller. Publisher's Weekly calls the “high-stakes extraterrestrial adventure” a story that “shines as bright as the stars of Joss's universe.”
“The germ of the idea for Pi in the Sky came from a quote a middle-schooler gave me.”
AUTHORLINK: How did the book come about? Why write sci-fi?
MASS: The germ of the idea for Pi in the Sky came from a quote a middle-schooler gave me. It was by astronomer Carl Sagan: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” My brain just started churning that quote over and over until a story started to form. I've always loved reading science fiction—starting with Ray Bradbury when I was younger—and I felt ready to take on the challenge. I wanted to write another book with a boy as the main character, and this felt like a good fit.
AUTHORLINK: You went on quite an info-gathering odyssey for this book. Can you describe your research? When did you know it was time to actually write?
MASS: Ah, the age-old quandary. Basically, my ever-approaching deadline told me it was time to get my butt out of the library chair and into my writing chair. I spent literally years doing research for the book—reading books on physics, astronomy, astrophysics, evolution, then pestering experts in these fields with crazy questions. I attended lectures, watched documentaries. I wrote other books while researching this one because I didn't feel like I could start writing until I knew enough to teach a class on introductory astrophysics!
“It was definitely intimidating trying to create a new
AUTHORLINK: What were the most challenging aspects of crafting Pi in the Sky? The most fun or satisfying?
MASS: It was definitely intimidating trying to create a new world, especially one that didn't follow any known rules of physics or biology. The closest I had come to that was in my Twice Upon a Time series (Scholastic), whose stories take place in medieval times. But it's a lot easier to research life in a time period that really happened than to make it all up from scratch. I had to think up everything from soup to nuts, as they say, and it washard. The most fun part was integrating the aspects of real science into the book. I also had a good time playing with the main characters—Joss and Annika—and their bantering relationship.
AUTHORLINK: There are some really lovely themes in Pi in the Sky—what happens after death? do we share the universe with other beings? is everything in the cosmos interconnected? What do you hope young readers will take away from the book?
MASS: I have a lot of relatives who are scientists. I am beginning to doubt that genetics mean anything because it is so hard for me to wrap my brain around a lot of it. So in this book I wanted to present the scientific information in such a way that it is understandable. I hope readers will close the pages with a greater sense of how the universe works, and the amazing fact that we are all here to witness it.
AUTHORLINK: You're best known as a fiction writer, yet you've got all sorts of nonfiction under your belt. Was fiction always the goal? How did you get to the point of writing fiction exclusively?
MASS: I started my career writing nonfiction for kids and teens on a variety of topics. I always picked the topics based on whether I personally wanted to learn more about them, and then I figured I would be able to write about them in a way that others would be interested too. Eventually I realized I could do the same thing with fiction, which was always my dream. Now I take a topic (synesthesia in A Mango-Shaped Space [Little, Brown, 2005], astronomy in Every Soul a Star [Little, Brown, 2008] and Pi in the Sky, the meaning of life in Jeremy Fink [Little, Brown, 2006]) and then explore it through fiction.
“I definitely feel pressure not to let down the readers, and basically hold my breath each time a new|
book comes out . . .”
AUTHORLINK: Now that you're an award-winning, critically acclaimed, and commercially successful author, do you feel any pressure as you sit down to start a new project? Like you have to fulfill certain expectations? How do you deal with that?
MASS: Thank you for the kind words! Yes, I definitely feel pressure not to let down the readers, and basically hold my breath each time a new book comes out until the reviews from kids start coming in. I do know that you can't please everyone, so I try not to take it personally. I have wonderful editors, though, so I know they'd never let me hand something in if it wasn't as good as I could make it. I've just about forgiven my editor Alvina Ling at Little, Brown for making me rewrite all four hundred fifty pages of The Candymakers from page twenty forward!
AUTHORLINK: What's next?
MASS: In October is the last book in the Willow Falls series that started with 11 Birthdays (Scholastic, 2009). It's called The Last Present. And then in spring 2014 comes the debut book in an early chapter book series I'm writing with my husband called Space Taxi. It's for readers younger than I've written for before, and it's about a boy who is the copilot for his dad, who drives an intergalactic taxi cab.
To learn more about Wendy Mass and her books, visit www.wendymass.com.
About Susan VanHecke
Susan VanHecke is an author and editor of books for adults and children. Her titles for young people include Raggin' Jazzin' Rockin': A History of American Musical Instrument Makers (Boyds Mills, 2011), Rock 'N' Roll Soldier (HarperCollins, 2009), and An Apple Pie For Dinner (Cavendish, 2009). To find out more about Susan and her books, visit www.susanvanhecke.com and www.susanvanheckeeditorial.com.