Interview with Beth Fantaskey


About the Interviewee: “Beth Fantaskey is the author of several young adult and middle grade novels, including Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, Jessica Rules the Dark Side and Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter. As Bethany Blake, she writes the Lucky Paws Petsitting Mysteries. She lives in rural Pennsylvania with her family and dog, Daisy” (Bio from the author).

Find Beth Fantaskey on the following platforms:

A huge thank you to Beth Fantaskey for taking the time to do an interview with us at Pine Reads! Her middle grade graphic novel Wires Crossed is coming April 30th, 2024, from HarperCollins Publishers. 

Be sure to check out our review of Wires Crossed here!

Emilee Ceuninck: Thank you so much for taking the time for an interview! Wires Crossed is your debut graphic novel. What made you want to write a book in this format?

Beth Fantaskey: I had been toying with the idea of graphic novels for a long time, but I’m not an artist, and I didn’t know any artists to collaborate with. Meanwhile, an editor at Clarion/HarperCollins was looking for an author to write a “slice of life” middle grade graphic novel. We were introduced, and she took me on for the project. It was a great learning experience. I studied a few works and then gave it a shot. It was a bit intimidating to work with artist O’Neill Jones, because they have a lot more experience in this realm than me. But we ended up having a wonderful collaboration.

EC: Congratulations on having a substantial number of works published! Did you always know that you wanted to be an author? When did your passion for writing start?

BF: I didn’t know I wanted to write until I was an adult. I took a writing class in college, and the instructor encouraged me to keep going. My first job was as a political speechwriter. Then, I branched out into magazine and newspaper work. The next natural step seemed to be a novel, and I set my sights on writing one. That was my YA vampire novel, Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. I’ve been writing novels off and on ever since under that name. I also write mystery novels under the name Bethany Blake.

EC: I am a huge fan of middle grade literature, especially graphic novels. Why do you enjoy writing for pre-teens? Where do you draw your inspiration?

BF: I had such an amazing childhood. I was the typical 1970s/80s kid in a small town, free to ride my bike everywhere with a bunch of neighborhood friends from morning until night. Swimming in creeks and rivers, Friday night football games with the scent of autumn in the air and exploring the local woods. I’ve always carried the magic of that time with me, and I love to revisit it. There’s also so much to explore there, emotionally. It’s the time when you form your identity and go through a lot of changes. I feel like most media for kids that age separates them into categories like all young people are either “popular” or “geeks/nerds”—who want to be popular. But it’s so much more complex than that. That’s an area I like to explore.

EC: One of the main themes in Wires Crossed is the question of not only how and when we “grow up” but if we have to. I was left pondering this idea long after I turned the last page! What does this idea mean to you? Why do you feel it is an important concept for pre-teens to be reading about?

BF: I guess that goes back to my previous answer. I think “growing up” can be very nuanced, and kids shouldn’t be taught that you have to shed everything you loved as a child to be an adult. The stereotype is the young person who brings one teddy bear to college as a reminder of their youth, but they’re kind of ashamed of it as a relic of their past. And, of course, we all have to evolve and take on life’s responsibilities. But childhood wonder and joy are timeless. Or, at least, they should be, in my opinion.

EC: Middle school me could definitely relate to Mia with her fears over her changing appearance when it comes to getting braces, glasses, and a bad haircut all at the same time. What advice would you offer readers facing a similar predicament to keep their self-esteem and confidence high?

BF: The other day, my oldest daughter saw an old photo of me, and she jokingly said it was obvious that I wasn’t “the top of the food chain” in middle school. I had big glasses and a crooked tooth (still do!) and unruly, curly hair. But thanks to my wonderful parents and friends who were just like me, I never even thought of aspiring to be anyone but me. As a parent, I encourage my kids to just be who they are. Don’t ever conform to please anyone. I think we adults have some responsibility for helping kids maintain their self-esteem. In the book, Mia’s parents and especially grandmother are thoughtful about supporting her that way. And they lead by example. Nothing about their home is traditional. My message to kids would be to do your best to find your tribe and support each other. Don’t look across the cafeteria and wish you were sitting at a different table just because the kids there wear certain clothes or do certain activities. Chances are, you’re already sitting with cool people who make you happy. And, if you’re not, keep your heart open to finding them.

EC: Another observation that Mia makes is that people appear to be changing on the outside, and she is worried that this will also change them on the inside. Do you feel that changing on the outside and inside are separate events, or do they occur simultaneously? Do people always stay the same on the inside?

BF: I think it depends on whether the change is organic—everyone evolves—or if it’s forced, like the girl in the movie who takes off her glasses and fluffs out her hair, and suddenly the world is falling at her feet, and she gets the prom date of her dreams and launches into a new social circle. You can force change—like Mia’s friend Addy tries to do in the book (which doesn’t work out entirely). But, for most people, I think it’s more like Mia’s gradual evolution, gaining and losing friends and having ups and downs in confidence. She’s basically the same person, but she’s learning along the way.

EC: Relationships, both platonic and romantic, are a big part of Wires Crossed. What advice would you offer readers for forging new friendships and navigating romantic relationships in a middle school setting?

BF: I really, REALLY wanted to write a book that allowed the main character to ultimately say, “I don’t even know if I’m interested in romance yet.” Mia is pressured to change how she feels about her friend Tariq. (“If you don’t dress differently and act more grown up, someone will snatch him up! Invite him to the dance!”) I wanted her to grapple with that and, in the end, have the power to say, “I’m more interested in building robots with him and being friends.” So much media implies that wanting to date is a natural part of growing up—a track you must be on, and you’re weird if you’re not heading steadily in that direction. I want my book to remind readers that you don’t have to follow that track.

EC: Science and robots are featured in Wires Crossed as Mia and the crew build their entry for the Science Olympics. If you could build any robot that could complete a household chore or perform a particular task, what would it be?

BF: My robot would unload the dishwasher. It takes under five minutes, but I hate doing it. Robot, have at it!

EC: For new or aspiring writers, what advice would you offer for generating story ideas and continuing to write through rejection?

BF: I find that generating ideas requires a particular mindset. I have to always be looking for them. It just becomes a way of thinking. I remember when I needed to put new gutters on my house. Suddenly, I was looking at gutters all the time. I never even noticed them before. But there they are, all different colors and shapes and sizes! You just have to be open to seeing them. I find ideas to be the same way. Look at the world through that lens, and there they are. As for rejection—that’s just part of this world. You will develop thick skin. When I get a rejection, I give myself one day to be down about it, then I sit back down and write again.

EC: Wires Crossed left me eager for more of your work. Are you currently working on any other projects? Are there any particular topics you would like to write about in the future?

BF: I’m working on another novel for adults, as Bethany Blake. It’s my first straight-up romance that’s not YA. And I’m open to writing a sequel to Wires Crossed. In the book, Mia’s best friend, Kinsey, gets accepted to a prestigious summer arts program. I think it would be fun to see how she fared there!

Emilee Ceuninck, Pine Reads Review Lead Writer