Hey everyone! I’m really, really, REALLY excited to have Toni Gallagher, author of Twist My Charm: The Popularity Spell (September 22nd 2015), here for an interview. Not only was this book a really fun read, but Toni was a producer for Disney’s Bug Juice, which… Guys.. I was OBSESSED with that show! In fact, I found some episodes on YouTube and I ended up watching 3 of them before I even started this post – whoops (Sorry, not sorry!)!! First, here’s more about the book:
When a package arrives in the mail for Cleo Nelson, she can’t wait to open it. The birthday present is seven months late, but it’s from Uncle Arnie and that can only mean one thing: magic! Inside is a voodoo doll complete with instructions for making happy, wonderful things happen to Cleo and her friends—err, friend. Just one, really. But maybe the doll can change that. . . .
Cleo can’t wait to try out the magic with her friend, Samantha. They start small by wishing for treats (surprise pizza!), but then their spells start to grow. And when they wish for popularity, they accidentally get the popular girl in school in major trouble with the principal. Can happy spells be twisted into bad magic?
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And now here’s the interview! Enjoy!
Question: Congratulations! Twist My Charm: The Popularity Spell will be out in the world very soon! How does it feel?
Answer: It feels incredible! Like you, I’ve been writing since I was old enough to write, so it’s really a dream come true. On my website there are samples from “books” I wrote in fourth, sixth and seventh grades, articles from my junior high and high school newspapers (and a college internship), plus responses to fan letters I wrote as a kid to Steven Spielberg an John Irving. It’s awe-inspiring to think that John Irving said that I “sound like a writer” over 30 years ago and now I AM!
Question: Twist My Charm: The Popularity Spell sounds amazing! Where did you get the idea for the plot?
Answer: My dad traveled a lot in the Air Force, and would sometimes bring me interesting presents from around the world. He once gave me a voodoo doll, but a joke one, with things written on it like ‘weak chin’ and ‘bad breath.’ Well, fast forward to just a couple years ago, and an 11-year-old daughter of a friend saw this doll residing on one of my bookshelves and said, “I’d like to use this on some kids at school!” Being a semi-wise adult I responded, “Well, you shouldn’t do that…” but that’s when I thought, this could be a really good story! And since I’ve worked in the entertainment business a long time, it wasn’t that hard to come up with drama, humor, and action. It was the writing that was hard!
Question: You’ve been a story editor, producer and co-executive producer on several reality shows (including Disney’s “Bug Juice,” which I need to fangirl about for a second because that show was my childhood!!!). What made you decide to take the leap to writing books? And middle grade books, specifically?
Answer: Oh my gosh, first of all, I am thrilled that you’re a “Bug Juice” fan. It’s probably the favorite of all the shows I’ve ever worked on. (And if there’s a third Twist My Charm book, it may feature the summer camp experience!) Throughout my loooooong career in reality TV, I’ve always written on the side – screenplays, TV scripts, stand-up comedy routines, journals, even a book for grown-ups. So I never really took a “leap” into writing. The difference with Twist My Charm is that it clicked with an agent and then a publisher, and that’s why I’m talking to you today!
I never intended specifically to write middle grade books. This was just the story that jumped out at me, the story I really wanted to tell. Now I’ve been told I have a really good middle grade voice… but that doesn’t mean I won’t try YA or other types of books one day.
Question: You received your journalism degree from Northwestern University. How did a journalism degree turn into a career in reality TV?
Answer: Though I studied journalism at Northwestern, I always knew I wanted to write in a more creative way – specifically for TV or films. I thought journalism was a more reputable thing to study, though, as it gave me the option of a “real” job if the entertainment business didn’t work out. As soon as I graduated, I moved to Hollywood, paying back my student loan and telling my parents I’d never ask for money. (And, I’m proud to report, I haven’t!)
Reality TV didn’t even exist then. But when “The Real World” began on MTV, I was intrigued. I’d always liked documentaries and soap operas – and “The Real World” was a cool combination of both. I wasn’t quite sure HOW it was put together, but I wrote Bunim-Murray Productions a letter, and they called me. At first I wasn’t sure whether I was interviewing to be ON the show or work for it. Luckily they hired me as a story editor and here I am today, an executive producer on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” having worked on many types of reality shows in between.
I still love working in reality TV. It’s a different type of storytelling. It’s not writing in the sense that we create plots or dialogue (at least not on “Housewives”), but we have to take the things that happen in real life and figure out a way to construct them in a satisfying and entertaining way. It’s more like writing a script out of puzzle pieces.
Question: Aside from working on the sequel to Twist My Charm: The Popularity Spell, are you working on anything new?
Answer: Exciting news! The sequel, Twist My Charm: Love Potion #11, is already done! I think Random House is releasing it next summer (2016), though I’m not sure. Right now I don’t know if they’ll want a third Twist My Charm book or not, but I’m working on an outline just in case. I’d also love to revisit a book my cousin and I started writing when we were kids, about two girls who consider themselves detectives. Then they stumble across a real mystery on a cross-country train trip. The first page of it is on my website. It was called (The Case of) Harry Keebler, Where Are You? That title will probably change, but who knows? Maybe something I started in seventh grade will be online and in bookstores one day!
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I loved writing from the time I could write, so I’ve been doing it most of my life! For more about my experiences in writing, click here.
At 15, I moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio (which is why Cleo is from there). I was sad to leave PA but ended up meeting some of my best friends ever while I was in high school in Ohio.
For college, I went to Northwestern University outside Chicago, Illinois. I majored in journalism (writing for newspapers specifically), but moved to Los Angeles right after graduation to pursue a career writing for TV and movies.
Right now, my main career is being a producer for reality television. It’s a different type of storytelling — you have to make the story out of the real-life moments that actually happen on camera. It’s definitely challenging, but fun too!
I started in reality TV a long time ago, on the MTV show The Real World, season 2. After that I worked on Road Rules, where young people hit the road and had adventures. I loved the Disney Channel show Bug Juice, about real kids at summer camp… and I even liked Dr. 90210, though I had to watch a lot of plastic surgery!
Right now, I’m Executive Producer of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on Bravo TV. It certainly keeps me busy, and there’s never a dull moment.
If you want to know more about my TV career, check out check out my IMDb page.
When I have time between TV shows, I love to travel. If you want to read more about that (and see a lot of fun pictures), click here.
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