Matthew Weaver

Staff Writer, from 'The Vanguard'
University of South Alabama

Published April 20, 2009




How did you and Mrs. Applegate get started in the writing business? And what was it like having to work on series like Making Out and Disney children novels? Were your hearts really into working on those?

"We got started when Katherine said, "You know what? I think maybe we should get careers and have kids." And I said, "Um . . . what?" We were living in a beach town, working in restaurants and managing weekly rentals, basically just living the life of free and easy singles. But we were getting a little old for that life.

It took a couple of years from that point for us to sell our first book. (Turns out you have to actually write something first.) By that point we were in a different beach town cleaning homes and offices. Katherine founded the business, you might say. She brought me in to help share the workload. (You're not doing anything: write this book for me!) From there it became a full partnership. Our first break in kidlit was ghostwriting Sweet Valley Twins. From there we moved into other ghostwriting gigs and then onto our own series.

The thing I remember most about Making Out was that we created the most meticulous "series bible" ever. The main characters lived on on island off the coast of Maine. So we worked out the schedule for the ferry that ran to the island. The weekend schedule was a bit different, so we had that down. We created class schedules for the characters. We had house plans for each home, including what they saw from their windows, where the phone was, so on.

Of course we only wrote the first 8 of the Making Out books. After that it was taken on by the packager and God only knows what they did with it.

As for the Disney days, our proudest moment came when a Disney editor said we'd achieved the perfect literary voice for Donald Duck. We thought that was pretty cool. We spent weeks going around the house saying, "We are Donald Duck!" We wrote some Mickey, some Mermaid, some Aladdin. It was fun, actually. We'd have surreal conversations with editors. "Would Ariel fit inside the blowhole of a whale?"


You and K have both always had strong lead characters. Jake, Sam, Jobs and even David to a degree. Does this come with the territory of writing YA lit or is there an underlying message about what kids and young adults are capable of?

"We both think kids are capable of much more than is typically demanded of them. In the 19th century there were 14 year-olds commanding guns aboard naval ships. There were kids playing drums at the head of Civil War armies. Kids survived the American frontier, keeping body and soul together in a sod hut surrounded by thousands of miles of nothing after their parents were killed. There are children who lived through Dachau. Age has only a little to do with a person's capabilities.

Our son is 11. He handles all of our tech stuff. He customizes blogs, builds websites, shoots and edits our videos. Our daughter is 9 and we turn to her to pick out clothing for us. We can't get either of them to clean their room, but they have other talents.

Also, I think we're both just bored by weak, wishy-washy people. We like characters who rise above themselves in times of crisis."


Do you and your wife exchange ideas? Animorphs, Everworld, and Remnants are understood to be co-created by both of you. Why is it that K got credited on the covers? Is it as simple as "K.A. Applegate and Michael Grant" is too long and tacky for a cover?

"Sometimes we "exchange ideas" in really loud voices. We had an epic, multi-day argument over the romantic decisions of some character in the Ocean City series. I don't remember who. We're both strong-willed, opinionated and a bit operatic. We'll have been together for 30 years come July, but a foundation of our relationship has always been our willingness to exchange the hell out of our ideas. We're extraordinarily close, actually, and each very amused by the other's obnoxious behavior.

The name thing was a business decision. Basically Katherine started the business. She was the "senior partner" you might say. And by the time I was brought into it she was already known to editors so it was a safer business bet for us to submit under her name. But actually we've used 11 different names at various points. We're also Beth Kincaid, Katherine Michaels, C. Archer, A.R. Plumb, Nicholas Stephens and others we've managed to forget."


Every series you and K have written have been blessed with amazing cover art. Do you feel that covers are a strong part of the book advertising?

"It's strange but for me the book is never real until I see the cover art. Writing is this weird, solitary thing you do. And while you're doing it it seems a bit ridiculous. It seems unserious at some level. After all, you're just making things up. And then you see the cover and you think, "Wow, you mean to say that there are people taking this seriously?"

We have liked just about all our covers. We have been very lucky. They are a very big part of the book and we have nothing but admiration for the artists. It always seems to us that they probably work harder than we do and get less credit."


A criticism is that you don't finish stories because you get bored with them and want to move on. Animorphs was finished albeit with ghost writers. Everworld was finished kind of tacky-like. And Remnants seemed to be rushed. Do you feel that is a fair criticism? And can you reassure fans of Gone that they are not getting invested in a story just to have the writer move on?

"I think it's a common criticism of series generally. (I gather that an awful lot of people were irritated by the end of the Harry Potter series.) But I think it was a particular problem in the days of monthly series. With Animorphs we were writing 14 books a year. (12 Animorphs, a Megamorphs and a Chronicles.) And we had other writing obligations running concurrently. And had our first kid right around book 11. It's less a matter of losing interest than it is sheer exhaustion after a while. It's not normal for writers to produce a manuscript every three weeks, 2000 plus pages a year, (more like 2,500 with other overlapping obligations) it's a lot to do.

In terms of workload I think you have to look for a point of comparison to TV series. But on a TV series you may have 10 or 20 writers, producers, assistants, secretaries, etc... Not two writers working in their living room while changing diapers. And TV writers get half the year off. Between Animorphs, Everworld and Remnants we went for about 7 years without a vacation.

The difference now is that I'm not grinding out a book plus per month. GONE runs about 600 manuscript pages. And more to the point, I set the number of books right from the start. I told the editors that it was six books. Not seven. Not sixty three. I'm most of the way through book #3 of GONE. I'm still very much on the upswing, very much into it. In fact I'm almost impatient to get to the next book and the one after that.

My problem with GONE is not running out of stories but having too many. I'm worried I'll start running longer and longer and I've promised the Powers That Be I won't do that. To tell you the truth there are a lot of days I regret setting the limit at six books because I start thinking well, you know, I think I have more stories to write about these characters. I looked very carefully at the question of how long it would stay fun for me. That's the key: are you still having fun writing or is it a drag? I'm having a lot of fun, and already getting excited about writing book #4. I think #4 will be called PLAGUE. So it'll be GONE, HUNGER, LIES and PLAGUE. Sounds perky, doesn't it?

However, a last note on Animorphs: we stink as editors. We had great ghostwriters for Animorphs, the last Everworlds and most of Remnants, but we were not good at managing them. That was a useful life lesson for us: stick to writing. For God's sake don't try supervising anyone. "


Have you built up enough stock to the publishers that you have free reigns to write a story or are you still treated like this is your first writing gig? How often have you butted heads with the publisher during Gone, Hunger, and Lies?

"I hate to sound like a kiss-ass, but Harper has been great. From the first negotiation through my most recent contact they have treated me with more respect and deference than I probably deserve.

When we disagree it's usually over some scene I've written knowing I was going too far. There's a bit of the bratty kid in my approach: I'll push it as far as I can, knowing the grown-ups will tell me when to take a step back. Occasionally I'll stand by a scene they don't like. An example from HUNGER: for reasons I won't give away, a character has a hole in his cheek and then drinks a beer. So I wrote that the beer foam ran pink through the hole. They said, "Gee, Michael, maybe not?" But I liked the scene and they kind of rolled their collective eyes and said okay."


I've read that you intended Gone to be creepy and dark, but do you intend on having a light at the end of the tunnel? Or are you going the Stephen King route and planning to end things as gloomy as possible. That is, will there be a payoff for the characters that endure and survive?

Well, I don't want to give up any spoilers. But I'll say this: I think by the end of book #6 I will have put the characters through quite a bit. I think they'll have earned a little peace and quiet. And this I promise: readers will have answers. Real answers."


How would you best describe what Gone is about to interested fans? What messages or feelings are you trying to invoke? GONE is every kid's occasional fantasy come true: a world without adults, a world where kids make all the decisions and have complete control of their own lives. Of course it turns out reality is more complicated, stranger and darker than the fantasy.

"I want first to give readers a real thrill ride. I want them up at night with a flashlight reading under the covers. And I'd like to cause a couple of nightmares -- possibly involving coyotes. That would be gratifying.

Beyond all that, if they want to use the book as a way to think deep thoughts about life and the nature of good and evil and the balance between order and freedom, that's okay too."


Thats it! Thanks again. I'm really looking forward to Hunger and I hope to run more reviews on your books. Before I let you go I do have one more off the record question. Do you have any plans to ever go back to the chapter sci-fi first person style books that you made famous? That's all. Congrats on the success!

"Every now and then I run the idea past the Powers That Be. I say something like, "Look, guys, there's still a market for monthly paperback series." And they say, "Nah, the market has changed, the numbers don't add up, it doesn't make economic sense." I think they're wrong. But I'm not a publisher, so they make those decisions and I don't. "

Good questions, by the way.



Source: http://media.www.usavanguard.com

Most of this generation is guilty of having read a K.A. Applegate monthly paperback novel.

"Remnants," "Everworld," and of course the best-selling "Animorphs" captured the imaginations of countless grade-schoolers in the late 90s. What many do not know is that K.A. Applegate was actually the combined efforts of Katherine Applegate and husband Michael Grant.

Now Michael Grant is taking readers on a new thrilling journey to a world where adults have vanished and the rules with them.

"GONE" is the first of a six-novel series where everyone over the age of 14 disappears -- vanished into thin air. The remaining kids, led by the heroic Sam Temple, are left to try and maintain some balance with hometown Perdido Bay. Complicating matters are the strange powers the kids left behind are developing and the translucent barrier that has enclosed the city.

Things get worse when a group of private schoolers from nearby Coates Academy march into town, led by the charismatic Caine Soren. What ensues is a struggle for command of the town and a race to uncover the mysteries of the FAYZ - the Fallout Alley Youth Zone.

"Gone is every kid's occasional fantasy come true," Grant told The Vanguard, "It's a world without adults, where kids make all of the decisions and have complete control. Of course it turns out that reality is more complicated and darker than the fantasy."

"HUNGER" is the upcoming sequel to "GONE" and focuses on the survivors from the first novel attempting to carve out a new life in town while also trying to maintain their only source of food, the farmlands.

Unfortunately, none of the kids were blessed with green thumbs and maintaining food supplies is becoming a problem. Things further escalate out of control when Caine returns to Perdido with a new entity called the Darkness, in his struggle to take control of the town and its resources.

"I want to give readers a real thrill ride," said Grant. "I want them up at night with a flashlight reading under the covers. And I'd like to cause a couple of nightmares. That would be gratifying."

With "GONE," Grant accomplishes just that. "GONE" has often been compared to "Lord of the Flies" and Stephen King's "The Stand" in regard to style and fear factor. The latter comparison became even more valid last March when King praised the series to publisher Harper Collins.

Despite the spooky nature Grant shares with King, the author of "HUNGER" promises that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for Sam and his friends. "By the end of book six I will have put these kids through quite a bit," said Grant, "I think they'll have earned a little peace and quiet. And this I promise: readers will have real answers."

Michael Grant's "GONE" is a refreshing addition to the young adult genre. With the market currently saturated by wizards and vampires, Grant has managed to craft an excellent and original sci-fi series that manages to capture both the imagination and hearts of readers. "HUNGER" will be released on May 26 and will be available at book stores everywhere.



Thanks to Matthew Weaver for the interview and for allowing us to post it here.


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