It’s a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and I’m pleased to be interviewing Michael Spradlin, author of The Youngest Templar trilogy. These fast-paced adventures mix history with fantasy, and I have to say, they are absolutely addictive. (If you’d like to own a copy of the first book in the series, read on to the end of this post for your chance to win.)
But don’t just take my word for it. Meg Cabot agrees with me. Seriously.
“Adventure quest at its best. Tristan is a hero to remember. Readers will be dying for the next installment.”
~ Meg Cabot, New York York Times Bestselling author
Pretty cool, huh? My 11-year-old actually discovered this series and lists them among his top ten favorite books. He’s a pretty tough critic so that’s high praise coming from him! When he found out I was interviewing the author, he threw some of his own questions into the mix.
My son got me hooked on the Youngest Templar series. I think I read all three books in two days. Like him, I couldn’t stop once I started. But now we both want to know: Are you going to continue the series? (We’d really love it if the answer is yes!)
I would love it if the answer was yes as well!
I think I left enough threads in the story to be picked up and explored and continued, but the decision doesn’t rest with me. It’s up to the readers. And what I mean by that is, it’s up to the readers and fans of the series to convince the publisher that the audience wants more books. And that’s true with any book or series not just The Youngest Templar. Not every series is a mega bestseller out of the gate like Percy Jackson or Wimpy Kid. Readers who write enthusiastic reviews on websites like Amazon and BN.com are enormously helpful. Who recommend the books to their friends and fellow readers, they are a series’ best friend. And frankly, not to be crass about it, but it comes down to readers buying the books they’ve read and loved as birthday gifts and Christmas presents and as donations to their school or local library. Nothing replaces word of mouth and the recommendations of others when it comes to helping an author continue to write more books in a series that readers love.
Publishing is like any business, driven by the bottom line. And it takes a lot of luck and support from fans and readers to be able to continue a series. I would love to keep writing more Youngest Templar novels. But at this point it’s not really up to me.
I am shopping around a Youngest Templar Graphic Novel series which would tell all new adventures with Tristan, Robard and Maryam. You can find out more about it by joining The Youngest Templar Fan Page on Facebook.
You’ve pretty much conquered every age group with picture books, adult comedy and a YA series. Do you have any more books planned for middle grade readers?
I most certainly do. I love writing for Middle Grade and that’s actually what I consider myself: a Middle Grade writer. I always saw my Spy Goddess series as a Middle Grade series but the publisher published it as YA. The bulk of my fan mail for that series comes from 10-12 year olds. So I think I was right. I think publishers and booksellers are sometimes confused about what ages read what.
My next novel for Middle Graders is The Raven’s Shadow which features a thirteen year old Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln saving the world.
Now that sounds cool! You write such a wide range of stories and for different age groups. How hard is it going from writing pirate haiku and zombie Christmas carols for adults, to channeling a teenage spy goddess, to getting inside the head of a 13th century boy or developing a picture book about the pony express?
My standard answer is I find it easy because I consider myself a renaissance man, interested in all sorts of things. My wife would tell you I have the world’s shortest attention span. I’m not sure I really have an answer except to say that each of my books, even the non-fiction or Pirate Haiku, have characters. And I become invested in them and just want to tell their stories.
The Youngest Templar series has such a great blend of history and fantasy. I love how seamlessly characters like Robard and Tuck are woven into the story. Without giving any spoilers, how did you even come up with such an amazing concept?
As a tween/teenager I loved historical fiction, and I especially loved it when fictional characters interacted with historical figures. In this case, even though may of The Youngest Templar’s characters are based on legends, I just thought since the book was set in the third Crusade, it might be fun to have Tristan become friends with a certain archer from a certain forest in England. It was such a rich tapestry to draw from, and gave readers something familiar, yet allowed me to reinvent things in my own way.
Which character do you identify with the most?
Honestly, I think I indentify most closely with Robard. Robard is a little rough around the edges. A little bull in the china shop when it comes to his relationships with others. Always well meaning but a little clumsy about things. Yet, he is steadfastly loyal, brave and believes in honor and justice. I don’t know if I quite live up to his example, but I do try to do the right thing, just as he always does in the books.
He’s also a bit of a smart aleck, he approaches every situation with humor and ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you they are my most common traits.
Your blog has a lot of templar history, including links to templarhistory.com. Any other resources you’d recommend for separating the fact from the fiction?
When speaking at schools and to young writers, I always tell them to immerse themselves in whatever world they are writing about. Mainly, I tell students to always approach history with a bit of skepticism. We talk a lot about the importance of primary sources, but we have to remember that sometimes even primary sources are flawed. Human beings have feelings, emotions, agendas, and faulty memories. People who ‘witnessed’ a historical event will all see it differently. So remember that often times the ‘truth’ is relative.
I also caution users of the internet to remember that not everything on the internet is fact. It’s great for photos, records, documents etc, but whatever you use from the internet you need to be sure of the source.
And remember when you are writing historical fiction, it’s important for a story to sound and feel realistic, but don’t let the ‘facts’ get in the way of a good story. It is fiction after all.
How long did it take from when you started writing until you got your first book published?
My first book was a picture book which I finished in 1997 and was published in 2002. It had a long and laborious road to publication but it finally got there.
Wow, five years. And now you have fifteen books under your belt! What advice would you have liked to hear after you got that first contract?
Get an agent. I didn’t have an agent for my first three books and I regret it now. Dealing with your publisher creatively is taxing enough. Let an agent handle the business side of it.
Sounds like excellent advice. With all these books, you must spend a LOT of time writing. What do you do in your down time?
Usually my down time is spent relaxing with my family, being owned by two dogs, and thinking about what I’m going to write next.
Personally, we’re hoping what you write next is another trilogy of The Youngest Templar!
Many thanks for the chance!
Michael’s next middle grade novel, Raven’s Shadow, should hit the shelves in 2012. His next picture book, The Inch High Samurai–a sort of Japanese version of Tom Thumb–will likely be out in 2013.