Michael Grant – ‘I set out to scare kids’

We’ve been texting back and forth, usually just missing each other. Then I thought we had settled on three o’clock by the yurt. I ask for Michael, and they want a description of him. ‘Tall and bald’ I say, but the consensus is that there are rather a lot of tall and bald authors around. Anyway, he’s not there. I decide to hang outside the yurt area for a while, and for good measure sends the photographer to take pictures of someone else. It’s a technique that usually works when waiting for the gasman, and it does this time too. Within minutes I see a tall and bald man who is definitely Michael Grant coming towards me, so I hail him. He wants to go into the yurt, but I say I can’t, so we go and sit on the decking outside, in the famous Edinburgh sunshine.

Luckily the photographer works out where we’ve gone, so comes and finds us.

Michael Grant

‘I went on your facebook page last night and you’ve got an awful lot of young fans who are very, very keen to find out all sorts of things.’

‘Yeah, they’ve got a lot of questions. Someone hacked my account and we shut it down for a while, so I’m migrating to another page. And I have my own site up now…’

‘Yes I found it. I hadn’t seen that one before.’

‘We just put that up. I’ll give you my card. That has all that stuff on it.’

‘Thanks. You see, I want to know all the answers, too.’

‘Aah.’

‘And I get the impression you’re not going to tell me?’

‘Oh, absolutely not. You mean about what’s going to happen in the future?’ Michael sounds incredulous.

‘Well, or even an explanation as to the nature of why and what?’

‘It’s an adventure!’

We laugh.

‘I know that authors get rid of the adults because it’s a good fiction device, but…’

‘Yeah.’

‘This is more than that, isn’t it?’

‘Uhm, well, it certainly is a good fiction device. I usually say I’m taking Disney one step better, because rather than just killing off the mother I kill them all off. Though I’m not saying they are dead. They are gone.’

Michael Grant

‘OK, yes.’

‘That was the parameter.’

‘It would be a real tragedy if they were all really, really dead…’

‘I know.’ He sounds satisfied.

‘…forever. So I’m hoping there is some sort of solution.., but you’re obviously not going to tell me.’

‘It’s not the sort of thing I would not do, I can guarantee you that. I would actually kill them all if that was the right answer.’

‘I’ve only read the first two books and there are fewer and fewer people, so…’

‘Hehehe.’

‘… are you going to run out of people?’

‘Uhmm, no, I won’t run out of people. I’ll give you a small spoiler; the number will actually increase.’

‘OK.’

‘At some point.’

‘Right, unprotected sex?’ We laugh again.

‘I’m not saying how that happens. So yes, the numbers that are in the cemeteries are definitely growing. I’m going to have to extend the cemetery to another part of town.’

‘There’s a lack of food, so that means fewer mouths to feed. But you need to have enough characters to fill the books.’

‘We started out with, I think 323, and most of the 300 are still around. So we haven’t killed off that many.’

‘Really? It feels like more.’

‘It’s like the movies where you have the water shooting and then it turns that only about one guy got killed, and you could have sworn you saw 50 people go down. Now this turns into the essential death toll of the Fayz.’

Michael Grant

‘I thought that the second book was really quite scary, and had that been a film I wouldn’t have wanted to watch it.’

‘Yeah, I intended it to be scary. I make no bones about that. I set out to scare kids. The problem is that scaring kids is a lot harder than it is scaring adults. Adults are easy to scare. Kids are very hard. There are little references I can make that will frighten adults. For example in Hunger there’s a lynching, and I don’t know about this country, but you say lynching in the United States… and it would mean something, whereas for kids it’s nothing, they don’t know the word lynching, they don’t have that kind of back story, they don’t have that kind of base knowledge. So I can scare them in different ways.’

‘Those growing things in the field.’

‘Oh, the worms. Yeah, I think almost nobody of any age likes the carnivorous worms, you know.’

Put like that, we can’t help laughing.

‘Will every book be darker than the last one?’

‘No,’ (it’s a very definite no) ‘that’s not my intention. I’m not getting into the game to top myself. The next book is called Lies. They’re all pretty dark, but I wouldn’t say Lies is darker than Hunger.’ He ends the sentence on a rising American note. ‘I wouldn’t say that. Plague is fairly miserable as the title suggests.’

‘You kill them off with something else?’

‘If it were happy we’d call it Kittens or Cupcakes, instead we called it Plague, so it’s going to be dark. A lot of bad things happen. But then the final book we’re calling Light.’

Michael Grant

‘Yes, and that sounds very promising…’

‘It does, doesn’t it?’

‘You will have a few people left?’

‘Exactly.’ He laughs. ‘That may be optimistic, we’ll see. The fifth book we’ve changed the name, it was originally going to be Darkness, and now we’re calling it Fear, for the excellent reason that Darkness didn’t fit in on the cover very well.’

‘So we can hope for a good end?’

‘Hmm, it’s always good to hope, don’t you think?’

‘It is. If I’d read all six books and it didn’t… I’d be very annoyed with you.’

‘I think we can truly hope. When we ended Animorphs, the series I wrote with my wife, we caught all kinds of hell from readers because we left an ambiguous ending. We did that for a reason; we went dark at the end and we’d had like this 60 book series, a war story the entire time, so we thought at the end we want to show consequences and we want to show what’s happened to these kids. So we killed off a major character. We had a kind of mix, you know? Some die, some recover easily, some profit from it, some don’t, but I think everybody was more or less OK with that. What they weren’t OK with was that we didn’t put a big giant period at the end of it.

Michael Grant

When I wrap this series, there will be a big giant period at the end. Everybody will know what happened, it won’t be like Lost where you have to strain to figure it out. As I go along I make sure I know what I’m doing, and it all will make some kind of sense.’ He pauses. ‘Some kind of sense.’

‘I can’t ask where the people who poofed went, because you’re not going to tell me.’

‘No, but in book four you will have a pretty good clue, and in book five you’ll know.’

‘OK.’

‘You’ll know exactly what happened, right at the beginning of the book.’

‘What happens on the outside of the Fayz?’

‘Very good question, but again it’s one of those questions I can’t really talk about too much.’

‘No.’

Michael Grant

You know, I want to keep everybody as on edge as possible. I try not to keep too many secrets, but one of my natural weaknesses as a writer is this desire to hold onto absolutely everything until the last page, so I tell you nothing for 500 pages and then I fire away telling you everything.’

‘I imagine it’s a bit like what happen in mines, for instance; you’ve got a small group of people stuck in a mine with the rest of the world anxiously wondering what it’s like down there.’

‘I will say this about it; no part of it is an illusion. There won’t be a “we are all in a dream and suddenly wake up”. People who are dead are going to stay dead, so the jeopardy is real.’

‘You’ve not written quite all of them yet then?’

‘I’m about halfway through the fifth book right now, which is getting delayed by being on the road for three months.’

‘Are you not writing at all?’

‘It’s really hard. I didn’t yesterday. You know how it is when you’re jet-lagged, sometimes for the first 24 hours you’re fine and then, today was the day it hit me, and I woke up, got back to sleep and woke up again. There’s not enough coffee in the world to get me up. I’m eight hours off, so it’s hard to write.’

‘Does your wife collaborate with you on this at all?’

‘No, no. We’ve decided that there’s a lot more peace in our house when we work on separate projects, and we worked together mostly up until we had the children. Before we had kids 13 years ago, and we continued to work together after that, but you know with their tendency to grow, and start talking and things, it becomes a bigger pain in the butt as it were. So it becomes more and more difficult to keep up, and at that point we didn’t have the time for sitting around and argue. It took up a lot of time, but it looks like there’s a project we’ll do together, a single kind of book.’

‘Which book is out in America? Is it the fourth book?’

‘No Plague is not out yet. It’s still Lies. Might be April or May.’

‘I just had this idea that the Americans were quite a lot further ahead with the books.’

‘I think they’re shortening the gap, which is going to be more and more necessary as you move into more digital. Now kids can order from amazon in the US.’

‘Because you can’t wait.’

‘I was quite struck by that thing you said on YouTube about how differently you treat an 11-year-old; if he helps you with your computer problems then he’s an adult, and afterwards you can tell him to go to bed.’

‘My son is thirteen now, but yeah.’

‘It’s obviously been a couple of years since, but I thought that was really quite profound, because it’s what you do.’

‘It’s a very complicated situation now, because he’s a very, very smart kid, in his area. The presentation I’m doing today, he put that together. The website, he created that. I owe Jake literally thousands of dollars for work, and so we end up being almost more of collaborators now. He’s very useful to have around. Unfortunately he’s going back to school.’

‘That is a pain.’

‘It’s a drag! He was out for most of two years, technically home-schooled, but he taught himself more or less. He wants to go back, now he’s thirteen, now there are girls.’

‘Are you really writing about evil versus good, or is it “just” a good old adventure?’

‘Uhm, boy, I always try to be careful about this. On the surface this might as well be a cowboy movie or something. It’s a shoot-them-up, it’s a bunch of kids. Obviously given that premise it’s about politics and philosophy and morality, and all this other stuff. But I don’t really want to say that to people, because then they will think it’s dry. So I tell them it’s really about a lot of horrible, godawful things that happen to a bunch of abandoned children. But inevitably they’re building up a society there, so you can’t really avoid those issues.

I am not a person who has an axe to grind. I have no  position that I’m taking. I’m not trying to preach to anybody. It’s about the characters and the plot, and then anything else that comes in naturally, is part of it. If we are forced to discuss moral issues and forced to discuss politics and even economics – at one point we created gold standard in the Fayz – then that’s fine, but that’s always of secondary concern.’

‘Yes.’

‘And I’m not in the business of trying to tell kids what they should think about things; I’m in the business of telling them that they should think.’

‘Mmm, I was quite struck by the number of fans you have online, wanting to find out all sorts of things. Do they ever come up to you in the street?’

EIBF author pass

‘Oh god, no. Even factoring in Animorphs, when we were selling 2 million books a month, I don’t think either of us were ever recognised. In those days I was pretty much out of the visual picture and always had Katherine up front, and she’s never been recognised. And now nobody does. You know, that’s not the author’s life generally, unless you’ve been on TV a lot, or something. I think you can go round being pretty anonymous, and frankly I’m really pleased. I would hate that kind of life. I want to be a rotten father to my children without people going “God that’s Michael Grant! Oh my god, he’s a horrible person!”’

We laugh out loud.

‘I prefer to still have the right to be a horrible person.’

‘You’re right. Why did you change your name for this series?’

Michael Grant

‘It almost seems naïve now, because this was like four or five years ago, when this whole thing started. At that time I was still writing a lot about politics. I made commercials – for the Democratic party – the legislative campaign committee, and I wanted to be able to write online, using words that are perhaps inappropriate for a young audience and I don’t want to find Animorphs fans coming over to my political website and go “oh my god, Michael Reynolds (his real name) of the Animorphs just dropped the f-bomb, like 18 times in a paragraph.” I thought I’d better create some wall of separation. That was the theory. Now the whole concept of that kind of privacy is antique.

‘There’s a Fayz website, which when I clicked on it warned me…’

‘I know.’

‘What is it?’

‘Somebody hacked us.’

‘So it is unsafe?’

‘We’ve run a search, and to the best of our ability there’s no virus on it, but I personally would take it down and call it a day on that. We’re picking that character (from the website) up in the book. She appears in book three briefly, and then in book five she gets a plot line of her own. So we’re kind of absorbing her into the world of the books. Were you on the UK site of Fayz or on the American version?’

‘I’m not sure now, I went on so much.’

‘One of them definitely had that warning. Just don’t go to the site. I don’t know what to do about it besides relaunching the entire thing from scratch, and I’m sorry, but there are other things I have to do.’

‘Like writing a few books. Is all this making you rich?’

‘Animorphs made us rich, and then we managed to make ourselves poor again, because we’re miserable at handling money. Now we’re trying to re-rich ourselves. So are we doing well? Yes. Can I stop work? No. To me rich is you don’t have to work anymore, and upper middle class is I have a nice car and a nice house, and in the States I can afford medical care. Barely. I’m behind on my taxes. That’s evidence of wealth. I owe them a bunch of money.’

Michael Grant

‘Probably because you work for yourself.’

‘I’m a financial  idiot. Our accountant stares at us in blank wonder; “what in god’s name do you people think you’re doing?” I don’t know.’

‘Writing books? And do you have any plans for when Gone is gone, as it were?’

‘Well I’ve got a second series that just launched in the States, called Magnificent 12. It will be coming out in the UK… I don’t know when, to be honest with you. So that’s two series I’m writing more or less simultaneously. Magnificent 12 is very different, humorous, and I always hate to say that about the humour, because it’s not up to me, it’s for the audience to decide. If they’re not laughing then it’s not, but it’s intended to be funny, so I’m hoping for the best. So that’s two series and I have a thing we’re working on; an ARG, an alternate reality game.’

‘Right.’

‘We’re going to try and build ARG console games and books simultaneously. Almost all digital, and then just have the dead tree version, the physical version of the book as a secondary part of the enterprise. So there’s that, and then a single title I will probably write with my wife, and then I’ve got a middle grade horror series…’

I have to laugh at his never ending list.’

‘… that I’m going to be pitching shortly.’

‘You’d better not get any more ideas, or you won’t be able to fit them in.’

‘Ideas are the easy part; it’s the goddamn typing that will kill you.’

‘Yes, but do you find it easy enough to just sit there and..?’

‘Oh yes, my laptop’s full of stuff, and the writing isn’t hard, you know. Though sometimes it is with Gone. I’ll tell you the truth, Gone is, I won’t say ten out of ten for difficulty. For me it’s about an 8 1/2. I can probably write something more complex, but I’d be wearing myself out, and I’d rather not. Gone took me six months to write.’

‘Well I think I’ve covered my questions here, because you’re clearly not going to tell me what I and all the others really want to know.’

‘Part of the problem is I haven’t figured it out. You act like I’ve got this planned. Well I don’t plan out anything. I never know, before I sit down to work what’s going to happen and I do that deliberately. I don’t wanna know. I know that some other author who shall remain nameless’ nods in the direction of the castle ‘claims to have planned seven books out, but I always thought that was false. It’s the kind of thing you tell your publisher to calm them down. I take the other approach, which is I’d rather make my publishers nervous. It’s more entertaining.’

‘As long as they like you enough to let you do that.’

‘Well, you know, I’ve written a lot, so they kind of know I’m not going to screw up.’

On that cheerful note I say that I will let Michael go to prepare for his event later that afternoon. I thank him for his time, especially considering that he’s exhausted and in desperate need of coffee.

‘Don’t mention it. Glad we could hook up’ he says. ‘I think my handler’s in there’, indicating the yurt, and he grabs the little case he’s been wheeling around, presumably containing his son’s presentation, and his by now cold coffee.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

6 responses to “Michael Grant – ‘I set out to scare kids’

  1. Melissa Niehus

    Thanks for your great books Michael Grant you sure have my vote on the best book ever written. Please continue writing Sams great individual moments like when he got captured by caine and got hit over the head with the baseball bat that was hilarious. Also when Sam was whipped by Drake in Hunger and when sam ran away from Pedido Beach that was so funny because Sam was helpless and scared he is so cute when hes like that. If there is a movie please make it exactly like the books… and i totally wanna be Lana cause i wont get a chance to be Astris im not Blonde or smart. hahaha thanks for all the great books. :D From Melissa Niehus your #1 fan BELIEVE IT!! xox

  2. Pingback: STATUS REPORT » Edinburgh Interview hints to reunite K.A. Applegate & Michael Grant as a writing team once again.

  3. Dear Michael Grant,
    I love your books, (*Caine sounds like a hottie lol) but i was wondering, how did u decide on what powers to give the chracters?
    Im asking on this interview in hopes u stumble across it becuase i cant find any question and answer websites for you.

  4. Well, Alexis, you can try facebook
    http://www.facebook.com/therealmichaelgrant
    although I don’t think he does much on there. Though there is a questions page where he sometimes answers questions.

  5. Love the books, got Gone for Christmas, bought Hunger 2 hours after reading Gone the borrowed Lies off a friend the next day!!!!
    The books are unputdownable and absolutly brilliant!!!!
    I can’t wait for plague, fear and light!!!!

  6. But you’ll have to, won’t you? And so will I. Bet Michael is sitting there looking all smug about it.

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