20 Questions with Author Michael Scott
Michael Scott has been a part of our Random House Children’s Books family for many years, since we had the pleasure of reading the first volume in his SECRETS OF THE IMMORTAL NICHOLAS FLAMEL series, The Alchemyst. We’re pleased and a little bit sad to see this series come to an end with the publication of the paperback edition of Book 6: The Enchantress. Michael joins us today to talk about the series, what he’s working on and so much more!
How did it feel to have completed the final volume of your series?
Without a doubt, it was an odd feeling, and there was definitely a sense of loss. I have been writing the series for six years, a book a year. And, of course, I had spent a decade researching all the characters and plotting the books beforehand, so I have been living with Mr Flamel and friends for a very long time.
I don’t think I will ever be quite finished with the series. That world is just so huge and filled with so many great characters and stories. The Enchantress brings to a close the current six book cycle, but I have already started a series of short stories that will fill in episodes from the various characters’ history. I’ve published two of those already – The Death Of Joan Of Arc, and Billy The Kid And The Vampyres Of Vegas – and I am writing more. They will initially appear online and then later, in book form.
However, some of the characters have become hugely popular, like Scathach and Billy, Niten and Aoife, so I may end up giving them their own series. I know everyone wants a Scathach series!
Did the series turn out the way you’d envisioned it from the start, or did it change significantly along the way?
Before I set out to write the first book, I plotted the entire series. I had to do that. I knew I was beginning a six-year writing project which would be more than 600,000 words when complete. I had to know exactly how the story was going to develop and, more importantly, how it would end.
Also, before I wrote the first chapter of book one, I wrote the ultimate ending of book six, so I always knew my destination. While elements within the story have drifted and little bits of book five shifted into book four, and scenes from book four moved into book three, overall, it came out as it was planned.
What was the inspiration for THE SECRETS OF THE IMMORTAL NICHOLAS FLAMEL?
There were two elements really. I have had a lifelong interest in myth and legend. I wanted to use some of those great stories and characters in a book, to introduce them to readers who might never otherwise have encountered them. Also, the more I researched myth, the more I discovered the extraordinary similarities between stories scattered all across the world.
And the second element of course is that I wanted to tell the remarkable story of Nicholas Flamel and his wife, Perenelle. They were real people, and the story I tell in the book – about them buying the Codex and becoming extraordinarily wealthy – is actually true. To this day, there are streets named in their honor in Paris, France.
Did you set out to write a six book series?
Yes. When I originally planned the series, I could see six very neat breaks in the story. I knew it would be six books – I was just very lucky in finding a publisher brave enough to commit to six books over six years.
Do you have any favorite characters or scenes in the series?
People always assume it is Flamel, because he is the hero (though I’m not sure he is), and because he was a bookseller, and some of my readers may know that I was a bookseller for many years. My favourite character is Dr John Dee. I’ve written about him many times before and I’ve probably not been very fair to him in the Flamel series, where he is cast as the villain. In reality he was quite the opposite. In the Elizabethan age, Dee was extraordinary; he was a scholar, mathematician, astrologer, astronomer, writer, thinker, navigator, cartographer, and spy. He had one of the largest libraries in private hands in Elizabethan England and there is some evidence that Shakespeare based Prospero in The Tempest on him.
Dee was also the original hero of the series; when I first conceived it, it was called The Secrets Of Doctor Dee, but he was never quite right for the series and, ultimately, he was replaced by Nicholas Flamel, and Dee then became the villain.
However, writing this series has allowed me to put many of my favourite characters from history into the story. Certainly Scathach and Niten, for example, deserve books to themselves and readers love the Palamedes and William Shakespeare relationship, or the Billy the Kid and Machiavelli partnership.
What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?
I once wrote all the questions for the Irish TV, book and game versions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Do you use social media? If yes, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing/artistic life?
Yes, I am on Twitter (@flamelauthor) and Facebook (facebook.com/flamelauthor) every day. I am also on Pinterest (pinterest.com/flamelauthor). I post a lot of my research as links on twitter and certainly as I was writing the last two books, readers were able to get clues about what would appears in the text.
I love the immediacy of social media. Writing is an incredibly lonely job – it is very nice to be able to reach out and chat with readers.
When I started writing many years ago, it would take months for me to get any reader reaction. Readers would write to the publishers and once or twice a year the publishing house would bundle up all the letters and send them off to me.
All that has changed (though I still get lots of real letters sent to Random House, and I reply to as many as I can.) When The Enchantress was published in hardback last year, I did the first reading on launch day in Washington, in a bookstore called Politics & Prose. By the time I got back to my hotel after the event there were dozens of emails from readers who had already read the book and had questions and comments! I love that immediacy.
Social Media allows readers to get in touch with me and, if the question is interesting or intriguing, I will certainly reply. Also, if I need any specific research or have a tricky question, I can post the query online, knowing I’ll have an answer sometimes within minutes. For example, I needed some information on parrots for a chapter in The Enchantress. I put out a question on Twitter and had a response from a parrot expert within the hour, which answered all my questions.
On the downside, it is true that managing the various social media pages can take up a huge amount of time. So, it’s really a matter of finding the balance.
What has your favorite book event experience been?
Touring is always fun – its hard work and exhausting, but incredibly rewarding. Every single event is different. There are events when no-one (or just one person) turns up and then there are those where scores of people arrive. However, there is one I remember very clearly. When The Alchemyst was first published I went into New York for a book event with lots of other authors. I was heading down to an area to sign books when I came across a big line of people. “Who are they waiting for?” I wondered. “They’re for you.” I was told.
What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?
The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It is still one of my favourite series. It is about the tiny people who live under the floorboards of your house and “borrow” all those things you thought you’d lost. I have no idea how old I was when I read the first book – I was very young – but I think those books are one of the reasons I became I writer. There simply weren’t enough Borrower books, so I started to make up my own stories.
What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?
I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction and horror. Still do, actually. I gravitated more towards fantasy than SF however and preferred mythic horror or fantasy horror rather than the out and out horror genre.
Did you always want to be a writer? And how did you enter the children’s book world?
I always wanted to be a librarian. By chance I ended up as a bookseller (which I thought was the next best thing to being a librarian. I became a writer because I was a reader. I think there comes a moment in every reader’s life when they put down the book they are reading and say, “I could do better than that.”
My very first book was an adult title, a collection of Irish folklore, but my second published book was YA, and it was also an Irish folktale. Over the years I have alternated between adult and young adult, but in the last decade, I have found myself concentrating more and more on YA. I really think this is a golden age for YA writing and the success of the genre is testament to that.
What’s your favorite snack food when you’re writing?
I have to be very careful about snacking because I have an incredible sweet tooth. I was once paid for a short story in chocolate, so I can honestly say: Will write for Chocolate. But I do have a particular fondness for jelly beans.
Where do you write?
I can write anywhere. These days I seem to spent a lot of time writing in airports and hotels, but I do have an office at home in Ireland which looks out over the sea and is a great place to work. The main difference is that I have a large desktop machine at home with two big screens to work on; when I’m travelling I am on the laptop, so I’ll do rough draft on the single screen and then do all the polishing and final edits on the desktop with the extra screen space.
Do you have favorite music to listen to when you work?
I write everything to music and I have a huge music collection. I recently digitized all my LPs and CDs. I deliberately choose the piece of music to match the scene I’m writing. I have a lot of soundtracks and ambient music – but I never listen to anything with lyrics while I’m writing because the lyrics will get into my head.
We call these books children’s books, but we know adults are reading them too, do you have this in mind when you’re writing?
I am lucky because I write for both audiences and I am conscious of the different “voices.” My series is for young adults, so there are certain themes or types of language that I will not include in the books.
The main difference between writing for the two groups is language and concepts. Adults have a body of information and knowledge that younger readers have not yet acquired. So if I say “Bay of Pigs” to adults, it instantly conjures up very different images and ideas than it does to the younger reader, who is thinking, pigs at sea…
What makes young adult novels so interesting to adults is that they are incredibly imaginative and exciting stories, populated with real characters and without a “message.”
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?
I can’t give just one piece, but I can give three pieces in one long sentence: Read, read, read again and then read some more; learn how to type properly and get a really comfortable chair, because you’re going to spent a lot of time sitting in it.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
I am touching wood as I answer this, because the answer is “no,” (so far.) Because I have plotted everything in advance, I know where the story is going, so I do not come up against the dreaded blank page. However, it is also true that some days are better writing days than others and I am notorious for writing huge chunks of text and then throwing it away.
Do you have favorite part of the book making process?
I suppose because I spent so long working as a bookseller, I know how important the cover art is to the book. I love to see the draft covers appearing. It is at that point that the book suddenly begins to become real. I have been very lucky with the Flamel covers. Michael Wagner’s art is incredible. I’ve also had the very unusual experience of being able to influence the cover art by suggesting the symbols and icons for the covers (because the covers contain clues to the contents.)
Can you share anything about what you’re working on now?
I am well into a new fantasy series called The Earthlords, which is vaguely (but only vaguely!) related to the Flamel series. It too is based upon mythology, but a much simpler and singular myth, and I can promise there are no cliffhangers!
Is there anything more that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I really have to thank the fans for sticking with what has been a very long journey. Now that all six books are out, you can see that this is really one huge story. There are clues in the early books which pay off in the last books. And once you know the ultimate “secret” of Marethyu, you can go back and re-read the series again.
I created very little for the Flamel series. Only the twins are fictional characters. Everyone else is drawn from history and mythology and I have tried to be as true to their characters as possible. (Except poor Dr Dee!) So it is possible to read about all the characters in the book which will add an extra layer to the story.
Over the years many of the fans have become friends and I get to see them as I tour and we keep in touch by email and Facebook. Without readers, books are just dead words on a page. It is the readers which bring them alive. So thank you for bringing the books alive.
Many Thanks to Michael Scott for this wonderful look behind the scenes at The Immortal Secrets of Nicholas Flamel, and for this wonderful series of books!
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