On Monday, September 26th, 150 third to fifth graders at my school had a special treat. Andrew Jacobson and Adam Jay Epstein, co-authors of The Familiars series, came to visit. They shared some fun videos they had created to promote their books and told about how they created the series.
The Familiars 2 is now available for sale.
There was some impromptu acting going on.
Some questions and answers.
And even books being signed and many happy fans.
Thank you Andrew and Adam for sharing with my students and getting them all excited about reading.
What gave you the idea for writing The Familiars 1 & 2?
Back in 2008, when we hatched the idea for The Familiars, it all started with Adam asking Andrew, “Do you know what a familiar is?” Andrew said he didn’t. Adam explained, “A familiar is the animal companion to a witch or wizard, like Hedwig in ‘Harry Potter.’” Andrew immediately took to the idea. We loved that familiars were always in the background, doing very little. What if we told a story where the familiars were front and center? And they were the ones going on the adventure. And Adam’s simple question quickly led to the creation of Vastia and all the magical animals inhabiting it. Our three main characters are an orphan alley cat named Aldwyn who is mistaken for being a young boy wizard’s familiar; Skylar, a know-it-all blue jay with the ability to cast magical illusions; and Gilbert, a bumbling tree frog who can see visions of the past, present, and future in puddles of water… sometimes. We didn’t have to look very far for our inspiration for Aldwyn. In fact, he was right in Adam’s backyard. There was a stray black-and-white alley cat named Ben, missing a chunk of his left ear, who visited there every day. The rest seemed to just flow effortlessly. The Familiars and The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown are targeted at middle readers, ages 8-12, but we really believe it will appeal to anyone who loves animals, magic, or fantasy. They take inspiration from “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” and hopefully put their own unique spin on the classic hero’s journey.
How do you guys communicate (when writing together)?
One of the unique things about The Familiars and its sequel is that we co-authored them. The two of us literally sat in the same room for months and months (we pretty much put in banker’s hours, 9-5 Monday through Friday) writing every word, sentence, and paragraph together. Andrew is the typist (because he’s frankly a much faster typer), while Adam sits beside him, or across from him in a nice, comfy chair, or sometimes paces around. After our initial conversation about the idea, we loosely outlined the first few chapters and just dove in. Then after writing about 45 pages, we meticulously plotted out the rest of the story. Of course we discovered many details along the way, but we had a basic sense of the major plot points and where the books would end. Neither one of us were English majors in college or had any book writing experience previously, but we’ve both read a lot, watched a lot, and lived inside our imaginations since we were little kids.
Where do you come up with all the names and mythical creatures?
Honestly we just make them up! We chose Aldwyn because it had an English flavor and we always imagined him as a little bit of an Artful Dodger/Oliver Twist type character. Skylar took inspiration from the prefix Sky which is of course what birds do. And Gilbert has the word Gil in his name, which frogs have! This is one of the most fun parts of our job. Especially all the fantastical creatures and places.
Did you always want to be authors?
Adam actually thought he might become a video game developer. He absolutely loves video games. Andrew's dad was a lawyer so he thought he'd be good at that. But he was also writing stories as early as in the second grade.
Which are your favorite characters?
Adam would say Gilbert because he has such a fun voice to write. Something unexpected always seems to come out of his mouth, even for us while writing it. Andrew loves Grimslade and his villainous ways!
How did you meet each other?
Adam grew up in Great Neck, New York, while Andrew spent his childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we actually met in a parking garage out in Los Angeles. True story.
As part of The Familiars Halloween Blog Tour, Andrew stops by to answer a few questions. Let's see if he tells any of Adam's secrets.
What was your scariest/funniest/weirdest Halloween experience?
(Andrew) Every year I trick-or-treated with my older brother, who was a die hard Halloween guy. In my suburban home town of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, we always had trick-or-treating on the Sunday afternoon of Halloween week from 1-4 pm. And my big bro's game plan was always to hit houses after 4 o'clock, say we lost track of time, and hope that we could clean people out of all their left-over candy. Well, one year, on a typically cool late October afternoon, we trick-or-treated well past dark, in a neighborhood far, far away from our house on Cumberland Blvd. We were lost and we really didn't know what time it was. This being a long time before cell phones, we ultimately had to ask to use someone's telephone to call home, and our parents had to come pick us up. Luckily my mom and dad knew my brother well enough not to panic and call the police. The next year I trick-or-treated with some friends around my block. My brother didn't get home until after six o'clock.
Did you have a book that you read either in Middle School or High School that scared you the most? What was it and what about it scared you?
(Andrew) Back in middle school, I remember the Stephen King book It was turned into a miniseries on TV. After watching some of it I read the book and it was terrifying. Mostly because there was a clown in it!
What writing rituals do you have?
We meet every day at 9:30 and write until 5 pm. Andrew is the typist (because he's a much faster typer) and Adam sits across from him in a big comfy chair, usually with a bowl of snacks at his side. Then we talk. And talk. And talk some more.
I am always fascinated by authors who co-write a book. What was that process like for both of you? And did it come naturally or did it evolve over time?
We talked a little about our process in the previous question. Our partnership did evolve over time. We met about ten years ago and began writing screenplays together. Over time, what started out as a somewhat inefficient back and forth, became more and more well-oiled, to the point where we can now finish each other's sentences (in real life and on the page). The two of us sit in the same room, writing every word, sentence, and paragraph together.
What advice would you give children who are interested in becoming writers?
Write! And read as much as you can. The hardest part of writing sometimes is just sitting down and writing. There are so many distractions nowadays, it's most important to be disciplined about doing the work. Also to remember not to be discouraged by rejection. You have to always believe that the impossible is possible.
How did you come up with the idea for the Familiars?
When Adam was growing up, he didn't have a pet of his own, so on walks home from school he would pretend that he had a fire-breathing dragon on his shoulder. He always dreamed of having a familiar. So one day Adam asked Andrew, do you know what a familiar is? And from that question, the two of us were off and running, creating a fantastical world filled with our shared love of magic and animals.
You probably get a lot of questions about what animal familiar you would be so let me put a small twist on it - What special powers or abilities would you like to have?
(Andrew) I would love to have the special power of superstrength. If you saw my arms, you would know why.
In an age where everyone seems to be wanting to write for YA, how did you decide on writing for a Middle Grade audience (those of us working with this age group express our appreciation for your decision)?
The funny thing is, the two of us didn't even know there was such a thing as Middle Grade. We knew we were writing a book targeting the same readers who loved Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia, and it was only later that our publisher educated us about the category of Middle Readers. Having visited a dozen elementary schools around the country, we have so enjoyed meeting the enthusiastic young audience for our story.
Familiars-themed Halloween Scavenger Hunt!
After you fill in your answer, the letter that falls in the place of the * can be placed in the corresponding number of the larger puzzle. So for example, since this is question number 7, the letter that lands in the space where the * is can be filled in where the 7 is in the larger puzzle. The larger puzzle will form yet another clue, and anyone who answers it correctly will be entered into a drawing for an autographed book as well as a few other Halloween treats!
Be sure to visit The Familiars blog at thefamiliars.blogspot.com to find links to all other blog stops and find out where to send in your answers! All entries must be entered by November 15.
7. Telekinesis is the ability to _*_ ___ ___ ___ things with your mind.