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Interview: June 2009

June 2009

Michael Grant's latest supernatural sci-fi project, the Gone series, introduces a new world in which everyone over the age of 15 has disappeared, and children and teens must learn to survive and fend for themselves amidst near chaos.
In this interview with’s Chris Shanley-Dillman, Grant talks about why he chose that particular age as the bridge between childhood and adulthood, and gives readers a sneak peak into the world of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone) by explaining his motivation for creating talking animals and characters with superhuman qualities. He also discusses his need to balance the books' entertainment with a sense of realism, provides "advice" to those looking to change themselves for the better, and hints at what is to come in the third installment of the series due out next year. Your novels are intensely riveting and an amazing thrill ride. How did you come up with the idea for the Gone series?
Michael Grant: Thanks! I never quite know how to answer that question. Here's the best I can do: an idea comes in part from observed events --- stuff I see or hear or do or read --- and in part from some unobservable process inside my brain. You take a bunch of ingredients, you throw them into a black box, you come back later and ta da! You have lunch. Or an idea.
TRC: The titles of your books, GONE and HUNGER, are simple, straight to the point and immediately captivating. Why did you decide to go this route? Did you have any other titles in mind that didn’t make the cut?
MG: I was originally going to call the series The FAYZ. My editors came up with GONE. But first there were many e-mail exchanges in which we came up with variations. Gone Away? All Gone? Totally Gone? Seriously Gone?
TRC: Without warning, everyone over the age of 15 and within a 20-mile diameter of Perdido Beach’s nuclear power plant disappears. Why did you choose this particular age? Your characters call the barricaded area the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone). Is there any significance to this name?
MG: I originally was making the kids one year younger. But after we all thought it over, we decided the cut-off was between 14 and 15. The instant you turn 15. I didn't want to go older because the closer you get to adulthood, the less compelling the concept is. No one doubts an 18-year-old can drive a car, for example, but a 14- year-old? At 18 you can be in the army carrying a rifle. At 14 you should be at school carrying a book bag.
TRC: Some of the characters in the FAYZ develop superpowers, like speed, strength and healing. Where did the inspiration come from for these ideas? If you could have one of the powers for yourself, which one would you choose?
MG: Like most of my specific ideas for the book, I just try to think, "what would be cool?" It's really just about wondering what readers would have some fun with, and what would be fun to write about. I especially have fun with Brianna's super speed because it has all these problems attached: does she wear out shoes really fast? Are her lips constantly chapped? What happens if she hits a bug at 400 mph? I would like super speed: I'm incredibly impatient.
TRC: Some of the animals in the FAYZ have mutated as well, like worms with teeth and coyotes who speak English. How did this element of the plotline come about?
MG: I wanted everything to be against the kids. I wanted a whole world gone crazy and dangerous. It's like, "Oh my God, could we have one day of peace and quiet?" To which I answer, "No." The FAYZ is a dangerous, dangerous place. Besides, I've always liked the idea of animals who could communicate. I sometimes wonder what our Labrador Retriever, Goofy, would say if he could talk. (Hey, I have to pee on that tree. No, seriously, I really, really have to pee on that exact tree.)
TRC: Both GONE and HUNGER have a countdown stated at the start of each chapter, indicating a spiraling down to a huge event. This adds an element of suspense and curiosity to these novels. How did you come up with this idea?
MG: I didn't. Michael Stearns, my first editor, did. I loved the idea right away, but it's very hard for me to do because I do it as the last thing, when the book is completely written. I'm horrible at math. Beyond stupid. So it's like I spend a long time writing the book and then just when I get finished I have this math quiz.
TRC: Sam and Caine are fraternal twin brothers. Both are natural leaders, yet they are very different in every other way. What makes them the way they are?
MG: All of us are products of DNA, our environment, the choices we make and random chance. I think growing up, Sam at least had a loving mother. Caine seems to have had very little love in his life. I know: corny. Sorry.
TRC: Your characters have to deal with many intense and sometimes very dark issues, like kids with guns, starvation, bigotry and survival. What do you hope your readers get out of your books?
MG: The first goal for me is always entertainment. I want readers to have fun. So if readers have some pure, unadulterated fun, that's 90% of my job done. But part of creating entertainment is to make characters who are real. Real characters are going to have real problems. And of course the premise --- a dangerous world without adult supervision --- inevitably begs the question of how kids will adapt. So I guess GONE and HUNGER are like fruity beverages: 10% actual healthy fruit juice.
TRC: In your books, kids rule the world (or at least the FAYZ), yet they have to struggle through some of the same problems as adults. Do you feel humans will ever grow up enough to properly care for this planet and each other?
MG: I think we'll always have highs and lows, good times and bad. The human race put a man on the moon, cured dozens of terrible diseases, learned to supply food to the vast majority of people, wrote the U.S. Constitution, came to some scientific understanding of things too small for us to see and too vast for us to imagine. But humans also built Auschwitz. I've always believed that good is more powerful than evil simply because here we are: there are a lot more of us alive and prospering than there were, let's say, in the year 1009. Or 1509. Or for that matter, 1939. Two steps forward, one step back.
TRC: Sometimes it takes a disaster to change oneself, like Sam becoming a leader after the FAYZ. Could you suggest some ways readers can change themselves and the worldbefore a disaster strikes?
MG: I write fiction. That doesn't make me anyone's guru or pastor or shrink. The great accomplishment of my life so far is that I've been happily married for 30 years. And so far our kids haven't killed anyone. But I couldn't even tell you how to handle a marriage, let alone change your life. I suppose my advice would be avoid the really big mistakes: don't get pregnant, don't get addicted, don't go to prison. Other than that, learn to do something really well that gives you some pleasure, and try not to be a jerk.
TRC: One of your characters, Little Pete, has autism. What is your experience with autism that has enabled you to write about it? Or how did you conduct your research?
MG: My wife, Katherine Applegate, used to volunteer with autistic kids. She was my advisor.
TRC: When is the next book in the series going to be available? Can you give us any hints about what will transpire?
MG: LIES will come out in just under a year from now. It will be about deception --- the lies people tell for greed, the lies they tell for the best of reasons, and the lies they tell themselves. Kids will do some desperate things in LIES. But I'm not giving away any spoilers. Except that some of you are really going to be mad at me for something that… no, wait, I'm not even going to hint.