Where did you get the idea for the GONE series?
I was enjoying the TV show Lost and re-reading Stephen King’s The Stand. But the truth is I don’t really know where the idea came from. Ideas just happen.
How do you manage to organize such a long story with so many main characters and plots linked between each other? In which way was the creating process of these books different from other books you have written?
I actually do not plan. I write spontaneously. I get up, go out onto my deck, settle into my chair, open my laptop and write. Somehow it all comes together in the end, so that it seems as if it is all carefully planned. I spend very little time thinking ahead, but in the end we have a six book, 3000 page series that looks as if it had all been carefully planned. It’s a mystery to me how it works.
One of the things your readers love the most about your books is the way you bring characters to life in such a real way. How do you get inside the mind of your characters?
I have the feeling that this will be an unsatisfying answer, but I don’t really know how I do it. I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing how I work. It just happens. As you may know I have very little formal education and none in writing, so I have no basis in theory. I literally sit down and type.
How do you come up with your characters? Do they emerge from a need within the story or do you have them in mind from the beginning and the plot originates from them?
Both. Some are what I think of as “positional” characters, in other words positions I need to fill. I need a hero or heroine. Okay: Sam. I need Sam to be able to talk to someone. Okay: Astrid and Edilio. I need opposition: Caine. Caine, too, needs characters to talk to: Drake and Diana.
Beyond that, though, are all the secondary characters. Some of those I “need” in order to accomplish certain things. Others I simply stumble across. The character of Dekka, to take one example, came from a photograph of an African-American girl with a real sense of gravity about her. I thought, “I don’t know who you are, but you’re hired.” I often think of characters that way, as my employees. Some I know I need, some I hire just because I see something in them, something I don’t know for certain I’ll need, but that I sense will be useful.
In some of your books we find young characters that, unwillingly have to assume the hero's role. What do you find so fascinating about this kind of characters? How much do they have from you?
Someone once asked me the difference between my characters and those in JK Rowling’s brilliant work. I said somewhat glibly that I’m a democrat and she’s a monarchist. I don’t usually like anointed characters. I don’t like class systems, like wizard and muggle. In GONE I have some characters who acquire superpowers through no virtue of their own, and others who do not. I decided early on that both groups would be equal, and in the end the single most admired character is Edilio, whose only “power” is that he is good, responsible and loyal. I enjoyed taking this undocumented Honduran with no money, with no power, with no connections, and elevating him to the top ranks of the FAYZ. I’m an American, after all, and though we often fail to live up to our ideals, we do fundamentally believe that all people are created equal.
You have been raised in a military family moving around the USA and attending many different schools in the country. You love to travel too and have lived in 50 different houses. How did this affect your work?
As I write this I’m in a hotel room in Tokyo. So I’d have to say yes, I clearly do enjoy travel. I think my lack of roots in any one place have made me an outsider, an observer and possibly increased my skepticism.
Have you visited any of the countries where your novels have been published? Can you tell us any anecdote involving your readers?
I’ve been to Holland, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, so far, with Dubai, Poland and South Africa on the agenda. I love visiting with foreign readers. But of course my most frequent contact with foreign readers is on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. There’s a group of French kids in the town of Rodez who are doing an amazingly good series of GONE videos. It’s incredible, and very flattering.
In BZRK, your series about the control of society through nanotechnology, you present a very dangerous future and it seems we are getting there very, very quickly. How did you come up with this story?
I was looking for something scary. I wasn’t interested in doing horror at that moment, I wanted something sci fi, but I realized I could not do a better, bigger monster than CLOVERFIELD, to take one example. It occurred to me that rather than looking through a telescope to find my aliens, I should try a microscope instead. I think the results are much more disturbing than yet another alien invasion sort of scenario.
Your novel Eve & Adam, written together with Katherine Applegate, is narrated in first person from the point of view of the two main characters. How was the process you two followed to write it? Both of you are well known writers, and also husband and wife. Does this make the work easier or more complicated?
We had collaborated all through the 1990’s on Animorphs and other series. It was often tempestuous. We can be a rather operatic couple, with lots of declaiming and denouncing. But lately we had not been working together, which made things much more peaceful. There were fewer arias. So we were reluctant to start writing together again because now we have children and we have to use all that passionate declaiming and denouncing on our bratty children. But as it turns out we had no conflict at all on Eve & Adam. Maybe we have finally matured.
Eve & Adam is the story of a teenager girl who has the chance to create her perfect boyfriend. Is that a reflection of our current society that imposes very specific beauty archetypes through television and advertising?
It was all very tongue-in-cheek for us. It was less about archetypes than a commentary on the unpredictability of love. I think that a lot of people have the idea that love comes from perfectly matching two people, people with identical views, identical interests. They want to reduce it to mathematics, 1 + 1 = 2. It’s not so easy, and it is definitely not mathematics. Katherine and I have been together for 34 years as of July 1. We met by chance and moved in together within 24 hours. That’s not math and it’s not predictable. No one who knew all the circumstances of our meeting would ever have imagined we’d still be together. And yet, here we are.
You are also co-author with Katherine Applegate of the Animorphs series with dozens of titles. How did you get involved in this project? How did you manage to keep the reader interested from one book to the other?
We had written some book series but had not been very successful. Katherine had said she was sick of writing series. I said we can’t quit, we’re still not rich. So I asked her, “If you could write anything at all, what would you do?” She said that she’d always wanted to find a way of showing readers the experience of being an animal. A real animal, not some Disney thing. I said, okay, that’s a science fiction premise, we’re going to need some aliens. We put the concept together from there in just a couple of weeks. We immediately knew we had something significant. It ended up as 54 regular books, two companion series, with sales of something like 30 million copies around the world.
Keeping readers interested was never a problem. We were writing a book per month (actually 14 a year) and could probably have gone on even longer. But we would be recycling old plots if we kept going so at one point we just felt enough was enough.
In which projects are you working on now?
I am writing the third and final BZRK, working on ideas for an Eve & Adam sequel with Katherine, and also writing the first book of a horror trilogy called The messenger of fear.
In your opinion, what do you think a good book has to have to catch the reader's attention nowadays?
Are the characters interesting? Does the story grab you by the throat? Is it well-executed? If the answer is yes to all three, you’ll find readers.
What did the young Michael Grant love to read? And the present Michael Grant?
I read science fiction, Hardy Boys, classics like Dickens and Tolstoy, horror from Lovecraft to King. I read a lot less now because I’m just too busy writing.