Monday, June 20, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Goddess Girls Series + Interview with Suzanne Williams & Joan Holub

I picked up this series for my daughters from a Scholastic Book Order. I thought my oldest would take a couple of weeks to get through them. Nope. She flew through them in less than a week and she is constantly asking when the next books will be coming out. So of course she freaked out when she learned I interviewed the lovely Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams for MMGM today. Seriously, freaked out. I'm #1 mom right now.

Series Hook: Join the class at Mount Olympus Academy with Goddess Girls, a series that puts a modern spin on classic Greek myths!

Goddess Girls: Athena the Brain by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Published in October 2010

Other Books in the Series:
Persephone the Phony
Aphrodite the Beauty
Artemis the Brave
Athena the Wise
Aphrodite the Diva (Aug. 2011)
Artemis the Loyal (Dec. 2011)
Medusa the Mean (Apr. 2012)

Aladdin paperbacks
Ages 8-12

“…a clever take on Greek deities…” ~ Booklist

“…an enchanting mythological world with middle-school woes compounded by life as a
deity…” ~ School Library Journal

The Hook: Twelve-year-old Athena finds out she is a goddess and daughter of Zeus. She is summoned to Mount Olympus Academy, and as the new kid must learn to catch up, fit in and avoid Medusa.

Why I loved it: Fresh spin on Greek mythology and it's clever. Athena the Brain is the first in the Goddess Girls series. I loved that the main character was a goddess instead of a hero (like Percy Jackson). When Athena gets to the Academy she has to learn what it means to be a goddess by taking classes like Hero-ology, Spell-ology, and Revenge-ology. The story weaves the classic Greek myths and history into a relatable modern setting. I loved when the kids are in Hero-ology and they have to take a hero, create a quest and help them succeed. By the end of the chapter, the Trojan War is being played like checkers. Unique perspective--very clever, very fun. These books are great for girls (not much of a boy book) who aren't quite ready for Percy Jackson and definitely great for reluctant readers. Lauren ripped through the series in less than a week. She toted them every where we went.

My 9 yr old, Lauren's thoughts: I love Goddess Girls because they are fun adventure and I liked learning about the Greek gods and goddesses. I really liked all the books but Artemis the Brave was my favorite. I learned about the books from my teacher, she has all the books in our classroom. All the girls in my class really like these books but they're not really for boys...well, one boy in my class likes reading them. (She laughs.)

Want More? Here's my interview with Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams.

You and Joan write the series together and this fascinates me as a writer. Do you collaborate on each book or do you pick which books you'll write individually?

Joan: We had no idea how we were going to make our collaboration work when we started out, but this is the process that has evolved and is working great for us: We divide up the books so that we’re each responsible for every other first draft. We discuss the myths and main ideas we’ll use, then one of us writes a long synopsis which the other critiques. After the first draft is done, we trade a manuscript both back and forth and rewrite each other’s lines mercilessly using Word Tracking. We trust each other’s writing enough to accept most revisions and build on them. If there are major sticking points, we talk them out by phone.

Suzanne: We think the books benefit from our two sets of eyes, and we often laugh aloud while reading a funny line the other has added. And because we both work hard on each book, the series sounds like one author wrote it.

My daughter wants to know how (or what) you research for each story? She wants to know how you learned all about Greek mythology.

Suzanne: Hi Lauren. We’re so glad you like Goddess Girls! Joan has always been a mythology fanatic, but though I learned about Greek mythology in school, I had to refresh my memory and learn new myths while writing this series. We have books about Greek mythology (a favorite is Edith Hamilton’s Mythology) that we use as source material. We also do internet research to learn details about myths, beasts, gods, and mortals.

Joan: For each book, we choose a well-known myth (or two) associated with the main character(s), then weave our plots around those myths, modifying them as needed to create a satisfying story with an updated twist. Lauren (*waving*) If you’re interested in learning more about Greek mythology you might try reading D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. It’s a classic!

You've both written many stories, where do you get your inspiration? And what inspired The Goddess Girls series?

Joan: I often start a book or series with only a catchy title, and think …what could that be about? What if this happened or that happened? That’s how Goddess Girls was born.

Suzanne: Since our goddesses and readers are ‘tweens, we mix some age-appropriate friendship drama into the myths, and ground them in a school setting—Mount Olympus Academy. We imagine the personalities and predicaments of our young goddessgirls and godboys based on their mythical adult counterparts.

Each book in the series is written about a different goddess, which goddess do you
enjoy writing the most and why is she your favorite? (and yes I know there are 2 books about Athena.)

Suzanne: Actually, there will soon be two books each about Aphrodite and Artemis too. Book 6: Aphrodite the Diva pubs Aug. 9, and Book 7: Artemis the Loyal will be out Dec. 6. I honestly can’t pick a favorite among our four main goddessgirls when it comes to writing a book. Each character is a fun challenge to write.

Joan: That’s so true. In fact, we “traded” on the first drafts so that if I did a first draft for the first book narrated by a particular character, Suzanne got to do the first draft of the second book about that character, and vice versa.

What is the best part of publishing a successful series?

Joan: The opportunity to write more books about them! We’ve branched out from our original four main goddessgirls—Athena, Persephone, Aphrodite, and Artemis--to include other girl characters as narrators, including one well-known mean, green mortal. Book 8: Medusa the Mean pubs in April 2012. It was great fun to write our version of how Medusa got to be so mean. Sometimes, as with Aphrodite the Diva, we also bring in characters—like the Egyptian goddess Isis—from other pantheons.

Suzanne: We love it when teachers tell us that our series has gotten young readers interested in Greek mythology or when moms say it has gotten their kids interested in reading period. And we enjoy the letters and email we get from fans, and the comments they leave on our Goddess Girls Facebook page. We try to respond to those comments and questions daily, btw!

Your books have a great middle grade voice, do you have any tips on how to write for middle graders?

Suzanne: Thank you! Part of what makes middle grade fun to write is that you can develop more complex plots than you can for picture books and shorter chapter books. And because book lengths are longer there’s also more room for exploring characters and the situations you put them in.

Joan: I like books with fast-paced plots, action, and unstilted dialogue, and I think 8-12 age readers do too. Write about emotions and situations kids experience, but give things an interesting hook or twist. Humor is a huge plus. MG readers “get” more sophisticated humor while still appreciating puns and slapstick. And adding girl-boy friendship or light romance won’t make them gag (well, not the girls, anyway!)

If you could be a Greek goddess, which one would you be and why?

Joan: Part of me wants to be Athena and part of me wants to be Aphrodite—brains and beauty!

Suzanne: Brains and beauty sound good to me, too! But in practice, I’ m more like an Athena/Persephone combo—studious and a big-time reader, with mostly light, but occasional dark moods. Growing up, I was never into sports like Artemis. But now I go to the gym most mornings to do step classes or yoga. It’ s important since I sit so much each day to write!

Thanks for having us here today, Brooke. And good luck with your own writing!

-- Joan and Suzanne

You can read more about Joan and Suzanne over at Smack Dab in the Middle. I loved seeing where they write.


Other MMGMers (go, they always have great picks):
I loved reading Greek mythology as a kid. I wanted to be Aphrodite. Now, I'd rather hunt with Artemis. How about you? Do you love Greek Mythology? What god or goddess did you want to be as a kid or wish you could be now?


  1. My daughter loves books with a Greek mythology twist (she reads lots of non-fiction stuff about it too) so she would love these! Thanks for the highlight and interview.

  2. I've never heard of these books!! Are they only available from Scholastic book clubs? Great review and very thorough interview, Brooke. Nice job. I loved hearing how Suzanne and Joan trade off drafts and work so hard on it, that it sounds as if one person wrote it. That's dedication to your craft!

    Well, Athena's the Goddess of Wisdom, so that would be nice!

  3. I'll have to pick one up. I'd not heard of them and I love Greek mythology. Thanks for the review and great interview. I've always thought it would be a cool experience to collaborate with someone on a book.

  4. Robyn read this with me and says, "I want to read them!" They sound like lots of fun. Thanks for the review and interview!

  5. Hi Brooke (aka #1 mom)! And hi to Lauren!
    Thank you so much for having us on your blog.

    Joanne, the books are published by Aladdin, also available in Scholastic book club. So they should be in most bookstores, on Amazon and B&N, etc.

    Barbara and Myrna, I hope your girls enjoy the books!

    Pam, I think I lucked out finding Suzanne as a co-author. We work well together, which makes the process fun.

  6. Brooke, after an amazing interview like that, you deserve to be #1 Mom!

    I love Greek Mythology too (Percy Jackson, anyone?) I'll have to see if I can convince my guys to take a look at these...

  7. This is Lauren. Thank you for answering my guestion. I can't wait till Medusa the Mean to come out. I also can't wait for the rest of the books to come out. If I were a goddess girl I'd like to be Athena, Aphrodite, Artimis, and Persephone.

  8. Love that this series focuses on a girl main character instead of a boy. and it's so interesting to read how Joan and Suzanne co-authored the series. I always think it'd be harder to write books with someone else.

  9. I loved this interview. Just got the whole series and I'm looking forward to reading it!

    Goddess...Athena! And I loved loved loved reading greek myths, too!