In your Five Kingdoms series you introduce one kingdom per book. In Spain we know Sambria, Elloweer and Zeropolis, all equally unique and innovative. What can you tell your Spanish readership about Necromun, the kingdom of death?
The kingdom of Necronum connects to a fantasy version of the afterlife called the echolands. The weavers of Necronum can interact with the echoes of people who have passed on. This kingdom also holds the secrets of how the Outskirts came to be in the first place. I feel it is the most original kingdom so far.
Wildlife parks of magical animals, the amazing shaping magic, five peculiar kingdoms... Where do you find inspiration to create these original settings?
I have always loved adventure stories. I draw inspiration from my favorite stories. As a child, the Narnia books taught me how imaginative books could be. As I grew older, Lord of the Rings showed me how deeply you could imagine a fantasy world. Tolkein made Middle Earth feel so real. Then Harry Potter demonstrated that you could write a story with a young main character but make it smart and twisty and cool so adults could enjoy it as well. That became my mission as a writer. I daydream for months and sometimes years to build the fantasy worlds in my stories. I escape into my imagination to cope with life, so in a sense I use my books to share my coping mechanism. ?
You have written two pentalogies (Fablehaven and Five Kingdoms) and you have another one starting in 2016: Dragonwatch, Fablehaven's sequel. Is five your magic number or is it just a coincidence?
I wrote a series called Beyonders that was three books long, but I do tend toward five books. For some reason, I think five lets me keep the adventure growing with each book without things getting too out of scale. I like the scope of the adventure to crescendo as the series goes on. ?
We don't know yet if Dragonwatch will be published in Spain, so what can you tell us about this new series?
Dragonwatch will continue the main story line of Fablehaven, picking up the story shortly after the events of book five and following the same main characters. Reading Dragonwatch will be like reading Fablehaven six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. It will also be a new entry point to the series. In the original Fablehaven series, the main threat came from demons. That threat was overcome in book five, so with Dragonwatch, we encounter some new trouble centered on wizards and dragons.
Despite the tough adventures your characters have to go through, you never forget to put a humorous touch. Do you think it is a key element to engage young people to reading?
The most important thing I do as a writer is bring characters to life. Humor is a good way to accomplish that. Any time you emotionally react to characters, they become more real in your heart and mind. Laughter brings life into the story, and I believe that increases the engagement of any reader.
Your work is usually catalogued as middle grade. As an author, what do you think about the cataloguing of your books?
Categories help readers find books. Middle grade puts me in the same category as Harry Potter. My books appeal to similar readers as those who enjoyed Harry Potter, so middle grade makes sense, although like Harry Potter, my books are more complex than some middle grade titles. At its best, middle grade fiction has just about the broadest audience of any category. It appeals to old and young. Sometimes families read it together. Harry Potter is the best-selling series in the history of publishing. ?
You wrote Wild Born, the first book in the Spirit Animals series. In this series, each book has been written by a different author: Maggie Stiefvater, Shannon Hale, Marie Lu... How was this experience for you?
Scholastic approached me to lead the team writing Spirit Animals. They wanted seven different authors to write seven different books. As leader of the team, my job was to build the world for Spirit Animals, create the characters, write the outlines for the seven books, and then to write the first book. Somebody had to create a series outline so the seven different authors could be telling the same story. Creating a series with a group of talented authors was a unique experience for me. I had never done collaborative work as an author before. I’m very happy I did it!
Since we have mentioned these wonderful writers, what books and/or authors do you strongly recommend us?
Some of my favorite books are the ones I mentioned—Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. I also really like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott card. Really cool sci-fi.
We have read that your former agency, Shadow Mountain Publising, rejected your first novel, but asked you for more material. With that motivation, you wrote and sent them Fablehaven, and the rest is history. What have you learned from that experience?
I learned that though it is hard to get started as a writer, it is also possible. You just keep working on your craft and sharing stories that matter to you. I’m grateful Shadow Mountain turned down my first novel, because after completing Fablehaven, I reworked that first novel into my Beyonders series, and it benefitted greatly from the rewrite. ?
Many young authors lose hope when the publishers reject their novels. How would you advise them?
I know a lot of successful authors. All of them experienced rejection. I heard nothing but “no” for years as I submitted short stories, novellas, and my first novel. Getting rejection does not mean you’re a bad writer. It just means there is a lot of competition. Agents and publishers routinely say “no” to just about everyone. If you want to succeed at a creative job, usually you have to endure some rejection and keep improving your skills until you find a way to stand out from the crowd.
On the occassion of Death Weavers' publication, you are touring across the USA to schools and bookshops. What do you like about these tours? Do you remember any funny or interesting story from those events?
I love going on book tour. I spend a lot of my year alone in a room, typing. Visiting schools and bookstores around the United States and sometimes around the world gives me new experiences. Writing is a mix of observation and daydreaming. The experiences I have on book tour give me raw material to draw from as I create places and people in my books. One of my favorite adventures happened when I did book tour in Nome, Alaska. The husband of a librarian took me snowmobiling on the tundra. We found a herd of wild musk ox. The huge animals gathered in a defensive circle, horns outward. It felt like an experience for a National Geographic photographer, but it happened because of sharing my books.
? We got to know in Spain thanks to the Fablehaven series. In addition to Spanish, your books have been translated into French, German and Italian, among other languages. Are you in touch with your international readership? Do your languages skills help you with that?
I do speak Spanish. Not perfectly, but I lived in Chile for two years, so I can hold a conversation. I do my best to reach out to my international readers. It is tricky, because simply writing the books demands a lot of my time. I’m also a dad with four kids. I try to connect with readers by touring. I made it to Jakarta, Indonesia and Singapore recently. I’ll be going to Poland in a few months. But with my books in over thirty languages, it gets tricky to connect with everyone. I can say that I am very grateful for my Spanish readers. I speak the language and hope to improve my skills. I had the chance to visit Barcelona a few years ago and found it to be a beautiful city. I hope to see Madrid and more of Spain in the future, and perhaps connect with more of my readers there!