Vanasse collaborates with acclaimed YA author Gail Giles (Shattering Glass, What Happened to Cass McBride, Girls Like Us).
Pitting a boy band against legends that come to life, the Battleband Saga is a series with Common Core ready author-student engagement.
Boy bands are back—or maybe they never left. Whether they’re fans of the new boy wonders of One Direction or k-poppers trending on the Korean group Big Bang, today’s tweens and teens are all in with a craze that began back in their grandparents’ generation, with four boys who hopped the Atlantic to become the overnight sensation known as The Beatles.
No Returns puts a fresh spin on the boyband phenomenon with a story of magic, myth and adventure in which three thirteen-year-old misfits go up against the devil in a long-shot battle to be named the hottest new band in the country. It’s Faust, reinvented for the text-and-tweet generation, and the stakes are as high as they get.
“The first movement in an ambitious song cycle of a tale.” ~Kirkus Reviews
“A powerful story of friendship, love and guts by three kids who refuse to surrender. Brilliant and strikingly new!” ~Terry Trueman, author of Stuck in Neutral
“Turn this book up to eleven! It puts the buzz in Beelzebub and the power in power chords.” ~Arthur Slade, author of The Hunchback Assignments
Interview with authors Gail Giles and Deb Vanasse
How did you come up with the idea for No Returns?
Gail: I always used to tease the boys in my classes that drew satanic things on their notebooks that one day that were going to conjure up a demon and he was going to be miffed with them. Then what would they do?
Deb: Gail came to visit me at a place I used to own in Mexico. At the beach she shared the beginning of this book and said she wanted me to write it with her. She also bought some killer pink cowboy boots.
What do you like best about No Returns?
Gail: The characters. Love those boys and I even have some affection (I know) for Fred. He was such fun to write.
Deb: For sure, those boys and Fred. Becca, too. Weaving in the card tricks and the Faust legend was also fun.
How was it to write a book with someone else?
Gail: Great fun. Deb is such a wonderful writer and an even better cheerleader when you get stuck with the book.
Deb: Loved it! Gail’s got great voice and instincts about characters and plot.
What do you like best about writing?
Gail: The commute. I’m not kidding. I move from the bed to my desk to work. After that it gets to be hard work.
Deb: Discovery. Every day’s a new adventure. And the view from my office window. On clear days, I see Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America.
If you aren’t writing, what are you doing?
Gail: Petting my animals. I have two dogs and two cats. I also love to cook. And I watercolor when it strikes me which it isn’t lately.
Deb: Like Gail, I’m a servant to my pooch. Only one—she’s a lovable handful. I like to cook, too. (Gail’s the one who taught me that it’s a sin to use store-bought spaghetti sauce.) Hiking, camping. Pretty much anything outdoors.
We heard you just returned from a visit to Antarctica. What most impressed you about it?
Gail: The ice, the penguins, the elephant seal pups and we were in a storm with 35-foot seas. Very exciting.
Deb: I stayed right here in Alaska while Gail pranced around at the South Pole. I’m insanely jealous about all of it except the 35-foot seas.
Can you give us a hint of what’s to come in Book Two of the Battleband Saga?
Gail: My favorite thing is that Fred’s role is expanded in a new way.
Deb: Complications. It’s not easy becoming the hottest boy band in the country.
What advice do you have for young writers?
Gail: Write and develop a very thick skin. It’s a rough business.
Deb: Read. Read. Read. Write, and write some more. Study the books you admire. Keep learning. Stick with it. The writers who succeed are the ones who refuse to give up.
What made you decide to become a writer?
Gail: It’s a career that picks you.
Deb: I can’t imagine not writing.
What do you have in common with Pod, Manny, and Flaco?
Gail: I’m a little outrageous like Flaco, hardheaded like Manny when confronted, and just a tad OCD like Pod.
Deb: Definitely a little OCD like Pod. Also, my mother went missing for thirteen years. Like Flaco, I loved my grandpa like nobody’s business. And like Manny, I’m always trying to figure things out.
No Returns includes magic and the devil. Are you concerned about censorship?
Gail: Not too much. It’s not like were advocating for the devil here.
Deb: I spent a good part of my life in an evangelical church, so I understand the concerns. But we’re rooting for the good guys. And while we want our readers to have fun with the story, we hope it makes them think a little, too. Faust, the legend we worked from, is at its core a morality tale.
The band before us ended big. Whistles and cheers followed as they ran off stage.
“Terrific.” I wiped a stream of sweat from the back of my neck. “Why couldn’t we follow
a loser band?”
“After you sing, they will be a loser band,” Flaco said.
Manny grabbed his amp. The tattoo on his forearm was still raw.
Flaco slapped my back. “No butterflies. Just sing.”
We lugged our equipment across the worn wooden floor and hooked up. Flaco
waved and bowed and slid behind the drums. Manny and I clutched our guitars and
fiddled with the amps.
Becca trotted up to the stage, her uncharacteristic heels clacking up the stairs. She
adjusted the blazer that looked like it had come from Ms. Stein’s closet and grabbed the
ike. “Ladies and gentlemen—or whatever is on your permanent record—I present Fly.”
She paused for some polite applause. “On the drums, Antonio Jesus Javiar Rodriguez the
Fourth, otherwise and more easily known as Flaco.”
Flaco hit the snares, rolled a beat, and clashed the cymbals. Then he stood and
took a long, deep bow. He tossed his shaggy hair and shot out one hip while he pointed a
finger at the girls in front. Two of them squealed.
“Sit down, Flaco,” Becca said. “You’ll hurt yourself. On lead guitar and back-up
vocals and all round pain in the butt, we’ve got Manny. Take a bow, cuz.”
Manny hip-butted Becca away from the mike. “She’s not really my cousin. She’s
more of a genetic experiment.” He bowed and flashed a nervous grin.
“Last but not least, on guitar and lead vocals, we’ve got Philip. Owen. Dean.
Junior. Known to the world as Pod. Give it up for our boy.” More polite applause, plus a
whistle. My dad.
“Get ready to be amazed,” Becca said. “Astounded. Astonished. Here’s Fly, with
their original tune, ‘Deal.’”
I grabbed the mike as she teetered down the steps. “We’ve got a surprise, folks.”
My voice sounded like it was being run through the old Fisher-Price microphone, shaky
and a little too high. “There’s a change in the program. By, um, special request.”
The clacking overhead fan struggled to beat down the heat. Somebody must have
opened a door, because I felt a blast of air so cold it made me shiver. Flaco tapped his
drumsticks, once on the right foot, three times on the left. Manny twanged a couple of
notes. It felt like we were dangling over a big dark edge.
ut music is my prayer. So I did my best to forget about the dark. I sang to the
light, our old song even better than I remembered. The Pit was no Carnegie Hall, but it
sure beat a falling-down barn. I closed my eyes and belted out the lyrics like it was teen
angst and nothing more. My voice soared. I leaned into the notes and let them fill me. I
fell into the music like falling into a well. Every word came from deep inside, like I’d
been born to sing this song. Flaco supplied all the right beats and Manny made brilliant
runs up and down the strings as I nailed one note after the next.
‘No Returns’ was better than right. It was astounding. I dropped away from the
Pit, from my fears, from my friends, from my dad. There was nothing but me and the
song. It swallowed me up and I was part of it.
Flaco clanged the cymbals and pounded the snare. Manny jammed out chord after
chord, ending with three hammering runs while I held the final note, long and hard.
The audience sat in silence. Then they leaped up, whistling and cheering. Above it
all came my Dad’s distinctive whistle, shrill blast, shrill blast, trill. Lighters flickered on
and off as the clown jumped around the tables, tossing wet-and-peel tattoos. Becca waved
once and then I lost sight of her. I think she snapped a photo. It was hard to tell because
there were lots of flashes. The bell at the bar clanged again and again. Spotlights in red,
blue, and yellow strobed the audience as the clown sailed little paper airplanes through
the air. People snatched at the planes, laughing and shouting.
“Encore! Encore! Encore!” The whole audience was on their feet, stomping and
whooping and clapping.
His dark curls dripped with sweat, Manny punched my shoulder. “We rocked. We
pulled my glasses off and wiped them on the tail of my tee. The song didn’t
matter. The guy had nothing to do with it. It was us. A real band.
Flaco rolled again and again on the drums. “Hit it, Pod,” he yelled over the crowd.
“Your fans want an encore.”
My fans. We’d already used up our time, but the DJ was clapping and hollering
like everyone else, so I launched back into the refrain. “ ,” I crooned.
Manny’s voice slid in after mine.
“ .” Flaco pounded the beat.
“ .” I held the note, low and long. The power out there in the darkness felt like
something you could grab onto.
“ ,” I echoed, with Manny right behind me. “ …” The notes ran up
and down my throat. “ .”
Bass shuddered from Manny’s guitar. I breathed in, long and deep, and belted out.
“ ,” Manny wailed.
“ .” Even Flaco sounded good.
“ .” Our voices knotted together into one.
“ …” I crooned the words like my life had been nothing before that
moment. “ ,” I repeated. “ .”
“ ,” I sang again, frothed with feeling.
I looked up as I held the last long note. Silhouetted by the exit light, next to a
bunch of dollar bills tacked to the wall, leaned a small man in oversized sunglasses.
ll at once, butterflies, hundreds of them, erupted from the sound hole of my
guitar. Purple and blue wings glinted in the spotlights as they fluttered over the stage and
into the crowd.
The audience gasped.
Then it was chaos.
Gail Giles and Deb Vanasse
Running Fox Books
Becca’s mouth gaped. She shut it, fast, as flies circled her head.
Manny swung at the winged frenzy. Flaco leapt up and beat at the dark, buzzing cloud. I flailed at the horror of insects that wriggled against my skin. Shouts turned to screams as the flies swarmed the stadium, thousands and thousands of crawling feet and glistening wings. Flies climbed the walls. The ventilation system choked and sputtered with them.
Then came Fred.
Flaco jumped over his drums and pitched his sticks straight at his head. Fedora skewed and face bulging red, Fred lunged. I braced for flames.
Manny grabbed the microphone stand and swept it along the floor, knocking Fred’s feet out from under him. He landed with a thump.
“Run for it!” Flaco screamed to Manny and me. He sprinted to the edge of the stage, opened his arms wide, and dove into the crowd. Their arms went up immediately, catching Flaco in a huge cradle.
Fred scrambled to his feet and grabbed for me with his jeweled fingers. I skidded out of reach. The crowd whooped and hollered like it was all part of the show. Someone hoisted Becca toward the stage. Manny shoved her back. “Get out of here,” he bellowed. She looked stunned as a clobbered fish.
The audience passed Flaco from person to person until he pointed to the ground. On his feet, he swept off his headband and bowed. Manny and I launched in imitation of his leap. Manny was down and running like a fullback while I was still bouncing in the air like a volleyball.
Fred scooted off the platform and began shoving his way through the throng. “Down,” I yelled. “Put me down.”
The bouncing stopped and my feet hit the ground. I pushed through the crowd and out the door, leaving our fans to hold their own with the security team, the buzzing flies, and one furious demon.
Cool air. A light mist fell. Uniformed guards were grouping up, barking into radios and dashing up the steps. No one seemed to realize we were the ones who’d set off the craziness.
“I know a church near here,” Flaco said. “My uncle’s wedding was there. We’ll be safe.”
“You don’t know that,” said Manny.
Breaking from the pack, one of the guards started toward us. “There’s one way to find out,” Flaco said.
We ran. And ran. Flaco was skinny and fast. Manny and I pounded hard to keep up. Flaco looked back and saw that we were in trouble and ducked into a coffee shop. We headed straight for the bathroom.
I leaned over, hands on my knees, panting. Manny gulped a breath. “I don’t think Fred can run real fast. You ever notice how small his feet are?”
“He shouldn’t have to run.” Flaco wiped a line of sweat from under his bandana. “He can poof.”
“Poofs make him disappear,” Manny said. “That doesn’t mean they take him to where he wants to end up.”
“He’ll find us,” I said. “We’re easy targets.”
“Only if we stick together,” Manny said. “If we split up, he’ll have to choose.”
Flaco scuffed Manny’s ear. “One goes down, we all go down. The church is a ways off,” We could take a taxi. But I left my wallet in the dressing room. You guys got cash? ”
“Not me,” I said.
“Negative,” said Manny.
“In that case,” Flaco said, “rock stars will have to be track stars.”
“A church won’t stop him,” Manny said.
“You got a better idea?” Flaco flashed.
“That’s what I thought.”
As we trailed out from the bathroom, Fred was cruising past the coffee shop’s big window. Together, we ducked back into the hallway. Flaco pushed through a door that said Employees Only. In the kitchen, a girl who’d been wiping the stainless steel counter clutched her sponge to her chest. The sound from her throat was part gasp, part scream. “Hottest band in Texas, coming through.” Flaco flashed a smile, ripped off his sweaty headband, and flung it through the air.
The girl caught it. “Matamoscas,” Flaco said as we sprinted past. “Swat the Fly. If anyone asks, you never saw us.”
Copyright Gail Giles and Deb Vanasse
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The Battleband Saga