Thursday, September 16, 2021

Stuart Gibbs Interview - Spy School at Sea

Photo Content from Stuart Gibbs

Stuart Gibbs is the New York Times bestselling author of Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation and the FunJungle, Spy School, and Moon Base Alpha series. He has written the screenplays for movies like See Spot Run and Repli-Kate, worked on a whole bunch of animated films, and developed TV shows for Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC, and Fox. Stuart lives with his family in Los Angeles. You can learn more about what he’s up to at


What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
I loved science. Especially any time we got to do experiments. Dissecting frogs, shooting off water rockets. Any time you could make learning active, that was great for me.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
Honestly, I don’t recall a time when I didn’t want to write. As soon as I could read, I started writing stories on scraps of paper. When I was in kindergarten, a school librarian let me put a book that I had written in the library so that other kids could check it out. That was an amazingly powerful thing for me.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
After Spy School at Sea, I’m launching two exciting new projects at the beginning of the year: The first Spy School: The Graphic Novel comes out on February 1, with incredible art by Anjan Sarkar. And then the first book in a new series I’m doing comes out one month later, on March 1: Once Upon A Tim. This new series follows the misadventures of a young boy in Olden Times who becomes a knight-in-training and ends up facing all sorts of danger. This is the first illustrated series I have done – the art is by Stacy Curtis and it’s fantastic – and it’s also the funniest. I really think my fans are going to enjoy it – and that it will appeal to some younger readers than my other books. Meanwhile, I’m going to continue my other three series: The third Charlie Thorne (still untitled) will be out in May of 2022. In this once, Charlie is on the trail of something mysterious, dangerous and powerful that was hidden from humanity by Cleopatra. In fall 2022, the tenth spy school will be out, along with a second book in the Tim series, and then, in 2023, there will be the eighth FunJungle, plus more Tim, more Spy School and another graphic novel.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
It’s a basic human need. We all love stories, whether it’s reading them, listening to them or watching them. I know not everyone loves reading, but for those people who do, there’s nothing better than getting so engrossed in a good book that you can’t put it down. That’s the way I’m trying to engage my readers.

Can you tell us when you started SPY SCHOOL AT SEA, how that came about?
My kids and I ended up going on a cruise. To be honest, it really wasn’t our decision. It was a family thing. I had always been wary of cruises; they didn’t really seem like my sort of vacation, and my kids were wary as well. But I figured, at the very least, a cruise ship would be a really interesting location for a Spy School novel. So I suggested to my kids that they could help me research it while we were on board. We explored every inch of the ship that was open to guests – and asked the crew to see parts of the ship the parts that weren’t: places like the kitchens and the cargo areas. There were sections we weren’t allowed to see – like the bridge and the engine rooms – but the crew was very accommodating and answered any questions I had. So it ended up being a lot of fun, working on the story like that.

  • 1) My close friend, Marc Zachary, has a brother named Alan who has actually written musicals for Disney cruises. I interviewed Alan for the book. He was the one who told me about the chaos of trying to rehearse a musical on a ship during a storm at sea, when the actors were being tossed about. I realized it would make for a great scene (although, in the book, it’s not a rehearsal.)
  • 2) I subscribe to lots of magazines, because they are fantastic for inspiration. The scene in the book at Ostional, Costa Rica, was inspired by an article in National Geographic about sea turtles.
  • 3) Erica Hale’s first name is short for ‘America.’
  • 4) Mike’s reaction upon seeing how tiny the pool is on the Emperor of the Seas is my own children’s reaction to seeing how small the pool was on our own cruise
  • 5) When I was on the cruise ship, doing research, there was one fancy restaurant. While eating there, I nearly ordered a $120 bottle of water by accident. I thought it was $12. Luckily, the waitress recognized that I was probably making a mistake. It is, to this day, the most expensive bottle of water that I have ever encountered.
  • 6) A true fact I learned about cruise ships that comes into play in the book: Generally, all the food for all the restaurants on board is made at one central restaurant.
  • 7) Another fun fact from researching the book: The Panama Canal is not really that wide. Its width dictates the size of ships that are built all over the world. In reality, a ship the size of the Emperor probably couldn’t fit through the canal, but I fudged things for the story.
  • 8) Ben Ripley is named after Benjamin Franklin, one of my favorite historical characters, and Ellen Ripley, the heroine of Aliens, one of my favorite movie characters. I wanted Ben to have the brains of Benjamin Franklin and the resourcefulness of Ellen Ripley.
  • 9) I never allow Ben to have a gun (or any other firearm) in the series because I want him to think his way out of situations instead of shooting his way out.
  • 10) Fun fact: Before the Titanic, there was another passenger ship sunk by an iceberg in the North Atlantic: The Norge. My great grandmother, Chaie Holtz, was on that ship, along with her two year old son, emigrating to America. She ended up in a lifeboat with the captain. They drifted for eight days before being rescued by a boat heading to Liverpool. Chaie got back on another ship and finally made it to America, where she gave birth to my grandfather. If things had gone differently, my entire family would not exist. My cruise went much better than Chaie’s (although honestly, the pool was too darn small.)
What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I want it to be as much fun for them to read as possible. I want them to laugh at the jokes and be surprised by the twists and to get wrapped up in the action.

What part of Ben did you enjoy writing the most?
Ben is really supposed to be representative of a normal person, thrust into the bizarre world of espionage. So Ben’s reactions to the situations he finds himself in are really what my reactions would be if, say, I was suddenly dropped into a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie. In theory, those reactions should be what most people’s reactions would be as well. So when Ben expresses dismay at being in the midst of an action sequence or is flummoxed by how to use a grappling hook, those reactions all hopefully feel real and relatable to my readers, no matter what age they are. It’s fun to create those sequences and to funnel myself into Ben.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Not only is it one of the funniest books ever written, but it has a really interesting take on humanity’s place in the universe that was extremely influential on me – and no doubt the millions of others who have read it.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
All my characters probably have their roots in Donald J Sobel’s Encyclopedia Brown: a kid recognized and respected for his intelligence who is always trying to do the right thing. So it’d be fun for them to meet him – and his best friend, Sally Kimbal too.

Which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
Even though she’s had the shortest series so far, it’s probably Charlie Thorne. Charlie goes very quickly from someone who is avoiding all responsibility in life to someone saddled with an extreme amount of responsibility. So she’s had to realize that she has a moral obligation to do the right thing in life, even though that means making great sacrifices. But she has also reconnected with her brother and formed an increasingly strong bond with him, which is an important bit of personal growth.

  • Tried out for an improv comedy troupe in college, which probably changed the entire course of my life
  • Moved to Los Angeles to seek a career as a screenwriter
  • Cage dived with great white sharks
  • Decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Booked a flight in Buenos Aires for 24 hours in Iguazu Falls
  • Jumped off a boat into the middle of a pod of dolphins in Hawaii
  • Broke into a zoo at night, and then climbed into the elephant exhibit while they were sleeping. (Kids, this was a very stupid thing to do. Do not do it.)
  • Walked through a herd of zebras in the Serengeti in the middle of the night. (This was also pretty stupid.)
  • Once, while hiking in Glacier National Park, I ran into the great zoo director Jack Hanna and stopped to tell him how much I had enjoyed his autobiography, which I had read for research for Belly Up. Jack was hiking with his wife and four teens who turned out to be the grandchildren of Fritz Von Trapp from The Sound of Music. I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe this, so Jack had them serenade me and my friends. So we’re standing in one of the most beautiful places on earth, having the Von Trapps sing to us – and oh, there’s also a grizzly bear just up the hill. Not much later, we ran into a moose. It was all incredible. (I realize, I didn’t really do anything spontaneous there, except maybe talking to Jack Hanna, but it’s still a great story. Plus, Jack sent me a signed copy of his second book of memoirs.)
  • And finally, it must be said, any time you make the first move with someone else romantically, it’s a spontaneous act. Sometimes, it results in rejection, but when it doesn’t, it’s inevitably the best decision you made that day – if not in your entire life.
Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
Here’s one that ties into my future career as a writer. My high school had a literary magazine. I wrote a poem for it that was supposed to be in the vein of Shel Silverstein. It was called Noah’s Bark, and it was a long litany of complaints Noah had about having two of every animal squeezed onto his boat. I hoped it was funny. Then, one day, I’m sitting in the library near three older kids I don’t know. One happens to pick up the magazine and starts reading ‘Noah’s Bark’ to the others – and they’re all laughing hysterically. When they get to the end, one guy asks, who wrote that? So I say, “I did.” The guys thought I was lying, but I managed to convince them it was just a weird coincidence that I happened to be sitting there. They were really impressed. That was the day I learned I was funny. To this day, I’ve never had another experience like that.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid?
I’m one of those people who believes that, despite all our problems, human existence is always getting better. So I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to live any time earlier than I did. I had a really good childhood, so I’m happy with the decade I lived in. (Although I might have been a tiny bit happier if my parents had actually sprung for an Atari system.)

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?
It was yesterday. My amazing art director, Lucy Cummins, sent me a very brief but extremely funny email that made me crack up in the middle of a phone call. (In addition to being exceptionally talented at her job, Lucy may be the funniest person on Twitter.)

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Life is much more fun when you say ‘yes’ to opportunities instead of ‘no’.

Where can readers find you?
The best place is That has links to everything else, but really, all the information you could possibly want is on that site.

In the ninth and latest addition to the New York Times bestselling Spy School series, Ben Ripley faces his nemesis, Murray Hill, on the high seas.

Thanks to the evidence Ben uncovered in his investigation of the Croatoan, the CIA has tracked his nemesis, Murray Hill, to Central America, where they believe he is boarding the world’s biggest cruise ship, The Emperor of the Seas, on its maiden voyage around the world.

His mission: Pose as part of a family, with Alexander and Catherine Hale as his parents, Erica as his sister, and his best friend Mike as his brother, to find out what Murray is plotting.

At first, it sounds exciting to have a mission on the most glamorous ocean liner on earth, but as usual, nothing goes according to plan. There is action, danger, and plenty of surprises as Ben and his team quickly find themselves in hot water.

You can purchase Spy School at Sea at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you STUART GIBBS for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs.