June 27, 2012

Author Interview: John J. Bonk - Madhattan Mystery

I love a good mystery.  And lately it seems like mysteries are making a come back.  I'm super excited about that which is one of the reasons I was thrilled to interview John J. Bonk because he has written a middle grade mystery!

First a bit about the book
All set to spend their summer in New York City with their aunt while their father is honeymooning with his new wife, Lexi and her younger brother Kevin’s snoozy summer plans turn into high-stakes adventure when Lexi overhears a plot to steal Cleopatra’s famous jewels from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Joining forces with budding investigative journalist Kim Ling Levine, they ditch day camp to track down the thieves and rake in the reward money. Can Lexi, Kevin, and Kim find out who’s behind the jewel heist without getting into too much trouble themselves? 
For fans of the classic From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler comes a hilarious whodunnit that will keep readers guessing to the very end.
And you've got to check out the trailer!

Now help me in welcoming John J. Bonk to The O.W.L. 

First let's start with the easy questions
What Point of View -1st or 3rd:  Technically, it’s third person, but written very much from the main character’s point of view.

Boy or Girl main character (or both!): Girl. Lexi McGill

Genre: Contemporary adventure

Middle Grade or Young Adult: Middle grade.

More boy or girl book (stereotypically): Tipping more on the girl side, but Lexi’s 10-year old brother Kevin is with her every step of the way.

The Serious Questions!
For Madhattan Mystery- what part/character/event are you most excited/proud about? 

 I have to admit that how I wound up writing a mystery in the first place is—well, a mystery!  I really hadn’t had much exposure to mysteries in the past. So, I suppose I’m proudest of the fact that I could actually pull it off. When I started writing the book, I was aiming for a funny, coming of age adventure story with just a dollop of mystery thrown in. But the more I worked on it, the more the mystery aspect took center stage. Then again, if you think about it, all stories are mysteries in a sense, aren’t they? There are always secrets, and surprises, and puzzles to be solved. Other than the quirky main characters, who I’m in love with, I’m particularly excited about how the story takes these kids on a crazy adventure to all sorts of well-known New York City landmarks as well as a few tasty hidden gems throughout Manhattan. (HIDDEN GEMS: SUBTLE HINT!)  From the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Station where a mere whisper in one corner of the hallway can be clearly heard at the opposite end—to an old, abandoned train station many levels below the ground—to glitzy Radio City Music Hall, to the magnificent Metropolitan Museum of Art, and finally Central Park at the site of an ancient Egyptian monument.

Tell about your writing process.  How long did it take you to write Madhattan Mystery from idea to finish?  Please tell about revision if you can! I’m very curious about how you plot out a mystery to keep the ending a secret!

I really can’t say exactly how long it took to write this book. There was a lot of starting and stopping with other projects popping up in the middle of the writing process. What I can tell you is that there were many, many revisions. Every time someone new would read a draft of it, I’d take their feedback into consideration and make necessary changes. Plotting everything out down to the smallest detail certainly helps the writing process but it doesn't stop there. Unsuspecting brilliant ideas can strike at any given time. I added an entirely new ending after seeing a particular television news story that sent my imagination into overdrive and gave my novel a big juicy twist. As a writer, you have to be hyper-aware of the world around you ’cause you never know what you’re going to absorb and work into your story.

When you were in middle school kind of student were you?  Did you write then? 

I was pretty much an A-student and was really into music, acting, singing, dancing, playing the piano, drawing and painting. Every color in the creative rainbow except writing. Weird, isn’t it? The only writing I did back then involved schoolwork. I just wanted to be onstage in plays and concerts, that type of thing. Fast forward a whole lot of years and I ended up becoming a professional musical theatre actor, which I did for many years. The writing bug didn’t get me until I was well into my thirties—and I’m so glad it did!

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? OR WHOOO do you like to read or really enjoyed in HS or middle school?

Oh, I admire sooo many! Barbara Park and her Skinnybones books really inspired me. They’re such a HOOT! (Sorry. Couldn’t resist, since we’re getting all owly.) I love everything Kate DiCamillo writes and Because of Winn-Dixie remains one of my all-time favorites. I also love Jerry Spinelli, Jack Gantos, Lemony Snicket, and the list goes on and on. Anyone who can write something that makes me laugh and cry at the same time I consider a genius.

The Fun Questions! (based on what 7th graders do!)
Do you chew gum? Yes or No If yes favorite kind? 

Oh, you’d better believe it! Ever since I had teeth. I’m told that when I played the piano to accompany the high school choir, I always chewed my gum in time to the music. At the moment, my favorite is Orbit Bubblemint. It’s sugar-free so there’s very little guilt involved, and the flavor lasts for days.

Do you text? Nope. Only when absolutely necessary.

Was school lunch just as yucky then as it is now?! 

Hmmm. I don’t remember school lunches being particularly yucky—aside from the occasional soggy fish stick or over-steamed faded green beans. In fact, Sloppy Joe Wednesday was the highlight of the week for me! And if memory serves, I was also crazy about those giant pretzel rods—oh, and those yummy peanut butter cookies. They were bigger than average, crispy at the edges, with little ripples across the top—and when they were baking, they’d fill the halls with an irresistible aroma. Okay, now my mouth is watering. 

Thank you John! And Because of Winn Dixie is one of my all-time favorites too!  Love that book.  And I'm very excited that you were inspired to write a mystery!

To find out more about John visit his website johnjbonk.com 


  1. I love mysteries too! Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction allows the author to weave in an element of mystery and suspense to keep young readers snagged in. MadHattan Mystery seems to do this. Thanks for sharing this gem with me, the mom of a 6th grader.

  2. You're right, mysteries ARE coming back! And one set in NYC at some of the best known places in the city definitely sounds like fun! This is one I think I'll have to be sure to look for to read to my kids!

    PS. I LOVED From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!

  3. Great review! Kids love to read mysteries! I am putting this on my fall order list for sure.