Interview with Michael Grant
Bestselling YA author Michael Grant is in Australia and New
Zealand to promote Front
Lines, the first book in his blockbuster new YA
series, Soldier Girl .
Welcome to ReadPlus, Michael.
Q: Do you write with a particular audience in mind?
A: I have had the great advantage as a writer of having paid my dues down in the trenches, by which I mean writing work-for-hire jobs for packagers. Packagers are middle-men who manage long-running series, or at least that's what they were when we (my wife Katherine and I) worked for them.
So, long before I sat down to write books that were purely mine (or ours) I'd co-authored something like seventeen Sweet Valley Twins, a bunch of Girl Talk books, all kinds of Disney projects involving Mermaid, Aladdin, Duck and Mouse and a bunch more stuff I barely remember.
All of that happened before Katherine and I sort of declared our independence from packagers with Animorphs. Animorphs was huge. It ended up running to 60 books, with more than 30 million sold. So we were 'overnight sensations' who'd already written 50 or so books.
Animorphs was the first time Katherine and I had complete control, so we had to think about the potential readers. We had a lot of experience but still, we collected all the scientific evidence we could find, summoned experts, and. . . Nah, none of that. Our idea of the audience was, 'Whoever reads Goosebumps.' On the theory that, 'That's a lot of kids.'
Many people have, over the years, written about how dark and disturbing Animorphs was, how it snuck in philosophical themes and moral gray zones and frequently questionable heroes. Nothing about Animorphs was age-appropriate. It was a dark concept, and being true to character and story took us to dark places. So we went.
We didn't care then about 'appropriate,' and I don't care now. The notion that Kid X at age Y can read A but not B, is bizarre to me. Don't we all want kids to read? Do we think the best way to accomplish that goal is by snatching the books that interest them out of their hands? Kid X can and should read whatever Kid X wants to read. If it's too much, Kid X will stop and go read something else.
When I was 9 years old I was reading Ivanhoe and Oliver Twist and Hardy Boys and Tom Swift and my dad's Playboys and I turned out. . . well, okay, bad example. But these are books not heroin. This is a good addiction. We all want people of all ages reading, right? So, let's let them do that.
As to whether I'm writing for male or female readers my first reaction is puzzlement. I mean, I'm a guy but I read Little Women when I was a kid. I don't recall feeling any less masculine as a result. I read Nancy Drew, too, along with Hardy Boys and Tom Swift and classics like Ivanhoe or Oliver Twist. Was I not supposed to read Anna Karenina because it's about a girl? Did I breach gender protocol by reading Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters?
You know Frankenstein? Written by a woman. So. . . girl book?
I mean, other than as a marketing concept, what does any of that boy book, girl book thing even mean? The rough working definition of Young Adult literature is: books where major characters are under the legal drinking age. But I think even drawing sharp lines there is wrong, let alone further subdividing by gender. 'They kiss.' Girl Book! 'They explode.' Boy book! Really?
I feel sometimes a need to check my calendar to make sure I haven't fallen into a wormhole and re-emerged in the 1970's.
Look, I've written or co-written 150 plus books. From Animorphs and Gone and BZRK I've gotten letters from readers thanking me for exactly the stuff that some would have called inappropriate. I've lost track of how many now-grown readers have written to say that because of Animorphs they became human rights lawyers or scientists. Thousands of letters and Tweets saying I used to hate to read, then I found Gone. You know what letter I've never gotten? The one that says I was traumatized by your books. Or the one that says, I'm a boy and I was horrified to discover there are girls in your books.
Basically, when I write I have a story to tell. I have characters. I will be true to my characters and my story and if the results are not quite right for this demographic niche or that slice of audience, well, too bad, I guess. They can go read some other book.
Do I write for girls? For boys? For parents? For teachers? For homeless people who pick my book out of a trash bin? Yes. And also, no. Because while I'd love everyone to read every single word I ever write, (I believe that's the Fifth Circle of Dante's Hell) I'm not writing for anyone. I'm not even writing for myself. I'm telling a story I made up, about some people I made up, because I like doing that, and they pay me.