Recently, I reviewed a quirky and entertaining book called Infestation. (check out: https://135journals.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/135-journals-ya-and-kid-book-club-infestation-by-timothy-j-bradley/) This book made me realize just how much I didn’t know about huge mutant ants–a shameful knowledge gap, I know! Writing the review gave me the opportunity to communicate with Infestation’s author, and he kindly agreed to answer some questions about how he writes (and illustrates) and what inspires him. Read the interview below to learn more.
- It seems in the book as if each of the main characters has a weakness that turns into a strength. For example, the main character’s roommate’s love of blowing things up comes in handy. Is that true of all the characters? Will it show up in future books?
Yes, I tried to give each of the characters some kind of talent or interest that ended up being a benefit to the group of boys in some way. I think that people in real life are like that—we all have hobbies or interests, and it’s fun when we get a chance to put that part of our personalities to good use. In Pyro’s case, it’s probably the only time in his life that blowing things up could serve a constructive purpose! I definitely would want those character attributes showing up in future installments, and more as we find out more about them all. Right at this point in time, INFESTATION is a stand-alone adventure, although I certainly left the door open to possible future books (I’ve thought a lot about what would happen in those, and they’d be a blast to write and draw). INFESTATION has been nominated for the 2014-2015 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (I’m pretty sure it’s the only book with giant, mutant ants), which might spark some interest with a publisher.
- How did you get the idea for Infestation?
I was a big fan of monster movies when I was a kid, especially the “giant bug” films, which were made in the 1950s and 60s. When I started writing fiction, I thought it might be fun to write a story that was an updated version of one of those 1950s “creature features”. One thing I knew I had to do is to come up with a logical method for actually making a bug really huge—in real life, bugs can’t grow beyond a certain size because their muscles wouldn’t be able to move their limbs. Muscles attached to an exoskeleton aren’t as effective as muscles attached to an internal skeleton (like we have). Once I thought of a plausible way to accomplish that, the rest of the story just fell into place.
- How long does it take you to write a book, and how do you do it? Do you have a special place where you work or a special schedule?
Typically, what I’ve done is to let things percolate in my brain for a while before I actually sit down to start writing. I also spend a couple of weeks nailing down the plot and significant story events, sketching up lots of thumbnails of things from the story. Once I actually start writing, it might take 2-3 months to generate a first draft. Then I send it out to an editor, and usually do several rounds of rewriting and revising.
I have a studio at home that I use to write and draw, but I can be creative anywhere—it’s something I had to master when I worked as a freelance artist. I don’t have a set schedule—I’ve always been pretty disciplined about taking advantage of little bits of time here and there to write. I usually spend a lot of time during the day thinking about the part of the story I’m working on so that when I am able to sit down and write, I know pretty much what I want to accomplish.
- You said you liked horror movies from the 50s. Can you tell us more about that and what they were like? What interested you about them?
My favorites were the ones that at least attempted to have a thin layer of science attached to them, along with the explosions and destruction. I also really disliked if the “monster” was obviously just a guy in a rubber suit (like “The Thing From Another World”). I really liked any kind of dinosaurian-type monster (like the original “Godzilla” movie), or stop-motion animation creatures. But my all-time favorite monster movie is “THEM!”, which was about giant ants in the New Mexico desert, mutations from the original atom-bomb tests. The creatures in the movie were life-sized “robotic” ants that looked pretty good—remember that this is waaaaay before computer graphics had been invented. Not only were the creatures great, but the story was well-written and very compelling. So when I decided to do an updated version of a monster movie, I put in plenty of nods to that movie (the setting is one of them).
- Did you study bugs in high school or college? Were they a special interest for you? Are the facts about bugs in this fictional story accurate? If so, why did you think it was important to be factual in a fictional story? If they are accurate, what kind of research did you do? And was doing research fun or was it torture?
I’ve always been fascinated by bugs—they’re so different from us, yet, if you go far enough back in time, there is an ancestral creature that gave rise to both arthropods and us. I have always found that mind-blowing. Although I never studied insects in any formal way, I did do a lot of reading on my own, and I watched the bugs that lived out in my back yard when I was a kid.
The insect information in INFESTATION is accurate—I’ve always enjoyed stories where the adventure aspect is balanced with a helping of actual science information, sort of what Michael Crichton was so good at. I had written a nonfiction book called PALEO BUGS: Survival of the Creepiest, which contained information about prehistoric insects. The research I did for that book involved traveling to the London Natural History Museum, and having a paleontologist walk me through their amazing fossil insect collection. All that information helped when I was writing INFESTATION. I also read a bunch of book from my local library, and did some research on the internet. I actually find researching a book a tremendous amount of fun—I end up learning so much about a topic as I go.
- Did you also like to read when you were a kid? What are some of the books that influenced you most? What about as an adult?
I was a voracious reader when I was a kid, and I discovered many of my favorite authors at the little library in my town. The books that influenced me most were Rendezvous With Rama and 2001: a space odyssey, both by Arthur C. Clarke, The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury’s collections of short stories. I still love to read as an adult—my favorite authors now would be Connie Willis and Robert Charles Wilson, as well as Michael Crichton.
- Do you have another job outside of writing, or is that your full-time job? How did you break into publishing? I know it’s a tough field!
I do actually have a full-time job—I am the in-house illustrator for Teacher Created Materials, an educational publisher in Huntington Beach, California. I write at night and on weekends, for the most part. Getting a book published is a challenge, for sure, but I think what I have in my favor is that I’m pretty disciplined about getting things done, I’m not afraid of putting my work out there (my years spent as a freelance artist made me used to doing that), and I’m pretty tenacious. I don’t give up on something easily, which is good, because it can take a long time to break in. I’ve been pretty fortunate so far, and it’s been a tremendous amount of fun. Breaking in was just a matter of continually knocking on doors—sending out queries, following up, all the nuts-and-bolts that have to be done in order to get a publisher to read your work.
- If you were to offer kids advice about how to become a writer, what would you say? What helped you?
I would say to go for it, but realize that writing, (or art, or music, or any creative endeavor) is a lifelong journey. It’s more important to enjoy the work itself (and it is a tremendous amount of work), and not worry about making it big as an author. It’s a very competitive field. Patience and perseverance are essential qualities for a writer. Also, I think it helps to read a lot, and try to figure out why a particular author’s work appeals to you.
- What are some other things that fascinate you?
Anything with a high weirdness factor. Zombie ants, parallel dimensions, black holes, prehistoric animals, other planets, future spacecraft, robots…yikes, there’s a lot of stuff. It’s all great source material for the type of stories I liked as a kid, and that I write now.
10. Why do you like writing for kids?
I think I enjoy writing for kids for 2 reasons. I think there’s a part of my brain that has never matured past the age of 8, and “8 year-old Tim” still gets excited about some crazy science story in the news. The second reason is that I remember vividly how awesome it was to discover a book that really reached me. I still enjoy finding a great book as an adult, but the sense of having these huge ideas that I had never thought about leap off the pages of a good sci fi novel was a very powerful force when I was younger.
I have the third book in my “Sci Hi” series, called TIME JUMP, coming out in November [ed. note: It just came out on November 1], and I have started working on a new middle-grade, illustrated, sci fi novel called EXPEDITION, which mixes my interest in natural history with my fascination with robots. I am very excited about it—I think it’s going to be a fun read (and I can’t wait to work on the illustrations!).
(Oh, I also forgot to ask where you live, at least in a general sense, and if you have kids, and if so, if they like reading your books). Are you familiar with the Southwestern setting because you have spent time there, for instance?)
I grew up on the East Coast, north of Boston, but I currently live in Southern California (I love the sunshine and palm trees!). I have a wife and a college-age son who is interested in a lot of the things I am, which is really fun). I use both my wife (who also writes for children) and my son as “sounding boards” for my ideas. My wife is great at spotting where I need to add description or character development, and my son has a nicely warped sense of humor, which can lead to some interesting points of view. I couldn’t have accomplished the work I’ve done so far without them.
Writing Prompt: Did you get any ideas from Tim to spur your creativity? What inspires YOU?