Friday, March 4, 2011

The Secret Journeys of Jack London: My interview with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

Are you ready to take a journey into the wild?

Hi! If you know and love us here at Little Shop, then I'm excited to introduce you to two great authors and their fantastic new book. If, on the other hand, you're here on the Golden/Lebbon book tour, then welcome! Little Shop of Stories is an independent kidslit bookstore located in downtown Decatur, Ga, just next to downtown Atlanta. You can find out more about us here.

I am really lucky to be a contributing blogger for the guyslitwire blog, and sometimes an opportunity comes up there that I can't help but jump at. Getting an ARC of Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon's fantastic new book about Jack London fighting corrupt Yukon "stampeders"--you'll have to read the interview to find out what they are--and battling monsters of the far north was just such an opportunity. And I got to interview the authors to boot! Before we get to the interview, I just want to thank them both publicly, and invite you both to come visit the store next time you're in the Southeast! Also, I want to thank them for their patience with the interview process, and apologize up front for stupid or oddball questions.

1) All the separate elements in the novel, the “boys adventure” stuff, the history, the supernatural, and, of course, Jack London, come together really well. This is the kind of novel that, almost as soon as I heard the premise, I said, “Of course! That’s going to be awesome!” How did all these things come together for you guys? Was it the history? Jack London? Or something else?

CG: Thanks, Justin. One of the best things about collaborating with your friends is that, usually, in order to be friends you have to have some shared passions in the first place. For me and Tim, a number of those shared enthusiasms came together in a momentary spark of absurdity that turned into genius. The short version...we were out for drinks and Thai food and he mentioned he'd used vampire polar bears in his novelization of 30 Days of Night and I immediately said we had to come up with a full length novel along those lines and call it WHITE FANGS. I was joking, of course, but such jokes often lead out of the real of goofing-around and into something more serious. Within seconds, literally, we had the concepts fleshed out for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON as a trilogy of novels intertwining Jack London's real life adventures with his fictional themes and plots and with our love of the supernatural, all tied in to the legends and folklore of the different parts of the world--the Yukon particularly--where he had those adventures. The first book is THE WILD. The second, THE SEA WOLVES, will be out next year, and the third, WHITE FANGS, we're writing this spring and summer. I love the literary history and the American history involved in the story, as well as the folklore we're building into it.

TL: Thanks! That's pretty much what we thought as well, as Chris has so nicely illuminated above. It really was constructed so quickly after that throwaway remark, and I think it's the Jack London aspect that really drove that. We're both huge fans, and that meant that as soon as the idea began to gel we already had a good feeling about what these novels would be about, how they'd be constructed, and their tone. Adding the supernatural element seemed to be the real heart of the idea ... these are his secret journeys, trials that were so dreadful that he couldn't bear write about them. It was also the quickest novel sale, probably, in history. Within a minute of discussing it, a publisher at the table had offered us a quite reasonable deal. His partner later decided against it, but every cloud has a silver lining... HarperCollins have published one of the most beautiful looking books, and having Greg involved is wonderful. I couldn't imagine a better publisher to be with for these books, nor could I hope for a better editor in Jordan Brown.

2) How much were you drawn to or inspired by Jack London, both as an historical figure and an author? And did y’all read his books when you were young? I ask because the kinds of books he wrote aren’t much in fashion these days—hero versus nature, boys adventure material isn’t as big right now as much more social, magic kind of material.

CG: I grew up loving the work of Jack London and he's still my favorite "classic" writer. I read THE CALL OF THE WILD and THE SEA WOLF and others in school, and became fascinated by his work, particularly his stories of the Yukon. My father was in the Coast Guard during the Korean War and stationed on Kodiak Island in Alaska, and I've always wanted to travel there. I still hope to get there someday. Jack was not a perfect man. There are a lot of things about his mind set that I don't admire, but I certainly admire him as a writer, as a defender of the common man, and I admire him for his courage and his constant need to test himself against the wild places of the world. Maybe the best thing about THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON is that it marries that social, magic, contemporary feel to the kind of wild adventure we don't get enough of anymore.

TL: I was a fan of Jack London's books as a child, but I didn't know so much about Jack London the man until we started researching these books. I loved adventure novels back then, and still do now, and I think introducing supernatural elements, while also trying to retain a realism about the time and location, makes for a compelling read.

3) Obviously you guys did lots of research on the history. How important is it that you “get it right?” Does it make the supernatural stuff more fun? Vice versa? Are there any problems with writing a supernatural story not only set in history, but starring someone who actually lived and is famous?

CG: It's everything. Whether you're basing your fiction on something historical or something entirely imagined, when you're working in the "real" world and then veering off into the supernatural, nothing matters more than making the real world feel genuine and tangible and relatable. In this case, that involved researching Jack's life and the Gold Rush and what it was really like in Dawson City and on the Yukon Trail during that period. There are things in the book that some people won't believe, but that ARE real. Jack lived an extraordinary life, so it wasn't that far a leap to make his adventures even more extraordinary.

TL: We did a ton of research, and that's part of the process I enjoyed the most. It's certainly no hardship re-reading a load of London books, and discovering stories and books I haven't read before. And researching the time period, and the Gold Rush, was fascinating. Such a brutal, incredible time, and those people would go through anything in the hope that they'd better their lives. And as Chris says above, we felt it was vital to ground the book as much as we could in the 'real' Gold Rush in order to make the supernatural elements effective. And especially because we use supernatural aspects of that particular region, I think it's worked incredibly well.

illustration from chapter 12
4) Y’all have written several books with each other, did that help with this book? Tim, you live in England—did it help to have an American co-writing this book with you? Maybe that’s a silly question, but Jack London is one of those authors, like L. Frank Baum or Edgar Allan Poe, whom I think of as somehow distinctly American. Or was it useful to you, Christopher, to have that “across the pond” perspective in this collaboration?

CG: For me, working on this with Tim was more about a shared love of Jack London and monsters, and a shared feeling that we haven't grown up yet, and don't intend to. Tim and I can both read about Jack London's real life and think of what he went through with a sense of wonder. That's what we shared with each other through this process and I think it's what makes the book work. We can both stand beside Jack at the bottom of the Chilkoot Trail or sit with him in a sinking boat going down the White Horse Rapids. We can imagine it the same way we hope our younger readers will, and that's a little piece of magic.

TL: I can't say it much better than that... I don't think me being British and Chris being American actually had much to do with the process. We researched heavily, and it was the passion we both shared about what we were doing that mattered––passion about London as a writer, the story we'd come up with, and our interest in the time period and setting. We both loved the whole idea of the Secret Journeys before we'd even put pen to paper. It was one of those stories that felt right, and getting it out there and sharing it with readers is just so exciting.

5) It’s easy enough to do the historical research from your homes, but how about the setting? Did you do any traveling to research the book? Have you ever been to the Yukon? And what’s more important, writing the “true nature” of the place, or writing the myth of the place—the legendary Yukon that we dream of when reading about the gold rush?

CG: I've never been there, but I truly hope to have the opportunity one day. As for truth vs. myth, it's my honest belief that in order for something like this to work, you have to have a little of both, and I think we captured that. But that'll be up to the readers to decide.

TL: I'd love to visit. Maybe when they're making the movie! And I think Chris is right, the mythologies we've used wouldn't work at all if they weren't rooted in the true feel of that place and era. The stampeders (as the prospectors were called) really were trailblazers, and it's such a time and place that births myths.

6) Not to give away too much, but I love your choice of supernatural beasties! They work perfectly for the setting and for the characters. You both have written other fantasy and horror books, especially ones like the Hellboy novels, that play in worlds teeming with supernatural creatures—how hard was it to get that “just right?” And, because this is the first book in a series, where do you go from here?

CG: Anybody can flip the pages of a bestiary and pick a monster. But the monster has to be fundamental to the story, has to really reflect the themes and elements of the tale. The trick is to write it in such a way that even if readers have run into versions of that monster before, it feels fresh and different to them...and hopefully, it'll scare them a little, too.

TL: As I mention above, the creature we used are integral to that region and time, and that's why I think they work so well. Jack London fighting zombies just wouldn't have meant anything. As for where we go from here .... that would be telling. But in books 2 and 3 (THE SEA WOLVES and WHITE FANGS respectively), we pay just as much attention to the level and suitability of the supernatural set against the reality of Jack London's secret journeys.

Many, many thanks to you guys, and I can't wait for the sequels, especially after having read this first one. I love how you play with both the actual history of Jack London and his "literary history," like basing the titles on his own book titles.

Anyway, all you Little Shop folk and kidlit lovers, check out this series. If you like adventure, if you like a dash of exciting history, if you like supernatural beasties, then you're in for a treat. And don't forget to check out the rest of the blog tour:

Monday, March 7th
Rebecca's Book Blog

Tuesday, March 8th
Martha Brockenbrough, author of Things That Make Us [Sic]

Download the electronic press kit for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON.

1 comment:

Little Willow said...

Justin: Thank you so much for being a part of this tour! I really appreciate your enthusiasm and support, and I'm SO glad to hear that you enjoyed the book. I hope you get to meet the authors in person someday and get them into your bookstore!

Chris: Peter Pan didn't want to grow up, either...

Segue to me plugging Christopher Golden's book Straight on 'til Morning, which is AMAZING. You'll never look at the story of Peter Pan the same way again after reading that brilliant novel.