Interview With Brandon Mull

brandon-mull-headshot.jpgA big thanks to Brandon Mull, author of the young adult fantasy series Fablehaven, for doing this interview. You can read my review of his new book, Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague, here.

1. Chris Howard: First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this interview!  I thought a good starting question would be where did the idea for Fablehaven come from? It’s a very complex world, so was it all planned out ahead of time or did it develop as you wrote it?

Brandon Mull: I used to live in Connecticut. My house was surrounded by trees, and I would sometimes daydream about the strange monsters that might live in the woods. This somehow led to the idea that it would be cool if there were places in the world where magical creatures actually existed. I decided that a system of wildlife refuges for magical creatures would provide a cool environment for a fantasy series.

I have a plan for the five Fablehaven books, but the details of the different magical preserves come to life more richly with each volume.

2. CH: Speaking of scenes developing, Grip of the Shadow Plague is an extremely intense book at parts! Are you sweating bullets when you’re writing this stuff? Was this a difficult book to write with the intensity of some of the scenes and some of the dire circumstances that your characters find themselves in?

BM: I know I’m writing good stuff if it emotionally affects me. There were some scenes in FH3 that gave me chills, and a couple of times I even got choked up. Sometimes writing can feel tedious, but there were several scenes in this book where even as the writer I felt like I was along for the ride.

3. CH: One of the things I love about the Fablehaven series is the many different creatures. I’m sure many of your readers feel the same way. This time we had a slew of new creatures! Where do you draw inspiration for your creatures? Do you have a favorite creature in Fablehaven? A least favorite?

BM: Most of the creatures in Fablehaven have their origins in mythical traditions. The premise is that all of the world’s mythologies have some truth to them. So I borrow golems and fairies and centaurs and kachinas from their respective origins. Then my job becomes to decide how these creatures will behave and interact in my universe. My goal is to depict these creatures in different ways than others have in the past in order to keep the story fresh.

My other assumption is that if there is truth to all the different mythic traditions, there should also be some creatures we have never heard of, which allows me to create some beings exclusive to the Fablehaven universe.

My favorite creature to write in FH3 was probably Graulus, a devious old demon on the verge of death. I also particularly enjoyed writing the dragon, the Fairy Queen, and the centaurs.

4. CH: Grip of the Shadow Plague seems to grow up a little bit from the first two books in terms of subject matter. Not that it’s inappropriate for young readers, but I think it respects an older reader. Was this intentional? Do you plan the reading level of the books to grow with your readers?

BM: More than anything, the main characters are growing, both in age and capacity, and so I can put them up against greater challenges. I hope that readers feel the books becoming more complex and compelling with each installment.

5. CH: This question comes from one of my blog readers and I love it! Are any of the characters based on anyone you know? Particularly Seth since he’s always getting into trouble? And there’s certainly no shortage of trouble in Grip of the Shadow Plague!

BM: Seth is certainly influenced by my younger brother Bryson. Bryson can be one of those headstrong kids who repeatedly ignores advice and does what he wants. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t, but nothing seems to make him fully humble himself and change. Bryson remains that way today in many ways. Growing up, my brother had two best friends named Seth.

The different reactions to Seth amuse me. He tends to drive adults crazy. Ten-year-old boys often regard him as the hero, doing just what they would do. Some readers can’t imagine a kid quite so headstrong. Others tell me they know somebody just like him. I’ve known a few Seths. On occasion, I’ve been one.

6. CH: I’ve noticed that you do a lot of tours at schools with your books and I think that’s awesome! How have those been? What are the kids’ reactions to the books? Any weird/fun/strange/memorable stories to share from those? Any plans for a book tour for this book?

BM: I tour a lot, and do tons of assemblies in elementary schools and middle schools. In areas where my books get started, the reactions have been abnormally positive (which is why my publisher keeps sending me around). Girls relate to Kendra, boys relate to Seth, and both kids and adults seem to enjoy the story.

A main purpose of going into schools is to convince kids that they should read for fun. I don’t tell them not to ever watch TV—the goal is simply to get reading on the entertainment menu. I’ve had a lot of success using Fablehaven as a gateway to get kids reading for fun. Obviously other books in the genre like Harry Potter have done a lot to further that cause as well.

7. CH: Can you tell us what your future plans are as far as writing? Can we expect more Fablehaven (I know there’s at least 1 more!)? More stand alone books like The Candy Shop War?

BM: I have plans for lots of books. Fablehaven will be a five-book series. I have it mapped out, so I can say that with confidence. The Candy Shop War will remain a stand-alone for the near future, though I did leave the door open an inch for a follow-up. I have many plans for other books and series. Everything has a fantasy aspect to it, that is just where my imagination goes, but the projects I have in mind are all over the fantasy spectrum. I’m confident that I have fun stories to tell, and that I’m getting better at telling them.

8. CH: Another question from a reader: Were Young Adult books always what you wanted to write? Have you written outside of the genre or do you think you’ll ever publish outside the genre?

BM: When I read Harry Potter, I saw that it was possible to write a book that adults could enjoy but would remain accessible to kids. My goal was never to rewrite Harry Potter—that has been done and done well. My goal for the near future is to write books I enjoy, but leave them accessible to children. Someday I might try something else.

9. CH: Any plans for a Fablehaven movie, merchandise, anything like that? If there were a movie, do you have a dream cast?

BM: Avi Arad, who produced the Spiderman and X-Men movies, has bought the rights to Fablehaven. He paid enough for the rights that he seems serious about the project. We’re currently waiting to get a script started. I would love for the writer’s strike to end.

Fablehaven T-shirts will soon be available at Fablehaven.com.

The Candy Shop War was optioned by New Regency, the studio that made Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They seem excited about the project.

I would be lousy at casting. I struggle to pick what flavor of ice cream I want.

10. CH: Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you reading right now?

BM: Some I like include Orson Scott Card, Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Hemingway, Vonnegut, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, Douglas Adams, and J.D. Salinger. They all do some things better than others, but I’ve learned things about writing from all of them. The most recent books I read was the Dark Materials Trilogy.

11. CH: Finally, any big plans for the release day of Grip of the Shadow Plague? We readers like to pretend like our authors have these weird rituals that they do on their release days 😉

BM: I will be involved in a massive blitz where I’ll hop from city to city doing signings and assemblies. I’m talking a new city just about every day for two weeks. Fablehaven.com will have details. There will be a big release party at an auditorium in the Salt Lake area. Should be fun. Again, watch for details on Fablehaven.com.

If the past will serve as a precedent, my ritual will be to get a cold and lose my voice!

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15 Responses

  1. What a cool interview! He has great taste in authors :p

    I think that doing things like going to schools and encouraging kids to read is wonderful. I really need to pick these books up.

  2. Awesome interview, Chris! I agree with Nymeth…how cool that he visits all those schools…I can definitely see that inspiring some reluctant readers out there to pick up a book and read just for fun.

  3. What a great interview, Chris!

  4. Nymeth, I agree that he has really good taste in authors! I was quite impressed. Makes sense that I would like his writing so much seeing who has inspired him. I think it’s great that he visits so many schools too. And that he still does it after all of his success. I would’ve been so excited to have an author like Mull come to visit my school when I was a kid. That’s really great for them.

    Debi, Thanks! I think it’s great that he visits the schools too. I remember having a children’s poet coming out to my school when I was younger and it certainly got me reading poetry! I most probably would’ve never been interested in it had it not been for him. I’m sure Mull does the same for children’s fantasy for some kids.

    Becky, Thanks a bunch!

  5. Great Interview!! I’m really looking forward to reading the 1st Fablehaven. I’ve been meaning to get to it, but I just haven’t had the time. I’ll be switching shifts for a few months, and I’ve already been told there’s a lot of down time, so bring a book! Heaven to my ears.

  6. Steph, Thanks! I hope you enjoy the first Fablehaven. That’s awesome news! My last job had quite a bit of down time and it was so nice to just sit back and read every now and then. I’m happy for you! Nothing like reading on the clock, huh? 😉

  7. Wonderful interview, Chris! Uhm….that title –Candy Shop War– seems to be really calling me. Sounds like a fun neat little book. -C

  8. Carole, I haven’t read Candy Shop War yet but it’s sitting on my shelf…it’s been there since it came out. It’s supposed to be really great and all the reviews were good. Candy that holds magical powers! It’s a kid’s dream come true! Glad you liked the interview 🙂

  9. Great interview Chris! He sounds very personable, which is always a plus! lol..

    Oh I read Candy Shop Wars and sent it on to my grandson lol.. Wait till to get a load of what some of the candy does !!! LOL… there’s sure nothing wrong with Brandon’s imagination! LOL.. I think you’ll enjoy the book~!

  10. Deslily, Glad you liked the interview 🙂 He was really nice…I can’t wait to read Candy Shop Wars. Maybe I’ll fit it in for Carl’s challenge. I’m going to try to really knock the stack down during that! Totally agree that there’s nothing wrong with his imagination! I love it..I hope he puts out books for years to come. And I’m so glad you sent the book to your grandson! He’ll love it! Hope you had fun at the convention 😀

  11. Great interview Chris. I really enjoyed your questions and his answers. I love it when the interviewee actually takes time to answer the questions with thought put into it.

    “A main purpose of going into schools is to convince kids that they should read for fun. I don’t tell them not to ever watch TV—the goal is simply to get reading on the entertainment menu.” Love that! It is so uplifting to hear authors, especially children’s authors, who are not just about selling their own books but about investing time into trying to cultivate new readers…and by extension future writers.

  12. Carl, This guy is all about books being a part of ever kid’s life which I think is awesome…And I love that he’s not trying to replace TV with books, just trying to show kids how great books can be, and he’s written a book that can do just that. And your right…hopefully we’ll get some good future writers out of that too!

  13. Brandon seems like a genuinly nice guy. I was at his book signing until after midnight last night and he still took time to talk to each kid and take pictures with them. My son loves the Fablehaven series and I think I might try giving them a read too.

  14. Candi, That’s awesome! From my contacts with him I can see that he would be that kind of guy. I would love the chance to meet with him. Glad your son is enjoying the series. It’s really good and I’m sure he’ll enjoy the new book (if he hasn’t finished it already). Give it a go, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as well…I’m 27 and I love it!

  15. hey! i love fablehaven and am SUPER excited for the movie! do you or anyone else know any more about it? possibly about auditions? fab interview btw lol!!!

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