Monday, August 12, 2013

An Interview with Bill Allen

Bill Allen is the author of The Journals of Myrth, a three book fantasy adventure series by Bell Bridge Books. How to Slay a Dragon, the first book of that series, has twice achieved the Amazon rank of #1 in children's books. Today he talks to us about his newest series, The Bumpy Daze of Orson Buggy.

Lou: I know this series is written for children, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the books, too. What age is your intended audience?

Bill: I like to joke that I write books for kids age 9 to 90, but it's true. Orson just entered the 7th grade, which means readers age 10-12 are most likely to relate to him, but there's nothing in the books inappropriate for younger children if they're reading skills are up to the challenge, and the absurd situations, sarcasm and word play are something anyone with a sense of humor will enjoy.

Lou: I've noticed you use a lot of subtle word play and sarcasm. Aren't you afraid your younger readers will miss the jokes?

Bill: I don't believe in writing down to kids. They're surprisingly smart, in some cases more aware of subtleties than adults. But even if they do miss out on a joke now and then, they'll still enjoy the story, maybe even more when they read it a second time and pick up things they missed. If you've ever watched a Disney movie, I'm sure you've noticed how they're riddled with adult humor. And why not? Mom and Dad are going to be watching them, too. The same goes for my books.

Lou: Orson has a pretty tough life at school. And things at home with his family aren't much better. Would you say his life is based on your own experience of those middle school years?

Bill: I wouldn't say my middle school years were nearly as bad as Orson's, or bad at all, for that matter. But I always have had a knack for having weird things happen to me. Even today, anyone who knows me can tell you that if I'm picnicking in a park with 10,000 other people and a single bird flies overhead, I better be wearing a speckled white shirt. Actually clothes wouldn't matter. The bird would probably choose that moment to pass away and plop from the sky onto my plate.

Lou: Okay, for moms out there looking for the next series to get for their kids, what makes Orson different?

Bill: There's been a strong movement in recent years to capture reluctant readers with a variety of unconventional techniques--graphic novels, gross boy humor, eclectic mixes of text and sketches—all with a great deal of success, but often the goal of having a child sit down with a book and become lost in a story is overlooked. Oh, and let's face it, the start of middle school is not a time when children need help breaking away from convention. I use my own brand of humor to capture my audience and keep them reading. If I can keep them laughing until the end, they'll have lived through a strong story with meaningful lessons all packaged up in a modern day Judy Blume meets Bob Newhart package.         

Lou: The Bumpy Daze of Orson Buggy isn't your first middle grade series. Your first book series was written for the same age group, wasn't it?

Bill: Yes. Although often considered YA, my Journals of Myrth series from Bell Bridge Books is also about a twelve-year-old boy who finds himself in absurd situations, the main difference being that the JOM books are fantasy, while the Orson stories are about “real” life. Few people know this, but JOM was the first and last middle grade series that BBB took on. I never asked them why this was the case. The series has done pretty well, so it's not like their experience with me has been so horrible that I ruined it for everyone else. I could go with once you've read my books, you'll be too spoiled to read anything else, but I think the real reason is that BBB didn't completely realize just how different the middle grade world was from YA and adult fiction. They are incredibly skilled at promoting their authors, but I think reaching MG kids proved more of a challenge than even they wanted to take on. Anyway, I want to try writing something for an older audience--at least YA if not New Adult. I'm all for reaching more readers, and I think an adult book will be a great next step for me at this point.

Lou: Does this mean you're done with middle grade? Don't tell me there are no more Orson books ahead.

Bill: Don't be crazy. I'm not sure yet what's in store for Orson. Lessons for Losers covered Orson's first two weeks at school. Separation Anxiety took over where book one ended and followed him through his second two weeks. Now Big Fang Theory shows us week five. By my count, he's got plenty more stories ahead of him before he escapes the 7th grade. I'm putting Orson on hold while I plot out something different, but afterward, if readers ask for more Orson, I'll come back to him. Honestly, I'll probably come back to him even if they don't. After all, I want to find out what happens to Orson, even if no one else does.

To find out more about Bill Allen and his books visit


Jaimie Engle said...

Fabulous interview!!
I have read the Orson Buggy series and love the humor in it, even those things that go over MY head! The Big Fang Theory is hilarious.
I've in the second book of the Journals of Myrth series, and I enjoy these books tremendously!
Awesome interview, Lou! Thanks for posting!!

Trish Jensen said...

I'm in love with Orson, and Bill's books. And the only kid I have is 13, but she has four legs and lousy reading skills. Nonetheless, I'll be really disappointed if Orson stays in detention for a long time.

Bill Allen said...

Wow, who would have thought both my fans would have read the same interview. Thanks, guys. And thanks, Lou!

Bob Brown said...

I bought Bill's first book and enjoyed it. I passed it along to my niece and she also liked it, so for this reviewer, I give Bill two thumbs up.

David Stewart said...

Great interview. Congrats to Bill on finding his niche.

bree_Zee said...

Great interview of a great writer. Both the kids and adults in my family have loved his books.