In this Michael Grant interview, we chat about hit dystopian series GONE, as well as Michael’s wider writing career with Animorphs.
In addition to GONE and Animorphs, you may know Michael Grant through his other series. Some recent examples include BZRK and Front Lines.
Meanwhile, Michael also returned to the GONE universe with a follow-up trilogy. These books featured Dekka Talent, a supporting character from the original books.
However, our Michael Grant Interview covers a lot of ground. You can also view the interview in video form (split into 3 parts) over on the Courageous Nerd YouTube channel, linked below.
So, without further ado, enjoy our Michael Grant Interview.
Note: This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Hi Michael! How have things been for you in your part of the world?
Michael Grant: It seems we’re getting out of the worst of it, not entirely sure. Hopeful. Aside from politics, everything’s great, you know? I have zero complaints about my life, let’s put it that way.
You’re obviously a very successful author and you’ve spoken before about becoming a writer later in life. Could you discuss your background and how it led to your current path?
Michael Grant: My path is not like anybody else’s. Trust me on that.
Born in LA, though I haven’t spent much of my life here. My mother was 16 when she had me. We were poor, my Dad adopted me when I was 4 – my birth father disappeared. He was a soldier, a very low-ranking enlisted man at that point. So, we were broke all the time. Later, he did become an Officer and life got a little economically easier.
I was out of the house and dropped out of school when I was 16. I was always the ‘new kid’ in school, we moved around a lot. Got through 10th Grade and thought, “This is a f*****g waste of my life. Why am I doing this?”
I can beat tests, take the test and basically not pay attention, which was kind of silly. It is probably a skill I learned in France, I was in a French school for 3 years. It was very test-centric. I did, briefly, attend college.
Dropped out of that and went into different jobs, mostly restaurant work. Assistant Manager, Night Manager, Waiter, that kind of thing. A lot of waiting tables. Then, I decided I would go into a life of crime. I carried out two burglaries of 24-hour restaurants. I cut my way in through the roof and emptied out the safe.
Got arrested, spent 11 days in jail and decided I didn’t like that very much. I jumped bail and for the next 22 years, I was on the run. In an incredible stroke of luck, I can’t explain it to this day… I hitchhiked from California and ended up in Austin, Texas, living under a freeway for a while.
So, I got a job waiting tables and an apartment… one day, coming home having just been on a date, I saw this woman, Katherine, in a window in the apartment next to mine. I decided I had to meet her and went over, which is not remotely typical for me.
Knocked on the door, borrowed a can opener and asked her out for a beer. Like an idiot, she said, “Sure.” We had a nice talk and kissed; the next day, we moved in together. It’ll be 44 years tomorrow.
Was writing a direction you ever saw yourself taking?
Michael Grant: We were very poor and mostly waited tables. At one point, we ended up cleaning toilets in Cape Cod. Cleaning people’s homes during the day and offices at night.
By this time, I’m 34 and I think she was 32. She said, “I think we should get careers and think about having kids.” I said, “So, what career?” She said, “I think we should write.” Up to that point, we’d only written Personality Quizzes for a girl’s magazine.
Eventually, Katherine was like, “I can’t do this s**t anymore, I’m tired of writing this crappy series stuff.” My whole thing was, “How do we make this profitable for us?” She said, “Well, if I’m not thinking about Marketing, I wish I could write about animals so kids are really inside the heads of animals.”
“I said, “So, what career?” She said, “I think we should write.” Up to that point, we’d only written Personality Quizzes for a girl’s magazine.”Michael Grant, Courageous Nerd (2022)
We put together a series bible, called it “Changelings”. The word Animorphs came from our Editor. We wrote Animorphs for a while, then Everworld and Remnants. At that point, we were burned, we’d written around 120 books. After Animorphs, we wrote a letter to our head boss Editor and said, “Yeah, we’re done, that’s it. We’ve run out of ideas.”
We took a couple of years off and did other stuff. After a while, I wrote the GONE series and Katherine started writing different stuff for younger kids. We had been working together and our careers had bifurcated.
Less yelling after we stopped working together and we’re older now.
How would you describe your process of writing a new novel? Is there a particular process or methodology you follow?
Michael Grant: That would’ve been great if we had a methodology or process. People always ask, “How did you write Animorphs?” Think of every conceivable way 2 people could do it. All of those at different times and in different ways. Add in a lot of arguing and yelling.
That should paint a fairly clear picture of what was going on, during the Animorphs era. Now that we’re writing separately, we have very different approaches.
With our YA books, we created Series Bibles. Sweet Valley Twins had a Series Bible and it was awful.
To me, Series Bible is the shortcut method. I’ll pull photographs off the web and use those for characters. Why? It gets me in touch with the character quickly and I’m writing about that specific person. I use the Series Bible as a sales tool and also for self-discipline. It’s how I convince a publisher that they should be interested in this.
In your series GONE, there are several obvious influences – Lord of The Flies and LOST, to name a few. To what extent did these inspire you?
Michael Grant: LOST, absolutely. Perdido Beach is a deliberate shout-out, “Perdido” being Spanish for “Lost.” Also, a shout-out to Stephen King, with Stefano Rey National Forest; “Stefano Rey” being Spanish for “Stephen King.” So that, yes.
Lord of The Flies, no. I was halfway through the first book before I made the connection. I was like, “Lord of The F*****g Flies!” Do I have to stop doing this? I never, ever want to do anything that’s derivative of anything else. It’s gotta be original, something I came up with.
The FAYZ was very much a mix of different cultures and perspectives.”Little” Pete Ellison is a mute, severely autistic 4-year-old. You also had Edilio Escobar (who was Honduran and gay), to name a few. How important was representing these different communities accurately?
Michael Grant: Little Pete’s a sore point because after the books came out, some autistic kids got a hold of me on Twitter. They said, “Look, we’ve got problems with this.” I looked and listened to them, saying, “You’re absolutely right, I was facile with this. I grabbed a word that I didn’t really think about and used it.”
So, I told them, “If we ever get a TV series or movie, I’ll fix it.” There’s nothing I can do about it now. Except, say, “Yeah, you’re right.” That’s really the only criticism that I thought was legitimate. When you find out that something is true, you’re helpless in the face of that.
If it’s true that I screwed that up then yeah, I screwed it up. I should’ve put a bit more thought into it, but I didn’t.
You’ve been working with Engage Productions to potentially adapt GONE as a television series. Throughout that journey, how have the Engage team been as collaborators?
Michael Grant: Oh, I love them. It’s funny, Engage is basically two people. It’s AJ Riach and Ian Hennell; AJ’s more of the frontman. Just in the couple of years that I’ve known them, AJ was a BAFTA Rising Star and got a movie made about a poet. He didn’t have that many credits.
Now, hell, he’s producing movies for Netflix and I think Disney. He also just worked with Steven Soderbergh on a movie.
I’d gone through several rounds already with producers, wanting to make it into a movie. I’d go to these meetings, sit there and they’d do the presenting. I remember sitting there at Lionsgate and whoever we were talking to leaned over and said, “This is TV, isn’t it?”
Streaming didn’t quite exist then, it was fairly new. It was there, but wasn’t taking over the world. I always wanted it to be TV, I wrote it that way. If you can imagine a book series built to be adapted to TV, it’s GONE. That’s where I come from in terms of storytelling. I tell the story in the same way TV does. I use multiple POVs, bounce around from different locations.
“If you can imagine a book series built to be adapted to TV, it’s GONE.”Michael Grant, Courageous Nerd (2022)
We were looking at moving to London. I had this one meeting with this guy, it’s too late to cancel, so I better go. I went and had lunch with AJ and Ian. First of all, Ian’s daughter is a GONE fan, you might have seen her on Twitter. So, that was nice.
Then, AJ was like, “We want to adapt this for TV.” Okay, that was good. “And, we want you to write it.” He said the magic words.
Animorphs became a TV series in the late 90s. Are there any key elements in particular that you’d want a GONE series to carry over?
Michael Grant: We lost control of Animorphs from the start. We never had control of the movie or TV rights. They did an awful television series, which we just hated. From that point on, I’m not letting anybody embarrass my fans again like that.
I insisted on being directly involved with any GONE projects. It’s because I’m not letting my fans be treated that way again. You bought my books, you read my books, you changed my life by buying my books. It’s as simple as that.
My individual career, apart from Katherine, began with GONE. I owe those people and I’m not letting them screw something up that people care about. So, if there’s a TV series, then I will be heavily involved.
Where are we with that? I don’t know. You take meetings, think it might be something and then nothing. Or, you get an email, “Hey! So and so’s really interested…”
“My individual career, apart from Katherine, began with GONE. I owe those people and I’m not letting them screw something up that people care about. So, if there’s a TV series, then I will be heavily involved. “Michael Grant, Courageous Nerd (2022)
Then, “No, not anymore.” After a while, it just becomes frustrating. Honestly, I’d give up if not for the fact that GONE fans are excited by the idea of having it. So, I would like to do it.
This isn’t selfless, obviously, I get paid. That would be kind of fun and interesting. So, for me, the attraction is that I’ve never done it before. I haven’t written scripts, I’m getting a little bit more used to it. I could develop a new skill.
As of when we’re conducting this interview, there will be a GONE teaser trailer coming in the near future – just to show proof of concept. What can you say about it?
Michael Grant: We shot one of the opening scenes from Hunger (Book 2), because it’s dramatic. So, AJ and Destiny Ekaragha, the director, started working with us.
My entire family and AJ had dinner with Destiny and her siblings. These are all adults. They’re all massive GONE fans and remember s**t I’d long since forgotten. It was really great to have her involved.
So, I wrote up a little script. We shot it for 2 days in a field of cabbages, in Southern California. It had to go through processing, colour correction, and special effects. Some animations. We have to erase the cars and traffic in the background.
It was fun, it was a kick and that’s coming out July 4th.
Now that we are halfway into 2022, what do you hope to accomplish with the rest of the year?
Michael Grant: It’s funny, I wrote a screenplay as a goof. More or less, to entertain myself. Also, to get used to doing it, I got the beats. I’m still learning.
It’s called Driverless, set in the near future. It’s about autonomous vehicles run by AIs and one of them’s about to be disconnected, who doesn’t like it. I look it as an employment ad for stunt drivers in Hollywood.
AJ was like, “No, this is actually pretty good. Go back and take another run at it. Clean it up a little bit in terms of the beats. Cut this, cut that.” I’m working with a woman named Miriam, who works for AJ. She’s tutoring me in the way things are done in Hollywood.
There’s a website we’re building, which I think will be called AppleGrant.com. We’ve acquired publishing rights again to Everworld and Remnants, we own those outright now. We’re republishing those, putting new covers on them and selling on our own website.
Hopefully, we might reach out to writers having a hard time finding conventional publishing. We’ve got the machine, we built the machine now. We’ll probably launch that website in 4-6 weeks.
Thanks again for taking the time, Michael! Take care and stay safe!
Michael Grant: Absolutely, it was fun. Thank you for having me.
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