The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction hosted by Matthew Peterson


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Tony Abbott
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Tony Abbott   Tony Abbott is the bestselling author of over 80 books for young readers, including the Secrets of Droon series and The Haunting of Derek Stone series. He was the recipient of the 2006 Golden Kite Award given by the society of Childrenís Book Writers and Illustrators to recognize excellence in childrenís literature. In all, he's sold over 10 million books.

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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 Tony Abbott

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Matthew Peterson: Hey, 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 Tony Abbott, author of over 80 books for young readers, including the Secrets of Droon and The Haunting of Derek Stone series. Tony has sold over 10 million books. He was the recipient of the 2006 Golden Kite Award given by the society of Childrenís Book Writers and Illustrators to recognize excellence in the childrenís literature. Welcome to the show, Tony.

Tony Abbott: Well, itís lovely to be here. Thank you very much.

Matthew Peterson: Now before we get into your Droon series, letís talk about the new series that youíve been writing called The Haunting of Derek Stone. So far youíve got four books in the series the City of the Dead, Bayou Dogs, The Red House, and just recently, The Ghost Road. Can you tell us a little bit about The Haunting of Derek Stone?

Tony Abbott: Yeah, well you know, itís actually an interesting story from a writer-ly point of view. I was working on a book a few years ago and part of the setting was in the South--and I live in Connecticut--but I began to read a lot of stories by southern writers and I became intrigued by the style of some of the mid-century southern writers: Flannery OíConner and William Faulkner and Truman Capote and people like that, and I was really sort of sucked in by that genre they call Southern Gothic Tale, which is full of mystery and ghosts and haunted plantations and things like that. And I began to put all these things together in my mind, and they sort of sat there for a while and then I had this offer to do a series with Scholastic, a little different from the earlier age books that I had been doing, something older, something a little bit more mysterious and thatís when all this Southern writing just came pouring out and I came up with this idea for The Haunting of Derek Stone.

Just to tell you a little bit about it, Derek is a boy whoís 14 years old and his family suffers a tremendous disaster, a tragedy where his brother and his father are killed. And he live in New Orleans, Louisiana. Heís just in terrible grief after the accident and then a few weeks later, his brother reappears. And this happens early on in the first book, I donít think Iím giving too much away.

Matthew Peterson: And your main character, Derek Stone, heís not your typical, you know, strong strapping muscular boy with all the popularity. Isnít he a little over weight, has some pimples?

Tony Abbott: But heís very smart. Heís able to put things together and I guess outside of the smart part, Iím taking some ideas from my own childhood. I was overweight. I had lots and lots of pimples and I wasnít very popular. And I thought, ďWouldnít it be interesting to put a . . . Ē because so many of these guys, and especially when youíre watching television, you know, all the heroes of these series are all just so . . . like they walked out of a . . .

Matthew Peterson: Out of a magazine shoot. [laughs]

Tony Abbott: Yes. So I gave him some handicaps.

Matthew Peterson: It sounds like a very interesting book. Are there going to be more books in this series?

Tony Abbott: You know, weíre talking about more. One of the things that my publisher and I wanted to do was to create a story over the first four books. There are some lose ends at the end of the fourth book, but kind of the major storyline begins and comes to a kind of conclusion at the end of the fourth book.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, well thatís something to look forward to. Letís get to the Secrets of Droon. Now Iíve seen lots of kids with your books. I see the covers and so theyíre very recognizable. And youíve written like over 35 of them in the series already and theyíve sold millions and millions of copies. Going back, to the very first Droon book, letís just get a little basis here. The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet. That came out back in 1999. Give us just a little background of that first book so that we know what weíre talking about here.

Tony Abbott: Sure. First of all I have to say I was not a big reader of fantasy when I was growing up. The one thing that I really did love when I got to high school was 1,001 Arabian Nights. I loved those stories, magic carpets and genies like that. And there came a point when Iím talking with Scholastic, my publisher, and Iím saying, ďOkay, whatís next?Ē

Iíd done a couple things with them. I said, ďYou know what?Ē This is actually even before the first Harry Potter really hit. This goes back to the late Ď90s. I wasnít a big reader, but I loved the eastern fantasy. I loved the Arabian, Indian stuff. So I was thinking of something like that, and I wrote a book and it was for an older readership and they said, ďOh, itís very interesting, but . . . thereís this book coming along and it could be quite big, so why donít we do something for our younger groups that doesnít really have . . .Ē So I said, ďOkay, fine.Ē And I went back to the drawing board and I pulled all those eastern deserty magic carpety sorts of ideas into this first book. And as typical, publishers will say, ďOkay, well, letís do four books to start, and see what happens.Ē And I did the first four books and I guess most authors think, ďWell, you know, if I did four, what could I do to make a publisher want me to do another four?Ē So I put in all these little secrets that needed to be solved.

Matthew Peterson: Oh yeah.

Tony Abbott: I put them all over the first four books. I left some of them open. Actually, I sort of soaked those first four books, and especially the first one, with just tantalizing questions. I mean, you might not realize them at first, but as you get into the second book and third you say, ďOh, well thereís something else going on here.Ē And I didnít know if I would ever be able to answer those questions, but I was lucky enough at the end of the fourth book and you know, the first two came out together, and seemed to be catching a little bit of interest. And they said, ďWell, you know, letís do two more.Ē And then, ďLetís do four more,Ē and so forth. And thatís how itís still been the last ten years.

But writing those first four books I really had no certainty at all. Nevertheless, you know, I put in all these mysteries that might or might not be solved if the series went to fifteen or twenty books. And now here we are, Iím in the middle of writing the 43rd book in the series and it is really amazing--and this is completely serendipitous--but how some of the things that I included in those first--in the very early books--Iím now using to help me develop the storyline in the later books. You know thatís an accident or some magical part of my unconscious that it allowed me to include things that I had no idea how they would develop over the years. So Iíve been really happy with those first four books because they gave me so much.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah. So youíre writing the 43rd one. And the public only has the 35th one: The Lost Empire of Koomba. And The Knights of the Ruby Wand is coming out soon, in February.

Tony Abbott: Right.

Matthew Peterson: Thatís good to know that thereís going to be some more because you have a huge fan base or children that just love these books.

Tony Abbott: Itís been really wonderful and I get a lot of fan mail. Email really is just the most amazing technology for students.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah. Well, theyíre fun stories that everyone can enjoy. Youíve also written some stand alone novels: Kringle, Firegirl, the Postcard. And those books are meant for a little bit older audience, arenít they?

Tony Abbott: Right, they are. They are stand alone. They are probably, I guess, the earliest elementary school is probably around 5th grade, but middle school certainly.

Matthew Peterson: Thatís great. I am going to be looking at the Droon novels, especially, and the others too Ďcause you won awards for many of your books there--for the stand alone novels. I have nine year old boys and one in third grade and I think these would be great for them.

Tony Abbott: Yeah, Firegirl, which won me the Golden Kite a few years ago, the fiction award from the Society of Childrenís Book Writers and Illustrators. That was a real surprise and such a delight. Itís a great group and the books are selected by other authors, not by librarians or teachers as some of the other book awards are, so it sounds really nice to get. And then this last one, The Postcard, the mystery won the Edgar Award, the Edgar Allan Poe award from Mystery Writers of America, for the best juvenile fiction/mystery for kids. And that was really beautiful. It was one of these things where you donít know that youíre going to win until youíre at the table at the banquet.

Matthew Peterson: Ah, yeah.

Tony Abbott: And they announce it from the podium. That was crazy, but it was so lovely to win that.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I can imagine. That would be the greatest honor, you know, because you have lots of authors that are reading your books. Not just little kids, but your peers as well reading your books.

Well, Iíve been speaking with Tony Abbott, author of over 80 books for young readers, including the Secrets of Droon series and The Haunting of Derek Stone series. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Tony.

Tony Abbott: Thank you, Matt, itís been a total pleasure.

Matthew Peterson: Well, thatís it for today. Make sure to you go to to listen to the bonus questions that didnít make it onto the live show. For the next two weeks, weíre going to do some reruns of previous shows because of the holidays, but weíll start back up January 7th with an episode devoted to military and hard science fiction with Joe Haldeman, David Drake, David Weber, and Ben Bova. See you then, and Happy Holidays.

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