The Supercharged Forecaster
by Jared Lillis
Page Count: 214
Published: July 10, 2015)
Genre: Children's Books, Science, Nature & How It Works, Kid-Lit
Published: July 10, 2015)
Genre: Children's Books, Science, Nature & How It Works, Kid-Lit
A scrappy groundhog must work with humans and forecast lightning strikes to save his home from an eco-supervillain planning to pulp entire national forests with giant, robotic milling snakes.
During Jet’s first garden raid, his father is shot by their human neighbor, Mr. Trapper. Jet loses hearing in one ear and escapes alone over the electric fence, which scars his paws but gives him the unique ability to forecast lightning. He vows to avenge his father. Next spring, at the burrow security trials, Jet strives to win Head of Burrow Security so he can lead the groundhog community to war against Trapper, but he finishes second to his brother Sonny when delayed at the course’s Listening Lanes. During Sonny’s victory speech, a logging crew begins cutting down trees nearby. Sonny orders everyone underground, but Jet attacks. He narrowly evades Forrest Cutler, the company owner, but is captured by Heath Waverly, a former top meteorologist, and Dr. Drizzlen, a bionics scientist, who sedates Jet. He awakens at Bio Labs, able to communicate with humans. Dr. Drizzlen has given Jet bionic hearing and his newly-invented TALC—Translated Animal Language Communicator. When asked if he can forecast weather and save humans from natural disasters, Jet initially denies it and makes a mad dash through the gadget-packed lab in order to escape. The Stray-Bot recaptures Jet, however, and he claims he might help humans if they save his community from the loggers threatening his home.
Heath and Jet find Cutler at Town Hall proposing the largest pulp and paper mill in the world, which thrills the townspeople. Many of them had lost their jobs when Trapper’s Traps went bankrupt due to Jet and his father’s garden raid which was mysteriously recorded and went viral. After failing to stop the upcoming vote, a dejected Heath keeps his word and lets Jet go free. Jet reunites with his community and warns them of the imminent destruction of their home after the rains pass. When Sonny doesn’t believe him, Jet ventures into the woods and finds Cutler demonstrating his secret, illegal logging plan to plunder national forests with giant, robotic snakes—one grinds trees into pulp and the other drills tunnels to send the pulp to the mill. To make matters worse, Jet is discovered and attacked by the Snake Saw 6000!
Will Jet escape to warn his community and new human acquaintances? If he does, will they believe him? And even if they do, how will they be able to stop giant, robotic snakes?
An exclusive interview
with Jared Lillis
1. How did you decide to write Groundhogs: The Supercharged Forecaster?
The story idea came to me when I saw the cover of the picture book Groundhog Weather School by Joan Holub. Joan’s book is a humorous, educational book featuring groundhogs who can’t actually forecast the length of winter. My idea was to take this fun legend of weather-forecasting groundhogs to the extreme, where groundhogs can learn to forecast all types of weather. I then added to this concept by giving Jet, the story’s hero, supercharged forecasting abilities far beyond those of the other groundhogs after he experienced a freak accident during his first garden raid. Jet’s mission in this story is to save his community from an eco-supervillain who plans to pulp entire national forests with giant, robotic milling snakes. The concept also lends itself to a series in which Jet helps protect others from natural disasters.
2. Can you tell us what kind of research went behind Groundhogs?
For a children’s book, there was a surprising amount of research that went into it. Since I illustrated my cover and chapter headings, I had to study photos in order to draw them accurately, including their four digits on their forepaws and their five-digit hind paws. As for the story, I looked into their environments before deciding that the edge of a national forest by a small town in Virginia would be realistic. Starting my hero as a youngster, I needed to know what young groundhogs are called. Anyone? …Cubs. I also researched all natural predators of groundhogs. Snakes were among them, which helped me decide on giant, mechanical snakes as the best creature to harvest trees and threaten Jet. I verified a few peculiar groundhog behaviors which some people may find surprising, such as the fact that groundhogs really do whistle to warn their family of predators, and they can actually climb trees! I frequently make use of both of these behaviors in my story, although I must admit the springboarding off tree limbs is a bit of creative exaggeration.
I also include the subject of bionics. Dr. Drizzlen, the bionics scientist who helps Jet defeat the enemy, has gadgets galore. I wanted to gain a very basic understanding of the subject to reasonably explain how his futuristic devices operate.
3. Who's your favorite character from Groundhogs and why?
Jet is my favorite character. Not only because he has cool powers, but because he must overcome both internal and external struggles to accomplish his goals. In order to save his home he must work with humans, and to do this effectively he must get over his hatred of them. Forgiveness is something everyone deals with in some form or another, and Jet’s actions can inspire young readers to make positive choices in life. Externally, Jet is an underdog who must overcome seemingly-impossible odds to defeat the villain and save the day, which is my favorite type of story.
4. How did you celebrate the first sale of this book?
Aside from my father buying the first copy of the book, the first market sales occurred during a local fundraiser held by my youth writing program, teennovelist.com. It was a great feeling to have a book on the market which could entertain and inspire children while also helping tweens and teens who are working toward becoming authors.
5. Tell us about some of the learning experiences or biggest challenges you faced throughout the writing and publishing process.
I started my creative journey as an artist who didn’t even like to write. To me, writing was too difficult compared to my natural talent for drawing. Eventually, after recovering from all those dreaded research papers in school, I realized that it would be great to create stories for my art. I didn’t follow an easy path to get there, however. Due to the fact that my Groundhogs story has an eco-friendly message, I decided to have my books and companion school supplies printed on wheat-straw paper from Prairie Paper Inc., which hopes to build wheat-straw mills in North America. To go this route I had to put my money where my mouth was, since this ruled out both getting a publisher and print-on-demand options, as neither use this type of paper. This created additional up-front costs as well as meeting the promotional costs. Despite all this, I like the idea of promoting a good cause along with my paperback edition.
6. Do you get creative blocks or burnouts? How do you get out of those, if and when you do?
I generally don’t have creative blocks or burnouts because I don’t have a whole lot of time to write or draw. Between working a full-time job, offering a youth writing program, and doing my own book marketing, I treasure every free minute of creative time I can get. However, during those rare periods of sufficient free time, I have found that alternating from one project to another keeps things fresh and allows me to keep making progress overall.
7. Tell us something personal about you that your readers may be surprised to know.
In addition to majoring in art, my creative training is primarily composed of screenwriting and animation. This took me to Los Angeles where I worked as a background actor for a year. I can be seen in various movies and television shows filmed in 2007 and 2008 including The Office, The Big Bang Theory, and Star Trek, 2009.
8. What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
For most of my career I have worked with kids. I currently work at a pediatric clinic in the mental health field, which comprises the bulk of my waking hours, and contributes to the necessity of my sleeping hours. I also like to watch well-written movies and TV shows. It’s nice to be able to claim this as homework for my screenwriting aspirations.
9. What's next?
I look forward to writing the second groundhog story in this series, which I believe will reach a total of four. However, for the time being, I am still focused on the highly-challenging task of marketing the first one. Placing ads and entering contests is a necessary reality for any self-published author who wants their work to actually be read and appreciated.
10. Lastly, any special thoughts for the readers?
For readers, I encourage you to consider the value of quality children’s books. My purpose is not only to entertain, but to influence my readers to make good choices in life. Including themes such as forgiveness, and that everyone has value, can go a long way in doing this. I think we can all agree that it is much easier to make a positive impact on youth than adults. It’s safe to say, the next title in my series will not be Fifty Shades of Groundhogs.
For my fellow writers, never give up on your dreams. This is a common phrase, but is very true. Writing is often a long and challenging process, but great stories, like anything else of real value, take time to develop. And in today’s market, no one can prevent you from becoming a published author except yourself.
About the author
Throughout middle school, high school, and college he dreaded writing assignments…especially the long ones. In his thirties he realized that it would be great to create artwork and stories.
He now loves writing and hopes to help youth realize the value of developing writing skills by mentoring tweens and teens as they write their very own novels. Through his youth writing program and publishing company, teennovelist.com, students can overcome the fear of writing and work toward the publication of their novels.
Jared also hopes to make an impact on the environment by publishing the print version of his novel, along with themed school supplies, on wheat-straw paper.
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