Wednesday, October 24, 2012

13 Days of Halloween: Q&A with author John Peel

What or whom inspired you to become a writer?

JOHN: When I was young, I had anemia, so I wasn’t allowed to do sports. Instead, I stayed inside and read. When I ran out of stories in my favorite series, I started making up my own. After that, I couldn’t sop making up stories.

What was your first book/story published?

JOHN: My first book was “The Official Doctor Who And The Daleks Book”, about the English TV show. As a result of that, I got to write a “Doctor Who” novel, “The Chase”. Then I sold my first original book, “Uptime, Downtime”. That was my own version of a time travel story.

You have written media tie-ins, fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. What is your favorite genre to write about?

JOHN: I just like writing, so I don’t really mind what genre. I think my favorite, though, is fantasy. I love being able to make up whole worlds and situations. But I’ll write anything at all as long as it sounds interesting to me.

One of my favorite books growing up was Shockers: Grave Doubts. How did you come up with the reincarnation plot?

JOHN: By accident! What happened was that I went in to my editor, Craig Walker, about writing “Shockers”. I thought he wanted three books in the series initially, so I had three really good ideas – “Night Wings”, “Blood Wolf” and “Alien Prey” (horror, fantasy and science fiction). Then he said, “And what about the fourth book?” I hadn’t realized he’d wanted four, so on the spur of the moment I said: “Grave Doubts”. He loved the title, and asked me what it was about. So I told him I’d let him know just as soon as I decided! So then I went home and thought about it. Since I’d invented a title, I realized I had to do something set about a cemetery, and “doubts” suggested confusion. So I thought that it should be about somebody everybody thought was dead… and then I thought, no, it would be better if it was about somebody who *was* dead. And then the whole story fell into place.

Was there ever a 7th Shockers book written?

JOHN: Yes, there was. Craig Walker left the company after book 6, but his replacement was interested in carrying on, so I wrote a seventh. They then decided not to publish it, so nobody has ever read it. It’s called “Star Struck”, and was inspired by a fan letter somebody sent me. After saying she loved my horror stories, she asked me what I was really like in person. You know how sometimes you get horribly inappropriate ideas? Well, I thought: “Wouldn’t it be terrible if I wrote back to her: I’m a homicidal maniac and now I have your address?” Of course I’m not, and I didn’t write it, but I wondered what it would be like if somebody *did* do that. And I thought about how some people seem to live off the admiration of their fans (like rock stars), and so I came up with the idea of a rock singer who literally lives off his fans. I thought it was very creepy.

Do you have a favorite from the series?

JOHN: Not really – they’re all so different, so I like them all for different reasons. But I would love to go back and write another story in the “Blood Wolf” vein.

With all the Vampire/Werewolf craze in Young Adult books, are there any plans for Tombstones: Dances with Werewolves & Tombstones: The Last Drop to be re-released?

JOHN: Not that I know of. I wish there were, because I really liked those stories. I got to take the traditional monsters and do something quite different with them.

What is your favorite part in Talons?

JOHN: I liked the bits from the valkyrie’s point of view. It’s always interesting to try and imagine what the world looks like from the monster’s point of view.

What was the hardest part to write?

JOHN: The balance. I liked the idea that Chelsea’s mom was a horrible, unloving person and that nothing Chelsea did could get through to her. But my editor, Pat MacDonald, was worried that it looked like I was anti-mothers! I explained that I really wanted the readers to understand that sometimes it’s not their fault when their parents have a problem with them, and Pat understood. So she suggested I make Mrs. Parker a stronger, more positive character as a contrast. (Originally, she was going to be a lot more flakey.) So I worked hard at a balance between the two moms.

What character is the most/least like you, and in what ways?

JOHN: I try and keep myself out of the stories. The characters I create are their own people, really, driven by whatever I need for the story. Obviously, they all have bits of me in them, but I do try to make them different from me. Of course, I tend to identify with them, at least a little.

On the other hand, when I wrote “Hangman”, I had three friends in it – Tiffany, Crystal and Lauren. Well, I was doing a signing for it and three young girls came up to me and said: “Our names are Tiffany, Crystal and Lauren, and we’re best friends, just like in the book.” And Lauren added: “And I’m a wimp, just like Lauren!” So that was kind of strange!

What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author?

JOHN: Well, I did consider being an astronomer once, so probably that. I have a nephew who is one now. But I wanted to write since I was about 10 years old and never really thought about doing anything else. I did work in a bank for several years, though, until I was making enough money from selling my stories.

Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?

JOHN: Yes, I read reviews, and I think about them. Good reviews make me happy, because it means I’m doing my job right. Bad reviews… Well, first they make me mad, of course! Then, when I calm down, I try and look at what they’re saying and see if they’ve got any valid points. If they do, maybe I can learn from them. But most bad reviews amount to “I don’t like this sort of story”, and there’s nothing I can do about it. One reader actually wrote to me to say he didn’t like my books. So I told him: “Stop buying them, then!” I mean, isn’t that obvious? Everybody can’t like everything – I certainly don’t. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad books, just that they’re the sort of books that don’t appeal to you. I know that some people wouldn’t like *anything* I wrote, no matter how good it might be. You can’t do anything about that. You just write the best story you possibly can. When I’m planning my stories, I usually talk them through with my editor, and then listen to what they have to say. If they have good comments, then I make changes – I’m happy to incorporate anything that will make the story better.

In fact, that’s how I worked with Craig Walker on “Shockers” – I’d plot out the story and he and I and his staff would sit down and I’d tell them the story. Then everyone would have a chance to make comments or suggestions. The good ones I kept and put into the story. I think that’s probably why the books I wrote for Craig have been my favorites to write and are also the ones the readers seem to like the best, too. Craig really understood writing and his comments were always very good.

Do you have any other books/stories in the works?

JOHN: Always! For Craig I also created “Dragonhome” and “Diadem”, two very different fantasy series. Well, I recently published the sequel to “Dragonhome”, and now I’m working on the next two books in the “Diadem” series. The readers seem to love both series, and so do I, so I’m happy to keep them going. 

About the Author:

John Peel was born in Nottingham, England. He moved to New York in 1981 to get married and lives on Long Island with his wife and pack of minpins. He has written over 100 books, including the "Diadem" series, "The Secret of Dragonhome" and tie-ins for shows like "Doctor Who" and "Star Trek".

To learn more about John's books visit his website at, or his facebook page

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