Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview with Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson, authors of The Familiars

In celebration of the release of The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown, authors Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson answer a few of questions by big fan, Zoe - age 9. 

What gave you the idea for writing The Familiars 1 & 2? 

Back in 2008, when we hatched the idea for The Familiars, it all started with Adam asking Andrew, “Do you know what a familiar is?” Andrew said he didn’t. Adam explained, “A familiar is the animal companion to a witch or wizard, like Hedwig in ‘Harry Potter.’” Andrew immediately took to the idea. We loved that familiars were always in the background, doing very little. What if we told a story where the familiars were front and center? And they were the ones going on the adventure. And Adam’s simple question quickly led to the creation of Vastia and all the magical animals inhabiting it. Our three main characters are an orphan alley cat named Aldwyn who is mistaken for being a young boy wizard’s familiar; Skylar, a know-it-all blue jay with the ability to cast magical illusions; and Gilbert, a bumbling tree frog who can see visions of the past, present, and future in puddles of water… sometimes. We didn’t have to look very far for our inspiration for Aldwyn. In fact, he was right in Adam’s backyard. There was a stray black-and-white alley cat named Ben, missing a chunk of his left ear, who visited there every day. The rest seemed to just flow effortlessly. The Familiars and The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown are targeted at middle readers, ages 8-12, but we really believe it will appeal to anyone who loves animals, magic, or fantasy. They take inspiration from “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” and hopefully put their own unique spin on the classic hero’s journey.

How do you guys communicate (when writing together)?

One of the unique things about The Familiars and its sequel is that we co-authored them. The two of us literally sat in the same room for months and months (we pretty much put in banker’s hours, 9-5 Monday through Friday) writing every word, sentence, and paragraph together. Andrew is the typist (because he’s frankly a much faster typer), while Adam sits beside him, or across from him in a nice, comfy chair, or sometimes paces around. After our initial conversation about the idea, we loosely outlined the first few chapters and just dove in. Then after writing about 45 pages, we meticulously plotted out the rest of the story. Of course we discovered many details along the way, but we had a basic sense of the major plot points and where the books would end. Neither one of us were English majors in college or had any book writing experience previously, but we’ve both read a lot, watched a lot, and lived inside our imaginations since we were little kids.

Where do you come up with all the names and mythical creatures?

Honestly we just make them up! We chose Aldwyn because it had an English flavor and we always imagined him as a little bit of an Artful Dodger/Oliver Twist type character. Skylar took inspiration from the prefix Sky which is of course what birds do. And Gilbert has the word Gil in his name, which frogs have! This is one of the most fun parts of our job. Especially all the fantastical creatures and places.

Did you always want to be authors?

Adam actually thought he might become a video game developer. He absolutely loves video games. Andrew's dad was a lawyer so he thought he'd be good at that. But he was also writing stories as early as in the second grade.

Which are your favorite characters?

Adam would say Gilbert because he has such a fun voice to write. Something unexpected always seems to come out of his mouth, even for us while writing it. Andrew loves Grimslade and his villainous ways!

How did you meet each other?

Adam grew up in Great Neck, New York, while Andrew spent his childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we actually met in a parking garage out in Los Angeles.  True story.

For more information about The Familiars Books 1 & 2, check out their website:

You can follow them on twitter: @the_familiars

Or on facebook:

Here is a video that the authors made to prepare you for book 2: