Michael Buckley is the author of two New York Times best-selling series for children, “The Sisters Grimm” and “NERDS.” He has also written and produced the animated series “Robotomy” on Cartoon Network. Before writing children’s books, he worked as a stand-up comic and copywriter for television and advertising. His newest book, “Undertow” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), depicts 16-year-old Lyric Walker’s life-changing encounters with a civilization of undersea warriors who suddenly reveal themselves on Coney Island.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2010 National Book Festival
You’ve worked television programming for 10 years. How did you happen to start writing books for children?
I was originally creating the Sisters Grimm as a television series – probably something animated but I didn’t get very far with it. It was actually my wife who suggested I write it as a book. The whole concept intimidated me – a book? I can’t spell and have no idea where commas go but I wrote, and re-wrote, and re-wrote and got very lucky to find a publisher who liked the idea. Once I had a good first draft I reread it and thought – maybe this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m sure TV doesn’t miss me all that much.
Where did you get the ideas for your two series?
I always find this question the most challenging as no one wants to hear “It just popped into my head.” Unfortunately, that’s how it usually happens for me. It just came to me – I’m not even really sure when or where I was – probably in the shower or walking down the street. I do remember that with The Sisters Grimm I felt a sort of panic to get it down on paper right away. I suspect that’s true of most authors but they want to have a good answer so they make something up like “I was very interested in espionage and thought wouldn’t it be interesting to blah, blah, blah.” It’s all hooey.
Can you tell us how you got your inspiration for your newest titles in the series - Sisters Grimm Book Eight: The Inside Story and “N.E.R.D.S. Book Two: M is for Mama’s Boy?
Well, for The Inside Story I wanted to write something for my editors, Susan Van Metre and Maggie Lehrman who have really been instrumental in transforming me from a guy with a good idea into a solid writer. Even though “The Editor” from my story comes off as a taskmaster he’s just trying to keep the book intact. NERDS 2 is just pure fun for me – I can really do anything I want in that series. There are no rules and it’s very organic where it goes.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
I have never been diagnosed with AADD but I’m sure I have it. I am easily distracted - like a monkey with something shiny. It’s difficult for me to write in noisy places and ones that are too quiet. If there is a TV anywhere in sight – forget about it.
Festival author – Peter Ferguson – has illustrated your Sisters Grimm series. Can you tell us what it is like to collaborate with an illustrator?
Collaborate? Authors get to do that? Peter and I have never actually spoken – which at first was very unnerving to me as I assumed no one would be able to capture what was in my head but he is so brilliant and gifted his work seems to be stolen from my imagination. I never know what he’s going to draw so when I get his finished stuff it’s like getting an early Christmas present. A writer has to trust that the artist will do things that are in the best interest of the story and Peter always has.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Write outlines! Really – this is the most important thing I do and I can’t stress it enough.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
I always love to come from a place of secrets. I think they make the foundations for great stories. Try writing about the secret life of your grandmother. What does she do when no one is looking?
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
My list changes a lot based on what I’m reading, so this year I can’t say enough about The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I’m on a Kate DiCamillo run so Because of Winn Dixie is just so good.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Don’t give up and don’t judge what they read. There’s no such thing as a reluctant reader – just a kid surrounded by adults who won’t give him or her something fun. Don’t turn your nose up at Captain Underpants because you think Lord of the Flies is more appropriate. Never underestimate the power of silliness – it can turn your kid into a reader.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
NERDS 2 is the second in my series – this one with a new hero and a new villain. Tech-obsessed Duncan Dewey tackles a bad guy who can control machines. The bad guy happens to be 37 and living in his mom’s basement but he’s a formidable foe. It’s super fun and a big adventure. After that, I’m starting the last Sisters Grimm book and working on my Cartoon Network series Robotomy.
If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you would be doing?
Trying to get published…it’s really the only thing I’ve ever been good at.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?