You are a New York Times bestselling author. Do you have that listed on a plaque somewhere?
I do have some mementoes from my publisher commemorating the milestone. It has been exciting that all five of the Fablehaven books were New York Times bestsellers.
What is the most prestigious award you have received?
I’m very proud of winning Young Readers Choice Awards in Nevada, Utah, and Tennessee. These awards were given after kids read a bunch of books and voted. My biggest hope is that readers will have fun with my stories.
What can you tell us about your dramatic rise from relative obscurity to national fame?
It was a relief that the books found an audience. I write my novels alone, and I try hard to write something that will engage and entertain me, but I never know if the book will work for others until I share it. I’m so happy others have had fun with my crazy stories. Enough people have liked them and spread the word that so far my books have reached a wider audience with each passing year.
Have you had any fans approach you in the street?
Yes. Part of this is because I do lots of school visits, so plenty of teachers and students know what I look like. Sometimes people recognize me from having met me at book signings. The rarest is if people recognize me just from the photo in the back of the book. It is always pleasant when people recognize me. They usually just want to share that they’ve enjoyed the books, which is nice to hear!
On your website, you refer to yourself as a geek or nerd quite often. What do you consider your “geekiest” trait?
I think of geeks or nerds as enthusiasts. Geeks are enthusiastic about something—could be books, computers, video games, movies, music, or even sports. I’m particularly geeky about books and movies. And the Zelda video game series.
What is your writing process like?
I’ve always been a massive daydreamer. I daydream about my stories until I see them like movies in my mind. The stories I’ve written so far cooked in my head for years before I attempted to write them. In general, the good stuff sticks and the weak stuff fades away.
Once I have a story that I like, I break it down into scenes and write those scenes in consecutive order. I often make new discoveries as I dramatize each scene and fill in the details.
How long does it take you to complete a novel?
It takes me an average of four months to write a novel. Then tack on an extra few months of back and forth with editors.
How long did it take you before you were able to publish your first novel?
I tried hard for about four years before I succeeded in getting anything published.
Who are your three favorite characters you have created up to this point?
This is a tricky question, because I like all of my characters for different reasons. I like Seth in Fablehaven because he is more daring than me and has a fun sense of humor. I enjoyed writing Patton Burgess in Fablehaven because it let me live out the fantasy of meeting one of my ancestors while they were in their prime. I enjoy John Dart in The Candy Shop War because he is a tough guy with an interesting problem—if he breaks your leg, his own leg breaks as well. If he kills you, he dies.
Are your characters based at all on people you know?
There are sometimes pieces of people I know in my characters. The character Seth in Fablehaven is recklessly curious in some of the ways my brother Bryson is recklessly curious. The character Summer in The Candy Shop War is named for my sister and shares some traits with her.
Have any of your novels been translated into other languages yet? What has that experience been like?
My Fablehaven series has been translated into twenty-seven languages. It is really cool to think that people I can’t speak with can read my stories. I have little involvement with the actual translation, although occasionally I will get asked by translators for clarifications on what is meant by a particular phrase.
Up to this point you have published mostly teen fiction. Do you ever plan on writing more adult novels?
For now I’ll be sticking with this category. One thing I like about this category is that adults read it almost as much as teens and kids. When I sign books, lots of adults come through without kids. I write these books for my 36-year-old self as well as my ten-year-old self.
Is there another author whom, should you have the chance to meet him or her, would cause you to act like a giddy, starstruck teenager?
J.K. Rowling. I’d love to meet her. Harry Potter is partly why I write the kind of books I write.
How was your experience writing Pingo with Brandon Dorman different from writing full-length novels?
I have to approach writing a picture book very differently from writing a novel. First, I have to use fewer words, so I need to tell the story very succinctly.
Also, I have to trust the illustrator to use the illustrations to help tell the story. Working with Brandon Dorman is always a pleasure. I give suggestions on what the images might be, and he always comes back with something better than I envisioned. The idea of a kid whose imaginary friend becomes his imaginary enemy has been floating around my imagination for years. I’m very pleased with how Pingo turned out. We’ll soon be working on a prequel to Pingo.
As part of the publishing process have you had the opportunity to collaborate with other authors?
I haven’t collaborated with other authors yet. It might be fun to try someday under the right circumstances.
You have a new book coming out in March 2011, Beyonders: A World Without Heroes. What can you tell us about that?
I’m excited about the Beyonders series. A World Without Heroes will be the first of three books. In the series, a couple of thirteen-year-olds will cross over from our world to a fantasy world—sort of a Narnia-type setup. In the fantasy world, an emperor is systematically trying to get rid of all the heroes, not by killing them, but by breaking them. He tries to buy them off and turn them into sellouts or otherwise leave them physically broken. Our cast of characters will largely be broken heroes who are trying to finally stand up to this emperor. I’ve written the first two books already, and am really excited about the story.
Is Beyonders similar to the Fablehaven series in any way?
Beyonders is in the same category as Fablehaven. Both stories have young main characters dealing with magical creatures and supernatural forces. One difference is that Beyonders takes our main characters beyond our world to a totally new place. I designed new races and rules for how magic works there. Beyonders will feel like a bigger story in some ways.
Within the Fablehaven novels you reference Greek, Celtic, and even Jewish mythologies and legends. Are these deliberate, researched incorporations?
Yes. The idea behind Fablehaven is that all the different myths or legends of different cultures have some truth to them, so I wanted to bring to life magical creatures from a variety of traditions.
Will we be seeing a similar mix of tales in Beyonders?
No. Since we’re going to a new world in Beyonders, I didn’t want to rely too much on the myths of our world. Rather than use centaurs or fairies or dragons, I mostly designed my own races and creatures for Beyonders. I think the new races are a big strength of the book.
I know that you said in your epilogue in Fablehaven Book Five that you wouldn’t be writing another Fablehaven novel, but what about a short story or two to follow up on some of the characters’ stories?
At the end of Book Five I said I would not be writing a Book Six. But it is possible that I will write a new Fablehaven series someday. That is why I left a few issues dangling. At some point, one way or another, I’ll tie up the issues you noted.
Will we be seeing other Fablehaven characters ever again?
Probably! I just don’t have the details regarding when or how. I’m still in the planning stage.
How do you see your novels incorporating gospel values?
I think any time conscientious characters face difficult choices, moral themes will arise. I don’t feel my books specifically promote any religion. But you can find a lot about light and darkness, right and wrong, good and evil, and choice and consequence, along with other issues that relate to morality or values.
How has the gospel affected your writing?
My religious beliefs influence who I am and how I view right and wrong. Who I am influences the kind of stories I tell and how I have characters deal with difficult choices.
How do you see your work building the kingdom?
I’m mostly trying to give people something clean and fun to read. I try to write books that families can enjoy together and discuss. There are discussion questions in the back of all of my books so far.
I try to have issues in my books that readers can relate to their own lives so that even though they are reading a crazy fantasy story, they might come away with some useful thoughts about courage, choices, friendship, heroism, etc. ❧