Matt Myklusch is the author of the Jack Blank series, where the main character, Jack Blank, is introduced to a secret world called the Imagine Nation that’s full of superheroes—and super villains. Here is the interview I conducted with him via email in which we discuss future projects, the road to being published for him and how the future isn’t written—literally.
1. I know you probably get this a lot, but where did the inspiration for the Jack Blank trilogy come from?
It all comes from a love of comic books, really. I wanted to showcase the comic book world that fired my imagination as a kid, and maybe introduce it to people who have never seen it before. If you didn’t grow up reading comic books, you might not be familiar with a world full of heroes, villains, aliens, robots, ninjas, and more. That’s what it’s like in the comics… it’s normal to see heroes fighting villains in the middle of the street on a random Tuesday. It’s commonplace to see a man flying through the air and shooting lasers out of his eyes. The city is full of guys like that, you see them everywhere you look. I wanted to show that world. A world where the impossible happens every day. I decided the best way to introduce it to the reader was through the eyes of a child going there for the first time. That became Jack, and everything else kind of grew out of him.
2. Who is your favourite character and why?
I have always been partial to Stendeval, Jack’s mentor in the School of Thought. He’s got a real Dumbledore/Yoda thing going on. He’s super old, wise, powerful, and mysterious– not to mention secretive! He’s just a ton of fun to write. I have done a lot with Stendeval in this series, but I feel like I have just scratched the surface with him. I would love to do a story that goes back with him, and sees him in his younger days… who knows? Maybe I will. Like Stendeval always tells Jack, the future isn’t written.*
*In this case, it literally is not written. I haven’t written it.
3. Which character are you most like?
Probably Jack. I like to think that I have some of Jack’s determination. There is really no “quit” in Jack. No matter how much trouble gets piled on top of his shoulders, he just sucks it up and keeps moving forward. He doesn’t always make the right decisions (which I suppose is something else we have in common), but he doesn’t crawl up in a ball and wait to die either. You can’t beat the guy who never gives up. That’s Jack, and that’s something I try my best to be as well.
4. Do you have any plans for future novels or series in different settings? Will you be returning to the Imagine Nation?
I set up the Imagine Nation so that there could always be new stories coming out of it. I have so many different ideas for these characters… I’d like to dive deeper into each corner of the city, following each of Jack’s classmates on a solo adventure. I’d also like to check in with Stendeval in his younger days, and see how and why the Imagine Nation was created. I don’t think Jack’s story is 100% done yet, either. The Imagine Nation will almost definitely have need of him again. In some ways, this trilogy is just the beginning, but creatively, I feel like I have to switch gears right now. I’m working on something completely new and different, and I’m loving it. I hope to be able to make an announcement on the new book soon.
5. What was the road to being published like for you?
I started getting serious about writing in college. When I started out, I was writing screenplays. After college, I worked for a movie studio in the marketing dept. I figured I would work there a while, make some contacts, and sell a script. Easy, right? Well… it never really worked out that way. I wrote 3 screenplays during that time. The first was terrible, the second was an Indiana Jones rip-off, and the third was a good idea poorly executed. It was tough admitting to myself that I had taken those stories as far as they could go, and that it was time to move on, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I was better suited to writing novels anyway. In screenplays you have to be brief. You create a blueprint of the movie, nothing more. With a book, the author gets to be the director, producer, set designer, costume designer, casting director, etc…
I felt more creative freedom writing a book, but it was intimidating, so I partnered up with a friend. We wrote a book together over the course of about three years, and when it was all done, we had written a book that was waaaay too long, for a customer that didn’t exist (20-something year old men). That was a hard realization too, but I learned a lot writing that book. All of these stories that never went anywhere were learning experiences, and by the time I sat down to write Jack Blank, I had raised my game considerably. Also, I had learned about the business side of things. I knew how long the book had to be. I knew I had to write for a market that had customers too. And most importantly, I knew I had to write the story I was going to have the most fun writing, because if nothing else ever happened with the book, I had better at least have fun writing it. That was the Accidental Hero, and the rest is… well, it’s not exactly history, but yeah. The rest happened.
6. Can you give us any hints as to your next project?
I have been working on a new project for a while now. It gave me some trouble at first, but I really feel like I have got this story straight now, and I’m loving it. Don’t want to say too much about it because it’s still a work in progress, but I can give you a hint. One word. “Arrrr.”
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
There is so much that can be said on this subject, but the big one, I think, is don’t give up. You only fail at something when you give up. If you’re still trying and you haven’t quit, then you haven’t failed, no matter how long you’ve been at it. A screenwriter named Josh Olson wrote, “You can’t discourage a writer. If I can talk you out of being a writer, then you’re not a writer.” I like that. Life is going to present you with no shortage of excuses for giving up.… The important thing to remember is that they are excuses. Not reasons.
I offered a few other useful tidbits in a blog post called the “7 things I’ve learned so far.” You can read that blog post here (http://www.othersideshow.com/blog-post-7-things-ive-learned-so-far-2/), and if you like, listen to me read it on my podcast by clicking here: http://www.othersideshow.com/episode-5-7-things-ive-learned-so-far/. My podcast is another good place to get advice about writing, by the way. You won’t just hear from me, but from the authors I interview as well. I speak to other middle grade and young adult authors, as well as agents and editors about writing, the business of writing, the creative process, revisions, paths to publication, marketing, and more. The show is called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY. You can check it out at http://www.othersideshow.com/ or subscribe via iTunes (don’t worry, it’s free).