Wouldn’t You Like to Know… Michael Grant
By Stacey Hayman
[Editor’s Note: Stacey Hayman will be introducing readers to popular authors in her new online only interview series, Wouldn’t You Like to Know…]
Michael Grant was born in Los Angeles, California, but spent most of his childhood on the move. Moving became second nature and after he left home he kept exploring the world one more move at a time. Grant claims to have resided in nearly all fifty of the United States as well as spending some serious time in France, Italy, and the Azores. Now married to writer Katherine (otherwise known as K.A. Applegate) and with two children, Jake and Julia, the writer travels more often than moves. With one hundred fifty titles under his belt, he currently has four of the six promised titles in the Gone series released, his new series The Magnificent 12 just beginning, a book co-authored with his wife, and a mysterious new project in the works.
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
MG: That new kid. (I was always the new kid.) The one who thinks he’s so smart and never talks to anyone.
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school was?
MG: In my case the best thing was leaving. It wasn’t helping. I got out of school and into work, and for me work has always been what kept me going. That’s not advice for anyone, by the way, that’s just my particular life.
SH: Favorite food growing up? Favorite food now? Favorite food to snack on while writing?
MG: I don’t actually snack while I’m writing. But I drink a whole lot of coffee. But in general my favorite snack? They’ve just come to America: white chocolate Magnum Bars.
SH: Favorite album or artist growing up? And now? While writing?
MG: It’s odd but when I was a kid I was into Beethoven. Now I probably listen more to Rancid than to any other band. I evolved (or devolved) from classical to punk rock and blues.
SH: Favorite television show growing up? And now? While writing?
MG: My parents didn’t let us have TV when I was really young, which is perhaps why I love it so much now. Louie, Modern Family, House, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, The Office, Community. Writing in TV is so much better than in movies. I have a secret desire to write for TV.
SH: Favorite book then? And now?
MG: My favorite book growing up was anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Robert A. Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. Let’s say the Foundation Trilogy by Asimov. My favorite books now are the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, just because it’s a place I go to get away from tax forms and business and helping my kids with school projects. But I could go on naming books and authors all day.
SH: If you could handpick the ideal reader for your book, how would you describe that reader?
MG: He or she is probably smart, maybe a little strange or at least feels that way, and wonders if anything going on around them makes sense. (Answer: No, it doesn’t.)
SH: What made you want to be a writer? When did you think you’d be able to make a living doing it?
MG: My wife made me. Seriously. I was a very old teenager (in my 30s) very hardworking, but not goal oriented, shall we say. One day my wife (K. A. Applegate) said, “Michael, it’s time to put down the bong and get a career.” So I did. We did. Not until Animorphs was I sure that we knew what we were doing. But even today I’m never sure. I always think, well, that’s it, I’ve lost it, I’m done for. I kind of swing back and forth between egotism and self-abnegation.
SH: What inspires you to write?
MG: I never really think in terms of inspiration. It feels like too grand and impressive a word for me. My job is to write stories. As much of a screw-up as I’ve been for much of my life, I was always a work-a-holic. Work makes sense. I spent ten years waiting tables, plus years doing other jobs, including cleaning homes and offices, and no matter how supposedly lowly the job, I always did my best. Now writing is my job: and I do my job as well as I can. So, I sit down and think, “What would be a good story?” That’s what I do every day, ask myself what will make a reader get excited, or laugh, or stay up reading all night.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own, of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
MG: In YA? I love Carrie Ryan’s and Charlie Higson’s zombie books. I’m very impressed by Daniel Kraus’ Rotters. And I think Andrew Smith is a really good writer and you should read anything he cares to write.
SH: It’s your birthday, what is your ideal day like?
MG: Honestly? I’m in a great hotel in Paris or London or someplace I’ve never been, like Shanghai. I have reservations to some molecular gastronomy palace. My wife and kids are there, but in my fantasy my kids are well-behaved all the way through dinner. I’m not a long-walks-on-the-beach kind of guy. I love kind of old-fashioned luxury and extravagance, preferably in a fascinating city. Camping, for example, is my idea of hell.
SH: What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
MG: Smart, funny, and critical. That last one’s embarrassing, but probably true.
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table?
MG: Stephen King, Grant Achatz (Chicago chef), George MacDonald Fraser (the other historical writer I like as much as O’Brian), Bill Clinton, and my wife.
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What scares you?
MG: Happy? I hate to be a corny family man but sometimes my daughter gives me a spontaneous hug. And sometimes my son gets off a good snarky line at my expense. I love both of those things. Poverty scares me. Been there, done it, and do not want to do it again.
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
MG: Actually I do, and it’s ridiculous because it comes from a fortune cookie: Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
SH: If you were able to choose a superpower, what would it be and why?
MG: Super speed. No question. I am the most impatient man alive.
SH: You get three wishes, what are they? (Yes, you can wish for more wishes but are you *that* person?)
MG: I would be that person, but now you’ve shamed me out of it. 1) That my kids grow up to do something they love. 2) That I lose weight effortlessly and keep it off, finally. 3) That my wife get[s] rid of those two yappy dogs.
SH: When asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you say? Were you telling the truth?
MG: I didn’t think much about it. I just wanted to be out of the house. Let me put it this way: I thought working seventy hours a week for $1.60 an hour at Toys R Us was a great alternative to home.
SH: Any advice for teens, something you wish you had known? Or wish you had done? Or wish you had not done? And why? (Or maybe: Best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten, at any age?
MG: I think kids today are horribly overworked and over-pressured. My advice would be to endure as best you can. Adulthood will be easier and a lot more rational.
SH: Is there one moment in your life you’d love to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?
MG: Nah. It would be boring to relive something where I knew the outcome, and the things that I did that were mistakes, well, making mistakes is how you learn. I would never want to give up anything I’ve learned.
SH: Have you based any of the characters in your Gone series on real people?
MG: Brianna is, I would say, inspired by my daughter, and Computer Jack, by my son.
SH: Why are the British covers so different from the U.S. covers? Do you have a preference?
MG: Honestly, I never like cover models. I would rather let the reader use their imagination. So I prefer the dark UK covers.
SH: How did you come up with the idea for Gone? Now that book five is finished, and there are only going to be six total, do you know how the series is going to end?
MG: I kind of know how it comes out. Kind of. I know it’s not a dream, it’s not purgatory, or hell, or anything else unreal. It’s real, it happened, the kids who died will stay dead.
SH: Why did you choose Pete, an autistic boy, as the creator of the FAYZ?
MG: Actually my wife was volunteering with autistic kids at the time. You know how in Spiderman Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility?” Well, I wanted to turn that around: ultimate power and no responsibility.
SH: If you could take back anything in the series, would you? What would it be?
MG: Tentatively giving Astrid a “power” in Book #1. Dumb. I dropped it right away and hoped no one noticed. Yeah, well, my readers notice things.
SH: Your sense of humor seems more evident in the Magnificent 12 series, but there are still some pretty scary scenes. How do you balance the funny and the frightening?
MG: With Mag 12, funny is always foremost. I have to keep the story moving, but not at the expense of a joke. With Gone, it’s just the opposite.
SH: Where did the idea for Magnificent 12 come from? And why younger teens this time?
MG: My editor said, “Michael, I need a second series.” So I said, “Can it be funny? Because I’ve got all the dark and intense I can handle.” She said, “Sure.” From there I have no idea how I came up with it. I never do remember, really. I remember I was living in Italy at the time.
SH: Are any of the characters based on real people in Magnificent 12? Do you have favorite characters? (and why?)
MG: The only thing drawn from real life is that among Mack’s many phobias is an irrational fear of needles. I have that. I have to really steel myself for the annual flu shot. It preoccupies me. I hate it. Even writing about it right now gives me the creeps.
SH: When is the next Magnificent 12 book coming? Any spoilers you’d like to share?
MG: I think the next one comes out on my birthday at the end of July. I’ll just say this: There be dragons.
SH: Do you have a favorite book (or series) that you’ve written from your “other” books list?
MG: I thought Katherine and I did a pretty good job on a YA series called Boyfriends/Girlfriends, later re-issued as Making Out.
SH: Did you ever guess the Animorphs series would be so popular?
MG: We thought it would be a niche thing, that we’d have a small number of really devoted fans. As it turned out we had a large number of really devoted fans.
SH: Is there anything that you might now want to deny having written or are you happy with your overall body of work?
MG: Oh, I’ll own it all. Even Barf-O-Rama, written under the name Pat Pollari.
SH: What are you working on now?
MG: I’m just starting on a book Katherine and I are writing together, tentatively titled, Eve and Adam. It’s a sort of near-future, science fiction-ish YA romance. I’d tell you more, but we haven’t figured it out yet. And I have a project I can’t discuss at all. How’s that for mysterious?
SH: I love the mini-films (book trailers) on your website; who made them? Are they meant to help film/television producers “see” what could be done with your stories?
MG: The U.S. versions are done by Jack Paccione, who is really brilliant. The UK version is done by my British publisher, Egmont, and are equally brilliant. I love them both. Every time it’s a thrill to see.
SH: When did you decide to create the Gone series YouTube channel? Are you going to be starting one for Magnificent 12?
MG: Oy, I’m going to try not to start anything. But I probably should, shouldn’t I?
SH: Have your kids read your books? Are they a little afraid of you now, or are they fearless!
MG: Jake is fearless when it comes to stories. I couldn’t write anything that would scare him. Julia is more cautious, especially about Gone. But in anything physical she really is fearless. In fact, I’m writing this in between sparring bouts in her Tae Kwon Do class where she throws down with anyone. She’s a fierce girl.
SH: Is there anything you’d like to add that wasn’t asked?
MG: Well, my favorite Scotch is The Macallan 12. That’s what you were referring to, right?
Books by Michael Grant
Gone: A Gone Novel. HarperTeen/HarperCollins, 2008. 576p. $17.99. 978-0-06-144876-8. PLB $18.89. 978-0-06-144877-5. VOYA April 2008. 5Q 4P M J
Hunger: A Gone Novel. HarperTeen/HarperCollins, 2009. 608p. $17.99. 978-0-06-144906-2. PLB $18.99. 978-0-06-144907-9. Trade pb. $9.99 978-0-06-144908-6. VOYA June 2009. 5Q 5P M J S
Lies: A Gone Novel. Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. 512p. $17.99. 978-0-06-144912-3. PLB $ 18.89. 978-0-06-144913-0. VOYA June 2010. 5Q 5P J S
Plague: A Gone Novel. Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. 512p. $17.99. 978-0-06-144912-3. PLB $18.89. 978-0-06-144913-0. VOYA April 2010. 5Q 5P J S
The Call: The Magnificent 12. Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2010. 243p. $16.99. 978-0-06-183366-3. $5.99 pb. 978-0-06-183367-0.
Michael Grant: http://themichaelgrant.com/
Grant’s American Publisher: http://www.harperteen.com/feature/gone/
Grant’s British Publisher : http://www.egmont.co.uk/contributor.asp?contid=230
The Gone Series: http://www.thefayz.com/
The Gone Series YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/GONEbooks
The Magnificent 12 Series: http://www.themag12.com/