Monday, September 26, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown + Interview

As you know, I've been slurping down books. And my latest find that I can't stop talking about is The Familiars. Seriously, if you lament the end of Harry Potter, you need to check out this series. I hooked my daughter Lauren on them and we continue to debate which is our favorite familiar. I, of course, am Team Aldwyn, but Lauren is Team Gilbert. I also contacted the authors Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson and they were gracious to do an interview.

The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Published 2011

Other books in the series:
The Familiars
The Familiars: Circle of Heroes (releases Sept 2012)

The Hook: When the ruthless Paksahara curses Vastia and all human magic disappears, Aldwyn, the telekinetic cat, Skylar, the illusionist blue jay, and Gilbert the divining tree frog must find the Crown of the Snow Leopard before Paksahara raises an army of zombie animals to destroy Vastia.

Why I love this book and the series: Action and humor. Both books are a roller coaster of excitement and danger. The familiars weave in and out of trouble from the first to last page. These books are a great pick for reluctant readers because of their creativity and non-stop action. Plus, the animals are funny and I found myself laughing out loud in both books. Epstein and Jacobson use humor in tense scenes which relieves the tension and makes them fabulous for middle graders of all ages. The series is great for boys but girls will love it too. Seriously, if you need a great series after your child finishes Harry Potter, this is it.

Secrets of the Crown stands alone but I would recommend reading the first book just because you'll have a better understanding of the familiars, their origins, and their loyals. Secrets of the Crown takes off from the first page and doesn't stop, I whipped through it in a day and it only took Lauren three (apparently, she has to go to school).

Lauren's opinion: I really like the familiars. I love the adventures they go on and I think it would be really cool to have a familiar. [Mom, can I be a witch for halloween and can we get a tree frog familiar for me?] Gilbert is my favorite because he's really funny. I like Skylar because she's a girl and really smart but I just like Gilbert better. I can't wait for the third book.

My Interview with Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson

Writing the wizarding world from the Familiars perspective is a fresh twist, which came to you first: the plot or the characters?

We initially came up with the
idea of telling a fantasy story from the perspective of the animals. We had never seen a story with the wizards' animal companions as the heroes. Then we came up with the characters. First was Aldwyn, who was inspired by a stray alley cat with a bite taken out of his ear who wandered Adam's backyard. The actual plotting came last.

[Lore's question] Of all the familiar animals you created, why did you choose a telekinetic cat, an illusionist blue jay, and a divining tree frog as your main characters? And why those specific powers?

We picked a cat because it was such an iconic familiar, and telekinesis seemed like a fun talent for him to pretend he possessed. That way Skylar and Gilbert could be fooled into thinking he was magical. We chose a blue jay because owls have been such an important familiar in fantasy (Hedwig, Archimedes) but didn't want to have an actual owl. We gave her the ability to cast illusions because we wanted a power that was interesting but not too powerful. If she could have breathed fire, every obstacle they faced could have been solved too easily. And we chose a tree frog because we wanted a character as comedic relief and no animal looked as funny to us as a tree frog. We gave him the talent of seeing the future because of certain plot points.

You weave humor throughout the book, whose idea was it to cast the cute fluffy bunny as the cut-throat villain? (So monty python, I loved it.) Do you think it is easy or hard to write humor? And as co-authors, how do you decide which jokes/humor stay in the story?

We wanted the reveal of the villain to be a surprise and hoped that no one would predict that the queen's bunny would turn out to be evil. Another big part of it was the "gray hair/gray hare" mix-up for Gilbert's puddle viewing. As far as the humor, we know as writing partners that if a joke makes both of us laugh, then there's a good chance it's funny enough to stay in. We started writing comedic movies and sketches for MTV, so humor has always been a part of our writing.

Both books are non-stop action and peril, what's your best tip for creating tension and action in a middle grade story?

It's important to have high stakes, a sense of urgency, and an emotional investment for your main characters in the outcome of the peril. You have to find new and inventive ways to put your characters in and get them out of trouble. Obstacles that can add emotional conflict for your characters bring extra tension (ie the Bridge of Betrayal).

The Secrets of the Crown ends on a cliffhanger, when is the next book coming out and how many books will be in the series?

The Familiars: Circle of Heroes has just been completed but will not be available in bookstores until September of 2012. We are set for book number four, and will likely be writing a fifth and sixth in the series, as well.

What's the best part of writing a series? What's the hardest?

The best part is getting to stay with the characters you love year after year. And maybe the worst part is having to wait year after year for the next adventure to come out.

Lore's eyes almost popped out of her head in excitement when I told her they were making the first book into a movie. According to IMDB, you're writing the screenplay for the animated film of The Familiars. Is writing the screenplay easier or more difficult than writing the novel? When will it come out?

It isn't so much a matter of easier or more difficult. Both have different challenges. Writing a screenplay takes less time -- it's only 90 pages for an animated movie -- but you rewrite it over and over again. A book is long. You have to write a lot of words. But unlike the collaborative process of a movie, where you work with producers, a director, studio executives, and more, for a book it's really just you, the authors, and your editor. The movie, because of the extemely lengthy process of 3D animation, will not be out until 2014.

Thank you for doing this, Lauren and I are excited for the next book and good luck with the series.

Want More? A Giveaway for The Familiars: Secrets to the Crown. Or go to their cool website: The Familiars.

If you could be a familiar, what would you be and what would you want as your power?

I think I'd be a hamster and my power would be the ability to stuff anything into my mouth...kinda like Mary Poppins' bag. I need a bag like that in my life. Plus hamsters sleep a lot, and I need more sleep.


  1. Great interview. Thanks Lore for your questions. I can't wait to read this. My ARC just came in the mail for my interview with Andrew & Adam at Literary Rambles on November 7th.

    I'm always amazed when 2 writers can co-write a book and have it work. Sounds like Andrew and Adam did just that.

  2. Wow. I already had this on my wish list, but now I am chomping at the bit to get at it!! Great reviews, great interview, great everything! I'm off to Amazon. :-)

  3. Simply fascinating! Weaving action with humor is divine. Thank you for the interview - hearing 'behind the scenes' stuff is intriguing.

  4. I just won a signed copy of the first book. Soooo excited to read and share! Thanks for sharing an interview with the authors!

  5. I'm going to look for these. I hadn't heard about them, but animals and magic? My daughter will love them.