This post is sponsored by Egmont UK.
Michael Grant has written a staggering amount of books throughout his career from ‘Animorphs’ to the ‘Front Lines’ series and ‘Gone’. We delved deeper into his writing process, his advice for writers and how he stops procrastination.
‘Villain’ is the follow up to ‘Monster’ which takes place after the ‘Gone’ series. Where did you get the idea for the series?
It actually did not start out as a sequel. The original idea was to come at superheroes from a different angle, an approach that would be different from Marvel and DC. But I quickly realized that I would be borrowing some ideas from Animorphs – a series I co-wrote with my wife, Katherine Applegate – and some ideas from ‘Gone’. I thought about using one of those series as a sort of launch pad and decided ‘Gone’ was the better choice. But basically, I wanted to do superheroes, but in my own way.
Dillon Poe is the most terrifying character in the book, controlling people with his voice. Where did you get the idea for his power?
Mind control has always been out there in the comics universe, but I’d credit Killgrave from the Jessica Jones TV series as the most direct comparison.
Without giving too much away, the battle of Las Vegas in ‘Villain’ is truly horrifying. Where did you draw inspiration from for it?
I love Vegas. I love the glittering lights and shiny surfaces and past-their-sell-by-date celebrities layered over greed and desperation and criminality. I’ve never understood why both Marvel and DC insist on destroying New York when Vegas is so much more colorful and unique. I would just note that I use real casinos and hotels, with one exception. And I use real streets throughout.
You’ve written over 160 books, which is seriously impressive! How did you get into writing? Were you inspired by your wife, or was it something you’d done as a hobby previously?
My wife and I were working on Cape Cod in dead-end jobs when Katherine pointed out that our lives kind of sucked and we should think about getting careers. I asked what career. She said we should write. And with my usual obnoxious cockiness I thought, “Yeah, I can do that.” Sure enough, I could. We wrote and sold a romance novel. Ten years later we’d published 100 books.
Can you describe a typical writing day?
I almost always write outdoors. At the moment I live in a house with a courtyard, so I work out there in a rocking chair, under an umbrella, wrapped in an electric blanket when it’s chilly. I get up around 6, do all the usual, generally sit down to work around 9. Then I procrastinate for an hour, playing around online, and eventually decide to do some actual work. I write for a couple of hours, have lunch, put in another hour, and done. Then I go and lie in my hammock. I am theoretically at work from about 9 AM to 2 PM. It’s embarrassing and yes, I do know how lucky I am!
What tips do you have for battling procrastination?
I like work, always have. Work makes sense in a way that so much else in life doesn’t. I don’t work long days but I am ruthless about getting my work done. But this is the main reason many would-be writers don’t make it – they aren’t people who can work alone.
If you were a rock-born mutant, what power do you think you’d possess?
Oh, super speed, no question. In the ‘Monster’, ‘Villain’ and ‘Hero’ trilogy, the character I identify with is Shade Darby. Smart, morally flexible, impatient. I am terribly impatient, always in a hurry to do – well – nothing really, but I’m in a big hurry to do it. I look for ways to cut seconds off the time it takes me to unload the dishwasher. I’m that guy.
What is the best response you’ve had from a reader about your books? How about the strangest?
The best ever was from a man (I won’t use his name) who organized a big March for Science in Washington. The guy said he was inspired to become a scientist by Animorphs. That was cool. The strangest reactions have been to ‘Gone’. For people who don’t know, the FAYZ, the setting for ‘Gone’, is an absolutely terrible place. Just horrible. But people re-read the series half-a-dozen times because they want to inhabit that terrible place. Of course, there are no adults in the FAYZ, so that may explain it.
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What book could you read over and over again and not get bored?
Everything by Patrick O’Brian, George MacDonald Fraser and Bernard Cornwell. I love historical fiction. (The ‘Front Lines‘ trilogy is my contribution to the genre.) I said I thought it odd that kids would want to return to the horrors of ‘Gone’ and now the ‘Monster’ sequels, but I am always ready to go back to some desperate frigate in the middle of a gruesome battle or stand in the shield wall with Vikings. My readers and I share a taste for the extreme.
Lastly, what advice would you give to someone writing their first novel?
My path to writing is so bizarre as to be of no use to anyone else. Have the good luck to be born with some talent for language, endure a rootless, chaotic childhood, drop out of high school, wait tables, have the astounding good luck to promptly meet the love of your life, waste some time doing various low-status jobs, start ghostwriting, start writing your own original stuff, have a huge breakout hit like ‘Animorphs’, quit for a while to write political media, decide to get back to work, create ‘Gone’ and then for the next decade write whatever amuses you. Life is DNA + Environment + Free Will + Random Chance. I live my life the way I write my books: it’s all improvised, made up on the fly, and frequently weird, but in the end, it has the look of something coherent and rewarding and fun. My life has been crazy and I love it.
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