There are so many wonderful books to read and it is a rare treat when you find not one, but two series you love by the same author. Bill Allen has written two completely unique series, one a high fantasy, and the other a contemporary middle school comedy. What I love most about Bill is his voice. His characters pop off of the page and stay with me far after I finish reading his books, and his clever use of word play and names keeps me laughing throughout each novel. I’m currently reading book three in his Journals of Myrth fantasy series, which is nominated for a “best of” series award.
I asked Bill to stop by and talk about his career, his books, and his writing:
ENGLE: Introduce yourself to the captive audience that you now have before you.
ALLEN: Thanks, Jaimie, for having the courage to expose your readers to me. I’m Bill Allen, and I tell funny stories. Some of them end up in books, and others are just me rehashing the weird things that happen to me every day. In fact, I tell so many stories about my life, people have added them all up and calculated my age to be around 800. Not true, and there’s also no truth to the rumor that I’ve been claiming to be only 299 since I sailed over here with Chris C. in 1492.
My most recent book release was in July. Orson Buggy’s Big Fang Theory is a story told by twelve-year-old Orson Buggy, who is convinced the worst bully in school is a vampire and sets out to prove it. It’s the latest in a series I call “The Bumpy Daze of Orson Buggy,” which tracks Orson day-by-day as he struggles to survive the seventh grade.
Before Orson, I wrote “The Journals of Myrth,” a three book series loosely based on my life when I used to slay dragons. The books center around Greg Hart, a small boy with no friends and no confidence. Of course, that all changes when a mistake in a prophecy leads to his being whisked away to the magical land of Myrth to slay a dragon. Well, not everything changes. He still has no confidence, but he does pick up a few friends, including an odd boy named Lucky, who the king describes as the luckiest boy on Myrth. With Lucky’s carefree attitude and everyone’s unwavering doubt in the prophecy, the whole dragon-hunting thing should be as easy as a stroll through the forest. But the forests of Myrth are filled with trolls and ogres and witches, and the trees tend to move around to lure travellers into trouble. So, when you think about it, Greg’s got it nearly as tough as Orson.
ENGLE: And both series are really, really good! What is your writing process?
ALLEN: My first book, I planned nothing and let the characters guide the story, but that didn’t work well because I’m too much of a control freak. Since then, I’ve been trying to outline my stories first, which also doesn’t work well because my characters have proven to be resistant to authority. At least now I have the illusion of control.
ENGLE: Is there a genre, other than the one you currently write in, that you wish you could break into?
ALLEN: Sometimes I wish I wrote romance, because then I’d relate better with the other authors from my publisher, and readers seem to always want more romance stories, no matter how many they’ve read. Problem is, I’m not a romance kind of guy (Wait, did I just channel my wife?)
ENGLE: What are the 5 books that have influenced you the most, and why?
ALLEN: In order of occurrence:
Magician by my cousin Raymond Feist – It showed me real people could be authors (little did I realize Ray would later be considered one of the best fantasy writers of all time).
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – It set the bar on absurdity, and now when people ask me hard questions, I can answer, “42.”
A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthyony – It made me realize I wasn’t alone in my appreciation of punny humor.
The Book That Shall Not Be Named – Actually, it did have a name: Warped Logic. It was my first dreadful attempt at writing a book and led to some great advice from cousin Ray.
The Harry Potter series – Okay, this is actually seven books, but taken together, they prove the whole world can fall in love with a good children’s story.
ENGLE: If you could cast one of your works, who would you choose to play your main characters?
ALLEN: Easy. I would want to play Orson Buggy myself, because the only way I could do that is to go back in time about 800 years, and as bad as Orson’s life is, I’d like a shot at being 12 again. For Nancy Hines, my female co-star I would obviously choose my wife, Nancy, because, well, it seems like something a romance writer would do.
ENGLE: Very cute… What is the first thing you would do if you woke up one morning to find one of your books on the NY Times Bestsellers List?
ALLEN: Are you sure I’m awake?
ENGLE: Do you have any vices that you turn to while you are writing?
ALLEN: I used to, but then one day I was right in the middle of a scene when the vice squad crashed through my front door with one of those hand-held battering rams and stormed the house. You think it’s hard to write normally. Try it face-down on the floor with a knee planted between your shoulder blades and a drug-sniffing dog nosing around your private parts. Since then I’ve stuck to the straight and narrow.
ENGLE: That’s what I love about you, Bill…your ability to shed new light on an old question. What do you do when you’re not writing?
ALLEN: Now that I’m no longer slaying dragons, I mostly sleep or work at my day job, writing computer software. I do play soccer. Aside from the whole stories for children thing, it’s my only way of clinging to my childhood, and not just because I have the skills of a toddler. Hey, maybe that’s why they call it dribbling.
ENGLE: Please share with us the first nine lines of your current work-in-progress.
ALLEN: Since Nick Granelli moved to Florida he had been on some strange job interviews, but this was the first to start off with a man pointing an AK-47 at his face. He was pretty sure the guy to his right held a second rifle fixed on the back of his head, but he couldn’t say for certain, because he was too terrified to move.
“State your name and business,” the first guard ordered. He stood a full head taller than any human Nick had ever seen, with the build of a gorilla training to be a power lifter.
Nick barely managed a squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Nick Granelli. I’m here to—er—I have a job interview with a Victor Torbin.”
A moment ago he had driven up to what had seemed to be an unmanned gate that had opened as he approached and then closed behind him. Ahead was a second gate that had stood closed from the start, trapping him in the center of a short span of driveway protected by several guards who would have looked intimidating to a team of Navy Seals, even without the hardware.
ENGLE: That sounds like great new book. I can’t wait to read it! And coming from someone who has read 5 out of Bill’s 7 books, I guarantee you can’t go wrong by picking up a few. They make great Christmas gifts, since they last long after that fad toy you’d planned to buy, and support learning through reading, as opposed to a gift card from a gaming store.
Excerpt from Orson Buggy’s Big Fang Theory
When the bell finally rings, I can’t get to first period Algebra fast enough, which is saying a lot, because I hate Algebra.
I’m sitting in class about two minutes before some girl I’ve never seen walks in and heads straight toward me. She smiles and says hello, proving she must be new here, and then plops into the seat behind me.
“You don’t want to sit there,” I tell her. “That’s Dylan Pennington’s seat.” Not that I want Dylan to sit there—I despise the guy—but I suspect if he finds her there, he’s going to blame me.
“Wrong, Buggyman. That’s my seat.”
Uh-oh. That’s Jason Tinsley’s voice. I turn to find him towering over me. Not only is he dressed in his usual vampire-black style; he’s wearing a bunch of jewelry punched through his face again, just like on the first day of school.
“Oh, Jason, hi.” I gesture toward his vampire outfit. “Nice look. I was just telling the new girl she was in Dylan’s seat.”
“You need me to clean out your ears, Buggyman? I said that’s my seat.”
“Oh, right. That’s what I meant.” He looks like he’s about to kill me. “Hey, speaking of ears. Those piercings. Really awesome.”
Before I know what’s happening, he grabs me by the collar and heaves me into the air. Since our chairs have desk arms, and my body’s kind of tense, my legs catch on the underside of the desk and pick it up with me. But then Jason raises his fist, my legs go numb, and the desk hits the floor with a bang.
“Put him down.”
It’s a female voice. At first I think it’s Ms. Zurry, our algebra teacher, but then I realize it’s someone much younger. New Girl is up on her feet, tugging on Jason’s arm. I can tell, because every time she tugs, my limbs flop around like I’m made of rubber.
Jason drops me with a bang similar to the one the chair made—I guess because I land on the chair. He spins toward New Girl with rage in his eyes and points a warning finger at her face. I’m seriously thinking about tackling him, when Ms. Zurry enters the room.
Thank you, Ms. Zurry.
Excerpt from How to Slay a Dragon, Book One of the Journals of Myrth:
No one lives out here but Greatheart and his family.”
“Who?” Greg barely gasped.
“Greatheart. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned him. He is the most famous dragonslayer in all of Myrth, after all.”
Greg had no trouble speaking up now. He managed to grab Lucky’s tunic and pull the boy to a stop. A lone branch wandered over and brushed the path smooth behind them, where Greg’s heels had left two ruts in the dirt.
“There’s a dragonslayer named Greatheart living in your kingdom?” Greg shouted.
“Sure. Everyone’s been talking about him lately. Can’t really blame them. The Greathearts have always been at the center of any prophecies involving dragons. Until now. I guess it’s just a sign of the times.”
“A sign of the times?” Greg doubled over, panting. He thought the sandwich he’d had for lunch was going to come up for one last look around, but still he struggled to speak. “Don’t you think it makes more sense that this Greatheart is the real dragonslayer you’re after?”
“I can see how you might think there’d been a mix-up.” As always, whenever he said something Greg found particularly ridiculous, Lucky turned and stalked away.
“Of course there’s been a mix-up,” Greg called after him. “I’ve never even seen a dragon.”
“Well, even the Greathearts had to start somewhere,” Lucky called over his shoulder. “Come on, we need to hurry.”
“Wait, you mean you still want to go through with this? We’ll be killed.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m too lucky to be killed on this journey.” Lucky stopped abruptly and turned. “Of course, if your theory is right, I suppose you could be killed.”
It was precisely that moment when a deafening roar split the air. True, Greg didn’t have a lot of experience with these things, but he was fairly sure it was not the sound of a monkeydog.
He stopped as if one of the vines had wound its way around his ankle and pulled taut. “What was that?”
Lucky inhaled once deeply to catch his breath. “Not sure, but it sounded like an ogre. Anyway, I’m betting we’ll know soon enough.”
“An ogre?” Greg said. “How bad is that? Please tell me they’re all bark and no bite.”
“Ogres don’t have bark, Greg. Those are ents. Ogres are covered with hair, and they’re pretty much all bite.”
“Please tell me they’re afraid of people.”
“Afraid? No, they love people. Why, they hardly eat anything else.”
The trembling roar split the air a second time, so loud even Lucky craned his head toward the sound. Far in the barely perceptible distance something was moving, growing larger as it approached. Greg wished it would stop. It was plenty large already. What bothered him more was the way the forest closed in behind it as it came, cutting off any chance of sneaking by.
“Yep,” said Lucky, “it’s an ogre.”
“Well don’t just stand there!” Greg screamed.
Lucky nodded, and Greg watched helplessly as the boy rummaged through his pack and the ogre moved closer.
“Hurry!” Greg insisted.
“Here it is,” said Lucky. Without so much as a “Ta da!” he pulled the magic sword from the tiny bag and held it out for Greg.
Greg stared back at him. “What are you giving it to me for?”
“Well, I’ve never killed an ogre.”
“You think I have?”