November 17, 2017

What Inspired Me to Write BRASS MONKEYS by Terry Caszatt

Author Terry Caszatt offers an exclusive insider post for you, Kid Focused readers.  He discusses the inspiration behind his newly released young adult novel, Brass Monkeys, the fantastic story of a boy battling boring teachers.

 

This is what Terry Caszatt has to say…

 

First, I was inspired to write the book because of the problems in American education. I wanted to define, in a comic, Swiftian way, some of the difficulties kids face in today’s classrooms – things like confusion, boredom, and fear. In Brass Monkeys, Weeser, a born “word-nerd,” defines his classes by saying they’re all about “Conborfear.” He’s so right!  Ask the kids in any public school. They’ll tell you. They’re in a daily battle with those three elements.

 

Along with Conborfear, I wanted to talk about “bad teachers.” We all remember those people. (Boy, do we ever.) But more, I wanted to put a value on “great teachers” – those marvelous people who open magic windows on the world. So I not only created Ming the Merciless, but I brought the fabulous Adjana onstage, along with Jack, who becomes the legendary teacher known as McGinty.

 

Second, I was inspired to talk about the idea of loyalty. In an age where bullying is rampant, and “me first” is the rule of the day, I wanted to explore the ancient and honorable idea of putting aside one’s own interests in order to stand up for the weak and powerless. Eugene shows the ultimate in loyalty when he journeys into the underworld to try and save Harriet and the others. And I’ll say this for him: he’d never stand idly by and let a fellow classmate like Ashlynn Connor face the bullies alone. Never.

 

Third, part of my inspiration was to create a gallery of strong female characters that young women would admire. I wanted these characters to resemble, in some manner, the strong, wonderful women in my own life. Thus I spent a lot of time thinking about Adjana – “the greatest teacher in the world,” and how she established her fantastic school – Shimmering Pines. I particularly wanted my girl readers to like Lilah, not because she battles a handicap, but because she’s the passionate, vibrant person she is. Most of all, I wanted Harriet to be a paragon of strength, talent, and bravery. And I think she is. (You can see a picture of her on my website. Let me know what qualities you see in her.)

 

Fourth, and this seems a bit crazy, but right along with the interest in trying to attract girl readers, I was also trying to create a swashbuckling, out-of-the-margin adventure story, the kind that boys might like to read. Long before Robert Lipsyte’s  article “Boys and Reading – Is There Any Hope?” appeared in the New York Times (Aug. 19, 2011) I was concerned with this problem. So I felt inspired with a dual purpose: to create characters and plot that I sincerely hoped girls might like, but which would also attract the boys off in the corner. “Yeah, you guys over there. Listen up!”

 

When boys do read the book, they like it a lot; they also seem surprised at their own reaction, which sometimes goes over the top. But I think that’s great; let them get into that strong current of great books again and feel the emotions. Let them go over the top once in a while. I want those guys reading my books!

 

Fifth (and this is a biggie), music helped inspire me to write Brass Monkeys. Right from the beginning, I knew Eugene was a trumpet player. I knew he had this unusual passion for Spanish music, and I knew “Malaguena” was his favorite song. I also believed it would have a major role in the big fight scene at Ming’s school. All during the writing I heard this tremendous John Williams’s score, which I still believe will accompany the movie. “Where are you, John? I need you now.” Or will very soon. Don’t lose your chops.

 

Last, but not least, I come to my sixth reason – the secret inspiration that I’ve never revealed before.  There’s a deeper element that has driven my work, truly inspired it, especially with Brass Monkeys. And it revolves around a romantic and far-fetched image that I’ve kept stubbornly in my mind over the years. Instead of literary fame and fortune, things that probably should inspire me, I have, instead, held on to this scene: a lonely reader stumbles onto my book on a summer afternoon, takes it into a nearby woods, or perhaps an orchard, sits down to read and is transported back to those golden days of childhood.

 

That’s all. Just that. That idea has truly inspired me, driven me to write over the long years. If Brass Monkeys could do that, say a couple of times over a thousand years, I’d be a happy writer.

 

Late note: Imagine my surprise and delight when I received this recent e-mail from Marya Hornbacher, a former student of mine from years ago, and now a noted American author.

 

“I took Brass Monkeys into my version of the woods (how I miss those childhood woods!)—but into a park by the museum near my house, and read it in one delicious, delighted sitting. It swept me away into its world, and I was as lost in it as I was as a reading child–reading not for technique or abstractions, but for sheer love of the tale. It was one of those things you read, and feel you are following the characters deeper and deeper into a wood, a few steps behind, listening to them, wanting so much to catch up, but knowing theirs is a sphere of existence that you cannot quite touch…so you follow. And by the time I was done, I was quite shocked to look up and find myself in a city park, rather than in the walnut tree’s roots. Thank you for such a heavenly read…”

 

Well, that’s once in the first thousand years. On up the mountain.

 

Find more information about Brass Monkeys on Terry’s website: brass-monkeys.com or contact him on Facebook.

 

 

Comments

  1. Linda (Tibbitts) Starner says:

    Brass Monkeys is a whirlwind of dynamic, magical characters in mystical world.Terry Caszatt takes you into a world where Eugene , Harriett and their friends confront their deepest fears , reminding children of all ages to stand up for themselves and get involved . This book is a definate page turner till the very end !

    • Hi Linda. Thanks a ton for the comments. I hope the characters can stand the test of time and still be “magical.” That would be great. But I also like your idea of kids standing up for themselves and getting involved. It that happens because of the book, I’ll be plenty happy.

  2. Randell J. Caszatt says:

    Yes, I’m a cousin of Terry, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give an honest opinion of his book. I remember being a child and Terry telling us kids stories, made up ones, scary stories mostly. We always looked forward to seeing him when he and his brother came to visit grandma. Now, with Brass Monkeys, he’s done it again. The story is a fast paced, visual, excursion from a dark school to a darker underground, and then to a bright, inspiring group of teachers who show our heroes the way out. I agree with Ms. Starner…a page turner.

    • Randell, thanks for the kind remarks. I hope those early stories didn’t ruin your life in some way. I must have taken myself a bit too seriously. More than “too” you say? Possibly. In any case, I’ve gone on trying to tell stories, and I’m glad you like this one. We’ll see what happens the next time out of the gate.

  3. I am going to look for this book on Kindle so I can read along with my child.. sounds like a very good read!

  4. Grant Belinger says:

    Mr. Caszatt as I know him as a high school junior was “that” teacher that students were drawn to. He staged a very emotional fight between himself and a student in our English class. We were scared, and upset with what happened. Then he turned to us and said. “write what you have just seen”. This scene was framed in my mind as I entered the classroom as a young teacher. How do you get students to engage in the content of a class. Terry Caszatt does this well in Brass Monkeys. The engagement continues. A must read for young people and those who remember those years.

  5. Trish Narwold says:

    Understanding the motives behind Terry Caszatt’s drive to write Brass Monkeys, has given me a better understanding of the book’s themes. Thanks, Terry.

  6. What I like about the book Brass Monkeys is the way you can read it on so many different levels. Like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz or Wind in the Willows — those sort of one of a kind adventures that are supposed to be for kids but are really so magical, allegorical, and true that they become doors to your inside world in powerful ways. I teach 8th graders and I read this book out loud to them. Yes, they loved it but also one kid said to me “I’m like Weeser in so many ways!” He started calling himself that. And isn’t that why we read stories in the first place — to see ourselves, discover the world we live in, to figure it out if we can? These are the kinds of books I want my students to read — these are the kinds of books I want to read!

  7. Margaret "Maggie" Critz says:

    I have respected and admired Terry Caszatt for years. Upon hearing about “Brass Monkeys”, I immediately ordered a copy! What a delight! I would expect nothing less from this very talented writer. This book reminded me of some of my favorite childhood stories that allowed me to let my imagination run away with me and transported me to a different time and space. I look forward to sharing this wonderful story with my nieces and all of my friends who are teachers. How refreshing to read a true tale of adventure, courage and imagination that encourages children to be just who they are!

  8. I am an 8th grade student and this book is one of my favorite books! Brass Monkeys is a book that you are always wondering about what is going to happen next. When I got to the part where Jack, Teddy, and Lilah had to be drowned my heart jumped and I was wondering how Billy Bumpus (Eugene) would get the book back to Mr. McGinty on time. This book is really exciting. Mr. Terry Caszatt is really creative with how he writes things. This book was very hard to put down for me, I just wanted it to never end. At the end of the day, I would grab the book and start reading it. I just did not want the book to end. Some books I wish were really short and I would be forced to read, but this book I was being forced to put down. I was told I was reading too much and the dishes needed to be washed! Don’t be a Fardex, read this book, you will NEVER regret it!!!

    • Hey Dina, I don’t want to get in between you and Mom about the dishes, but I have to say I’m glad you like the book. I tried to write the kind of story I used to like to read (what am I saying – I still do) with lots of twists and turns so I could get lost and not have to think about mowing the lawn, making my bed, knitting a new suit of clothes – that kind of thing. Duwang.

      • Bobbi (Reeves) Moore says:

        Just wanted to add my two cents. Terry was my favorite teacher ever. He taught me in high school (graduated in 1963.) He was always interesting, kept us thinking, was down to earth. He instigated the 50 mile hike when President Kennedy threw out the challenge.
        Regarding “Brass Monkeys”, I loved it! I’m an avid reader and encouraged it in my own kids, my grandkids and now my great-grandkids. I can’t wait to pass on my copy to my oldest great-grandson as soon as he is old enough. We will definitely read “Brass Monkeys” together.

        • Hi Bobbi. Thanks for the kind remarks. I view that 50 mile hike as a fateful, shaping moment in our personal histories: likely we will never be so physically challenged as we were during that
          grueling, storm-driven, winter hike through the long night (13 1/2 hrs) to Fremont, Michigan.In a sense, you can see that challenging trek in Brass Monkeys – my view of life as sometimes an extended trip into the dangerous unknown… I still see that long road sometimes – the one through the blowing, drifting snow, with the small, Midwestern town at the end…

          It’s also good to know, on a lighter note, that wherever I travel on that road, I may end up finding someone from your extended family. That’s fabulous! Grandkids and great grandsons. I can’t write fast enough. But I sure want to.

  9. Mr. Caszatt I really like to read books that are made up because they go in many directions. Realistic books you can sometimes figure out what is going to happen. These books are really cool there is like adventure, love, “history”, etc. I like books that are not realistic!

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