Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Complete Q&A from first visit from Applegate / Grant

Thanks to Adam for compiling this.

These questions and answer sessions happened between January 18 - 29 2008 on Richard's Animorphs Forum (Classic)

Here are the previously asked questions and answers.

RAF: Richard's Animorphs Forum members
K&M: K.A. Applegate or Michael Grant (authors of Animorphs)


Shorter Answers

RAF: Did you like the TV show’s interpretation of the books?
K&M: We didn't like the TV show much. We were upset that they went live action rather than animated because we knew they wouldn't have the budget to do it well. Doing it right would have been very, very expensive. What they ended up with was rubber Andalite heads on sticks. I think we watched two episodes.

RAF: How is it that none of the Animorphs have ever been taken to see a therapist? Especially once the war is over?
K&M: Why no therapy? Probably because when we started writing Animorphs we didn't have kids of our own. We were sort of guessing about parent-kid relationships, and I don't think the notion of therapy ever entered our consciousness. When we were kids there was no such thing as therapy for kids -- although we probably would both have profited from it. Of course now we have kids, so . . . Our son was born right around Animorphs #11. Our daughter came along post-Ani.

RAF: Why did you choose the name Jake for the leader?
K&M: You should bear in mind that we're talking 12 years ago or so when we were first creating Animorphs. It's like a lifetime since then. As far as either of us can recall it was the usual process of going through a baby name book and going, "how about Dirk . . . how about Jason . . . Okay, let's try something in the M's . . ."
Jake just seemed like a strong, masculine name. We definitely didn't name them after anyone we know. Oddly enough our son -- who came along later -- is also Jake. But again it came down to a baby name book and the realization that it was a good, strong, sort of timeless name. We were frankly a little embarrassed, naming our son after our "hero," because we worried people would think we'd named him after the other Jake, and that would be just a wee bit weird.

RAF : Are you ok with the fact we're making the series as e-books and sharing them?
K&M: We're not sure how to feel about that. We've never had a problem with fanfic like some writers do. Rather the contrary. It's flattering and fun and good practice for aspiring writers.
But there is of course a legal problem with distributing copyrighted materials in this way. We obviously aren't going to be suing or threatening or any of that. In fact, we think on balance it's probably a good thing.
But you should understand that Scholastic also has rights here, and they may take a more aggressive position. And you need to understand that we can't "tell" Scholastic to let it go: they have their own ownership rights, and they've invested a lot of money in Animorphs. So we couldn't give you permission if we wanted to, we don't have the legal right to do so.

RAF: Do you think that Animorphs will ever make it to the big screen?
K&M: There is a reasonably serious move under way to do a big budget Animorphs movie. By that we mean that a producer has contacted us and let us know that he would be pitching the idea to the studios -- as soon as the WGA strike is over. The producers are serious guys. The studios they are going after are people who could actually pull it off. But right now it's still probably a 20 to 1 shot. Keep your fingers crossed. I'll say this: the producer is a serious Anifan.

RAF: How long did you originally intend the series to be and when you started did you have the same ending planned out that ultimately happened?
K&M: We didn't know. I think we signed for 3 books at first, then more, then more still. We figured we'd keep going as long as Scholastic would send us contracts. But at some point we thought, "Okay, that's enough."

RAF: are you going to be a permant resident here on this forum or are you just passing though?
K&M: We're never permanent.

RAF: why did you make so many Animorph books?
K&M: We wrote til we burned out. That's the truth.

RAF: How many copies have been sold of Animorphs?
K&M: We've heard the number 30 million from Scholastic, but who knows? That sounds about right. Animorphs #1 broke 2 million.

RAF: Do you ever plan to release the Animorphs 'Bible' that you've referenced in prior interviews, or is that completely up to Scholastic?
K&M: Nah. M doesn't want anyone laughing at his drawings.

RAF: What do you think of the audiobook project, and would you like to play someone?
K&M: That'd be something we can't officially sanction or participate in.

RAF: Were there any Animorphs stories you really wanted to write but couldn't?
K&M: No. The editors never vetoed anything. We wrote what we felt like writing.

RAF: Why where you so cruel to tobias by taking rachel away from him?
K&M: Tobias was destined for a life of sadness, don't you think? But there was always nobility in his sadness. As for Rachel, she was the ultimate warrior: without a war to fight, what would she have done? And what better way for her to go than by fighting a desperate battle against impossible odds?

RAF: when you started writing the series did you know it would be a war story with the characters having to face moral dilemmas?
K&M: Yeah, we always thought it was kind of like this very old TV show called "Combat!" It was about this tight little platoon of soldiers in WW2.

RAF: If you somehow actually met your characters in real life, what advice would you give each of them?
K&M: Hmmm. We don't think we'd give them any advice. They all did much better than either of us would have. Maybe some romantic advice. To Jake: go ahead and kiss the girl.

RAF: How much input did you have with the ghostwriters? Did you give them something like a detailed plot summary and told them to fill in whatever needed to be, did you tell them a few main points and then leave the rest up to them, or did you just say something like "Go write a Marco book" and let them go to town? And also how did you choose the ghost writers? (assuming that you did) Were they personal friends or just another struggling writer looking for a job?
K&M: The ghosts worked for us. That was our deal from the start. Most often when a series goes to ghosts it's run by the publisher or a packager. But our ghosts were our "employees." That having been said, we loosened the grip in later books and gave more responsibility to an editor who was employed by us. Then we came back and wrote the last 2 books. We also wrote all Chronicles and Megamorphs. We sent detailed outlines, but also strongly encouraged ghosts to come up with ideas of their own.

RAF: What was your favorite book in the series and why?
K&M: Probably Book #4, the dolphin book. That's when we realized we had the rhythm of the series down, and started having fun. Also the one where Cassie dies until she comes back via butterfly morph. (Sorry, we never recall the book titles)

RAF: What was your inspiration for Remnants?
K&M: Remnants was a strange situation. Basically, Everworld was very hard to write. It was long. It was complex. 200 plus pages per month as opposed to 140 for Animorphs. It was too much. When Everworld wasn't really a hit we suggested to Scholastic that we switch to a new series, a shorter series. They agreed. Remnants was, in the start, about the sort of vague notion of using art as a milieu. That plus blowing up the world of course.

RAF: Did you ever thought of using the alien race of the Garatrons from book #37 The Weakness again before the series ended?
K&M: You want to bear in mind that we were writing at such a speed throughout this period that we often created things and then lost track of them.

RAF: Who is your favorite character that you've created?
K&M: Hmm, favorite character? Probably Tobias, just because he was unique. We loved the idea that he was trapped in morph, so lonely, so estranged from everything. Plus he could fly! But we like all the characters. Cassie is probably most like K and Marco is most like M.

RAF: Are you proud of the outcome of your stories or do you wish that is had gotten media attention like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.
K&M: Animorphs was this really great thing in our lives. We sold 30 million books, made a lot of money, had some fame, had a lot of fun. When we started we were broke and depressed and defeated. We'd be fools to complain about not being as popular as Harry or LOTR. We've been nothing but lucky, and we are nothing but grateful. Especially to all of you readers.

RAF: Who burned down Joe Bob Fenestre's house in #16?
K&M: You know, sometimes when we leave it a mystery for readers it's because it's a mystery to us, too. We love leaving people guessing. It leaves us guessing, too.

RAF: which book was your favorite and why?
K&M: Earlier I mentioned #4 and the butterfly book. So I'll add a third: Hork-Bajir Chronicles.

RAF: In book #4, The Message, Ax tells the Animorphs that, "The way the lake curves forward into the grass, framed by derrishoul trees," is called "enos ermarf" in the Andalite language. I couldn't help but notice that this was an anagram for "farmer nose." So I was wondering, was this kind of word play in alien names a one-time thing, or are there more puns and things of this type I should be looking out for?
K&M: I don't think that was a deliberate anagram, but we have definitely done that. Neither of us can recall any but the well-known "Nothlit" thing. We used to live across from the Minneapolis Hilton and stared at the "Hilton" sign as we wrote. Nothlit is Hilton rearranged a bit.

Longer Answers

RAF: If you still remember, where exactly did you get the idea for the series? Was it just one of those "oh hey that would be pretty cool" ideas that you wrote on a napkin one day?
K&M: We remember that very, very well.
We'd been writing for a while, having very moderate success with YA romances like Boyfriends/Girlfriends. We weren't quite broke but we were pretty close to it. We were living at the time in an apartment complex called Plantation Gardens in Sarasota Florida. It was hot, of course, and we were walking, trying to get some exercize, doing it at night because it was hot.
We were both a bit bummed. We didn't want to keep writing YA romance. We wanted to get into a younger age group. We wanted to write something more fun. K wanted to write single titles. M argued for giving series one more try. We discussed what we'd write, in a perfect world -- assuming we were staying with series. K said she wanted to write something about animals, especially something that would really show animals as they are, realistically, something that would really let readers get into the animal's mindset.
We both thought: okay, kids that turn into animals, that would be neat. Then M said, In order for that to be a series we'd need a science fiction premise. The animal powers would have to be used for something dramatic.
It took just a couple of days for all the rest of it to come together. We created a "series bible," with character bios, plot, some rough outlines. M actually included hand-drawn pix of space craft and aliens. We sent the idea to Scholastic. The letter ended with, "This is a cool idea." In a shockingly quick two weeks they wrote back and said yes.
Kind of a major turning point in our lives, along with when we first met, when K said "let's write," and when K said, "Let's have kids."

RAF: What advice would you give to other aspiring writers out there?
K&M: Well, first of all, forget the usual advice about writing what you know, or even being an obsessive reader. The first requirement -- and it's tough news to have to deliver -- is to have some innate talent. We don't know if that's a function of DNA or environment, most likely a bit of both. But if you don't have some basic talent you won't make it.
That having been said, you don't need to be F. Scott Fitzgerald. You can start with a "B-" in talent and still have a very nice career, if you work very hard. If you are relentless. If you are willing to adapt. If you can get knocked down seven times and stand up eight.
But it's not a great life for most people. It's a solitary occupation. No one who is not a writer will ever understand your job, so unless you have the good luck to be married to a writer -- as we are, obviously -- you are all on your own.
You have no one else to impose discipline on you, to make you work. You have no health plan, no retirement plan, no unemployment insurance. No one will hold a benefit concert for you when you go broke, and the overwhelming majority of writers are broke. You almost never know where or when or if your next paycheck is coming.
There is zero glamor. Zero. Maybe twice in ten years someone has said, "Wait a minute, are you K. A. Applegate?" There is no rock star aspect to it. Writing is you, and a cup of coffee (and a cigar in M's case,) and a laptop, typing. Tap tap tap, three hours a day for most writers. It's a short work day, that'd be one of the plusses. You work for months or even years and when you're all done you have a book and the odds then are probably 99% that you will never sell it. That no one will ever read it.
You'll get dumped on by agents and editors. You will get rejected with curt, dismissive form letters. If you do manage to get published the odds are overwhelming that you won't make as much money as you would waiting tables or doing any decent job.
So, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: is that the life I want? If it is, fine, go for it. But there are a lot fewer people making a decent living writing books than there are making a living as surgeons or corporate lawyers or bankers. I guarantee you that the odds of you getting into Harvard Law School and graduating are better than your odds of supporting yourself by, say, writing kids books. Think about that, and how hard it is to get through Harvard Law.
So, you have to have talent, and you have to work hard, and you have to have some market savvy, and you have to get lucky. I know that as writers we're supposed to be encouraging, but since you asked we'll do you the favor of being honest and not give you the usual bs answer.
If you still want to be a writer, you'll find there are a dozen different approaches. But basically it all boils down to this: write. Write a story. Read it back. Listen to it. Rewrite it. Repeat until you think you've got it right. Make sure it has some plausibility in the market. Submit it and see if anyone buys it.
Not exactly encouraging advice. But honest.

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