Three Times A Charm with Christopher Mannino

Welcome to Three Times A Charm. I love introducing my readers to new authors, illustrators, bloggers, agents, editors or promoters from the children’s publishing industry.

Today’s guest is author, Christopher Mannino. Thanks for joining us, Chris. Please tell us a little about you.

I am fortunate enough to have achieved my dream profession.  I teach high school theatre at a school with a large and wonderful theatre program.  During the summers, and my breaks, I write.  Theatre and writing have been my two greatest passions for most of my life.  I was a small child in rural Massachusetts, and there developed an overactive imagination, perhaps due to a lack of “real” friends.  I found different friends in books and fiction.  I later studied history, mythology, and theatre in college.  When I finished my graduate degree, I spent a semester abroad at Oxford University in England.  Every week for four months I traveled somewhere I’d never been, climbing castles in Wales, or visiting cathedrals across England and mainland Europe.  My dreams took new form, and the world of my stories crept closer to the surface.  Now, I bring my imagination to life both on stage and in my books.  I currently live outside Washington, DC with my fiancée and my cat. 

Your semester abroad sounds amazing and formative. Now, we’d love to hear about your book, School of Deaths.

Can a timid girl find bravery as the first female Death?

Thirteen-year-old Suzie Sarnio always believed the Grim Reaper was a fairy tale image of a skeleton with a scythe.  Now, forced to enter the College of Deaths, she finds herself training to bring souls from the Living World to the Hereafter.  The task is demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male College, she quickly becomes a target.  Attacked by both classmates and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers want her to fail.

Caught in the middle of a plot to overthrow the World of Deaths, Suzie must uncover the reason she’s been brought there: the first female Death in a million years.

I recommend my book to readers who like:

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Sounds great, Chris. School of Deaths releases on Friday! You can pre-order for a discount from the publisher, MuseItUp. Do it now. We'll wait...

Now, for the Threes. Share with us your top 3’s to help us know you a little better.

  • Top 3 books you recommend reading and why you recommend them.
1. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. This Young Adult novel is unlike anything you’ve read before.  It is half graphic novel, and have words on paper.  Two stories run parallel, the story in pictures is the story of a deaf girl during the 1920s.  The story in words is the story of a boy who is also deaf, who lives in the 1970s.  The form of the novel is similar to Selznick’s first novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” (which inspired the Scorsese film) but feels perfected in Wonderstruck.  The two stories parallel each other, intersect in a surprising way, and by the end of the novel, the boy’s story becomes pictures, while the girl’s becomes written (the two switch).  The tales themselves are heartwarming and inspiring, and this is an absolutely delightful read.  

2. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  This is one of the only “self-help” books I’ve seen that I recommend with out reservation.  Cameron’s book, which is actually a course to follow, is a wonderful way for artists, writers, or anyone to rediscover their creativity.  During college, I went through a period where I felt like my muse was dead, and I’d never be able to write or act.  I desperately needed inspiration, and The Artist’s Way helped me find that inspiration within myself.

3. The Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest.  This suggestion is for other fantasy writers.  Many writers today forget the roots of fantasy, which of course is mythology.  The Mabinogion is a collection of Welsh myths, and is one of my personal favorite myth cycles.  The Lady Guest translation is generally considered to be one of the most accurate, however there are more accessible modern translations such as the novelizations by Evangeline Walton (Mabinogion Tetralogy) or Lloyd Alexander (Chronicles of Prydain, a YA series loosely based on the Mabinogion).  To accurately write fantasy, I think it’s important to study mythology in all of its original forms, so we understand where our ideas really come from.  The stories of the Mabinogion read more like a novel than a typical myth, and are an enjoyable way to look at one culture’s deep past.

  • Top 3 tools of the trade you couldn’t live without.
1.  Patience.  This is the chief trait I need both in my teaching job as well as being a writer.  Writing novels takes a lot of time, and even when it’s all done there is editing and marketing and so much more.  When I first started querying School of Deaths, I was buffeted by rejections, frustration, and at times a desire to give up.  Patience is a quality more necessary for writing and teaching than any other.
2.  Perseverance.  Perseverance goes hand-in-hand with patients and is another absolutely necessary tool.  As an actor, I know the feeling of going audition to audition making some, and not making others.  It’s frustrating.  The same is true for writing, and especially for getting published.  Even now that I’m contracted, the work of marketing, getting word out about my book, and working on another book takes an immense amount of perseverance.

3.  Creativity.  You can’t put your dreams on paper, if you don’t dream.  I write because I’ve spent my entire life dreaming.  I have so many dreams and ideas that I can no longer contain them.  My dreams are leaking onto the page, as well as the stage where I train actors.  Without creativity I would be nothing.

  • Top 3 skills to hone for people just starting in your business.
Really, it comes down to three above: patience, perseverance, and creativity.  To add to specific writing skills, I’d throw in three more:

1. Omit Needless Words.  Strunk and White’s famous writing advice is still the most relevant advice any starting writer needs.  Use words that propel the action forward and avoid helper verbs and everything else that detracts from the main message.

2.  Bend the rules.  My editors will probably hate me saying this, but every writer needs to be willing to bend the rules little bit.  My writing style incorporates a lot of fragments for example.  On the surface this might look to an editor like I’ve neglected the rules, but it is a stylistic choice that propels the writing in a faster pace.  Know the rules, but don’t be afraid to break them.

3.  Plan!  I read an interview with Ken Follett, where he discussed outlining for three years before writing a novel.  I certainly don’t advocate spending that long, unless you really want to, but a certain amount of planning is helpful.  Everyone plans differently, some outline and some don’t, but without an idea of where you’re going you are likely to simply wander.

  • Top 3 most admired people and why you admire them.
1. Hayao Miazaki.  Miyazaki is one of the greatest storytellers of our time.  His films, anime, and stories inspire imaginations across the world.  I admire the way Miyazaki can take ideas and transformed them into art, often one hand-illustrated cel at a time.  Other animators I admire such as Pixar’s John Lasseter or Avatar: the Last Airbender’s Michael DiMartino have claimed Miyazaki as their biggest influence.  I have never seen a Miyazaki movie that I did not love, or think was completely original.

2.  Leonardo da Vinci.  Leonardo’s artwork is beautiful, but it is his passion for the future that I truly admire.  Within Leonardo’s notebooks, he envisioned things that were decades even centuries before their time, works of true genius.

3.  William Shakespeare.  Yes, I’m influenced as a theatre professional, but Shakespeare remains one of the greatest writers in the English language.  While many English classes in schools do their best to make Shakespeare a hated topic, with overdone analyses and boring class-readings, the plays themselves are timeless.  Imagining a man with no computer writing parts on paper, handing them to actors, and stringing together intricate and complex parts and characters, I am only impressed.

  • Top 3 snacks to munch on while working.
1.  Strawberries.  These are the best fruit in the world.  Period.

2.  Chocolate.  Doesn’t matter what type, it’s chocolate.  Try mixing with strawberries.

3.  Pita chips, especially dipped in hummus.

  • Top 3 leisure activities.
1.  Travel!  If I could, I’d travel all the time.  When I’m not traveling, I think about the places I’ve been, or dream of the places I’d like to go.  Traveling is one of the most inspiring and exhilarating activities on earth.

2.  Seeing theatre.  Unfortunately, this is expensive, but whenever I get the chance I love to see shows.

3.  Walking/hiking.  Often while walking, I’m dreaming about travel, or about shows I’ve seen.

  • Top 3 pieces of advice for kids these days.
1.  Read for pleasure!  Common Core is here, in the American public school system.  The idea behind Common Core is to make reading horrible by analyzing everything to death.  However, outside of school, there are books that will take you to worlds you’ve never dreamed of.  Don’t just watch movies or TV, immerse yourself in books, and let your imagination free.

2.  Write your dreams down.  Whether a dream you had in your sleep, or simply a daydream about something extraordinary, feel free to jot down your dreams in a notebook.  I did this growing up, and now many of my dreams have become the starting place for my novels; you never know where your dreams will take you.

3.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  This advice is primarily for teenagers, but the kids I work with get overwhelmed with things that really don’t matter.  Getting a bad grade on one paper doesn’t determine who you’ll marry in 20 years, or the age you can retire.  Sounds silly, but don’t worry about every little thing- just live and enjoy life.  

  • Top 3 professions you wanted to be when you grew up.
1.  Astronaut.   I grew up loving science fiction like Star Trek and Dr. Who.  I always dreamed of going into space myself.  My grandfather worked for NASA, and was one of the chief metallurgists during the Roswell incident. Today, I teach down the street from NASA headquarters, yet never made it to the astronaut field.  My fiancé has told me if I ever go into space, she will kill me. 

2.  Vet.  I grew up reading James Herriot’s novels “All Things Great and Small” and loved the idea of helping animals.  Of course I don’t like blood, and some animals are pretty mean, so that one was out. 

3.  Writer.  I guess that one worked out.  J 

  • Top 3 favorite places.
1.  Rome.  One of my favorite cities to visit, Rome is a wonderful blend of old and new.  I love the history, as well as the modernity of the city, and true Roman gelato is one of the best foods in the world.  I am Italian myself, and could live in Rome and be happy.

2.  The UK.  This is a bit of a cheat, but I’m lumping the entire nation into one bullet point.  I spent four months living in Oxford, traveling all over England and Wales.  It was the most inspiring time of my life.  Some of my personal favorites include Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, Snowdonia Park in northern Wales, and the entire city of London.

3.  Boston.  The city of my birth, and the home of my favorite Boston Red Sox, Boston will always have a special place in my heart.  My fiancée Rachel went to college there, and by brother was married there.  I don’t love Boston winters, but love the city nonetheless.

  • Top 3 personal mantras or inspirational phrases.
“The most unfortunate thing that happens to a person who fears failure is that he limits himself by becoming afraid to try anything new.”

“Never give up, never surrender.”  (yeah, that’s Buzz Lightyear)

“What do you call a writer who never gives up?  Published.”

  • Top 3 favorite personality traits that appeal to you.
Passion for life, willingness to try new things, exuberance

  • Top 3 childhood memories.
1.  Long walks from my parents’ summer house in the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts.  I’d walk for hours, dreaming.

2.  Performing as Felix in “The Odd Couple.”  I was a sophomore in high school, and this was one of the most memorable experiences on stage I had as a child.  It was my first lead role in a play, and probably the origin for my love of high school theatre.

3.  Watching a dinosaur fly.  This is one of my earliest memories.  I was four years old, and my parents brought my brother (still in a stroller) and me to a park by the Charles River in Boston.  I pointed to the sky and told my dad I saw a flying brontosaurus.  My dad just laughed at my young imagination.  A moment later my mom pointed up and exclaimed.  A helicopter was flying over the river, with a life-size brontosaurus model hanging underneath.  which was being delivered to the Science Museum.  It was a sight I’ll never forget.

Where can our tech savvy readers find out more about you and your work?

main author site:

Chris, thanks for charming us on this week’s Three Times A Charm. Best of luck to you and School of Deaths.


GUESTS WELCOME!  I am always looking for guests for Three Times A Charm. If you are an author, illustrator or book reviewer, an agent or an editor. If you have something related to children’s publishing that you’d like people to know about, feel free to contact me about a future appearance.


  1. Wahoo for theater addicts! I love the advice--about breaking the rules. I'm a total fragment user too. The pace needs to be enhanced every now and then.

    1. I'm a fragment user also. I have a crit partner who (bless her heart) continually cautions me against using too many. Each time she has to repeat herself I always feel bad and scold myself. "Use fragments strategically."

  2. Kudos to high school theater. I loved doing it, my daughter loved performing, and all kids involved with the performance,not just the actors, learn a lot about responsibility in theater, Enjoyed your interview. Congrats on upcoming release!


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