Gordon Korman wrote his first book when he was 12, called “This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall,” about a coach who suddenly became an English teacher. He later turned it into another book, called “Sixth Grade Nickname Game,” which featured the character Mr. Huge, who was based on Korman’s seventh grade English teacher. A prolific writer, Korman has more than 55 books to his credit, including “The Medusa Plot (The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers Series #1” and his latest, “Titanic No. 3: S.O.S.” (Scholastic).
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
What sparked your imagination for the Titanic Trilogy and The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers Book 1: The Medusa Plot?
Titanic was actually two ideas coming together. First, I wanted to return to the adventure trilogies I’d had so much fun with in the past, and second, I wanted to try my hand at historical fiction, which was something new for me. So it was simply a matter of looking for events from history compelling and exciting enough to carry an adventure series. The sinking of the Titanic was perfect, especially with the hundredth anniversary approaching … With The Medusa Plot, Book 1 in the new The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers series, I was taking an existing series into a second story arc. Here the tricky part was to continue the elements that had made The 39 Clues a household name, but at the same time create a distinct and unique storyline.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
I’ve found that I do my best work when I’m writing slightly outside my comfort zone. Whenever I begin to feel that I’ve mastered a certain kind of story, it’s time to change my style and take on something new. For some reason, I’m at the top of my game when just I’m a little bit scared that I might not be able to pull it off. That’s when I choose to write older, or younger, or to try historical fiction like Titanic, or a multi-author project like The 39 Clues.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
I’m a plotter, so I have to be a planner as well. I love outlines. Whenever young writers say, “I’m too lazy to make an outline,” my response is always, “I make outlines because I’m lazy.” Outlines are ideal for lazy writers, because you save yourself so much wasted work in the long run.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
Titanic and The Medusa Plot are both driven by a lot of adventure, so here’s my favorite adventure-writing activity: Take any adventure topic and brainstorm what can go wrong. Then put yourself in your characters’ shoes: Are you prepared for this reversal? Is there a damage control plan? What’s the worst-case scenario? Can it be avoided? Can you rescue yourself, or will you need help? Finally, how do you get out of this mess? Now write the scene, putting the greatest detail into the moments that are the most exciting – “I tried A, but B thwarted me.” How does it all turn out?
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
- Crash – Jerry Spinelli
- The Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney … Jack’s - Black Book – Jack Gantos …
- The Great Brain at the Academy – John D. Fitzgerald
- Whale Talk – Cris Crutcher
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
- Rats Saw God – Rob Thomas
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – Judy Blume
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie.
How do you decide on themes for your books? … Since I usually start with characters and plot, my themes tend to find me more often than the other way around. To my surprise, the _Titanic trilogy explores friendship and loyalty as much as survival and tragedy. And The Medusa Plot, which began as a no-holds-barred mystery-adventure free-for-all, also delves into issues like following your better angels and weighing the needs of the many against the needs of the few.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
With a series like Titanic the research was exhaustive. For months, my life was all-Titanic all the time, until I’d kind of internalized it, and the world of the ship – the timeline, the passengers and crew, the deck plans, etc. – had become my world. Only then was I ready to brainstorm the fictional storyline of the trilogy. The Medusa Plot also involved research, but it was more targeted – the city of Florence, the Uffizi Gallery, Caravaggio’s Medusa, the Roman Coliseum. With this novel, the immersion was not so much into the research, as into the world of The 39 Clues, and the centuries-old rivalry between the Cahill family and their arch-enemies, the Vespers.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
The best way to encourage your children to read is to be a reader yourself. I also like to read the books my kids love – and to see what they love about them. There’s something about reading together, and sharing the “good parts,” that can weave favorite series and authors directly into the fabric of a family. _ Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?_
My next book will be Showoff, coming in January. It’s the fourth installment in the group that began with Swindle, Zoobreak, and Framed.
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
In school, I always got better grades in math and science, so I assume I’d be working in engineering or the sciences.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?
I’m on the web at www.gordonkorman.com.