Monday, March 15, 2021

James Ponti Interview - Golden Gate

Photo Credit: Elena Seibert Photography

James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series: the all-new City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy–nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at

Why is storytelling so important for all of us? 
Just as food nourishes the body, I think storytelling nourishes the soul. It’s the way we connect and learn about each other. It’s where we develop empathy, understanding, and, best of all, self-discovery. We always hear about “losing ourselves in a book” but I think the opposite is true. I think you find yourself in one.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
The most rewarding is also the most surprising. Even though writing is solitary, it leads to fantastic relationships. I’ve developed great friendships with authors, editors, educators, librarians, and booksellers. But by far the most rewarding are the connections that occur when I meet or hear from a reader. Middle grade books mean so much to the young people who love them. They read, and re-read, and evaluate, and question, and love a book so much that it becomes much more theirs than it ever was mine. I LOVE THIS.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer? 
I had an amazing fifth grade teacher named Mr. Prothro. He loved poetry and taught us all about it. One day, he had us write poems and he mixed them in with a stack of famous poetry. Then he read them one at a time and we had to guess who wrote what. We rarely got it right, but we could always tell if the poem was written by a classmate or by someone like Robert Frost or Walt Whitman. Then he read mine. It was called Stars, and when he asked who wrote it, a classmate guessed Shakespeare. It was the only time someone guessed a real poet for one of our poems. He told everyone it was me and then he looked at me and said, “James, someone thought something you wrote was written by the greatest writer in history, how does that make you feel?” Since that moment, I have never wanted to be anything except a writer.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel? 
I hope they are getting completely lost in the story and asking themselves, “What happens next?”

What was your favorite subject when you were in school and why? 
My best subject was math, but my favorite was probably history a little bit ahead of English. I loved English most of the time, but I’ve always been a terribly slow reader and that sometimes made the class a struggle. I also stumbled a bit when it came to vocabulary and grammar as my editor can attest.

In your newest book; GOLDEN GATE (City Spies #2), can you tell my Book Nerd Kids Community a little about it and why they should read your novel? 
Each of the City Spies books is about a team of unlikely spies, five kids from around the world who become a family and are raised by an MI6 agent in northern Scotland. The books really offer a great blend of action, adventure, character, and humor. Golden Gate picks up soon after where City Spies left off, but the adventure is totally stand-alone, so you don’t have to have read the first one. It kicks off with the hijacking of a marine research vessel in the North Sea; has some fun adventure in and around London and Oxford; and all pays off in San Francisco at some of my favorite locations in the world including: Muir Woods, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz.

What was the greatest thing you learned at school? 
From an academic standpoint it was writing, without question. From elementary school on through college I had truly gifted teachers who encouraged and challenged me to develop my writing skills. From a life standpoint, it was the longest and hardest lesson of all: to truly accept and love the person I am and not worry about trying to be like others. That took the whole run from first grade through college graduation. (I didn’t get to go to Kindergarten or I’m sure it would’ve started there.)

For those who are unfamiliar with Sydney, how would you introduce her? 
Sydney is rebellious with a tendency to fight the system first and ask questions later. She’s strong – physically, mentally, and emotionally – and an incredible friend. Although, in Golden Gate, she struggles with issues of envy and self-doubt. Most of all, though, she is dedicated to justice and looking out for others.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why? 
Stuart Gibbs is a good friend and I think his Spy School books are great. It would be so much fun if I could introduce Brooklyn from City Spies to Ben from Spy School. They could compare and contrast the differences between MI6 and the CIA and I think she could offer some good advice on how he could better get along with Erica Hale.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers, what would it be? 
If you want to be a writer or creator of any kind, the best thing you can do is write or create from your heart, what you love, and use your own voice. Don’t try to imitate or make it like someone else would. Be true to who you are because then you’ll create something that could only be made by you.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid? 
My kiddom stretched across the second half of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties and it was really a good fit for me. Both were great, although filled with awful clothes. I’d probably lean seventies, which is why I’m thinking of writing a book series set in 1978. (How’s that for specific.)

What is your greatest adventure? 
I met this really awesome girl on a blind date when I was in college and we have now been married now for more than thirty years. Every day building a family, raising kids, and creating a life with her has been amazing. It’s the ultimate story that I get to tell and she has been essential to everything good that I’ve done in writing. (And life for that matter.)

Name one thing you miss about being a kid. 
Boundless energy. I find napping to be an essential part of my current lifestyle.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of? 
I am really uncomfortable around frogs. I have this theory that a frog can attack (yes, I said attack) in five different directions – front, back, left, right, and up. I always give them a wide berth and steer clear. I also have an incredible aversion (I don’t know if fear is the right word, but it might be) to mayonnaise. Like really bad. Epically bad.

If you could be born into history as any famous person who would it be and why? 
Billy Wilder, who I consider the greatest filmmaker of all time.

What are you most passionate about today? 
Books. I have spent much of my adult life working in television but have really found my great love and passion in middle grade fiction. I love it and what it can do. I think the pandemic has helped reinforce the value of how books can provide entertainment, enlightenment, compassion, and all sorts of other essential ingredients to a happy and successful life.

Where can readers find you? 
On bookshelves I’m conveniently located between James Patterson and Jason Reynolds, but online you can find me at or as part of I also love to connect with readers on twitter @jamesponti and Instagram @jamespontibooks.

  • My parents met on the Spanish Steps in Rome, where my American mother was painting a watercolor and my Italian father passed by and commented on it.
  • I hung out with Ray Bradbuy at a party when I was a freshman in college. (He offered great writing advice and gave me a friendly kiss on the cheek when he had to leave.)
  • Once a week during the pandemic, I’ve been part of a weekly zoom get together with some very well-known and very funny middle grade authors. It’s really helped me keep my sanity.
  • I was nominated for a sports Emmy for writing, producing, and co-directing a documentary about a man wrongfully convicted for murder and sent to prison for twenty-seven years.
  • I spent years writing children’s television for Nickelodeon, Disney, and PBS. I wrote on the Micky Mouse Club when Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera, and Britney Spears were all just young kids on the show. (They’d often hang out on the couch in my office while they waited to go to school which was in the room next door.)
  • I met my incredible wife Denise on a blind date in college. I almost backed out because I needed to rent a tuxedo and didn’t want to spend the money. Luckily, my friend Eric convinced me to go anyway.
  • I was not a strong reader growing up but I absolutely loved, and still do, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by the amazing E.L. Konigsburg.
  • When I’m frustrated with whatever I’m writing and need to get away and clear my mind, I like to play FIFA on my Play Station.
  • Every night before I go to sleep, I do the next day’s New York Times crossword puzzle. (It goes online at 10 the night before it runs in the paper.)
  • Every summer during college I worked at Walt Disney World, where I dressed up like Davy Crockett and told really bad – but kinda funny – jokes in the front of a canoe while people paddled around Frontierland and Liberty Square.
Your journey to publication
I always loved writing but was not a strong reader growing up. Because of this, I assumed that I just couldn’t write a book. I majored in screenwriting in college and began my career as a scriptwriter in children’s television. I started at Disney Channel writing for the Mickey Mouse Club and then moved to Nickelodeon, where I wrote for a show called the Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. It was popular enough that they decided to have books based on the series. There were two writers on the show and both of us asked to have a chance to write one of the books. I figured that since I knew the show really well, I might be able to actually write a book with those characters. It turned out well and I ended up writing more of them. These little paperbacks gave me confidence that I could one day write my own book from scratch.

Interestingly, the other writer on the show was one of my dearest friends in the world, Suzanne Collins, who went on to write the Hunger Games books.

I stayed in television and became a writer/producer of documentaries and other shows, but all the while I would dabble in writing books. Finally, I decided to really make a serious attempt and began working on Dead City. I wrote about fifty or sixty pages and sent it to Suzanne, because I knew her feedback would be honest. She was very supportive and told me she thought it would make a great book. I submitted it to one editor and one agent and waited.

Both liked it but thought the book that I felt was a Young Adult novel was really a Middle Grade novel. This meant I had to rewrite the entire submission and make the characters younger and change the plot accordingly. I didn’t know if it was worth it because it still seemed like a long shot and I was busy with my job. Still, I went ahead with it and stayed up late every night for a few months reworking it and resubmitted it. I had to wait a while, but as it happened within a twenty-four-hour period both the editor and the agent said yes!

My family and friends went nuts. I was at work in a meeting when I saw my agent’s name pop up on my phone. I knew she’d been talking with the publisher, so I made up an excuse and said that I had to leave for a moment. I went out into the hall and answered the phone and said something like, “Hello, Rosemary, how are you doing?” and my brilliant agent responded, “Not as well as you are.” That’s when she told me that Simon & Schuster had agreed to publish two books in the City Spies series with the hope of more.

Luckily, it was the end of the work day so I could get out of the office and wrap my head around things. From there I had to drive across town to coach my son’s soccer team. I spent half of the drive being excited on the phone with my wife. When we hung up, the phone rang instantly and I assumed it was her with another question. Actually, it was Suzanne. We have the same agent and she’d heard the news from Rosemary. She literally squealed when I answered and started giving me all sorts of info about writing in general and my book in particular. It was really an incredible moment.

That was ten years ago this month and it has been an amazing journey every day since. I’m still with the same agent and publisher and love being part of the middle grade world.

After thwarting a notorious villain at an eco-summit in Paris, the City Spies are gearing up for their next mission. Operating out of a base in Scotland, this secret team of young agents working for the British Secret Intelligence Service’s MI6 division have honed their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Fourteen-year-old Sydney is a surfer and a rebel from Bondi Beach, Australia. She’s also a field ops specialist for the City Spies. Sydney is excited to learn that she’ll be going undercover on the marine research vessel the Sylvia Earle. But things don’t go exactly as planned, and while Sydney does find herself in the spotlight, it’s not in the way she was hoping.

Meanwhile, there’s been some new intel regarding a potential mole within the organization, offering the spies a lead that takes them to San Francisco, California. But as they investigate a spy who died at the Botanical Gardens, they discover that they are also being investigated. And soon, they’re caught up in an adventure filled with rogue missions and double agents!
You can purchase Golden Gate at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JAMES PONTI for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Golden Gate (City Spies #2) by James Ponti.


  1. "What is your greatest adventure?" Sitting next to people on a Greyhound bus.

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  3. The greatest adventure was our trip as newlyweds to a new place of work. We traveled from Seattle to California, then across the country to Virginia, and finally to Philadelphia. And after 40 plus years the adventurous times continue.