A conversation with D.J. MacHale Author of PENDRAGON, Book Eight: The Pilgrims of Rayne
Q:THE PILGRIMS OF RAYNE will be your eighth Pendragon novel. When you first started, did you have a set number in mind for the series? DJM: Absolutely. I knew there would be ten books from the very start and outlined all ten right up front. Bobby Pendragon's adventure is, among other things, a mystery. To write a good mystery you have to know where it will end before you can decide where it will begin...and I've always known where it will end.
Q: How has the series evolved from an author's perspective? Do you approach the writing process different from Book One to Book Eight? DJM:The process has been the exact same. Starting a new book is my favorite part of the process. I first take the original outline and expand on it. I write pages and pages of story that nobody will ever read. It's fun because I don't have to worry about crafting the words. It's pure blue-sky storytelling. What HAS changed is the plot complexity. My original concepts for each book were fairly simple, but over time the story has become much more complicated and layered. So I guess the biggest difference between writing the first book and the eighth book is that with the first book, I started with a true blank page. I could write whatever I wanted. But with each successive book I have to look back on what's gone before and be true to that. That gets trickier and more challenging with each new novel. Good thing I'm only writing ten or my brain might explode.
Q: Having written so many adventures for Bobby Pendragon, which adventure do you think he enjoyed the most? What about the least? DJM: I can't speak for Bobby, but I can for D. J. So far I've most enjoyed writing The Never War because it was unique to the Pendragon series in that it dealt with real history, as opposed to a completely fabricated situation. I loved doing the research about New York in 1937. The most difficult book to write was The Quillan Games because I had to create all those unique games, and then have Bobby play them. Each game-event was like writing a mini-story within the larger story.
It was fun...but grueling.
Q: Having written for other mediums like film and television, how do you think writing novels differs from writing for the screen? DJM:There are huge differences -- and one big similarity. A screenplay is really a blueprint for something that will be filmed. Therefore you must always keep in mind that whatever you write is going to be staged, for real. You must factor in running time, budget, network standards, actor abilities and a million other restrictions. With a book there are no such restrictions. Ink is cheap. If I can imagine it, it can be realized. It's great! That's not always the case in TV. Another huge difference is that with a screenplay you don't have the ability to write about a character's thought process. A book can dig much deeper. With a book you must paint the entire scene with words. With a screenplay the detail is in the picture...you don't need to describe every little detail. Many people say my books read like screenplays, and that doesn't surprise me. Readers often say they can easily "see" what they are reading in my books. I believe that's because I'm accustomed to using an economy of words that quickly convey an image. As for the similarity, it's simple. Storytelling is storytelling. Good stories need compelling characters and interesting conflicts. That's the bottom line no matter what medium you're writing for.
Q: Bobby Pendragon is such a popular character. What aspects of his personality do you think resonate so well with the hordes of readers who are Pendragon fans? And is he based on anybody in particular? DJM: I've tried very hard to make Bobby a real kid. I've seen so many stories where a supposedly "real" kid is thrown into an amazing adventure and adapts in an eye-blink. That's not real. I believe Bobby's appeal comes from the fact that he never loses sight of the person he was before the adventure began. When he's faced with a challenge, he reacts the way a regular person would. I believe readers put themselves into Bobby's shoes, imagining how they would deal with the same challenges. The choices Bobby makes aren't impossible ones. He isn't a superhero. He can't cast spells or fly away from danger. The stories may technically be fantasies, but Bobby's experience is very real-world. He gets hurt. He fails. He gets tired. He gets hungry. He gets scared and angry. He can't defy the laws of physics. All that adds up to readers being able to imagine themselves in the story, and to believe that the choices Bobby makes are logical ones that they themselves might make. It also helps that Bobby has a sense of humor. He's quick to make fun of pretty much everything. In that way, Bobby is a lot like...me.
Q: Your settings for each book are so unique. What inspires you to create so many different settings in your alternate earths? DJM:The single best piece of advice I give to aspiring writers is to always write about things that they know. I suggest that they write about people and places and events and conflicts they are familiar with. That way their writing will be real and hopefully readers will respond to it. I try to take my own advice. Most every setting in the Pendragon books is a variation of something I have experienced myself. I'm a scuba diver so that helped me create the underwater world on Cloral. The jungles of Eelong were inspired by the jungles of Belize. In The Pilgrims of Rayne, Bobby finds himself on a beautiful tropical island. For the last three years I've been shooting my TV series Flight 29 Down in Hawaii -- I translated those experiences into the book. So most everything I write about, no matter how fantastical, grows from a seed of reality.
Q: Who were some of your favorite authors as a kid? What about now? DJM: I got my sense of silly from Dr. Seuss. I still read him to this day (to my daughter). My favorite book of all time is The Call of the Wild by Jack London. As a kid I devoured all the novels by Ian Fleming and Alistair McLean, which means I went from Dr. Seuss to Dr. No. One book that had a profound impact on my own writing style is The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Holden Caulfield's first-person narrative is a model for Bobby Pendragons's voice. I also enjoy Stephen King's style. He has the incredible ability to make the impossible seem real. More favorites are James A. Michener, Ernest Hemingway, John Krakauer, James Bradley and...the list goes on!
Q: Besides writing the next two Pengradon books, what are you working on now? DJM: I'm in post-production on the TV movie which is the finale to my show Flight 29 Down. It should premiere in September. I'm also developing a new TV show for Cartoon Network. With books, I'm in the very beginning stages of formulating ideas for the book series I will write after Pendragon. It's still pretty much top secret, but I can say this much...it's going to be spooky.
Q: Do you think there is any chance you'll go beyond the ten books? DJM:I'll never say never to anything, but as of right now I can't see how the series will go beyond ten books. Once all the questions are answered and the final battle plays out, it will be pretty clear that the story has ended. It has to, or my brain might explode. Remember?