Hi Michael, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m the co-author of something like 150 books with my wife, including the ANIMORPHS series. GONE is my first entirely solo effort. Which probably explains the typos.
What can you tell us about GONE? What inspired you to write on this particular theme?
The premise of GONE is that one day, for reasons not immediately apparent, every person 15 and over simply disappears from the town of Perdido Beach. Every parent, every teacher, cops, doctors, all adults simply gone. The kids find they are trapped and utterly cut off in this 20 mile diameter space they come to call the FAYZ. No way in, no way out no explanation. And since that’s not quite trouble enough, some of the kids are beginning to develop strange and often dangerous powers.
Are there any themes in your book that you feel are particularly relevant for kids of today?
When I started writing GONE the notion of all legitimate forms of authority disappearing seemed pretty out there. Now it seems like the front page of any newspaper.
If you could have one of the superpowers what would you have?
A brand-new superpower. I’d like the ability to super-invest. It would be a magical ability to pick winning stocks. Okay. That’s probably not right. I quite like super speed. I always liked the Flash even though he was a sort of second-tier superhero.
What made you think ‘I want to write for children?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading?
I don’t usually read kids books, no, and I know this sounds odd but I don’t much think about “writing for kids.” I think about the story. And then if I watch my language just a bit it’s a book for kids.
Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager?
When I was a kid I was big into Hardy Boys. I also read awful bores like Ivanhoe. (The author’s long dead, I can admit it was a little slow can’t I?)
How do you think they compare to the children’s/YA novels available today?
Oh Hardy Boys were pretty awful. Compare Hardy Boys to Harry Potter? I think Rowling takes that match rather handily.
What do you think kids of today want to read?
I’m kind of hoping they want to read GONE. But it’s always guess work. Teens are wily, knowledgeable about hype, not easily manipulated whatever their parents may think. So you do your best, you put your book out there and you hope they like it.
Do you use your own children as a ‘sounding board’ for your novels?
My 11 year old son is always my first reader.
In the case of, GONE, how long has it taken you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?
Call it a year, all told. It was relatively quick. I wrote GONE on spec, meaning that I did not have a deal before I had written the book. But then it was pretty quickly picked up by HarperCollins in the States and then by Egmont in the UK. I’m grateful it was so easy, and grateful for both publishers.
How do you approach your writing? Have you adopted a specific way of writing, ie structured hours, writing x amount of words a day, or do you write as the muse strikes?
I’m fairly disciplined, yes. I try to do a minimum of 5 pages a day, then when I fall behind I ratchet up to 7 pages a day, and then in final panic-mode I go to ten or more.
Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?
I plan very little. Deliberately. I like the fun of discovering the story each day. I think that keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat, too, because a book planned in advance will more likely conform to predictable rules. I like surprising readers.
How long have you been writing and what have you done along the way to improve your writing?
I’ve been writing since 1989. Your question assumes I have improved over time. Not sure if that’s true, it may be giving me too much credit. Honestly, the best practice for writing is writing. Each time I screw something up I learn. Or at least I try to. It doesn’t stop me screwing up again, but I try to screw up in entirely new ways.
Would you recommend having an agent and, if so, why?
I think if you’re just starting out it’s almost impossible to go without an agent. It’s just the way it is.
What would your advice be for anyone writing sequels without having achieved a deal for book one?
Don’t. Sell the first book. If you keep writing sequels you’re doing it as a hobby, you’re not looking at it as a professional. Don’t forget that the editors may have some insight on the first book that will affect how the series goes forward.
Rewrites and Revisions: How much have you had to do throughout the writing of Gone?
I hate rewrites. Hate them. But I do them. In the second GONE book (HUNGER: a GONE Novel) I threw out 200 pages and completely rewrote them. That was hard. Whiskey helped.
Have you had to make any changes to the US version of the novel ready for UK publication?
Yes, we had to take out all references to the “trunk” of a car and change them to “boot.” Actually, I don’t think any important changes were made. Minor differences between English English and American English, that’s all.
Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?
I hate giving advice because my advice is always boring. But here goes: learn a little about a lot of things. Write a lot. Read a lot. Fall down seven times stand up eight. Assuming you have some talent to begin with, it’s not much about inspiration, it’s about being smart, about understanding your business, about falling out of love with the magic of your own words, about having some distance when you need to, and about persistence.
Any other comments/observations/general mind-blowing information you‘d like to add?
Yeah: Stephen King, my writing idol, read and loved GONE. This was the high point of my writing career. It’s wonderful to get good reviews, but this was Stephen King.
Before writing GONE, you were co-creator and co-author of the Animorph and Everworld series’. Would you like to tell us a bit about that?
ANIMORPHS was terrific fun and a lot of work.
EVERWORLD was actually too much work – 250 page manuscripts once a month? We set that bar a bit too high.
(I was going to post some book covers for Animorphs and Everworld but there are so many - so please, click here to see the books.)
Egmont UK 6th April 2009
Please check out my previous post about the marketing campaign for GONE here
You can read the book for FREE online at the following link