The Ghost in Apartment 2R: Interview with Author Denis Markell

The author of The Game Makers of Garden Place and Click Here to Start is back with another amazing middle grade mystery, and this time, things are getting spooky!

The Ghost in Apartment 2R is a friendship adventure filled with exciting twists, mysterious moments, and paranormal happenings that will have you tearing through the pages. It’s also a love letter to the streets of Brooklyn, celebrating the rich diversity and culture you can find right outside your front door. Don’t worry though – it’s just as funny as it is spooky, and it’ll leave you ready to start up a ghost hunting squad of your own so you can have equally exciting adventures with your friends.

The Ghost in Apartment 2R: Interview with Author Denis Markell

What if there was a ghost in your brother’s room?

This kid-friendly mystery about three friends who try to help a restless spirit find peace is perfect for fans of Under the Egg and The Book Scavenger.

It stinks that Danny’s older brother moved out and went to college. But you know what’s worse? He left behind an angry ghost in his room!

With the help of his friends Nat and Gus, Danny interviews everyone in his Brooklyn neighborhood to find out about spirits. Is it an Arabian ghoul? A Korean gwishin? A Polish haunting? Maybe the answer lies with Danny’s own bubbe and her tales of a dybbuk, a Jewish mythological ghost. Regardless of its origins, what does the spirit truly want? And can Danny manage to bring the phantom to rest?

The Ghost in Apartment 2R
AUTHOR: Denis Markell
PUBLISHER: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
DATE: November 12, 2019

There’s a lot we can say about how much we love this fantastic read, but why hear it from us when you can hear it directly from the author? We caught up with Denis Markell to chat about The Ghost in Apartment 2R and his endless love for all things Brooklyn.

Denis Markell on The Ghost in Apartment 2R:

Tell us a little about The Ghost in Apartment 2R and what inspired you to write this story.

DENIS MARKELL: The Ghost In Apartment 2R is a ghost story (DUH) set in my neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, which is what inspired the book in the first place.

When you live in an old house, you can’t help but wonder who lived there before you, what lives they led, and what happened to them. Also, because the area is landmarked, that means all the houses are from hundred years ago or older, so when you walk around at night (which I do a lot these days since we’ve gotten our dog!) you really feel the past come to life around you.

Finally, Brooklyn has been and continues to be home to so many diverse cultures somehow managing to live and co-exist as neighbors, (for example: there’s a Catholic Church right across the street from me, and then two blocks down one way is a Mosque, and then two blocks the other way is a Synagogue!) I wanted to celebrate that.

What are three words you would use to describe Danny? What do you want readers to know about him?

DENIS: Hmm…these are HARD questions! I should have studied. At least it’s open book (right?).

I hope most readers will find Danny to be funny, sweet, and if you ask his friend Natalie, clueless (at least when it comes to girls).

All you have to know about him is that he’s a typical boy I guess, who’s been thrown into a crazy situation where he’s forced to believe in something that everything and everyone around him tells him is not happening (at least at first!)

If you had to select one quote from The Ghost in Apartment 2R to dazzle a potential reader to pick up your book, which one would you choose?

DENIS: That’s not fair! I don’t think of myself as a “dazzling” writer, so I just don’t know. I’ll pick a passage from early on, where Danny begins to suspect that there’s something strange going on in the room the family is going to AirBnB (called something else in the book, but between you and me it is AirBnB). Late at night, he sees a light under the door and goes to investigate.

“I reach for the light switch to turn off the light. I see my arm and hand are shiny. That’s when I realize I’m drenched in sweat. I am so glad I used deodorant. But I can smell the fear. There’s nothing here. Nothing. I mean, not like in the movies. No voices, no blood coming out of the walls. Just same bland Ikea furniture. But there is something. I swear, I can feel it. Like someone is watching me. I can’t get out of here fast enough.”

The Ghost in Apartment 2R: Interview with Author Denis Markell
The story is set in Brooklyn, just like your previous book, The Game Masters of Garden Place. What do you love most about Brooklyn, and do you have any favorite spots?

DENIS: As I said above, Brooklyn (especially Brooklyn Heights) is filled with different cultures (you can easily hear a dozen languages spoken around you in a two block radius) and especially these days, celebrating diversity and the simple truth that we share more things than divide us is something that is central to what I write.

One of the most fun things about the book is that I could include so many of my favorite places, like Sahadi’s (the real life inspiration for the gourmet foods store Haddad’s in the book), and Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is both a tourist destination for its amazing view of the Manhattan skyline, and a gathering place for people from all over Brooklyn to come and grill, have a picnic, roller blade, or play soccer.

How are you hoping this story will resonate with young readers?

DENIS: Like my previous two books, Click Here To Start and The Game Masters Of Garden Place, my hope is that kids will see themselves in the characters, and how they respond to magical or paranormal things – I don’t want them to read it like they are at the movies, just watching someone else have an adventure, but rather feel like they themselves would respond in the same way. I mean, how would you REALLY react if something happened to you like what happened to Danny? I want them to see the kids as REAL, as someone they recognize and might want to be friends with.

Have you ever experienced any mysterious or paranormal events in your own life?

DENIS: I actually had one, and I swear it really happened! I had a cat who loved to run into the cellar when the door was opened and once she was down there, it would take me forever to coax her out. She died, and about a year later, I was down there with a plumber, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of white and orange fur flash by and run into the back of the cellar. It looked just like her. I assumed my eyes were playing tricks on me, but I turned to the plumber and said, “Did you see that?” he nodded, looking around. I thought maybe somehow a neighborhood cat had run into the house. But we looked all over and there was no cat there. FOR REAL.

We loved the way the story touches on a variety of ghost stories from different cultures and backgrounds. Do you have a favorite?

DENIS: I do like them all, especially the dog giving change at the market place. But I have to go with the story the Old Man tells about the lady asking him to tie the knot. It’s actually based on a true story an old man told me when he was kid during the war. The woman actually did live down there, and she did what the woman in the book did. I just added the ghost part!

Tell us a little bit about how you write your books. Do you have a favorite place to write, a special writing snack, etc?

DENIS: I tend to outline my books first – kind of “telling myself the story” – with lots of space for extra details, and not working out all the solutions (in Click Here To Start for example, there is a part where I just wrote: “In this chapter Ted breaks into the hospital” with NO IDEA how he was going to do it!). But that’s enough to kind of give me a road map – but like Google Maps, sometimes there are pileups and closed roads and you make detours that take you to all sorts of unexpected places!

Once that’s done, I start to draft. Normally I’m pretty undisciplined. But this is the only time I really focus and make sure that I spend the morning from 10 AM or so until lunchtime to write 2000 words a day. That’s about ten pages, which can be one chapter or two five page chapters, whichever feels more right for the story I’m telling. I DO NOT look back or try and make it perfect. The trick is to keep going, knowing I’ll make it better when I revise, and TRUSTING THE PROCESS. The minute you stop and try to create the perfect sentence or the most amazing description all momentum stops and you can get stuck. So I plow on, and if you do the math (my books come in around 55,000 – 60,000 words) pretty much after four weeks, I have something close to a first draft.

As to where I write, I can’t write in coffee shops or outside places, because I get self-conscious and often read stuff out loud, or hear my characters in my head. So I write at home, in a room where I can’t be disturbed. I normally write in the same chair, which is very comfy. It’s something called a slider, which is kind of a stationary rocking chair, which mothers sit in to nurse their babies. My wife used it with our son when he was a baby, and even though it’s kind of beat up, I’ve insisted on keeping it all these years! And our son is fifteen now!

I do not have a special writing snack. I should though, right?

As big Denis Markell fans, we have to ask – is there anything you can share about what you’re working on next?

DENIS: As a big YAYOMG! fan, I’m thrilled to announce that I’m doing another Middle Grade adventure/thriller for Delacorte Press, which is titled (for now) The Final Cut. It’s about a bunch of middle schoolers working together to make a student film, but someone seems to keep sabotaging their efforts. Is it another team of rival filmmakers? Is someone else at the school who is jealous of the attention, or someone more sinister?

As always, there will be a connection to my earlier books (my son calls it the Markell Expanded Universe) as it’s set in the same school as Game Masters Of Garden Place, so a lot of characters from that book will make appearances! (which of course was the same school Isabel went to before going to California in Click Here To Start!)

What advice do you think Danny, Gus, and Nat would share with the readers of your book?

DENIS: Danny: “Sheesh. Maybe after this people will BELIEVE ME when I say I saw something. I guess I’d also add that just because something doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped at first, don’t be too much of a jerk about it, because maybe if you wait a little longer things could work out. I mean, they did for me, but boy not in the way I ever thought they would.”

Nat: “First of all, sometimes your friends have to give it a rest when you’ve already said they were right. Nobody likes an “I told you so.” (Danny: OKAY!) Second, I’ve had to accept that there are just some things in the world that science just can’t explain. I mean, I know what happened because I was right there and witnessed it, but my mind still has a hard time accepting that there really was a ghost.”

Gus: “Ummm…my turn? Let’s see…oh! Okay. My advice is that if you are ever in Brooklyn you hafta go to Nat’s family store and try the Ultimate Malted Milk Balls because they are amazing. They will change your life. Ouch! Stop poking me, Nat! I dunno what else to say.”

Want to meet Denis and tell him how much you love his books? He has some awesome events happening in NYC this month! You can catch him on a Fantastic Middle Grade Reads panel at Books of Wonder on November 17th, along with other amazing middle grade authors. They’ll be signing books, meeting fans, and taking your questions. You can also find him at the Brooklyn Museum Children’s Book Fair on November 23rd.

Love spooky friendship adventures? Check out our interview with Allie Condie and Brendan Reichs, authors of the thrilling Darkdeep series!

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