Posts Tagged ‘Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me’

Nan Marino author of Neil Armstrong is my Uncle and Other Tales Muscle Man McGinty Told Me has penned a new novel Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace. I thought it might be nice to meet a few of the characters from Nan’s new book. It’s always fascinating to find out the story behind the story and today I learned some rather interesting things. I didn’t know about the Pinelands of New Jersey and I certainly had never heard of amusia. I hope you enjoy reading about these fun characters.

hidingoutFull Character name:  Elvis Aaron Ruby

Brief physical description:

Elvis has superstar good looks. He starts out with his trademark long curly locks, but since he’s “hiding out” from the paparazzi, he gets his hair cut (by a librarian!).

Strengths and weaknesses:  Elvis oozes charisma and he knows it. (It’s both his best and worst quality).  He’s a musical prodigy who along with his musical sister Cher has spent his whole life performing on stage. Music is so much a part of him that he can’t imagine life without it. And yet he’s stopped playing. Now he has to try to make it as a regular kid.

Quirks:  This is a story about going incognito so it’s important that Elvis hides his quirks. It’s not easy to do though, especially when your world famous and your every gesture has been studied and imitated by your fans. When he gets nervous, he likes to run his hands through his hair  (even though his hair is extremely short now). He has a trademark Elvis Ruby smile. He “naturally radiates”.

Inspiration for your story:   It wasn’t hard to find inspiration for this part of the story line. I was watching a girl perform on America’s Got Talent.  She was only ten. Everyone had such high expectations, but I wondered what would happen if she froze on stage?



Full Character name:  Cecilia Wreel

Brief physical description:  Cecilia is the type of kid you might not notice. Nothing about her stands out. She wears oversized glasses that make her eyes look huge. She buys most of her clothes from the local thrift store.

Strengths and weaknesses: Cecilia can’t keep a secret. They well up in her like a fizzy bottle of coca-cola. She blurts out what’s on her mind.  She’s the kid who is picked on by the popular mean girls. Her biggest strength is that she is grounded in the place where she lives. She finds solace in the winding pathways, the scraggly trees and the slow-moving streams in the Pinelands of New Jersey.

Quirks:   This isn’t exactly a quirk but Cecilia has a condition known as amusia. It’s a rare disorder that affects the way the brain processes music. We all know people who can’t carry a tune, but this is much more that that. It involves an inability to perceive musical notes. People with amusia have described music as “banging pots and pans.”


Inspiration for your story:  Around the time I decided to write this book, I was walking in the stacks of the library where I work and found a book on the floor. It was Oliver Sacks book, Musicophilia. I decided to read it to get some insight on my musical prodigy character. That’s when I came across a chapter about a woman who had amusia (she was the woman who made the banging pots and pans comment).  I thought it would be interesting for the prodigy to meet someone who was so unmusical. Originally I thought that Cecilia could confess to Elvis that she had amusia. I hoped to have this boy who took his abilities for granted understand that not everyone is gifted in the same way.  But when I researched it further I learned that children with this condition are rarely diagnosed.

While the word “amusia” is never mentioned in the book, knowing that Cecilia has this condition helped me to understand her and the decisions that she makes. Even without knowing exactly why, Cecilia would know something about her is different. Music is everywhere. Imagine watching your friends bop up and down to their favorite songs when you think that the noise they’re dancing to sounds exactly like silverware dropping on the floor? What would it be like to have to sing the national anthem when you don’t really know what it sounds like? Think of all those opportunities for embarrassment like music class and dance recitals.  This is a condition that would make you feel lonely.

By the way, some famous people who were thought to have amusia are Che Guevera, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt


Background for the story:  About six years ago I moved from Long Island New York to a small town that borders the Pinelands of New Jersey. The pinelands, also known as the Pine Barrens, covers over a million acres in central and south Jersey. It’s a special place known for it’s pygmy pine trees, slow-moving streams, wild orchids and sandy paths.  Because the soil is sandy and acidic, it was hard for settlers to cultivate so it remained untamed and undeveloped. Now the area is designated as a US Biosphere Reserve and much of it is protected.

It’s not in-your-face beautiful like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains. You can drive by in your car and hardly notice the low grubby pines, but if you get out of your car and go exploring at one of the many parks, you’re in for a treat.

The Pine Barrens is also rich in music and folklore.  When I mentioned to a librarian friend that I was writing a story about a musical boy who comes to the Pinelands, she told me the story of Sammy Buck, a fiddler who lived hundreds of years ago, who was known for playing a beautiful tune unlike any other song.  He called it the “air tune” and said that he could hear it in the air when he went for walks in the woods. Another well-known Pinelands scholar said that many of the locals believed that  “music is there, just beyond hearing”.

I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate the musical myth of Sammy the fiddler into the story. And of course, no Pinelands tale would be complete without a mention of it’s most famous resident, the Jersey Devil.  He’s in there too.

Thanks Nan for sharing with us.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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One of my favorite mid-grade novels is Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino. I am pleased to announce that author Nan Marino’s newest book Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace is being released today:


Here is a synopsis:

Eleven-year-old musical prodigy, Elvis Ruby, was supposed to win the most coveted reality show on television, Tween Star. None of the other contestants even came close to his talents. But in the middle of the biggest night, with millions of people watching, Elvis panicked. He forgot the words to the song. He forgot the tune. He forgot how to play every single instrument he’d ever known and froze on national TV. So Elvis must run from the paparazzi camped outside his door and spend the summer working with his aunt and cousin at Piney Pete’s Pancake Palace in the remote wilds of New Jersey. It’s the perfect place to be anonymous, that is until Elvis meets Cecilia, a girl who can’t seem to help blurting out whatever’s on her mind.

I can’t wait to read it.

In honor of the release, I’ve decided to search out some fun pancake recipes. I found a great post for 13 Fun Pancake Ideas on Simply Sweet Home. Here are some of the fun recipes in the post:

Charlie Brown Pancakes

Charlie Brown Pancakes

Lucky Charms Pancakes

Lucky Charms Pancakes

Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes

Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes


Happy Reading and Eating!

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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One of the great things about doing these author spotlights is making new friends. I ran across the book “Neil Armstrong is my Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me” by Nan Marino and I knew I had found a kindred spirit. I contacted Nan and asked if she would participate in an author spotlight and she graciously agreed.

Here is Nan’s Bio:

Nan Marino spent her childhood climbing trees and hanging out on garage roofs in the town of Massapequa Park, New York. Since then, she’s ventured a 100 miles south to the Jersey shore where writes middle grade stories and works as a librarian. She lives with her husband and their very large dog.

Author Spotlight

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

NM: It took years. I scribbled my first story the day a school librarian friend remarked that she wished she had a story to go with her new set of penguin puppets. From that point on, I was hooked.  But I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, for Christmas, two friends gave me a gift of membership to SCBWI.  Through that, I found critique groups and writing buddies. Over the years, I wrote many manuscripts –and got many rejections. I stopped counting but if you add them up I was well into the hundreds. I taught my dog, Chi, how to chew up those rejection letters and moved on. One day, a manuscript got the attention of my amazing agent, Rosemary Stimola.  She asked for a rewrite and then signed me on. She sold Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me to Roaring Brook Press  –and I got to work with my wonderful editor, Nancy Mercado.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

NM: I’m one of those people who has problems writing on lined paper so I’m not sure if I could ever plot out a story chapter by chapter. Generally I have an idea where things are going – and I have thoughts on where I’d like my characters to be at the end. But it doesn’t always work out that way. As a writer, it’s my job to develop a deep understanding of my characters, put them into unusual or difficult situations and let them do what they need to do. I’m much more comfortable writing when my characters are in control.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

NM: Yes. I’m working on a book called Piney Moon, which is scheduled to be published in Fall 2012 by Roaring Brook Press. It’s about a famous 11-yr-old musical prodigy who freezes on stage during a televised talent competition. To escape the paparazzi, he hides out in the Pinelands of New Jersey.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

NM: My writing space is really small. The washer/dryer is in the nearby closet. The dog’s favorite chair is in there too. Even in its best moments, my desk could always be neater.

There’s a tray of rocks near my pc. My favorites are the ones that were given to me by friends—those are the ones that come with great stories. I have stones from a lake in New Hampshire, a gift shop in Ireland, and a schoolyard on Long Island. A friend gave me the sparkly word “hope” when I was going through a difficult time. I love the juxtaposition of the glittery word and the unpolished stones.  And I have this superstition: the first few pages of any manuscript must spend time sitting on top of all those rocks and underneath the sparkly “hope” before they go out into the world.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

NM: An herb farmer. I have visions of wandering through meandering paths of lavender, rosemary and thyme (although I suspect that most herbs are grown in straight lines and that real herb farmers don’t spend a lot of time wandering.)

Also I’d love to work at a rescue organization for stray dogs and cats, one that encourages people to adopt from shelters. There are so many great animals there.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

NM: I studied martial arts and can break a board in two. I was a terrible martial arts student, but I did love the board breaking part. If you do it right, it feels like your hand is going through butter. If you do it wrong, well that’s another story.

WOTS: Was it easier or more difficult writing from childhood events and memories?

NM: For Neil Armstrong is My Uncle, it was fun to take snippets of my real life and put it into the book. At every party when I was growing up, we had a neighbor who sang the song “If I Were A Rich Man” so I had a character sing that song in the book. We also had tons of barbeques, and I played lots of kickball. It was fun putting some of my memories into the story. I hope I captured that close-knit neighborhood feeling.

Like most people who write for children and teens, I have very vivid childhood memories. No matter what type of story I’m writing, I draw on those experiences and feelings.

WOTS: What has been the response of your friends and family to your story?

NM: It’s been wonderful. My friends and family have been supportive at every point in my writing journey. Of course, my mom tells everyone. Even sales people and telemarketers know about my book.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

NM: I really want to say I’m proactive. I love that word – but it would be a lie. To be honest, procrastination and I are old friends.

There are many types of procrastination. Sometimes I’m filled with doubts at my ability to fulfill the promise of the story. I lose faith. Then I procrastinate because of fear. It takes guts to write.

However, there are other times when stepping away and doing something else is a good thing. It gives you a chance to think things over. Stories need to simmer and perk. That’s useful procrastination (or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m searching the internet for a new lemon risotto recipe).

Of course, nothing happens unless you write. It’s all about balance. I’m still working on finding that perfect combination…

The paper back version of Nan’s book will be released on April 26th, be sure to look for it at your local bookstore. I am looking forward to reading her newest book Piney Moon in 2012.

Thanks for visiting with us on the sidewalk Nan.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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