I am thrilled to introduce best-selling author DJ MacHale for our author spotlight today. I met DJ last year at the Children’s Book Festival in La Mesa. When I saw that he was embarking on a new series, I thought it would be a great time to shine the spotlight on this talented author.
D.J. MacHale is the author of the bestselling book series Pendragon – Journal of an Adventure Through Time and Space; the spooky Morpheus Road trilogy and the whimsical picture book The Monster Princess. The first book of his new adventure trilogy, SYLO, will be published in the summer of 2013. In addition to his published works, he has written, directed and produced numerous award-winning television series and movies for young people including Are You Afraid of the Dark?; Flight 29 Down and Tower of Terror. D.J. lives with his family in Southern California.
WOTS: What was your road to publication?
DJM: My route to publication was different than most. The short answer is that it was incredibly easy. My agent sent the proposal for Pendragon to an editor, the editor liked it and the rest is history. Most other authors hate to hear that. But the real story is that I had been paying my dues for DECADES getting a TV career going, and then creating a few very successful TV shows for young people. So by the time I came up with an idea that turned out to be too long for a movie and too expensive for a TV show and decided it would work best as a book series, I was already known as someone who created entertainment for kids and that made it easier to get published. So the heartache, frustration and tenacity were all there, it just happened in a different way.
WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?
DJM: My stories all have very intricately interwoven plotlines, which I feel makes it important to think things through before ever writing words that other people will read. I go through the same process as writers who sit down and begin by typing: “Once upon a time…”, it’s just that I do it in broadstrokes first. It’s my favorite part of writing a story. I don’t stress over coming up with the perfect words, I simply think through the story, the character arcs, the twists and the conclusion until it takes on a definite shape. I take notes…which nobody will ever read. Sometimes I don’t even read them myself. It’s an incredibly pure way of creating a story. I never get caught up with missing the forest because I can’t see through the trees. When I start a new series, I first outline the entire thing. Whether it will be three books or ten, I look at it as one big story, broken up into chapters that eventually evolve into individual books. Each “chapter” (or book) is treated with its own outline that I tinker with until the story and the journeys of each character feel right. It isn’t until then that I go back to the beginning and type: “Once Upon A Time…” I rarely even refer to the outline that I wrote. It’s not about that document, it’s about having gone through the thought process of creating the story. Though there will be times that I get stuck and refer to the outline…only to find that I have veered far off into the woods. But that’s okay. I don’t like being locked into an outline if the story takes me somewhere else that’s better. But the main thing is I always know where I’m headed, and what the major touchstones will be along the way.
WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?
DJM: Right now I am working on the second book in the SYLO trilogy. Since I will probably be close to finishing the third book before I go on tour with the first, it’s going to be tricky to keep spoilers under wraps because as I said, it’s all one big story to me. I have to keep reminding myself that readers will only get it one chapter at a time, and be careful not to let slip something that will happen in future books. I’m also beginning to compile a handful of short stories that I hope to get published. This last year I wrote a short story for Jon Scieska’s “Guys Read” series and had a great time doing it. Over the years I’ve written so many stories that for one reason or another haven’t seen the light of day, so I’m going to wrap them all up into a nice little package of fantastical tales and see if anybody wants to put them out.
WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.
DJM: For the longest time I wrote in my home office. It’s the best because I would go for weeks without ever having to put on shoes. But after my daughter was born the house became a bit more hectic so I opened up another office in a film studio near my house. It’s good to get out and pretend like I have a real job by going to an office, but now I have to put on shoes. At least I can bring my dog with me.
WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
DJM: When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut, but bad eyesight and a lack of math-ability killed that pretty quickly. Realistically I would love to do the same thing that most authors do, and that’s teach. Over the years I’ve taught courses in photography and filmmaking and now I often run writing workshops for young writers. I love it. I would like nothing better than to teach a regular course in writing. Or to fly in outer space. One of those is more likely.
WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
DJM: I’m an open book so if anybody knows me, they pretty much know everything there is to know. My one embarrassing little secret is that I’m a long-suffering New York Jets fan…though I guess saying you are a Jets fan and long-suffering is redundant.
WOTS: What was your inspiration for the new SYLO Trilogy?
DJM: I always write about normal young people who are faced with extraordinary challenges. Most of my principal characters are different forms of me so with Tucker Pierce I tapped into the part of my personality that would often rather take the easy road than stepping up and competing. But life often doesn’t always allow you to coast. Circumstances come up every day that force you to make a decision: Do I take the easy way out and accept second best? Or do I fight for what is right? Tucker faces such a dilemma, and the choice isn’t an easy one. It never is. For his challenge, I loved the idea of creating an environment where people are isolated from the rest of the world. I based the location of the first book on the island of Martha’s Vineyard…though I don’t call it that. The people of this island, and Tucker, are confronted with a frightening challenge and being as isolated as they are, they can’t look to the outside world for help. As much as SYLO becomes a massive adventure, at its core is the story of a young guy who has to find something inside of himself that will give him the strength to stand up and fight for what is right.
WOTS: What challenges did you face when you wrote your picture book The Monster Princess?
DJM: The biggest challenge was trying to ignore my publisher who constantly told me that it’s rare for a picture book to sell well and that we’re wasting our time. That got old. I think it’s a wonderful book, made especially so by the amazing illustrations done by Alexander Boiger. The biggest frustration for me is seeing how young kids and their parents who actually saw the book, love it…but for whatever reason it never got the push it needed to become a real success. (Kind of like a self-fulfilling prophesy from the publisher) But I love that book and I still hope that someday it will find a larger audience. It deserves it.
WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing. Where do you fit in—Procrastinator or Proactive?
DJM: Ha! That depends on how close to a deadline I get. I’m the world’s best (or worst, not sure which is correct) procrastinator. But it’s amazing how focused and creative I can become when a deadline looms!
Thanks for stopping sharing with us.
If you’d like to find out more about DJ or his books visit his site: djmachalebooks.com
DJ has graciously offered a signed ARC copy of his newest book SYLO for our readers. If you’d like a chance to win DJ’s newest book leave a comment below before Midnight June 19, 2013. The winner will be selected at random on Thursday, June 20, 2013.
Writing on the Sidewalk