Monday, August 15, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Fourth Stall--and a GIVEAWAY!!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: I am so very excited today. This Marvelous Middle Grade Monday sees my first ever interview with an author, the ferociously funny and supremely talented Chris Rylander. Chris very graciously gave his time to deal with my gushing e-mails and breathless interview questions about his debut novel, The Fourth Stall, so a huge thank you to him.

Before we proceed, you all must know: I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!
Don't ya just love the hand with the toilet paper?

More importantly, so does my 14-year-old son. Right now, if you can get him to read anything other than Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, or Game Informer and Rolling Stone magazines, I have a medal I'd like to present to you. So the fact that he read The Fourth Stall and even did a book report on it has me falling to my knees and praising the heavens for Chris Rylander.

The heavens-be-praised author himself

What is this book about? Here's the blurb from Goodreads:

Chris Rylander delivers a funny Ferris Bueler-style middle grade novel with The Fourth Stall.

Do you need something? Mac can get it for you. It's what he does—he and his best friend and business manager, Vince. Their methods might sometimes run afoul of the law, or at least the school code of conduct, but if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can pay him, Mac is on your side. His office is located in the East Wing boys' bathroom, fourth stall from the high window. And business is booming.

Or at least it was, until one particular Monday. It starts with a third grader in need of protection. And before this ordeal is over, it's going to involve a legendary high school crime boss named Staples, an intramural gambling ring, a graffiti ninja, the nine most dangerous bullies in school, and the first Chicago Cubs World Series game in almost seventy years. And that's just the beginning. Mac and Vince soon realize that the trouble with solving everyone else's problems is that there's no one left to solve yours.
Here's my interview with Chris. At the end, there's going to be a GIVEAWAY (another first here at MGM!!)

MGM: The Don has been snoogling you (his word for snooping and googling) and has come up with a query letter you sent out for another novel before you wrote The Fourth Stall. The caporegime have been passing it around and chuckling. It starts: "I adore ninjas, bunnies, and zombies. So it is sad that none of these are in my novel."
What possessed you to throw out hundreds of years of query advice and go loco like this?

CR: The very first project I started querying was an adult non-fiction book about the earliest divorces in American history. And, I actually got a lot of interest in the project from agents. But then after seeing a few sample chapters, they’d always pass. And finally one agent finally leveled with me in his rejection. Basically, he said my writing was boring and just kind of bad. So, I was like, “Boring? Boring!?!?” And I re-read the chapters and realized he was right. There was no life in those sample pages. So that’s when I went loco, so to speak. I totally abandoned my non-fiction project and decided to just write the craziest, weirdest, most-non-boring query I could think of. Which is how I came up with the one you found. (And yes, you read that correctly, I wrote the query before I even started the book –generally not a good idea.)

MGM: So then you got an agent, Steven Malk, who thought you’d rock at a middle grade voice. (Sorry, Don Vito’s interrupting me. What’s that you’re saying, Godfather? You know an “agent” who could get Mr. Rylander 60% at least? And he’s also a loan shark? No, no. That’s not how publishing works.)
Sorry about that. Where was I? O yeah, Mr. Malk was right, you have a crazy good middle grade voice. You’re not actually still in middle school are you?

CR: Haha, I wish I was. No, I think a lot of that comes from the fact that my mentality is still that of a middle grader. Seriously, all I ever want to do is play video games, board games, baseball, go golfing, watch movies, listen to music, play with Nerf guns, etc. etc. I still very much have all of the same interests and hobbies that I did as a 12 year old.

MGM: My 14-year-old (also called Chris) has all the same hobbies! So, what inspired The Fourth Stall?

CR: There is no one specific event or thing. It was really just a case of me asking myself these two questions, “What would make for a fun and cool book? What classic adult story have I not seen redone for kids yet?” Turns out there have been several mafia inspired books for middle graders over the years, but I didn’t know that at the time. Well, it was also inspired a little by my love of eating grape jelly with a spoon. After eating several jars of grape jelly, you can accomplish pretty much anything. Trust me.

MGM: Don Vito’s very pleased that middle schools in America are run this way. He says your main character, Mac Barrett, reminds him of himself. Doing business, always helping others. He just wonders why you didn’t make him Italian. And why are Mac, and his best friend and business manager, Vince, such Cubs and Cubs trivia fanatics? Are you yourself a poor benighted Cubs fan?

CR: Yes, sadly, I am a lifelong Cubs fan. It’s really been a quite unfortunate part of my life…

MGM: Oh well. Personally, what I love best about The Fourth Stall (beyond the humor) is the cast of characters. Mac and Vince employ a whole bunch of bullies to try and wrest the school back from the notorious Staples. I read somewhere that your favorite bully is Kitten. Mine happens to be Great White, a transplant from England . I’m wondering if you could put in a word for me playing Great White in the movie. (We’d have to have a great make-up artist to make me look younger, of course. The Don could arrange that, I’m sure.) There is going to be a movie, isn’t there? I mean, The Fourth Stall: the Movie would be way better than Bugsy Malone.

CR: Well, that’d be awesome if there was going to be a movie! But, alas, I have virtually no control over whether that will ever happen or not. At this point, there’s been more interest in TV rights than film, so it’s much more likely that it’d eventually become a TV show than a movie. But even that is a long shot. It always is. Thousands and thousands of books get optioned every year, and just a handful ever get made. But, uh, perhaps the Don could help me out somehow? 

MGM: I'll pass it up the chain of command. He's got a lot of contacts in Vegas, if that's any help. Anyhoo, I also love Vince’s Grandma, who doesn’t actually appear, but who is quoted at length by Vince. Sort of off-the-wall almost-Buddhist koans. And apparently she has “Pintsized Midnight Moonbeam Workers” living in her purse. Just wondering if you have some in your purse too, and if so, whether you wouldn’t mind sending them our way @Middle Grade Mafioso?

CR: I really wish I did, because then I’d never have to shave (don’t ask how that makes sense, if you get some Moonbeam Workers of your own someday, you’ll understand.) It’s funny, though, that you mention those Moonbeam Workers… that line is actually a reference to one of my favorite bands, Say Hi. They have a song titled Pintsized Midnight Moonbeam Workers. I guess that’s something I love to do, to put in little references to some of my favorite music, movies, books, etc.

MGM: Very crafty! Now I'll be super vigilant as I reread. By the way, my 14-year-old recently declared The Fourth Stall to be “the best book ev-ah!!!” What weapon will you choose to battle it out if either Suzanne Collins or J.K. Rowling challenges you to a duel over this?
CR: Wow, what a great compliment! Thank you! If either of them ever challenged me to a duel, I’d probably just lay down and die. Seriously. Because what if I somehow accidently won? 
MGM: Omigosh, wouldn't that make for great reality TV?! Well, we're almost out of time. Last question: I read in your interview on Anita Laydon Miller’s blog that you are a cereal fanatic/connoisseur. Will your next novel feature lots of cereal-eating teens? Or are you keeping it mafia, and writing a sequel to The Fourth Stall?

CR: My next two books will be sequels to The Fourth Stall. I can’t divulge what my fourth book will be, except I can hint that it will involve fainting goats, fighting artichokes, and clowns with guns, and, now that you mention it, perhaps a good deal of cereal eating as well.

Wow, I can't wait. Thanks, Chris, for the interview. And there we have it, folks. I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did posting it.

Here's the GIVEAWAY info: If you comment on this blog post or on my Facebook page, you will be entered to win a copy of The Fourth Stall. I don't need you to FB, blog, or Twitter about it (anyway, I'm too indolent to check up on you) but there is one thing that needs to be done to set the contest in motion. The current world record for comments on an MGM post is lucky number 13. We need to get to that record number or beyond (so tell your friends!!) or else greedy little me will keep the novel for myself (or, give it to the Don's grandson, if the Don finds out I'm running such a shady scam.) So get commenting. Multiple comments are welcome. And international entrants will not be turned away. Contest will close on Sunday August 21 at midnight, PST. Ciao!!


  1. Great interview Michael and Chris. It was so entertaining. And I loved learning how Chris came up with the story idea. I could definitely see this being a TV show.

  2. Excellent interview, Michael and Chris. (I too have a Chris.) It was awesomely done and I loved the duel idea. Mac sounds like a great character. I had NOT *ahem* heard of this book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Must win, must win. (I'm trying to send the Don a vibe here.) *wink*

    I'll do a post about it this morning. We havta get to 13 or beyond.

    If I don't win, I shall buy the book, because that's what I do. Buy books and read them. ;-)

  3. Came over from Robyn C.'s place; it's good to meet you both. Great interview! This book sounds like a good read; I love the concept.

    Have a great week,

  4. Snoogling. Great word. Enjoyed the interview, Michael (and Chris). And the fact that Chris still has all the same interests and hobbies he did as a 12-year-old obviously has a lot to do with his success as a MG writer!

    Don't enter me in the contest -- I have an ARC, which has been on my TBR stack for a while now...

  5. I just visited from Robyn's blog too. Thanks for the interview. I love the voice, so I'm sure it's in the book. Good luck!

    I'll share this on FB.

    tmilstein at gmail dot com

  6. Every review I've read of this book has said how great it is. I've got to read it. Thanks for the giveaway!

    I shared the post on my FB wall in hopes of getting some of my other teacher friends here :)

    themgowl at gmail dot com

  7. I've been meaning to read this one. Now I need to make sure my son reads it, too! Thanks, Michael and Chris! :-)

  8. wonderful interview and I'm so grabbing this book. My kids will have to wait for me to finish it before they get a chance.

    Great job - and I can't wait to give it a look.

  9. Nice interview. Robyn directed me over to take a look.

  10. LOL, great interview!!! The book sounds awesome. Can't wait to pick it up!!! Thanks.

  11. I. Want. This. Book. Do my Elevensie connections buy me an extra entry? Come on. I'll make you an offer you can't refuse.

  12. Well, that must be a good test; see if your reluctant reader children will like it. I have two, to read mine; boys ages 13 and 11. And they're as reluctant at reading as they come...unless it's Holes, or Hatchet...and quite possibly The Fourth Stall. Great interview. thanks--I'm getting wacky with my query-acky

  13. Yay! Karen lee Hallam's comment officially tips the scales: the contest is on.

    (And ssshhh--the Don is never to know I pulled such a stunt. I want him to think I am above blackmail.)

    Thanks to all the commenters above, especially you new visitors and followers. I appreciate you all very much.

  14. I already have a copy and can't wait to get it out to students. I didn't quite get it, but I think the boys will love it!

  15. Great review. Congrats to Chris, and happy reading!

  16. I'm in. Not too late, am I?
    Interview was nicely done. I look forward to sharing this info with my librarian and teacher pals.

  17. This was terrific Michael
    I know Cub fans....they are a different breed
    I am personally a White sox fan...
    But I won't hold that against him.....some of my best friends are...
    Great review

  18. Outstanding interview! Nice rapport you have going there. :) This book sounds terrific, and just based on your description it sounds like something that would have glued my kids (ok, and me, too) to the TV. What a cast of characters! I'll definitely read this, and I'll pass your link along to some writing-for-kids pals I know.

  19. hi mr michael and mr chris! wow! that book sounds sooooo cool. for sure i could like to win it. my uncle vito said hes gonna call you bout that. :) but if i dont win for sure im gonna get it. hooray for mgm!
    ...hugs from lenny

  20. What a hilarious interview. This sounds like such a fun book. I'm in!!

    lauren51990 AT aol DOT com

  21. Thanks so much for doing this interview, Michael! And thanks for all the great contest entries and comments.


  22. I would love to win this! What a fun interview - no doubt it's an equally fun book!

  23. Great interview! Looking forward to reading this book, whether from you or the library or a Powell's shopping spree!

  24. Fantastic interviews. I would love to win this book so here is my comment! :) Because I'm good like that.

    laura dunks at google mail dot com


  25. I was all excited about entering your drawing, then realized at the end it was last week's post. lol.

    I agree about getting boys to read, so I'll have to look this one up for my young boy students.

    It actually sounds quite funny and you had me at "Ferris Beuler-style."

  26. Great interview and sweet new blog. I'll have to check this book out:)

  27. OMG LOVE YOUR BOOK "The Fourth Stall" Sequel????? please?

  28. Nice to find a book review about something other than manga. And a very well-written book review as well, I must add. Great to read!


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