Michael Grant - Author of Gone, and Co-Author of Animorphs

JUNE 16, 2008



Fiction for younger readers can be surprising. Not all of it is, of course. Some of it is likely what you would expect: kiddie-fare. However, when something so worthwhile for teen readers comes along, it can be very exciting. Gone, by Michael Grant, is such a book. Combining equal parts Left Behind, X-Men and Lord of the Flies, Grant weaves a tale that is compelling from beginning to mysterious end. And as the first in a series, we're certain to get many more surprises before the story has ended. We're fortunate that Mr. Grant was able to answer a few of our questions about both this book, and those to come.


1. Where did you draw your inspiration for Gone?

I guess I'd have to credit three major sources of inspiration for GONE: The TV show Lost, the great classic Lord of the Flies and Stephen King's The Stand. There are not-too-subtle acknowledgments for each in GONE. For instance, the town is Perdido Beach. Lost Beach. There's a Stefano Rey (Stephen King) National Forest, and a Golding avenue. Also one of the bad guys -- maybe the worst of the bad guys -- shares a last name with The Trashcan Man from The Stand. I like to think Drake Merwin would actually frighten The Trashcan Man just a little.


2. How long do you see this series running? How many books?

Six. It felt like the right number. You know, kind of even and round and satisfying.


3. Do you have a name in mind for the series overall? Either something official, or something just for yourself?

Originally I named it The FAYZ. "FAYZ" is what the characters come to call the area in which they are trapped. Fallout Alley Youth Zone -- it's a snarky, mordant reference to their predicament. But I believe the naming style will be GONE, followed by GONE - Hunger, then GONE - Something Else, and GONE- What Now, and GONE - Oh, My God, Is It Over Yet? It will end with GONE - Gone. Kidding, of course. It's just the GONE series.


4. How much of the overall plot do you know right now? How much do you allow to come to you as you write, in the moment?

I know some writers claim they plan way ahead in a series. I don't. It's actually a conscious choice, almost a philosophical choice. I have a lot of respect for the element of chance in life. I believe in free will, and the effects of heredity and environment, but I try never to forget random chance. So I want to always keep the series open to that, to the thing I may accidentally discover three years from now, the thing I can't even guess at yet. I don't want to lock myself in.

Also, to the extent that I plan far in advance the plot will necessarily become more predictable. I would end up planning according to the unwritten rules. Readers would be able to anticipate what's coming to a greater extent than they can now. I like surprising people. A reader who guesses that I won't do this or that because it would violate expectations is in for a shock.

The biggest rush I get in writing is racing toward a conclusion when I have five running plotlines and 15 characters in play, and no clear idea how it's all going to come together. It's like jumping off a bridge not quite sure whether the bungee cord will yank you back up in time. Then, amazingly, it works, it all comes together and it's just fun. Hopefully for the reader as well because if I don't know how it ends, they don't know how it ends.

That having been said, of course I know how the series ends: fuzzy bunnies eating cupcakes. With bayonets.


5. Along the same lines, how does the process differ when writing a standalone novel versus a series?

Series writing is like packing for indefinite exile on a desert island: you want to bring a lot of stuff because you don't know what you're going to need. You don't want an airtight, limited structure, you want to leave yourself some loose ends. Or maybe loose beginnings. You want a huge backstory in mind because you'll be mining that again and again. You need endings, plural, then one single overall end. You need characters to be durable. And you need to avoid a couple of traps. One is the "I must top myself" trap, the notion that if you blow up a car in book one you have to blow up a truck in book two, a train in book three . . . The other thing to be so careful of is letting your mythology eat your story. Its very easy to get metastisis of the backstory/mythology so that you're hauling this massive load of detail around with you from book to book and boring everyone to death by insisting they keep it all straight.


7. What character in Gone do you most closely associate with?

Me? I'm a little bit Albert, a little bit Quinn and a little of Astrid. Though not the whole genius thing. Or the long blond hair. More the pedantic part. I wish I was Sam, but I doubt that I am. I guess if I was suddenly to find myself in the FAYZ I'd probably turn out to be Albert. Albert is ambitious, likes to work, stays focused and has no social life. Yep, Albert. A sad realization. Thanks for forcing me to confront my non-heroic nature.


8. Sam and Quinn's relationship seems constantly strained. Is this a theme you think will continue as the series progresses?

Quinn is not the guy you want to be, he's the guy you're afraid you'll reveal yourself to be. I wanted to show Sam stepping up, Quinn failing to do the same. Different people respond differently in a crisis. The FAYZ will make some characters and destroy others. Quinn will have his good times and his bad.


9. I noticed some relevant political undertones in Gone -- do you intend to spark thought and discussion through your work, or does it happen more naturally?

Anything I write will have an element of politics. ANIMORPHS (which I wrote with my wife, the great and powerful K.A. Applegate,) was very political. But not political from the point of view of partisanship, I'm not even slightly interested in grinding some ideological axe. But the situation in GONE is necessarily political in part, as well as emotional and personal. We begin by essentially subtracting all forms of authority. Even the hierarchy of age is gone. No adults, which means no parents, no teachers, no cops, no one to set boundaries or invent rules. GONE 2 will get more deeply into some issues, particularly tribalism, bigotry, and even economics. Probably not a word I should mention while trying to promote a YA novel.

I'd love it if readers used GONE as a taking-off point for political or philosophical discussion. But that's all secondary to my primary goal which is to keep readers snapping through those pages. I want to keep people up all night. I want to give readers nightmares. I want them to come away at the end feeling kind of shaky and giddy and sort of goofy, the way you feel when you get off a good roller coaster.


10. Finally, can you tease the next book in the series? Maybe just a sentence or 2 that can increase our excitement?

Gone 2 is subtitled Hunger. Hunger in all its forms. And in some the reader won't have thought of. Things will be very desperate in the FAYZ. The characters will be fighting over dwindling resources and looking for scapegoats. Then, of course, we'll pause to discuss monetary policy. And then it's on to the carnivorous worms.

We want to thank Mr. Grant again for taking the time to answer our questions. Check out Gone, available June 24 from HarperTeen.




Thanks to Dan for the article and the link.


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