Interview with author Dan Elish

THE SCHOOL FOR THE INSANELY GIFTED: Daphna, age 11, is a highly gifted composer who attends the Blatt School for the Insanely Gifted in New York. When Daphna’s mother disappears while flying an old biplane, Daphna can’t shake the feeling that there was more to her mother’s disappearance than a simple accident. A hidden map launches Daphna and her friends Harkin (inventor of a flying car) and Cynthia (veteran Broadway dancer at age 12) on a madcap adventure in search of answers. They’re headed for Africa — in the flying car — never dreaming they’ll uncover something fishy about their very own school back home.

I’m delighted that Dan Elish, author of THE SCHOOL FOR THE INSANELY GIFTED, has agreed to do an interview with the Booktalk Blog. He’ll tell us a little about writing this title and give us a peek at his forthcoming book, THE ROYAL ORDER OF FIGHTING DRAGONS, due out in August.


The School for the Insanely Gifted is home to superstar dancers, musicians, engineers… All the students have some outrageous talent. If you could be one of the characters in the book, who would you choose—and why?
DE: I would probably want to be Harkin Thunkenreiser (aka “the Thunk”) because he has cool long blonde hair. I also like his enthusiasm and his “Thunkmobile,” the car he engineered out of New York City taxi cabs and buses. It’s very cool to me that he’s made a car that can fly.


What sparked the idea for THE SCHOOL FOR THE INSANELY GIFTED?

DE: My wife and I (and two kids) live in New York. There’s a lot of parental anxiety about getting kids into the best schools, private and public. So when my daughter (who is now 15!) was in kindergarten I had the idea: wouldn’t it be fun if there was a school for insanely gifted children, a place that accepted only the most creative, wildly talented kids. So I got thinking about the crazy, unrealistic ways that children could be talented and came up with three main characters: Daphna Whispers, a musical compositional genius, Harken Thunkenreiser, a wacky mechanical genius, and Cynthia Trustwell, a brilliant actress who has been in seven Broadway shows by age twelve. Then I got the idea that the school itself should be founded by an internet magnate, Ignatious Peabody Blatt who is a bit like Steve Jobs meets Willy Wonka. Once those basic characters were in place, the rest came together with lots of thought and rewriting.


What were some of the challenges you had to overcome in writing this book?

DE: Well, every time I start a book I think it’s going to take me a much shorter time to finish than it actually does. So I’d say that the problem with THE SCHOOL FOR THE INSANELY GIFTED was the same problem I always have: I always seem to forget how much rewriting I’m going to have to do to make it as good as it can be. In the case of INSANELY I thought I had it finished after two drafts. But then a new editor was assigned the book who wrote me a four page letter, single-spaced, full of suggestions and things she wanted improved. After stewing on it for a while I realized that she was right and did another massive rewrite. Books take a long time to gestate.


THE SCHOOL FOR THE INSANELY GIFTED highlights the amazing wow-factor of new technology. (How fun to have a flying car that folds up and parks in a 3-foot space!) But it also shows how technology can be misused. How do you feel about the role of technology in kids’ lives currently? Has that changed since you were writing the book?

DE: Like most adults, I have mixed feelings about technology with kids. The internet allows my children to download books and get information off google – these are good things. But we all know that phones and “devices” can dominate a kids’ life. It’s hard to monitor. I don’t know if the problem has gotten worse since I wrote the book. I do know that my own children (both insanely gifted in their own ways) have gotten older which means that they now have their own phones. There’s a lot of trust needed to make sure they don’t abuse them.


You have written for a wide variety of audiences – kids, teens, adults. You’ve written fiction and nonfiction, and for TV and stage. What do you like best about writing in different genres? What is your favorite part about writing for kids? 

DE: It’s fun to keep it varied. Writing musicals is a true love of mine and something I always want to do. I also like writing for grown-ups because it’s fun to play with adult situations and adult humor. But at heart, I’m a kids’ novelist. Kids get whimsy and fantasy better than adults and that’s what I feel I do best – take outlandish situations and make them seem believable.


You have a new book coming out this summer. Will you share a little about it?

DE: Yes! I’m excited about it. The book is called THE ROYAL ORDER OF FIGHTING DRAGONS, a comic adventure story about a boy named Ike Hollingsberry who discovers that he (and his friends) are the leaders of the Royal Order of Fighting Dragons, a society that dates back to the days of King Arthur. Their assignment? Save New York City from a mad real-estate developer named Theodore Opal. I had a blast writing this one – as usual it took a LONG time – but I’m very pleased with the result. It’s a romp starring six quirky kids that has lots of humor and heart. If you want to see a promotional video I produced, please click here! And the book’s website is here:

Find out more about Dan Elish and his books: