Weird Planet, Maximum Boy, and The Zack Files. He’s written extensively for the movies, for TV, and for the Broadway stage. He was generous enough to take time to speak with me about his awesome spook-fest; The Secrets of Dripping Fang.
I feel that Dripping Fang is a love letter to monster movies and classic giant bug movies like THEM! Are you a fan of monster movies? Do they inspire your work?
DAN GREENBURG: Yes, I was partially inspired by monster movies, but more by the story of Hansel and Gretel. When I go to schools to talk to kids, which I do on a regular basis, I always ask what they look for in a book.
The three words I hear the most are "Funny," "Scary" and "Gross." Even girls like gross. I decided to do my version of Hansel and Gretel, but make it funny, a lot scarier, and gross.
Okay, so, what is your favorite monster movie?
Peeps, if you haven’t seen Alien, stop reading, rent it, and come back to finish reading this interview during daylight. You've been warned.
When you wrote the first book of the Dripping Fang series did you know that it would be a series?
When writing a series, do you map out several books ahead or do they evolve as you write?
DG: I only map out one book at a time. I'm as surprised as everybody else what happens in the next one.
I know you based/named the Zack Files after your son. Are the Shluffmuffin twins based on any one you know?
DG: No, they're entirely made up -- a wildly optimistic girl and a wildly pessimistic boy.
Many writers never meet the illustrators of their books. And some times the illustrations don't quite capture the essence of the book. Scott Fisher, however, really brings the characters to life in these books. Were you pleased to see them for the first time? Have you met Scott?
Check out Scott's website here: http://www.fischart.com/FischartKidsD-Fang.html
Creepy stories and tales of things that go bump in the night seem to attract people of all ages. Why do you think these tales appeal to the younger audience?
DG: All I know is they tell me they love scary stories. I'm not sure why.
Let me tell you Dan, growing up I loved scary stories and monster movies. I think there is a certain level of excitement being able to read and watch these hideous creeps stalk around in the dark while you are sitting in the safety of your own room. Until you turn out the lights of course…
I think it's important that people know Secrets of Dripping Fang has a lot of great humor throughout the books. How important is it to these kinds of stories?
DG: As I said, humor is one of the three things they (children) look for. Also, I'm primarily a humorist, so it's very important to me.
Do you have a writing ritual that helps you get the creative juices flowing?
DG: I prime the pump by reading something I've written in that style. I start writing after midnight and go till maybe 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., the hour of the wolf. Sometimes I scare myself.
Whatever you’re doing, it works. Trust me.
Dripping Fang has been a big inspiration to me while working on my own MG scare fest. What advice can you give to those of us that want to write a series like this?
DG: Don't tell us what your characters are like, Show us. Give the reader an experience by describing the action through as many senses as possible.
Can we expect any more Dripping Fang books? Please, please...
DG: The publishers haven't ordered any more than eight. If all your readers deluged the publishers with requests for more, perhaps they could change the publishers' minds.
They can start the deluge here: HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT, 222 BERKELEY STREET, BOSTON, MA 02116.
Pick up those quills again people and get writing. We want more SoDF!
What do you think is the biggest mistake first time writers make when writing for children?
DG: They don't write from a kid's point of view, and they don't read enough kids' books first. I was guilty of both of these when I started.
I also work in television and have found that some of the stories that I've written as scripts would make a much better book. Did you write The Zack Files as a TV show first and then a book? Or did the show evolve from the books? How did it come about?
We gave her a bat, which she had never held before, and Zack pitched her a ball. She hit it hard on the first attempt. That gave me an idea: what if Zack's grandma, Leah, who was 88 years old and didn't know a thing about baseball, was the greatest homerun hitter who ever lived. What if he takes her to a Chicago White Sox game and after the game he takes her over to the manager, tells him his grandma is the greatest homerun hitter ever, and begs him to get a pitcher to throw her a ball.
To humor him, the manager asks a pitcher to throw her a ball. She hits it out of the park. Repeatedly. They hate the idea of hiring an 88-year-old grandma, but they can't afford not to, and she gets them into the payoffs. I wrote it up and sent it to many publishers. They all said this is the funniest thing I've ever read; let me tell you why we aren't buying it. Everybody had a different reason. One hated baseball. One loved baseball but had 27 baseball books.
Everybody had a reason. I pretty much gave up. Then an editor at Grosset & Dunlap called me. She said this is the funniest thing I've ever read, let me tell you why I'm not going to buy it, and I forgot what her reason was, but she said how would you like to write a series with these characters, but not about baseball? I said sure. She said what could it be about? I said the supernatural. She said you got it.
Wow, there you have it. Persistence is key! Never give up on the idea that haunts you daily. You never know where it can lead.
Can you give us a teaser about any of your new work?
DG: I'm working on a chapter book series and two Y.A. novels, but I can't tell you anything about them because I first have to see if they work.
Dan, I want to thank you for taking time to stop by and speak with me. Your advice was wonderful and invaluable. I look forward to many more books crafted from your pen.
Don't turn out the lights... they're right behind you.