WBBT: Brandon Mull
Brandon Mull is author of the New York Times bestselling series Fablehaven and The Candy Shop War. For those of you unfamiliar with the series here’s a link to a sneak peak into the first book in the series courtesy of Brandon’s publicist. Now without further ado, here’s the interview:
Who did you grow up reading? Could you name a few of your favorite children’s authors? Who are your literary influences?
The Chronicles of Narnia created my love of reading. As a kid I wanted to go through that wardrobe, and when I couldn’t manage it physically, I started going through with my imagination. I’ve been daydreaming about fantasy stories ever since. Great books like Lord of the Rings heightened my love of fantasy. I’m inspired by inventive authors like Neil Gaiman, who uses his formidable imagination to create a wide variety of interesting fantasy scenarios. I like Holes, Uglies, and Ender’s Game. I like books that take me on an amazing ride with characters I can care about.
Can you describe your writing process?
I’m a massive daydreamer. Almost to the point where it makes me dysfunctional. I get bored with reality and invent stories in my mind to entertain myself. I have done this ever since I can remember.
As I daydream about different stories, I sometimes find one that becomes a playground in my mind, a scenario I return to again and again until it really comes to life for me. I tweak it and experiment with ways to make it more interesting. If it develops into a story I absolutely love, I try to figure out if I can write it.
Once I have a story that truly excites me, I try to break it down into scenes. I write my books in order, chapter by chapter. Each time I feel a chapter is done, I have my wife read it, we talk about it, and I move on. Then I do a big polishing edit and hand it in to my publisher, and we start a new round of feedback and revision. I think I’m getting better at the process, and am excited for my future Fablehaven books and an array of other books which are currently in the planning stages.
How do you research the fantastic creatures that you’ve included in the Fablehaven preserves?
I’ve always liked myths and magical creatures and fantasy stories, so most of my research comes collectively from the books I’ve read. I have all sorts of strange imaginary details bouncing around in my head. Part of the premise of Fablehaven is that all the myths and legends about magical creatures have some truth to them. In the Fablehaven novels, these mystical species are endangered and mostly live on secret wildlife preserves.
As I populate Fablehaven and the other preserves in the story, my job is to create my versions of these creatures. I get to decide what rules will govern them and how they will behave inside of my novels. I want the fairies in Fablehaven to feel a little different than fairies in other books. Same with the dragons. I see my job as reinventing these creatures to some extent, so the reader can have a unique experience. That said, I also try to be reasonably true to the legends which gave rise to the creatures in the first place. I largely rely on my past experiences with these creatures in different stories. When in doubt, I’ll see what the dictionary says about them. That usually gives me a quick snapshot of what the fictitious creature is supposed to be. Sometimes I’ll poke around online a bit.
How does it feel to be compared to J.K. Rowling and other big-name fantasy writers?
I take those comparisons as a big, fat compliment. The Harry Potter books helped me define the audience I wanted to write for. Here were these books that I enjoyed as a college student, my ten-year-old brother enjoyed as well, and so did my mom. I realized that if you write something smart and fun and imaginative, and keep it kid-friendly, you could create something that a whole family could read, enjoy, and discuss. My goal is that parents will be able to read and enjoy my books along with their kids. I often get feedback that so far my books are accomplishing that goal.
Are you afraid that a movie version of Fablehaven might obscure the story or do injustice to the characters? Are you involved in the screen adaptation of Fablehaven?
Every movie made from a book has to be an adaptation. To present the story in roughly two hours using visual images and dialog, some things must be added, changed, compressed, and cut. I’m at peace with that reality. My ardent hope is that the adaptation will stay true to the characters and the story-that what is cool about the book will also be cool about the movie.
I currently have a draft of the screenplay at my house. I’m not done reading it, but so far it seems true to the spirit of the book. I’m involved as far as giving feedback, although I lack veto power. I will try my best to give sound advice to help the movie become an enjoyable adaptation of the book.
Knowing that you have an adult audience, do you think you’ll branch out into writing for adults?
Indirectly I am writing for adults. I am always trying to write books I would enjoy. Writing for myself is the only compass I have.
In the near future, I expect I will keep writing family-friendly fantasy that kids can enjoy. I have ideas more specifically for adults, but if I develop those ideas, I expect those books will appear later in my career. At least that is the current plan.
Will Seth ever follow the rules? Will he get his own magical power?
Seth will always be Seth, meaning he will break rules and take risks when it suits him. But I think as he goes through tough experiences at Fablehaven, his judgment regarding when to break rules is improving. Some events in Book 3 (Grip of the Shadow Plague) have set Seth on a path to discover some powers of his own. You’ll find out more about that in Book 4 (Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary). I just finished Book 4. It turned out really well. I think readers will be thrilled. It comes out in March. Stay tuned.
If you add chocolate to the milks does it alter its effects?
It makes the milk taste better. The magical effects remain the same.
Will we be reading about some of the international sanctuaries in Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary?
Yes, sort of. We’ll creep over the border into Canada, and news from Brazil will impact the story. Since these preserves for magical creatures were founded long ago, many were hidden in the Americas, which seemed like obscure secret continents back when these preserves were established.
That said, I think the series will maintain a feeling of crescendo with how far the main characters roam from Fablehaven. In Book 5 (as yet untitled) we will encounter their most foreign destinations yet.
Is there any chance that the series might get extended? Who determines how many books there will be in the series?
I have had a plan for five books since the outset. I am pretty sure five books will finish the story I started without slowing down or falling into too much of a pattern. I feel like I can keep the story feeling cooler and cooler for five books. I normally get feedback that the Fablehaven books get cooler as they go, and I think I have a plan that will keep each book feeling more exciting than the one before. After Fablehaven, I have many other ideas I want to explore. I think some of them will top Fablehaven. My only non-Fablehaven novel so far is The Candy Shop War, but I have a ton of other stuff in me.
The decision to do five books was a choice I made with my hardcover publisher based on my vision for the series. I really like the Fablehaven universe, and the characters, and would not rule out someday starting a new series based on the characters and universe established with Fablehaven.
Do you periodically check on your Wikipedia pages for accuracy?
From time to time. I’m glad there is chatter online about the series. Fablehaven has experienced unusual growth. The hardcover publisher is not a big book publisher. The softcover version is published through Simon and Schuster. In areas where the book has been discovered it is really popular, a top circulating book in school and town libraries, and when I do a book signing the event often lasts five or six hours. In other areas the books are virtually unknown. Some hot spots include Las Vegas, Boise, Mesa-Phoenix, Salt Lake, Denver, and some of the suburbs of Chicago, St. Louis, and Orlando. I’m a relatively new writer and this is my first series, so getting discovered is a process. It has been cool to see my books hit the New York Times list and get optioned by a major studio, and I love it when the books catch on in new areas. I rely a lot on word of mouth-teachers, librarians, booksellers, bloggers, and fans.
Thanks for the interview Brandon! I can’t wait for the next installment in the Fablehaven series.
Don’t forget to check out the other cool cat interviews for today’s WBBT:
Martin Millar at Chasing Ray
John Green at Writing and Ruminating
Beth Kephart at HipWriterMama
Emily Ecton at Bildungsroman
John David Anderson at Finding Wonderland
Lisa Papademetriou at MotherReader