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Bruce Coville
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Bruce Coville   Bruce Coville is the bestselling author of nearly 100 books, including the Unicorn Chronicles series, Magic Shop series, My Teacher is an Alien series, and The Sixth Grade Alien series. The Sixth Grade Alien books were the basis for a television series on Fox Family in the United States. In all, Bruce has over 12 million books in print. He's also the founder of Full Cast Audio, an audio book company producing unabridged recordings of children's and young adult books, using full casts rather than solo readers.

Buy Bruce Coville's Books at the following locations: (downloadable audio books) (independent bookstores)
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This episode originally aired on 12/17/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Bruce Coville

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Matthew Peterson: Youíre listening to The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at Iím your host, Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero. My next guest is Bruce Coville, bestselling author of over 95 books for young readers, which include the Unicorn Chronicles series, Magic Shop series, My Teacher is an Alien series, and The Sixth Grade Alien series. In fact The Sixth Grade Alien series was the basis for a television series on Fox Family in the United States. In all, Bruce has over 12 million books in print. Heís also the founder of Full Cast Audio, an audio book company producing unabridged recordings of children's and young adult books, using full casts rather than solo readers. Thanks for being on the show today, Bruce.

Bruce Coville: Itís my pleasure, Matthew.

Matthew Peterson: Before we get going into your books, I just wanted to say that I think that Full Cast Audio is the coolest idea. My wife and I did the narration for my first book, Paraworld Zero, and I know how hard it is to come up with all those character voices.

Bruce Coville: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: Do you get a different person to do each voice in the cast or do they do multiple voices?

Bruce Coville: Some of our more versatile actors will do multiple voices, especially if they come in, and then thereís a period of an hour before another character comes in and then a period of an hour before another character comes in. But for the lead roles, thereís an individual actor for each of the lead roles. One of the things we pride ourselves on is age-appropriate casting.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Bruce Coville: So which gives us kids, which gives an entirely different sound to it.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah. Itís more authentic that way. Yeah, thatís great. I started listening to audio books just a few years ago, and it dawned on me after listening to the first one that there was only one person who did all those voices. And I was like, ďThat was just one person! I thought it was a whole bunch of people!Ē So thatís just an amazing medium. I love it. So I just wanted to talk about that briefly.

Bruce Coville: Iíll talk about audio books as long as you want me to. Iím beside with them.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Theyíre just the coolest thing for me. ĎCause I had to drive for two hours a day and I just really got into them a few years ago. And havenít stopped.

So I know everyone out there is dying to hear about your unicorn books, and weíll get to that in a moment, but I wanted to first talk to you about your Alien books. You have quite a few of them. What made you decide to write all these funny, quirky alien books?

Bruce Coville: Well, I sort of fell into it actually. In the, oh gosh, would have been in the late Ď80s, early Ď90s, I was doing work with packagers and some of your listeners will probably know what that is, but a quick reference is Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, those are packaged series. Thereís a company that concocted them, the Stratemeyer Syndicate in that case. Then they hire various writers to do them under their house names. The packager that I worked for did not use house names, but their system was that theyíd come up with a series, theyíd sell it to a publisher--this still goes on and on a lot--and then hire writers to do the books for them. So I had done... I had already published a few books on my own, but this was good bread and butter work. And thereís a long story behind this, but basically they had a contract had gotten messed up and they wanted a fill-in book.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Bruce Coville: And I sat with Byron Price, who is the head of this company, and very significant in science fiction and fantasy, died tragically earlier in a traffic accident a couple years ago. And he started saying to me, you know, ďHow Ďbout this? How Ďbout this?Ē ĎCause it was their job to come up with the concepts, and he said, ďMy Teacherís an Alien.Ē And I almost went across the table because it was the best title Iíd ever heard.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Bruce Coville: And I hadnít thought of it myself. What Byron did not know is that I was oddly appropriate to write the book because when I was a kid, a rumor went around our school that on a certain day aliens were going to land and take away all the kids. Nobody totally believed it, of course, but you didnít totally disbelieve it either because when something is said over and over again it takes on a weird kind of reality. Thatís how politicians get away with so much stuff.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah.

Bruce Coville: So we were all talking about ďWhat do you do?Ē And I knew what kind of tension rose in the school, so I had this background to work from, and the book, which was meant to be a stand alone book, took off unexpectedly. It made me an overnight success, after 14 years of publishing.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, I mean, thereís a whole TV series.

Bruce Coville: Well, actually the TV series came later. It was another alien series. But so clearly aliens and I had thing going on together. So we negotiated a deal for some more books in that series. The fourth book, My Teacher Flunked the Planet, is my best-selling book ever. Itís also, in some ways, my most important book and also a secret between me and the kids because itís very political, very philosophical; I could not have gotten away with that, itís still very funny and very adventurous too, but itís got a lot in it that I couldnít have gotten away with in the first book. But the success of the first books gave me sort of license to talk about, really, I thought important ideas. And because itís a paperback original, because itís got a goofy title, it didnít get any review attention, because it was fourth in the series. We sold well over a million and a half copies. But itís a secret between me and the kids. Then I went on to do the Aliens Ate My Homework series, Rod Allbright is based on me, the Space Brats series, the I Was a Sixth Grade Alien series. I just like writing about alien stuff, because itís a way to do fish out of water comedy. As soon as you bring an alien in, you have cultural misunderstandings.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Bruce Coville: And aliens, you can also do social criticism because aliens can look at us from the outside. We all know this in our own lives Ėwe have a friend whoís doing something, itís so obvious that what their doing is messing up their life, but they canít see it because theyíre inside of it. Aliens can kind of look at us and say, ďAh, you people, why do you do this? Thereís enough food to feed everybody on the planet. Why are people starving at the rate of 40,000 a day?Ē Aliens can see us from the outside and view us beyond our own mess. So itís a great way to talk about social issues in a very comic context.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. And these are for school children. And, like you said, theyíve sold quite a lot of books. It has been a while since you finished writing the last ones in your series there. Do you have any plans or can you even foresee writing any more alien books in the future?

Bruce Coville: Oh, yes! I would love to do another book in the Aliens Ate My Homework series.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I love that title. [laughs] I have twins that are nine and I have another thatís seven and I think that this would be... great age for them to read these.

Bruce Coville: Nine year old boys are my prime audience when Iím writing alien stories. The Rod Allbright books I particularly like because Rod is the only character Iíve ever base totally and completely on myself. The series did very, very well, but the publisher messed up the distribution on the fourth book so much that it sort of killed it for the time being. Iíve got a seed for another book, which I might go back to at some point, but Iíve been off on fantasy in recent years as my primary venue for working.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, letís talk about the Unicorn Chronicles. The first two books came out over ten years ago. And I think the question a lot of people always ask is why did it take so long for third one, Ďcause they were so successful. Why did it take so long for the third one to come out?

Bruce Coville: Well thereís a few reasons. 1. Itís just really bad planning on my part.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Bruce Coville: 2. I started an audio book company, which siphoned off a huge amount of my time. And 3. The series became much bigger than I anticipated. Itís actually been 14 years I think since the first book. And I do get a lot of emails that read something like this, ďDear Mr. Coville, I read Into the Land of Unicorns when I was 12 and I love it so much and I waited and waited for the next book and it didnít come. It didnít come, and I thought maybe youíd died, but it turned out you hadnít, and then the next book came out and I was 17, I was too old for it, but I read it anyways, and I loved it. And Iíve been waiting and waiting for the third book, and I just got my second masters degree and I have two children and Iíd like to read the third book before I die!Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Bruce Coville: [laughs] And the third book, to some peopleís despair, including to some extent my own, turned out not to be the wrap of the story line. Actually, itís half of a thousand page novel. I was working this morning on the fourth book, The Last Hunt, which really does wrap up this storyline. I know it does because Iíve already written the ending, I just have to get their now. Iíve gotta go back and fill in the stuff that gets me to the ending. And one reason I split it was because it was not only that it was so long that it was out of proportion with the other books in the series. But that the main character, Cara, had been given a mission and fulfilled it and because there was still so much going on, I sent her out again and that was a very awkward division, so I realized her story for that book it was ended; it was the right place to end it. It did end with a cliffhanger, but you know people said the first book was a cliffhanger and I said, ďThatís not a cliffhanger.Ē They said, ďIt is! It is!Ē And I thought, ďIíll show you a cliffhanger!Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Here we go! Actually, letís go back to that first book, The Land of Unicorns. You know, you said it was back in 1994. Just get a little basis for the Unicorn Chronicles series. The main character is Cara. Tell us just a little bit about how the series begins.

Bruce Coville: Well, career was going very well at that point. I was living in New York and Jean Feiwel, who is one of the smartest people in publishing was head of Scholastic. And they bought re-print rights to some books like the Magic Shop books and the My Teacher books. And Jean called me in and said weíd like you to do a series for us. And I said, ďWell, I canít do what Annieís doing.Ē Anne Martin was doing The Babysitterís Club at that point, and a book every month. And I said, ďI donít really want to try to do that.Ē She said, ďThatís fine.Ē Neither of us had any idea that weíd be talking about books every ten years. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. [laughs]

Bruce Coville: And we started to toss ideas back and forth and she said, ďUnicorns.Ē And I said, ďIím there.Ē ĎCause Iíd already done... my second picture book was called Sarahís Unicorn, one of my most well-loved books. Iíd done a collection of unicorn stories, an anthology that Iíd edited and written for. And Iíve always been fascinated by the unicorn mythos. So we agreed on that, and I created a bible for the series, which sort of lays out the concept for the world and whatís going to happen and I started to write . . . I wanted the main character to be a little girl from the barrio and her name was Rafaella de la Cruz, because I thought, ďMy books are just all about middle class white kids.Ē ĎCause I was a middle class white kid, and I used to be a teacher, and I taught middle class white kids.

Matthew Peterson: Uh huh.

Bruce Coville: I thought, ďI ought to mix this up some.Ē But I realized after about three months I could not write honestly. Even though I was taking this kid out of her culture, so I thought it wouldnít be a problem, she was formed by her culture, of course, which I should have known immediately.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Bruce Coville: And I didnít know her well enough to write the book honestly. So I set aside everything Iíd done and I used my daughter as the main character instead, Ďcause I did know her.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah.

Bruce Coville: My daughterís name is Cara. So I thought, ďWell, what would Cara do?Ē And that I could figure out pretty easily, and in another three months I had the first book, Into the Land of Unicorns. Iíve never tackled anything this big and with so many tangled strands before, but everythingís coming together now at the end and Iím really hoping to wrap it up in the next few days.

Matthew Peterson: Well, thatís exciting. I saw the new cover, and itís simply beautiful.

Bruce Coville: Isnít that fabulous? This artist, and I cannot say his last name, he goes by Ptar; heís a Ptar. Heís Dutch, I believe. And I just think heís sensational.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah. You know, a lot of times you donít judge a book by itís cover, but I would pick up that book just because of that cover. Itís amazing.

Bruce Coville: We teach kids not to judge a book by the cover, but adults do it too. And I know that I live and die on my covers, Ďcause if the cover doesnít intrigue, it doesnít get picked up; if it doesnít get picked up, you donít have a chance to have the kid discover whatís inside.

Matthew Peterson: Yep. Exactly. Well, is there anything you can tell us about The Last Hunt, the last book in the series?

Bruce Coville: Oh, letís see. I donít want to give away any of the surprises. I will tell you there are major changes in store for some of the characters and there are also major mysteries revealed. Things that weíve been wondering about, we will finally know the answers to. And I hope there will be surprises and I hope they will be satisfying surprises.

Matthew Peterson: Well, thatís good.

Bruce Coville: There are about 10 separate story strands going on in this one, which is one reason itís been so difficult for me to do.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, wow!

Bruce Coville: I had no idea what I was getting into!

Matthew Peterson: I can imagine.

Bruce Coville: There will not be a cliffhanger at the end of this book. It resolves everything.

Matthew Peterson: Alright. Well, Iíve been speaking with Bruce Coville, bestselling author of the Unicorn Chronicles. The last one is coming out, The Last Hunt. Take a look at it. Thanks for being on the show today, Bruce.

Bruce Coville: Itís a pleasure, Matthew, thank you.

Matthew Peterson: Be sure to visit to listen to the bonus questions. Iíve still got Peter Morwood, Diane Duane, and Tony Abbott, so donít go away!

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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