Last week, I was invited to put my own link in the “Next Big Thing” blog chain by speculative fiction writer J. R. Roper. Joe’s short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies (including Monsters!, published by A Flame in the Dark, which will be out later this very month…). He’s currently seeking representation for his middle grade fantasy novel, and you can–and should!–read more about that project right here.
If you aren’t already familiar, the Next Big Thing chain gives writers the chance to talk about their current projects. My current–and past, and future–project is The Books of Elsewhere. My first full draft of Volume Five is currently in the hands of my amazing editor, and there is more revising to be done…but I can’t believe how close I am to the end (the END!) of this series. Here are my thoughts on Volume Five:
What is the working title of your book (or story)?
I am truly terrible at coming up with titles. I never know what a story’s title will be until all of the writing (and most of the revising) is finished, and sometimes not even then. The title of the first book in my series, The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows, went through six or seven variations. Volume Two: Spellbound was my editor’s idea; Volume Three: The Second Spy was mine, Volume Four: The Strangers (which will be released on July 16th, 2013) was my editor’s again. I guess that means this is my turn. (Sigh.) So its title will be The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Five: Somethingsomething. I’m 95% sure that it will start with an S.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
This is the final volume in a five-part series, so the ideas within it mostly grew from other ideas in other books. The idea that started the whole series came from an interesting old house in my hometown in Wisconsin. My bus would pass this house each day on the way to middle school, and I would stare at it through the smudgy windows. The house was more than a hundred years old and three stories tall, with peeling paint, a slightly sagging porch, and windows seemed to be always dark. The man who lived in it was an inventor; he built wind-powered machines, so the whole lawn was filled with weird little spinning and whirling contraptions. It was such a strange contrast—that old, mysterious, haunted-looking house and that modern, eccentric, scientific inhabitant—that the whole scene stuck in my mind. Years later, I started writing about an old house with a long and twisted history, and I filled the house with odd, mathematical people, and the story grew from there.
What genre does your book fall under?
Middle-grade fantasy. It’s also been called mystery, humor, adventure, and, according to Amazon, it’s “spine-chilling horror”.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ooh, I’ve heard lots of great suggestions from young readers about this! There seems to be a consensus that Johnny Depp should be the voice of the vain, dignified cat, Horatio, and Jack Black should be the voice of the delusional attic-dwelling Harvey. Personally, I’d love to cast Tim Curry as Leopold, the soldierly, easily confused cat who lives in the basement. (Many of my characters aren’t human—they are talking cats or enchanted portraits or living darkness—so casting might involve voices only.) I would love—LOVE—to see Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones) as the dangerous Aldous McMartin, and Krysten Ritter might be really interesting as his granddaughter Annabelle. Judy Greer (Arrested Development) and Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd) would be my dream version of the dippily mathematical Dunwoodys. As for the kids—Olive, the protagonist, and her friends Morton and Rutherford—I’d prefer to cast unknown, interesting, enthusiastic kids rather than working “child actors.” Then again, if Maisie Williams (Arya Stark on Game of Thrones) wanted to play Olive, I’d be over the moon.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Hmm. It’s tricky to sum up a five-volume series in one sentence (unless I construct a mammoth, page-long, Jonathan Franzen-style beast), so I think I’ll just say—
Eleven-year-old Olive Dunwoody is an unwelcome guest in her own house.
–and leave it at that.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m lucky enough to be represented by the fabulous Chris Richman, at the equally fabulous Upstart Crow Literary. Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, is my publisher.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
With Volume Five, it took about three months. I’ve found that I can’t start working on the next volume in a series before the previous volume is completely finished, so I started writing in November and finished my first draft in late January, after a couple of missed deadlines and many weeks of panicked scribbling.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I feel really uncomfortable doing this for myself, so I’ll list some of the books/authors reviewers and other publishing folk have mentioned:
Roald Dahl, Eva Ibbotson, Neil Gaiman, Pseudonymous Bosch, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and The Gideon Trilogy.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The Shadows was the first thing I ever wrote for young readers. At the time, I didn’t even hope that it would ever be published. I was just exploring and experimenting, trying to write something that my brothers and I would have liked when we were kids—we liked creepy/funny stories with surprising bits of magic, like the Bunnicula series and Calvin and Hobbes—but when I finished the book, I realized that other young readers might like it too.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Well, if that reader puts any stock in awards, The Books of Elsewhere have won or been nominated for a few. Books in the series have won the Cybils Award, been finalists for the Minnesota Book Award, and made the lists for the Texas Bluebonnet Award, the Sunshine State Young Readers Award, the Illinois Bluestem Award, and the Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award, among others. The things that teachers, parents and readers say about the books make me feel incredibly happy, too. I’ve had parents tell me that their children didn’t like to read until they began this series, teachers write to me that their classes have begged to give up recess time in order to stay inside and hear another chapter, and young readers tell me that my work has inspired them to try writing stories of their own.
I’m one incredibly lucky writer.
Now it’s my turn to add other writers to the chain. Cole Gibsen, Shannon Morgan, and Terra Elan McVoy, you’re up! (We may also hear from the marvelous Matt Myklusch, author of the Jack Blank trilogy, but I didn’t give him much time to answer. Sorry, Matt.)
Cole Gibsen is the author of Katana (Flux, 2012), a YA novel about a modern-day skater girl whose body is overtaken by the spirit of a 500-year-old samurai warrior. (Awesome, no?) She’s currently at work on the next book in this series…
Shannon Morgan writes plays, short stories, and novels for young readers, and she keeps a blog (what’s up, Daily Pie!) that often includes drool-inducing food photos.
Terra Elan McVoy writes beautiful, realistic YA fiction. Her books include Pure, Being Friends with Boys, and After the Kiss (which I just read and adored), all published by Simon Pulse. I was lucky enough to meet Terra at BooksALIVE in Florida this month, and I know she’s got a brand new, very different project on the way.