Today I am pleased as punch (or a similarly over-sweetened beverage) to host this interview with Michelle Schusterman! Michelle is the author of the upcoming I Heart Band series, which is everything a band geek could want in a middle grade series. Being a former band geek myself (trombone, 8 years), I knew that I simply HAD to interview Michelle about the books.
First things first: How long were you in band, and what instrument did you play?
I started band in third grade. After an excruciating few weeks torturing squeals out of an innocent clarinet, I switched to percussion. I was in band through middle school and high school, including all the marching band/drumline madness. I ended up majoring in music education in college. That meant more marching band, as well as steel band, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban ensembles, women’s chorus, and methods classes on woodwind, brass, and string instruments, as well as piano. After that, I was a band director for four years.
So the short answer: I’m a lifelong band geek.
I’ve always wanted to write a book about my experiences taking band from 4th-12th grade, but could never quite think of a good story. Michelle, what was the inspiration for Holly’s story? Did you want to tell a band story, or was it something else?
Fun fact: I HEART BAND is actually a commissioned series! An editor at Penguin had an idea for a story about middle school band geeks and contacted my agent asking if she had any authors who might be a good fit. I had a phone call with the editor (Jordan Hamessley), and we discovered we both grew up in Texas. Jordan played French horn in middle and high school band and was, in her words, “a HUGE band geek.” We ended up chatting about state marching band contest and other competitions we’d both experienced–it was kind of surreal! She wanted a story about a talented French horn player named Holly who gets some competition from a new girl, who’s not only a great horn player too, but becomes close with Holly’s best friend. She gave me some notes, I wrote an outline, and we took it from there!
So that’s why Holly plays French horn! I was wondering, since the French horn is usually not the instrument people think of when they think of band. Usually it’s a trumpet or a flute. How did you pick everyone else’s instruments? Was that another conversation with your editor?
Yup! She’s a mini-Jordan. Well, we knew Natasha (Holly’s rival) had to play French horn, too. I’m pretty sure Jordan also wanted Julia, Holly’s best friend, to play clarinet. We tried to have the main cast of characters represent a variety of sections – there’s a candy-loving sax player, a gossipy flautist, and a trumpet player Holly has a pretty big crush on. Her friend Owen is in the French horn section, too – he loves sci-fi, could totally be a professional comic book artist, and is my favorite character. (Don’t tell the others!)
Ha! Owen is totally my favorite character, too, and I loved how real the other kids felt. They all reminded me of someone I knew in band. Did you draw a lot on real-life incidents when writing? Because I’m pretty sure we had several ant invasions in my band room, too!
SO many real-life incidents! The ant invasion was one of them. My first year teaching, the head band director told all the beginner classes this story about a clarinet student of hers who never cleaned her instrument properly…until one day, when she found maggots in her mouthpiece. I have no idea if that story was true or not, but it definitely encouraged kids to clean their instruments!
There’s bits and pieces of my own band experiences throughout the whole series. Book two includes a fundraiser bake sale – I can’t even count how many of those I’ve done. In book three, the kids take a trip to New Orleans, only to have their bus break down in the middle of nowhere – a variation on my senior band trip, when our buses were caught in a snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains! (Which, of course, only made the trip more epic.)
Honestly, every scene brought back tons of memories of rehearsals, football games, performance anxiety, the thrill of winning a competition, the anxiety of auditioning for all-region band (which was the bane of my musical existence back then)…it was unbelievably fun to be able to relive all of that while working on these books.
I’m legitimately having band flashbacks right now. Although our bus never broke down and we usually sold candy bars instead of holding bake sales. Still, I can’t wait to dive back into the series when it comes out next year. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit more about books 2 and 3? (And maybe even 4?)
Candy bars, poinsettias, car washes…I think I’ve probably done every school fundraiser known to man!
Book two (FRIENDS, FUGUES, AND FORTUNE COOKIES) comes out January 9th, along with book one! Holly tries to help the brass section win the band’s bake sale fundraiser competition while dealing with scary all-region tryouts and the prospect of asking someone to the winter dance. Book three (SLEEPOVERS, SOLOS, AND SHEET MUSIC) is out May 15th. This one’s all about band trip drama–fights, breakups, and new crushes develop while Holly and her friends are in New Orleans. Book four (CRUSHES, CODAS, AND CORSAGES) is out in the fall. Holly prepares for a huge band competition, the district’s science fair, the spring dance…and her possible-maybe new crush on a certain comic book artist!
That makes me ridiculously happy! I’m so excited to have all four (and maybe more?) glitter-tastic books on my shelf next year. I have a few quick “this-or-that” questions for any and all band nerds who might be reading this (answer however you see fit!):
Treble or Bass? Bass!
Football games or Basketball games? Basketball. (After my Texas high school/college experience, I’ve had enough football for a lifetime.)
Tuba or Euphonium? Tuba!
Bass Clarinet or Oboe? Bass clarinet! (When I try to play the oboe, I feel like my head is going to explode.)
Timpani or Snare? Snare! (That’s what I played in high school drumline.)
Crescendo or Pianissimo? Pianissimo! (Never underestimate the power of super-soft!)
There you have it: crescendo sucks! (Just kidding!)
And I encourage everyone – former band geek or not – to check out Michelle’s wonderful books. Seriously, I have been waiting years for a great band geek story, and I’m so glad to have finally found it! Even if it did remind me of how gross spit valves are. And besides that – awesome covers! (Plus, they have glitter! Everyone at work knows I’m a sucker for glitter.)