Interview: Author JJ Gilbert Talks Bernie’s Adventure and World Building in ‘The Mouse Watch’ [EXCLUSIVE]

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Image Courtesy Disney Hyperion.

Inspired by the Rescue Rangers, The Mouse Watch follows the adventures of Bernadette Skampersky – a small but courageous mouse who has hoped to join the Mouse Watch all her life. The super secret mouse agency is swore to protect mice, human, and all creatures alike from the evils of the world. With a host of cool technology and packed full of adventure, The Mouse Watch is an exciting tale that young readers will undoubtedly love!

We sat down with author JJ Gilbert about his new book and recording Bernie and Jarvis’ adventure on their very first day of training! Check out the interview below!

Nerds and Beyond: Let’s start at the very beginning. When did the idea of The Mouse Watch first come to you and how did it evolve as you reporting a first hand telling of the adventure from Bernie herself?

JJ Gilbert: I guess it started with thinking about the Mickey Mouse Watch itself. It’s such an iconic timepiece. Then my mind drifted to thinking about all the great ways Disney has used mice in its animated legacy. Being a traditional Animator and Story Artist I was intimately familiar with The Rescuers, The Great Mouse Detective, Cinderella, and the other features.

I was fleshing out a little story about all the Disney mice being part of Walt’s “Mouse Watch” a secret organization started by him, and wondered if maybe it was the real reason why the Mickey Mouse Watch existed. It was a fun thought.

As the story rolled around in my head, I got some great input from my editor at Disney Publishing. She brought up the Rescue Rangers and after brushing up on some episodes, I fell in love with Gadget Hackwrench. Her spirit propelled the book forward and it started to evolve from there. (Bernie Skampersky got her name from Bernard and Bianca in the Rescuers, by the way. I had initially imagined her as the couple’s granddaughter.)

Anyway, as the story continued to grow, I thought about how fun it would be to write the story as if it were told to me by Bernie herself. After that, my fingers were typing so fast it was hard to keep up with the “movie” playing in my mind. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun with a story.

Nerds and Beyond: You have a varied resume with everything from directing to animation. How did your background in those areas inform your storytelling of The Mouse Watch?

JJ Gilbert: I’ve worked with Disney for so much of my animation career, it was very easy to slip right into the storytelling mode for an idea like this. Having spent so much time in the story department, I tend to think of my writing the same way I approach working on an animated feature. It’s very visual and it helps that I can also draw so that I can better capture what I see in my mind on the book page.

Nerds and Beyond: The story really reads like an action-adventure film I could easily picture playing out on the big screen in my head. Did you hope readers would have that experience while writing?

JJ Gilbert: Oh, most definitely! My goal is always to try as best as I can to have the words create a movie in the reader’s mind.

Nerds and Beyond: Your illustrations bring Bernie and The Mouse Watch to life on the page so well. Did you find yourself drawing this world often while developing and writing the story?

JJ Gilbert: It’s a “hand in hand” process for me. Sometimes, I need to draw a character so that I can better describe how they look. For this first book, I created a scene of hand drawn animation of Bernie so that I could see her move and react and better understand her personality. It really helped me get to know her that way.

Nerds and Beyond: There is so much world development alongside the adventure, what inspired you to include those historical details of the mouse world?

JJ Gilbert: I’m a big fan of world building. I’m always curious about where the characters come from and who might have gone before them. When I wrote one of my early book series, The Misadventures of Benjamin Piff, I wrote all kinds of historical details in footnotes. I love big sandboxes to play in and by understanding the history of the Watch, its helped developed all kinds of possibilities for future books. There’s a lot of tiny sized heroes that have fought to protect humanity and rodent kind for centuries. It would take dozens of books to highlight all of their adventures.

Nerds and Beyond: The story is an incredible action adventure tale but also has important lessons woven in like not judging people just because they are different and the significance of teamwork. Were those lessons important to include in Bernie’s story?

JJ Gilbert: For me, they were essential. When I write, I try to pick themes that resonate with my heart and have something positive to say. My big dream for humanity is that we all live with the kind of respect shown in the Star Trek series, where everyone is equal and nobody is judged for how they look or where they’re from. Kind of geeky perhaps, but I really respond to that stuff.

Nerds and Beyond: I love the way Bernie and Jarvis’ friendship develops over the course of the book. They aren’t fast friends who easily trust each other, at least on her end, but we can see the beginning of a beautiful partnership by the end of the book. What inspired you to write that relationship and highlight Bernie’s particular struggles with trusting others?

JJ Gilbert: Trust can be hard for someone who has been hurt before. Bernie’s past informed her feelings about Jarvis even though they were unfair to him. I believe that nobody gets through life without being battered around a bit and, if we’re not careful, we can spend so much time licking our wounds that we never heal from those hurts. I wanted to highlight the importance of forgiveness and moving on. Forming meaningful, positive relationships with others is, in my opinion, one of the most important reasons we’re here on Earth.

Nerds and Beyond: Did you always plan to have a duo when the idea first came to you or was that something that happened later in the process?

JJ Gilbert: It didn’t start that way. At first, Bernie’s solo, very independent nature was all I had to work with. When Jarvis popped up, I immediately knew that this had to be a “team” kind of book. The two were destined to be together.

Nerds and Beyond: The technology in the book is so cool; how I wish I had a pocket sized motorcycle and goggles that gave me all the information I needed instantly! Where did you get ideas for the futuristic gadgets?

JJ Gilbert: I owe a lot to an early favorite book, The Mouse and the Motorcycle for the POP! Cycles in The Mouse Watch. Stuart Little also charmed me a lot when I was young. Being a guy who loves tech and gadgets made it really fun to create all kinds of James Bond kinds of stuff on a micro level. When I was little, I’d wanted to be an inventor so it was kind of a dream come true to come up with a lot of the stuff in the book.

Nerds and Beyond: If you could have any one piece of tech in real life, what would it be?

JJ Gilbert: The Smart Goggles. No question about it!

They can do so many things! Imagine being able to project a holographic disguise or, as in the next book, being able to use them to breathe underwater! Oops… not sure if I should give that away yet! LOL!

Nerds and Beyond: I loved the way you incorporated fun elements like Jarvis’ love for Tobasco and Bernie’s bright blue hair that really defined their personalities quickly. Was either character inspired by anyone in real life?

JJ Gilbert: My daughter, Olivia, used to have bright blue hair and is a lot like Bernie in personality. She’s really good at puzzles and won’t give up on a riddle until she solves it!

Nerds and Beyond: There’s a book two on the way (that we can’t wait to read); what adventure awaits Bernie and Jarvis in The Mouse Watch: Underwater?

JJ Gilbert: I lived on a sailboat at one time in my life and always wanted to write a sea epic. When Bernie and Jarvis find out about a sunken treasure that could change the fate of the Mouse Watch or their enemies the R.A.T.S. forever, it becomes a high stakes, rollicking underwater adventure that is filled with spine tingling moments as each races to recover it first. It was super fun to write.

Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope readers will take away from The Mouse Watch?

JJ Gilbert: That the Mouse Watch motto applies to real life. I truly believe that every one of us has an important part to play in helping others and we should respect each other and work together.

To quote from the book, “Every part of a watch is important, from the smallest gear on up. For without each part working together, keeping time is impossible. We never sleep. We never fail. We are there for all who call upon us in their time of need.”

We are the MOUSE WATCH!

The Mouse Watch is available in stores and online now!

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By Brianna
Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09
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