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Interview: Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

February 28th, 2011 (06:20 am)
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Being a fan of both Jack London's classic works and Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon's collaborations, I'm thrilled to be kicking off the blog tour for their brand-new historical adventure novel, The Secret Journeys of Jack London: THE WILD. The book officially hits stores tomorrow; the authors (as well as illustrator Greg Ruth) will be dropping by blogs every weekday for the next two weeks to share their stories with you.

Without any further ado, I welcome Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, and the legacy of Jack London to Bildungsroman.

Little Willow: What was the first Jack London book you ever read? How old were you at the time?

Tim Lebbon: The Call of the Wild when I was maybe 10 or 11.

Christopher Golden: I'm sure The Call of the Wild was my first as well--as it is for so many school children--and I reread it many times growing up. That and The Sea Wolf made a huge impact on me. If you look at the acknowledgements page of my very first young adult novel (which, perhaps for the best, is long out of print), I list Jack London as one of the writers who was a major influence on me while I was growing up.

Have you re-read any of his works as an adult? Did you find that your opinion of Jack's writing (and life) changed, or your understanding of the stories?

Lebbon: I think as a child you read The Call of the Wild as an adventure book, and maybe nothing more. But as an adult it has its themes and hidden depths, and it's a pleasure to revisit it. If I read it again in my 50s, it'll probably feel different again. Perhaps that's the mark of a great book.

Golden: I'm with Tim. It certainly had an impact on me as a child. I wrote a paper in high school on "Atavism in the Works of Jack London." I still have it, in fact. But reading his work now, you see more of his commentary about humanity in it. That's even more true of The Sea Wolf, which is tense and suspenseful when you're reading it as a kid, but a fascinating treatise on human nature when you read it as an adult. And I learned so much more about Jack the writer and Jack the man while doing research for this book than I had ever known before.

If you could travel back in time to Jack's era, would you dare travel the Yukon? Search for gold? Befriend wolves?

Lebbon: Someone once said, 'The best way to travel is by means of imagination'. I'm someone who likes their creature comforts, so while I respect London and am endlessly fascinated by people who go to these lengths to explore, I wouldn't get very far. Although .... gold, you say...?

Golden: If I had been born in that era, and lived the life that Jack lived, I would like to think I'd have had the courage to brave the world that way. But the me that I am? 21st century suburban dad? Not unless there's an apocalypse. :)

What inspired you to use his real-life adventures as the starting point for this story?

Lebbon: I can answer most of those questions with three words: vampire Polar bears. And Mr Golden can now elaborate.

Golden: Lebbon, you lazy sod. :) Okay, so...we were at World Horror Convention in Toronto, having drinks and Thai food with about a dozen other people, and Tim was talking about his novelization of the movie 30 Days of Night. He mentioned having added something about vampire polar bears, and I jumped in saying we should do an original novel about vampire polar bears and call it White Fangs, after the famous Jack London novel. One of us then said it should actually have Jack London in it, and the other promptly coined the title The Secret Journeys of Jack London. Funnily enough, one of the folks at the table with us was a publisher, who offered us a contract on the spot, only to have his business partner cancel the deal days later. But we now have one of the most beautiful books I've ever worked on, which is bliss.

How much research did you do about his life and his travels, and how much liberty did you take with things? Why incorporate the urban legends rather than keeping this series strictly historical fiction?

Golden: We read biographies of Jack and did a ton of research into the era, the Gold Rush, the Yukon, all of that...but we didn't mind tweaking what needed tweaking to make the story work. As for the supernatural...when I was young my mother asked me why I couldn't write something "good." By "good," of course, she meant something more mainstream, without nasty creatures or deeds in it. I explained that I had written western stories, science fiction, mystery, and romantic stories, but "somebody always dies." Tim and I share a love of the weird. It's the direction our compass points. True North.

While doing your research, did you discover anything about Jack or the time period in general that surprised you?

Lebbon: I didn't know a great deal about Jack London the man before starting to research these books, and a great deal about his life surprised me. The adventures he went through at a very early age, his political activism, his apparent need to push himself and test himself with every new venture. An incredible man. And as well as all this, he also found the time to become a remarkable writer. One quote of his I love is, "The function of man is to live, not to exist." He certainly lived by that conviction.

Golden: Two things stand out to me. First, I had a very different view of what Dawson City was before doing research. I had an image of it that came more from Hollywood than reality, when in fact it was a grim, ramshackle settlement barely large enough to call a town, never mind a city. And getting there...it just amazes me what horrors people had to go through in order to make it to Dawson. The other thing is that people who read THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON: THE WILD are going to think we invented the fact that Jack's mother was a spiritual medium who claimed that she could communicate with the spirits of the dead, and that when he misbehaved as a child, she told him she was offering him up to them, but all of that is true.

What, if anything, did you do in your own childhood or teen years that resembles something Jack himself did?

Lebbon: Questions like this convince me I've led a boring life...

Golden: I think we all have our own adventures. I certainly never encountered a wolf, but I ran from my share of dogs. :) There are a couple of stories that come to mind, things that felt like amazing journeys when I was a kid. The one I'll share involved my brother and me and a couple of friends. We decided we were going to explore the woods at the top of our street, a state forest. I'm pretty sure we brought something to eat, but I couldn't swear to it. We went to the circle at the top of Fox Hill Road and into the woods and started following the paths, trying to make sure we took the ones that we'd never taken before. Eventually we broke away from the paths and soon we were crossing through fields and then into other woods. We were sure, at first, that we would come to a road eventually, and that we'd be able to figure out where we were and walk home from there. It was a great adventure, the sense of exploration and the unknown. Hours later, we had obviously started to worry. Every time we crested a hill, we hoped we would find a street. When, at last, we did come to a road, we were in the town of Sudbury (we'd started in Framingham), exhausted and thirsty, and there was no way we were going to walk home. Going by road instead of through the woods would have taken even longer than the walk there. Fortunately, we found a phone at the general store and were able to get a ride back. It's certainly nothing like real adventure, but for a boy of 12 or so, it was totally exhilarating.

Wolves are to Jack London as what is to Tim Lebbon?

Lebbon: Platypuses.

Wolves are to Jack London as what is to Christopher Golden?

Golden: Winnie the Pooh.

Have you ever traveled to Jack's house or Jack London State Historic Park? Are you going to talk about Wolf House in any way?

Lebbon: No visits. And Wolf House was later in his life, so I doubt we'll mention it.

Golden: No, but we would LOVE to.

You've collaborated on novels before. What made this collaboration different?

Lebbon: For me, it was the first YA novel I'd written. I didn't find that hampered the process in any way, and in fact I think I tapped into some of the adventure novels for boys I read as a kid more during the writing of this book than when I write my other fantasy or horror novels. I think some of the books you read as a kid have a more profound effect on you than anything you'll read further on in life, and this really felt like I was tapping a particularly deep vein of memories.

Golden: I can't say it any better than that.

What's the target audience for this series?

Lebbon: 10 years to 100 years.

Golden: Marketing-wise, I think HarperChildren's is aiming for both a middle grade and YA audience, but this book is absolutely for adults as well. Jack London's most famous works are mostly read by school children today, but he didn't write for kids. He wrote for READERS. And that's our target audience.

How many books are currently planned in the series?

Golden: Book one, THE WILD, is out on March 1st. Book two, THE SEA WOLVES, is finished, though we're not sure on the publishing schedule. The third book, WHITE FANGS, we'll be writing this spring and summer.

If you encountered a young person who had wanderlust, someone who was anxious to travel the world, where would you encourage them to visit and why?

Lebbon: The UK, because there's so much culture, and landscape, and history in such a small place.

Golden: Everywhere. I've been fortunate enough to see a great many places. Of course the U.S.A. has a million beautiful places, but I also love Italy, Ireland, Austria, Sweden, and what I've seen of Croatia. One of my favorite spots in the world, though I've only been there once, is the island of Santorini, in Greece. It's one of the most beautiful places in the world...and it's the rim of an active volcano.

Where would you love to visit, a place you've yet to go? Do you think you will?

Lebbon: China, Australia, the Antarctic, Canada ... and I hope so, one day.

Golden: Silly, Tim. You've been to Canada. But I know what you mean. I want to see more of Canada, as well. I'd also love to explore more of Eastern Europe, definitely China, and more than anything, Alaska. And I hope to get to all of those places before my time here is done.

Tim lives in the UK; Chris, the USA. How often do you see each other in person? What program(s) do you use to write the first draft and write back and forth?

Lebbon: We see each other once or twice a year on average, but using Skype means we can chat like we're in the same room. A great piece of technology. Chris is now so, so pleased he can see my rugged handsomeness when we're chatting.

Golden: I turn the camera off when we Skype so I don't have to see him. But ssshh. Don't tell him.

If there are revisions/rewrites recommended by your editors, or something one of you feels strongly about in one direction and the other author is wont to go the opposite direction, what do you do?

Lebbon: With our editor on these books, Jordan Brown, it's been a wonderfully smooth process. He has suggestions, and we'll talk them through, tell him whether we agree or not. We have great respect for him, and he for us, so it works very well. As for the collaboration process between me and Chris, he just does what I tell him.

Golden: Again...ssshhh. Don't tell him, but I'm not really listening when Tim talks. Okay, really, what usually happens is that whoever is more passionate about something wins any debate we might have, but we're almost always one the same page.

How did illustrator Greg Ruth get involved in this project?

Golden: Greg was brought in by our editor, Jordan, and we are so grateful to have him. Not only is his cover one of the best you will see on any book this year, but the maps he's done and the wonderful illustrations really help to make this book come to life. We wanted a book that would be contemporary in the way that it reads, so modern kids would be captivated by it, but very much of the time in terms of its feel and texture, and Greg's wonderful art has helped to make that a reality for us, along with the amazing job Jordan and HarperCollins have done in creating the package. When you get the book, take off the dustjacket and look at the cover and spine. It's a wonderful experience to have an editor and publisher who are so completely dedicated to a single vision for a book.

The books have been optioned by FOX to be made into a movie. Will you be involved in the film?

Lebbon: We've actually written the first draft screenplay, which Fox are moving forward with to employ a new writer to bring a fresh view. We're very excited about the movie potential, and Fox are extremely enthusiastic about the project.

Golden: It's rare for the authors to be given the opportunity to write the screenplay, so we were happy to get a crack at it. It's even rarer for a big tentpole movie to be made without several writers or teams of writers giving the story a good working over. Our screenplay is the foundation for what they're doing, but it was always our expectation that someone else would end up building upon what we did. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what comes out of the process. Hopefully it gets to the screen, and I can't wait to go along for the journey.

If you had the opportunity to meet Jack - let's pretend for one moment that I have access to the TARDIS thanks to Doctor Who and we can all go travel to a time and place when Jack was alive and well - what would you say to him?

Lebbon: "Thanks for some great books. They're still living."

Golden: I'd probably have a little chat with him about his health. If he'd lived longer, we'd have had more classic Jack London novels.

What would you hope he'd say in response?

Lebbon: "Can I have a part in your movie?"

Golden: "I'm about to embark on a new adventure. Want to come along?"


The Secret Journeys of Jack London Blog Tour
For the next two weeks, authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon will be traveling through the blogs of YA/kidlit bloggers who are also teachers, librarians, and/or adventurers. Each tour stop will offer an exclusive piece of art from Greg Ruth, whose stunning illustrations give life to the characters, locations, and beasts throughout the book. Follow the tour:

Monday, February 28th
Little Willow at Bildungsroman

Tuesday, March 1st
Kiba Rika (Kimberly Hirsh) of Lectitans

Wednesday, March 2nd
Kim Baccellia from Si, Se Puede! and Young Adults Book Central

Thursday, March 3rd
Melissa Walker, author of Small Town Sinners

Friday, March 4th
Justin from Little Shop of Stories

Monday, March 7th
Rebecca's Book Blog

Tuesday, March 8th, Wednesday, March 9th, and Thursday, March 10th
Martha Brockenbrough, author of Things That Make Us [Sic]

Thursday, March 10th
Brian Keene, author and journalist

Help spread the word about this exciting new series. Download the electronic press kit for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON.