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An Interview with Mark Newhouse, author of The Devil’s Bookkeepers

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I was born in Germany two years after my parents were liberated after the Holocaust. The loss of my relatives and what my parents suffered because of hate made me want to help children and adults. My children’s mysteries use humor, suspense, and underdog young protagonists, to show children they can solve problems, not with violence or magic, but with intelligence and courage. I am proud that I have more than 1000 of my former 5th- and 6th-grade students, some in their sixties, on Facebook with me. They know I care.

A few years ago, I lost my parents. To honor their memory and to help others understand what happens when hate is unleashed, I began to research and write The Devil’s Bookkeepers, a gripping novel of ordinary human beings fighting for love and what we take for granted, that reveals the shocking events my parents survived. I needed to preserve the history for my family. I was surprised when The Devil’s Bookkeepers won the Gold Medal Historical Fiction and the top honor, Book of the Year, from the Florida Writers Association; the Chanticleer International Book Awards’ Grand Prize Fiction Series and 1st Prize Hemingway Wartime Series Award; 1st Prize in the Eric Hoffer Awards, and other honors.

What really makes me grateful are the emotional reviews. As a teacher and writer, I want to make a difference. I love helping others, moderating a writing club, volunteering as the Youth Program chairperson and a Director of the Florida Writers Association, teaching and creating books that make readers think, learn, and care. I thank my family, my ever-patient wife, and friends for helping me achieve my dreams. I hope my books help children see they can achieve their dreams too. Thank you for letting me share my story.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Writing was a magic wand to make my life better. I loved mysteries, so Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar Allen Poe, with a dash of Mark Twain’s humor, inspired my writing. I enjoy keeping readers turning the page, eager for the next surprise or clue. You never know what is going to happen next in Monstrovia.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I loved teaching 6th graders and serving as an adjunct college instructor on Long Island. I was named Elementary/Secondary Teacher of the Year by the New York State Reading Association and have over 1000 of my former students as Facebook friends. I was known for my ‘crazy’ lessons and terrible jokes which always had meaning. I wrote my first books, The Rockhound Science Mysteries, after almost setting fire to my classroom doing a fire safety experiment. Kids loved solving mysteries with fun experiments like making orange juice ice pops, taking a pulse, or testing a fossil with lemon juice. Writing experiments was safer than doing them.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I love writing but hate coming up with titles. I struggle and then wish I could change them. The Devil’s Bookkeepers is a great example since “Bookkeepers” sounds kind of dull, but the story is so suspenseful readers tell me they can’t put it down. I just wrote a pilot script for a TV series based on The Devil’s Bookkeepers, but called it The Knife’s Edge since the people, more than 200,000, were never sure what would happen to them and their leader, who many called the Devil. Titles are one of the most important items to promote a book. I like Defenders of Monstrovia because it sounds exciting and hints that it is about monsters. It’s about a lot more.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

My first book was about the Statue of Liberty and published by Newsday, a New York newspaper, to help teachers. It was only 48 pages long, but I wrote it on one of the first computers which only showed a half page. It was a dinosaur. That book meant so much to me since I was born in Germany after a terrible war. If you read The Devil’s Bookkeepers, you will understand why I was so proud they asked me to write a book honoring our freedoms. That amazing feeling of pride is always there no matter how many books I write. Creating a book is a lot of work, but there is nothing like the feeling of holding that creation in your hands or hearing someone laugh or cry at something you wrote.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I just heard the first episodes of the free Defenders of Monstrovia podcasts and love the mysterious music they created to fit the mood. The series is produced by the same company that does Goosebumps author, R.L. Stine’s podcasts, so the music has a spooky fun quality to it that I love.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

This is an easy question for me. Hope. In all my books, I want readers, children and adults, to see that if we never give up, there is always hope we can make things better. My perfect reader is someone who wants to learn and care about others, but also loves a good laugh.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Winning so many awards is always a thrill, but reading reviews, or meeting someone who loved or was helped by your book is the best reward. My favorite fanmail was from a young boy who asked a lot of questions and then said, “I know all authors are rich. Can I swim in your pool?” I think it is important to understand that very few authors make much money on their books but there are so many other rewards, such as a letter like this, that make it special. I wrote back, “If I had a pool, he would be the first I would invite, but that until that time, I hope he will continue to share my adventures.”

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I just finished writing additional Defenders of Monstrovia episodes and ten chapter books based on the podcast series. I am finishing work on a pitch deck to send producers for a TV series based on The Devil’s Bookkeepers. It’s a long shot but as one reviewer wrote, “We need this story more than ever.” It can be very sad seeing what is happening in our world, but I want people to feel hope. Thank you for including me in your story.

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