Saturday, December 8, 2012

DC and Michael McGannon Interview

I met DC and Michael McGannon on twitter recently and found out a little about them. They are the father/son Coauthor team of Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hutners: The Varcolac’s Diary (available now) and Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters: Witch Moon (due late Fall 2012). They also have a compilation of short stories, which will be available in early 2013. If they are not writing, you can usually find them speaking at conventions and other events about monsters, folklore, things that go bump in the night, and of course, their books. So, without further ado, here is the interview!

-When did you start writing?
D.C.: I started writing about the 4th grade, when I wasn’t getting in trouble or drawing cars and trucks all over my papers.  My teacher had a writing contest and I wrote a story about Snoopy inspired by the Peanuts Gang and Charles M. Schulz.  I continued writing and later began writing business and leadership development materials, and some college courses.  I’ve done quite a bit of copywriting and work for non-profits.

Around 2005, I realized just how bored I was with all that and just longed to lose myself in the “story” again.  I started reading from some new authors and became inspired again.  My biggest inspiration was, and is, my son Michael.  He had written so much by that point, and we started talking about writing together.  This is where Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters was born and now we are just weeks away from releasing Book 2 in that series.

Michael: Young. I was always scribbling and drawing characters as a young child, giving them superpowers and secret identities and villains to face (every hero complete with tragic backstory, according to my mom!). Before I could really express my characters with words I would draw them in battle, and I’ve got boxes upon boxes of old loose papers and sketchbooks filled with characters.

Similarly to my dad and coauthor, it was in 4th Grade that I won a school writing award for a trio of post apocalyptic superheroes, and that was one moment when my creativity shifted from sketch art to writing.

-Why do you write?
Michael: I think there is a lot to be learned from stories. Take a look back throughout human history…we’ve always been telling each other stories! It’s just part of our nature. And while some of these tales may just be fanciful yarns, it all starts in our heart, right? I think we can learn and grow from each others’ stories.

D.C.: I write because I love to create.  I love the ability to express through the written word.  I love bringing that character or scene or fight sequence to life and feeling like I’m right in the middle of it, and then imagining what the reader’s face will look like when he or she reads the same thing.
I write because I love to, and I want to inspire people to read, to tell stories, and to imagine deeper.

-What would be your choice for a superpower?
Michael: I want to say walking through walls like Darcy in  The Varcolac’s Diary…but splitting myself into two or even four clones would be more practical. I’d like to be able write a book, read a book, wash the dog, and catch up on some anime…all at the same time!

D.C.: I think either flying or super laser beam eyes.  Don’t ask me why, but I think those are two of the coolest superpowers in the universe.  Plus, I’m already a ninja.  Can you imagine a flying, laser-beam shooting ninja?  Pretty much unstoppable!

Michael: *facepalm*

-Who is your favorite author?
Michael: That’s a hard one. There are too many great authors out there to choose just one. Neil Gaiman would be my first go-to answer, though. Whether it is in science fiction, fantasy, or horror, he embodies a lot of the strange and the weird that I love. A lot of his work reminds me of Poe and Lovecraft (other faves!).

D.C.: My son, Michael.  I also love C.S. Lewis, Joseph Delaney, John Flanagan, and Chris Mould.

-What are you reading now?
D.C.: The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney, The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton, and I’m re-reading Chris Mould’s Something Wickedly Weird series.  I’m also reading the instructions on the back of a bag of oatmeal.  For some reason, it’s one of those things I haven’t been able to memorize yet.  Drives me crazy!!

Michael: The Eyeball Collector, by F.E. Higgins. Right now I’m on a Dickens-ish kick. I love Dickensy stories of weary cities and bustling streets, street urchins and pickpockets, eccentric shop owners  and grumpy old men wrapped in scarves and holding onto their top hats in the wind. Also (if graphic novels are allowed) American Vampire by Scott Snyder. Nice vampire story that brings the monster back to the myth.
(And…the back of the oatmeal bag. We’re having trouble around step number 9….)

D.C.: (There isn’t a step number 9.)

Michael: ….

-Who is your favorite character to write?
D.C.: Charlie from Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters.  There’s a lot about him that I relate to and there’s a tension in him that really forges the best in people, but he’s got to go through hell to get there.  I think a lot of people relate to that.
I’m also working on a short story right now that is way out of my comfort zone and the character is facing some pretty crazy stuff.  Trying to walk in his shoes is demanding, but very liberating as well.  That story will be for adults, and may or may not involve what some would consider zombies, but I wouldn’t throw that title on them too quickly.  It may also involve instructions to make oatmeal, but that is absolutely all I’m giving away and you can’t make me say anymore!  (Unless you offer some coffee.)

Michael: In the Charlie Sullivan and the Monster series, I think the Vadiknov twins, Lisa and Liev, have to be my favorite characters to write about. They’re the ‘encyclopedic types,’ providing a lot of knowledge to the group, and a lot of sarcasm and humor to the story. At first, it’s almost like they’re one character, but Lisa and Liev develop into their own characters with their own snappy personalities. They were very intricate and fun to think about when writing The Varcolac’s Diary. A few fans have said that Liev was their fave as well.

Lisa’s grown to be my all-out favorite in Witch Moon, though. For those who haven’t read the first book, she’s going through some turmoil and embodies a lot of anger and angst in Book 2. She kicks heinie!

-Do you have a writing process?
Michael: Yes and no. It seems to change with each book and project. A few things that have stayed consistent: late, late nights, loud music, and chocolate. The music goes from power metal to movie soundtracks, depending on the type of scene I’m writing. In the past I would use some scriptwriting techniques to outline a book, which works wonders, but that process has melded and changed with each new story.

D.C.: I do.  It’s called chaos!  Ha, ha.  At least by most people’s standards.  I’m one of those people that can look at a piece of paper or the screen for weeks and nothing comes out.  I may have to draw or storyboard on a whiteboard, or go for a hike or something, but then it just pours out like crazy.  Then I have to go fix it all, because it’s a mess.

-What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Michael: Put your characters through conflict. I don’t mean have them stub their toe and have a bad day, I mean drive your character to his or her limits throughout your story. They have to struggle to pass this trial of a life you’ve given them, and if they survive that struggle, they will have changed, whether for better or for worse. Conflict. Your characters can’t develop without it, and your readers won’t care without it.

Write the story you need to write. If you’re trying to become an author, chances are you aren’t doing it because you want to be a billionaire. Sure, super authors are out there, but most of us don’t get there right away. We’re choosing this because writing itself is important to us, and with some hard work it can provide as a career. So write what you care about writing. Don’t write for others, don’t worry about the trends (unless you love to work with the trends, in which case go for it!), just get what’s in your heart onto your page, and go from there.

D.C.: Read!  I really believe you are better when you are reading.  We should probably read more than we write.  Play.  We are too serious too much of the time.  Play a game.  Play with your kids.  Do something that is enjoyable on a regular basis.  It’s what fills you up and when you are full you have something to offer others.  When you are empty, you’ve got nothing.

I would also say don’t get discouraged with yourself.  Writing is hard.  It takes discipline and you get better as you go.  I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but I’m much better than I was in 2005.

Get coaching.  Don’t try to do this alone.  Find a mentor.  Someone who can guide you as a writer.  This will take years off your development alone!

-What inspired you to pursue writing?
D.C.: Well, my 4th grade teacher really made that initial spark happen.  I was always reading.  I had the entire Hardy Boys collection, White Fang and the Call of the Wild by Jack London, and tons of other books.  Buying books from those school book drives was probably my two favorite times of the year.  But I never really thought about writing until that writing contest.
Writing that story really woke something up in me, and I have never forgotten it.

So, here’s to all the teachers and librarians out there.  You really do have a huge impact on all of us.  Stay in the trenches and know what you are doing is worth it and changes lives!

Michael: If I wasn’t sketching as a kid, I was reading. I always was fascinated by things of a more supernatural nature. As a very young child, my mom would read books with me such as Three Billy Goats Gruff and Where the Wild Things Were, but more special was the Chronicles of Narnia series, which she would read to me before bed. I finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was twelve, already having watched the first Peter Jackson LOTR film.
The books I read in my childhood struck a chord and filled me with a sense of wonder, and I always knew that, whether through book or film or art, I wanted to fill others with that same wonder.

Since I’d always been scribbling drawings or notes about characters as a kid, and thanks to my parents’ lifelong love and participation of the arts, writing just seemed like a natural choice. It just gradually grew until I decided that was the creative outlet that suited me best.

-Tell us about your books
D.C.: Charlie Sullivan and the Monster Hunters is about friendship.  It’s about the relationships between a group of teenagers and several other quirky characters that are forced to realize what’s really important in this life.
When we set out to write these stories, we had all these monsters, creatures, magic, worlds, and supernatural powers in mind, but none of it worked unless these five teenagers met and waded through some pretty intense struggle to work together.

The other thing we wanted to accomplish is bringing to life the monsters and creatures of legend.  We wanted to re-introduce witches, banshees, harpies, dragons, vampires, werewolves, the Ferryman, and so much more, but keep their legends intact.  We definitely didn’t want to reinvent these monsters and make them something “new”.

We gave them a new context to exist in, but really respected their origins.  I think if you really learn about the monsters and creatures of legend, you find a terrifying and powerful group of beings that don’t need to be messed with.
The one approach we did take with them was to introduce them from various cultures.  For example, the varcolac from Book 1 (The Varcolac’s Diary) is a vampire/werewolf hybrid, who is just pure evil, but the twist is he’s from Russian folklore.  We borrowed from Asian folklore, Irish story-telling, Russian monsters, Native American history, and so on.

What you get is an army of monsters that are known from legend, but then you get to learn some of their origins and lore from other cultures.
Book 2 will feature 3 of the most powerful witches in all of history, set in another country, and introduce some new monsters that will just enthrall the reader.  And some that I even gasped at…and I helped write it!
Ultimately it is a fun romp through magic and monsters that flows very nicely, while focusing on the friendships being forged in a new adventure that one reviewer said, “…reminds you why you love to read.”  That was pretty special to us.

Michael: …..what he said!

D.C.: Gary, it really is a pleasure to chat with you for this interview.  You are an inspiration and I look forward to learning more from you and working with you in the future.

Thanks a bunch!


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