So what inspired the books?
When did you start using reddit?
Whats your favorite animal?
Do those books still sell?
Working on anything new?
Sincerely Why is it yellow?
The answer. Because something had to be.
A strong desire to make money. Actually Michael and I had written a bunch of YA romance and were doing okay but we both hated the work. I was ready to quite series and he said, nah, let's try again but this time what is it you want to write? I said I want to really show kids what it would be like to be in the heads of animals. He said That's a sci fi premise, we're going to need aliens." We sent it off to Scholastic and boom.
I just started on Reddit but our son, jakemates, has been on for a long time.
Ms. Applegate. Your books were a pretty huge part of my childhood. Thank you for rocking so much.
My question is, what did you think about the Animorphs TV show? I personally thought it was pretty decent, but it got canceled pretty quick. Were you very involved with it?
edit: she answered me! I feel so starstruck right now
We were not huge fans of the TV show. We wanted it to be animated because with kid actors, animals and FX it had every expensive thing in Hollywood. We knew Nick didn't have the kind of money to make it good.
Did you have any control over the licensing of it, or were the rights all owned by the publishers?
No, sadly. Scholastic is in charge.
About 3 years ago, I posted on an Animorphs forum that the TV show was terrible. The next day, the girl that played Cassie on the show messaged me on Facebook calling me out, saying they did the best they could.
I wrote her back saying I wasn't trying to be mean or anything, and was pretty starstruck actually. She never wrote back after that.
It's not the actor's fault. The best they could do with special effects was a stick with Visser Three's head on it. They'd point the camera up at it. Visser-On-A-Stick.
What is your best advice for an unpublished author? How long did you take to publish?
Thank you in advance, I know this is a set of questions you likely get often.
We started late (in our 30's) but broke in fast. Of course we snuck in the back door by ghostwriting for SWEET VALLEY TWINS. I should say I did so, anyway, and Michael was only dragged in reluctantly. I took on too many contracts and told M he had to do a book. Standard WTF? response from him.
As for advice: write. That's thing one. Write stuff that sucks. It always sucks when you start. Keep sucking, then fix it. That's the whole job.
Oh man, I was so sad when Tobias got stuck as a hawk. What ever happened? Did he go on to have hawk babies? Help some dude get a hot girl?
Edit: How could I have forgotten that?! I am unworthy! Tobias was awesome, and is an awesome name.
Tobias. After Rachel died he kind of moped in the woods for a long time. Then when Jake found a new war to fight Tobias joined up.
Tobias!! My girlfriends and I all had book-character-crushes on him for some inexplicable reason. Maybe this relates to that guy-with-a-hawk-getting-the-girl memes?
I think human-on-bird action might be a bit feathery. Plus it's very embarrassing to go to prison and admit you're there for raptor fondling.
Why would you kill Rachel?! WHY?! That seriously traumatized me. She was my favorite.
We felt strongly that one of the main characters had to die. It was obvious early on it would be Rachel. In part because she was such a warrior it seemed right. And in part because who ever kills off the pretty, brave one? We wanted it to hurt.
The Everworld series was probably my favorite thing to read as a teenager. It seems like it would be the perfect material for a movie and or series. Has there been any interest shown in that regard?
Thanks. You and six other people. No Hollywood love yet. It's all complicated and controlled by Scholastic.
Was the series not popular? I figured the blend of mythology, magic and aliens would appeal to a large audience.
Also, how do you feel about the whole Twilight craze? :)
No, it died a painful (and not very slow) death.
Uh, here's the thing. We authors congregate at the same venues sometimes (book festivals, strip clubs). So I have to consider the possibility that Stephanie Meyer and I will be downing Jello shots together at some point, and she'll be asking me why I said that shit about her on Reddit.
I too love Everworld. In fact I never finished the series, ty for reminding me!
Thanks to all EVERWORLD fans! You know what was weird? When it came out we got our first starred review. I was like damn, now we have to write them well? The expectations had been raised. What a pain in the ass. We were so depressed by this great review.
Animorphs basically defined my childhood-- you're awesome. Who was your favorite character?
I have to say Marco because he was based on Michael -- and Michael's right here watching over my shoulder. So . . . Marco. Yeah.
Anything new coming up that you're excited about writing? What have been some of your favorite books to read? Do you have a favorite author?
I just finsihed a book called THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Very non-Animorphs. And I'm working on a single title we just refer to as "that damned dog book."
I felt like you built up a lot of intrigue about the Garatron and never went anywhere with it. Were you initially planning to use it somehow, but then lost interest?
Also, in Book 41 The Familiar, was the being who brought Jake into that alternate world The One? Because wikipedia claims it wasn't Crayak or the Ellimist.
You got me. I should confess that books 25 through 52 were ghosted. We did all the outlines but outlines don't stay in your memory. Well, not much stays in my memory any more. We did 1-24 plus all the side series and the last 2.
A lot of hat happens in a series is you plant seeds in book X hoping to harvest them in Book Y. Usually that works. Sometimes not.
Were the Megamorphs and the Chronicles series ghost written or entirely your work?
We did all the long form ourselves.
How do we know that this AMA isn't ghostwritten?!
Wow, that's metaphysical. You know it's real because jakemates says so and he is a serious, devoted Redditor. He loves Reddit more than me.
I KNEW IT. I never looked it up, but I distinctly remembered feeling like the writing style changed about halfway through and the stories got less interesting.
Do you have any regrets about it? I assume it must have made things a lot easier and was good for keeping up with demand, but I know I have a hard time letting go of control over my own work.
The problem for ghosts is that we can't outline very well. So I kept saying, "Hey, go for it, go off the reservation!" But that didn't happen that much. So the thing where we might find a new angle wasn't being done as often. Not the fault of the ghosts, our fault.
why did you use ghostwriters? I'm not an author, but wouldn't it be easier and more entertaining if you wrote them yourself?
It was either use ghosts or end the series. Our schedule was 14 books a year. Plus other projects. And right around book #11, Jake (the real-life one) was born. Life got more complicated. No sleep because we'd had a SIDS death with a relative. At one point we hired a girl to basically just bring us cookies because we could never get out. That girl was Ellen Geroux who went on to be one of our best ghosts.
FOR NOW. Until you get swept up in the addiction that is reddit, and you forget how to use the internet outside of it. Then when it inevitably goes down, you watch your screen wondering how you used your computer before you discovered it.
Reddit has messed me up.
No, I meant that jakemates likes Reddit more than he likes me. Or his father. Or anything really except for minecraft, portal and apple.
She means that Jake loves reddit more than he loves her. Note the use of the objective case "me." In order to communicate the idea "Jake loves reddit more than I do," she should (would?) have said "Jake loves reddit more than I."
Right. What you said.
14 books a year? That's insane... How do you manage to keep thinking of fresh ideas at that kind of clip?!
Rip off old Star Treks. That helps.
How has it been working with Scholastic? I feel like they always put out a good product with great production values, and of course no one markets to younger readers better than they do ... but do they treat their writers as well as they treat their product?
Hmmmm. Long pause to consider the politics of the situation. I would say this: no one is better than Scholastic at handling series. Handling me? Eh. Maybe I'm a pain in the ass. (Michael nods head.) Any real problems we've had are with Scholastic Media. I'll let you fill in the blanks on that.
That's weird, I just answered this and it was eaten. (Jake blames Amazon.)
Trying again: Tobias had to be trapped to make the 2 hour tick-tock real. Loved the character, and I always thought fans would like him.
No involvement with the TV show.
I always thought Tobias liked being a hawk better, anyway.
Life was not good to Tobias. I think he was happier.
What was your inspiration for Remnants? I loved Animorphs, but I remember calling around to different libraries to get the new Remnants books when they came out. 2011 seemed so far away at the time!
Remnants was more Michael's idea. My husband (Michael Grant) is a disturbed man.
Remnants was one of my favorite book series as a child. Really heavy stuff for a kid of my age to be reading. Tell your husband thanks for such amazing books!
He says thanks. Seriously there are times I look at him and think, what is wrong with you?
Holy smoke, this is awesome! I loved reading the Animorphs series as a kid and I also started reading your Remnants series but never got around to finishing it ):
I'd say my favourite book was The Ellimist Chronicles since the story was so captivating and as it also contained the most memorable line (in my mind); "Step into my lair, said the dreth to the chorkant."
Anyway, I'd just like to ask what your favourite sci-fi book is and what book you would absolutely recommend reading (from any genre)?
Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA!
Well, Michael's sitting right here, so, um. . . GONE by Michael Grant. Is that enough dear? No! Don't beat me! I plugged you! I pluuuuuuggged you!
Favorite sci-fi book not related to Michael? Or hell, book in general?
Actually, do you do a lot of reading, or do you get tired of it after doing so much writing?
I just had to -- hmmm, avoiding a reveal here -- let's just say I had to judge a contest that involved reading a staggering number of kid books. So I am kind of tired of reading right now to be honest.
typically how long did it take you to write an animorph book?
About 3 weeks. We were doing 12 regular ANI, a Chronicles and a MEGA every year. Ah caffeine and youth.
Bear in mind they were smaller books (though excellent by all means!) Less than 200 pages, all of them, I think... and fewer words per page than in some other mass-market paperbacks.
Average Animorphs book had 22-25 lines of text (27 total, but partial lines at ends of paragraphs brings down average) per page, about 8-10 words per line. So about 200 words per page.
The books at the height of the series - when they were coming out every month, you know - were 150-170 pages. And each chapter dropped half a page of words for the title, plus the previous chapter usually dropped half a page as well. I think # of chapters was in the high-teens? So deduct 15 pages, you're looking at 135-155 pages overall. 27-31k words per book would be my estimate. Still seems high, though, so I'd probably figure on the low end of that. So, around 27k words per book.
At three weeks per book, that's 9k words per week. If she wrote daily, that's only about 1,300 words per day. Of course there are days off... but even just assuming a 40-hour writing week, you've got 120 hours in three weeks. To hit 27k words, that's just 225 words per hour, which is about half of a double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman, letter-sized paged. Not sure if Katherine (is it okay to call you by your first name? :) did all her own copyediting, but I'm guessing she gave Scholastic a raw manuscript that they copyedited and typeset, so things didn't have to be absolutely perfect.
In other words, biyabo... take heart, it's do-able!
By the way, K.A., I'm curious as to how your contracts were based - payment per word? Per book? Royalty-based, at all? I understand if any of that is confidential. How accurate are my estimates above? Thinking of reading your books in elementary school brought me back to the other things I learned... like how to estimate how many pieces of candy are in a jar, for example (winner gets all the candy, woooohooo!)
Ah, a writer. Getting straight to the important part: getting paid.
Here's how it works. You negotiate for an advance and a royalty. The advance is a check you get "against" the royalty.
So let's say Scholastic would pay us an advance of $50,000 per book. (Actually it was less than that to start with and more than that toward the end.) And they would pay us a royalty of 8% of the cover price. If the books retailed for $4 that was 32 cents per book. We have to sell X number of books at 32 cents each in order to "earn out" which means, pay for that advance.
If we don't earn out, no problem, we keep the advance.
Complicate that further with foreign rights -- Germany, France, Spain, etc... Those all count against the advance.
Once the book earns out, the royalties flow to the writer in a new check. We still get royalty checks -- not terribly impressive since Animorphs/Everworld/Remnants have been out of print. But it's fun because it's like found money. Oh, look! Three thousand dollars! And we didn't have to work for it. Yay! Ah hah hah hah.
I remember reading the books as they came out one by one and thinking: when is this going to end?
Did you intend the series to be as long as it is or did another party want you to keep writing more books?
Thanks for the great memories.
Obviously we had no idea we were going to 54 books. Around #11 we're thinking, shit, we've used up all the good animals!
We ended it. Michael and I looked at each other and just said, "That's it. We're done."
I don't see another response with this answer, but sorry if I missed it.
If you WANTED to write a wrap-up book for one of your scholastic series, are you able to orwould there be legal difficulties? Even if you just gave it away on your website?
That's a good question. Yes, there would be legal restrictions on that. But I don't want to leave the impression that thy are somehow oppressing me. That's not it. In fact I have zero problems with Scholastic the book publisher.
No, that was Scholastic. As was the name, ANIMORPHS by the way. We had CHANGELINGS.
The ending to me was so sudden and sad. I was wondering what you want the reader to think will happen after that. (Trying to be vague to not elicit spoilers).
I wanted the reader to understand that this had been a war story, and war stories never end cleanly. PLus I was thinking well, maybe we'll do a sequel . . .
Just so you know. The phrase 'Ram the Blade Ship' has been permanently engraved in my mind as one of the most frustrating sentences I've ever read in a book.
Thanks for awesome memories of reading the series!
Who is your favorite late nite host? I always liked the mentions of Letterman in the Animorphs books.
Letterman is stilla God. But it's too late for me. I usually watch Jon and DVR Stephen.
I have feared this day since the first I came across the AMA boards. I knew one day this would happen... I knew you would come.
You've written some books that have given me nightmares well into adulthood.
WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS
How do you write a series like the Remnants and have that classified as young adult books?
My friends and I have often wondered if you have to go to the dark dank places of your soul in order to write books that never have anything go well for them. i.e. Remnants is a constant "Fuck You" to the characters... I feel bad for them. I kept reading it thinking, "will it EVER get better for them?"
Are you satisfied with how EverWorld ended? It wasn't very satisfactory as a reader. Can you explain why you ended it the way you did?
Thank you for doing this!
1) I don't do the classifying, that's the bookstores and the publisher. 2) Either the dark, dank portions of my own soul, or the sunnier portions of Michaels. Heh. 3) I'm not happy with the EW ending. Basically I overcommitted. We could keep up with 140 pages a month -- barely -- but Everworld was 250. We got in over our heads.
Remnants was horrifying. Especially what happened to Billy over the course of their initial journey. I tried to imagine that myself and just got creeped out every time.
By that time I had kids of my own. I had changed many diapers. So I knew true horror.
how does EW end?
In an exhausted, burned out wheeze. By the 4th Remnants and the next to last Everworld, we were burned out. Really done for. 150 books between 1989 and whatever it was, 2000. It was nuts and we had to stop. We didn't write at all for about 5 years.
What are you writing now? Any chance of an animorph reboot in the future?
Since you ask. Shameless Sel-Promotion, please God don't downvote me! ANIMORPHS is coming out with new (lenticular? Um... what?) covers. And I'm going to be at LA Times book fest on Saturday, April 30. Noon. At the Diesel Books booth. Don't hate me for prom-ing.
I remember you were a very private person in the 90s and did few interviews and no public appearances. We fans got more of our information about you indirectly from Jeff Sampson's Animorphs fansite (I can't recall the name). I'm curious: are you more comfortable promoting your books now? I will happily attend any signings and public appearances if you ever make it to Seattle.
I'm also curious if the pop cultural references will be updated in the 90s. Sadly, I think young people today won't get the Xena jokes!
Well, to be honest I have OCD and was on the borderline of depression a lot back in the old days. I was terribly insecure. I always thought I would disappoint people. I still do. I get easily flustered in person. I blush. I stammer. There is occasional brain freeze. I always think I'm wearing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.
But yes, I'm less that way now. Yay, Prozac!
Also, don't forget, we were working all the time. Then we added kids. And it was just all very hectic.
I've always had Michael to act as the more out there person. He's my opposite in that he doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks. I'm pretty sure he's not capable of blushing. We've been together 33 years now, co-authors of 150 books and two kids, and he'll be with me at LA Book Fest as usual being the thorn to my shrinking violet.
I'm sorry I was so reclusive back in the day. I'm less that way now. Plus, there's always Sauvignon Blanc.
By the way, read Jeff's book Vesper. He's a good guy and he's a terrific writer.
Thanks for doing this, Ms. Applegate.
A significant number of Animorphs books were ghostwritten. Could you describe the process of working with a ghostwriter? Do you feel guilty about utilizing them, or do you find them to be a useful resource?
Have you ever seen a ghost(writer)?
We started as ghostwriters, so we saw it more as opportunity. We paid well, but not very well to be honest. We wrote outlines (we suck at outlines) and then got all bitchy when we didn't like what we got. Neither of us is an editor so we weren't really capable of offering decent guidance. So we tended just to sort of slash and burn. Basically without meaning to be we were probably horrible assholes to work with.
as a former ghostwriter for animorphs i can confirm the assholiness.
Yeah, sorry about that.
Do you realize you're one of the reasons I write fiction in my free time? The Animorphs series was the first novel I ever read in which I felt someone understood what my life was like. I'm crying as I type this. Tobias's story helped me get through some really lonely times and parent issues. Thank you.
Edit: I went a little crazy. I just mean that Ms. Applegate was perhaps the first writer that inspired me to write.
So sorry to get you into writing. What a horrible thing to inflict on you. Should have just sold you crack.
I just read about half the answers you've given in this AMA and I'm floored by how seemingly close to perfect your personality / world view is. Well, my idea of perfect anyway.
Go tell your husband and son that they're the luckiest people in the world.
Also have a daughter. So I'll tell all three of them to worship me.
No questions here Ms. Applegate. I just wanted to thank you for all the years of work you put into creating one of the most enjoyable series I read and collected.
For everyone else: This is a picture of an Andalite with boobs - NSFW
edit: wait a second, I'm NOT OKAY. WHY DID RACHEL HAVE TO DIIEEEEEEE!!??
Ahh, Anadalites with boobs. Andaboobs. We love the fan fic and fan art. Although the ones where Tobias and Harry Potter screw, I'm just not sure about those. I'm just not sure raptor-wizard sex is advisable.
Sorry about Rachel. She had to die. She was the perfect warrior. What the hell else was she going to? Get a job at TJ Maxx? Patton said something about dying of the last bullet in the last war.
I can now say I've had a conversation with K.A. Applegate about Andalite boobs and the mechanics of raptor-wizard sex. My 12 year old self would be so proud.
On a side note, I remember reading once that you went by "K.A." because you wanted to avoid the stigma of female authors, is that true? I didn't know you also ghostwrote Sweet Valley High...I enjoyed those as well.
It's hard to remember what we were thinking about KA because it was like 15 years ago. I think Scholastic may have suggested it.
It was not SV HIGH, it was SV Twins -- the younger, dumber prequel series. Also 9 books in GIRL TALK and believe it or not a spin-off of the TV show CHRISTIE. Which was hard because M and I are not religious.
Just wanted to say thank you for never putting religion in your books. There was ample opportunity but you kept it pure awesome science fiction, nothing could be better!
We avoided it in middle grade, feeling as if the kind of ambiguity we'd want would be more appropriate for YA. I'm an agnostic, Michael's an atheist. We're both interested in philosophical questions, but made the decision to keep ANIMORPHS secular. There was religion in EVERWORLD. And M deals with it in his GONE books.
As someone who worked in TJ Maxx for a summer... it is brutal, I could see Rachel literally turning into something big and ripping off customer's heads after less than a week.
Michael's first job was at Toys R Us -- during Xmas -- and he sends a shout out to all retail workers.
Ok then, just have to chime in. I love this response, I love to see people that can take a joke about their creations.
Speaking of jokes, how did you come up the small humorous moments in the series? Did the wit just come to you as you were writing, or did you need a moment to think of the setup, and I guess, "punch line" of any of the jokes?
It's automatic. The wit just comes. Then I have to clean it up to put it in the book.
Dear Ms. Applegate,
I remember being about 11 years old when I read the final Animorphs book, and I recall how much flak you caught for the way you ended the series. I even remember there being a preemptive apology and explanation at the end of the book for ending it the way you did.
I just wanted to let you know that that was the best way you could have possibly ended the series. Up until then, I had filled my young head with Star Wars, Power Rangers, and Transformers, and as far as I knew, war was awesome because there were explosions, guns, and good guys vs bad guys.
When I read the final book of Animorphs, that all changed. I was angry and confused because when the "good guys" won, it came at a great cost. They compromised their morals (genocide of the yeerks), lost friends, and they all ended up with the scars and baggage that war leaves behind.
I was pretty confused as an 11 year old, but not until I became older did I realize the lesson you were trying to teach us. War sucks. Although it is sometimes necessary to fight, everybody will lose when there is war.
Thanks for setting me straight. You made the right choice ending it the way you did. I just wanted you to know that.
It always makes us both wince when we think of sending a message. We're entertainers. But I felt and Michael agreed that while we always denied that we were "teaching" we were teaching whether we admitted it or not.
We just couldn't do a Star Wars ending. Look, I knew that's what fans wanted at the time. But something was nagging at us and basically saying no, you cannot write all those books, and cash a bunch of checks, and walk away with the final message being, "See? Everything was just peachy in the end." Cue the trumpet fanfare.
So, Cassie was basically fine. Because she would be. And Jake was lost, a kid who had grown up and done too much. And Marco was having fun with it all, for a while at least. Ax was stepping into his big brother's shoes at last. And Rachel was dead, which left Tobias destroyed.
We thought that was about the way a war would be. Some soldiers would shake it off, some wouldn't, and some would be dead.
Edit: never mind, got taken down a few months ago.
Just to be clear: not us. We do not take them down. Or ask for them to be taken down. I think once the books are available to buy -- paper or e -- it would be nice if people who could afford it would buy. (our kids have very expensive tastes. You know: food and whatnot.) But for years they've been unavailable except by "pirated" means. These men and women kept the series alive. They kept the books available. So no, we did NOT take these books down.
YOU SEEM LIKE A REALLY NICE LADY! THAT'S ALL.
OH I SEEM LIKE IT ALL RIGHT. EMPHASIS ON SEEM.
Yeah, the Andalite and Hork-Bajir chronicles were amazing. I'm a man in his mid-20's now, went for an interview at a market research firm a little while back and talked about the Hork-Bajir Chronicles in the interview.
EDIT: I still read the Hork-Bajir Chronicles from time to time. Actually never gets old.
So I assume they eased you slowly out of the room and suggested you get help?
I find most creators have this view. It's the publishing and licensing (see: Owners) that, unfortunately, do not share this view.
Well, I'd say it's been a learning process. Because at first you're thinking, wait a minute, some guy's ripping me off! Then you realize, "Well, I'm not able to sell them right now, so how exactly am I getting ripped off?"
My preference would be to put all 63 books up in e-book format (as well as making at least some available in paper.) I'd love to have them all up online for $1.99 or whatever. And Michael's very into the enhanced e-book idea, apps, etc...
I think Scholastic is easing toward that, but they're a company after all, and essentially conservative. Jakemates has been sort of our in-house prophet on all things "e" and Michael's right behind him and I'm catching up.
HAHA, I'M SURE YOU'VE GOT YOUR WICKED SIDE, BUT WE ALL DO, DON'T WE? SOMETIMES, FOR EXAMPLE, I EAT GRAPES IN THE SUPERMARKET PRODUCE SECTION BEFORE I BUY THEM TO SEE IF THEY'RE FRESH. SOMETIMES, I DO IT EVEN IF I'M NOT GOING TO BUY THEM, BUT WHEN I JUST FEEL LIKE EATING A FORBIDDEN GRAPE!
Let me just say this: I'd better not find my picture on /r/gonewild.
When I was in college, I pirated everything, because I didn't have any money at all. Now that I have a great white collar job, I've been re-buying all those movies and CDs. I'd never considered downloading these books, but now I want to go back and buy them.
Exactly. That's what the publishing business is slowly starting to realize. And me, too.
Hi Katherine, I knew someone like you would have enough character to do an AMA. Just a couple questions about your own passions in books and writing.
Anyways, thanks for your time, and regardless of a reply, keep being creative, and may you never focus your motivation purely on money. ;)
Interesting, that "purely on money" part. Because honestly, that's what got me going. I sucked as a waitress, sucked as a typist, pretty much just sucked at everything, despite (shock) my BA in English. And I was tired of eating Top Ramen and stealing toilet paper rolls out of public restrooms. I figured ghosting other people's books would pay the rent, and it did . . . sort of.
Anyway, now that I can afford the mega-pack of Top Ramen at Costco, I realize it's not just about the money. And that's the best advice I can offer a novice writer: love what you're doing, even when the Ramen's running out.
Oh snap! My professor David did some covers for you! ...I am waiting for his class to start now, actually.
Dave Mattingly, by chance? He sends out the coolest Christmas cards on the planet.
Are you related to Christina Applegate? Holler!!!
I was at a bookstore yesterday and the clerk asked me that. So I say it's not like I could be her mother, right? (at which point he's supposed to say "no, you could be her younger sister, though." Dude goes, "No, you could TOTALLY be her mother." Sigh.
Animorphs basically made reading fun for me.
That is, to me, the ultimate compliment.
Thank you for making junior high bearable for me! I got to escape to a world that I wish could be made into film today.
I wish the TV show had been more like the books, but it may have been too dark. I think it would have been a lot more successful though.
Let me just state unequivocally: nothing sucks harder than junior high. Nadir of my existence.
Could you please elaborate on the ghostwriting process? What do you feel are its advantages and disadvantages? How are ghost authors selected, and how much control do have over the process?
I started out ghostwriting (17 Sweet Valley Twins!!! I gave Jessica Wakefield her first period, assholes!!). It's a great way to learn the ropes.
Pardon the obscure literary reference.
After I gave birth to Jake and Michael and I didn't sleep for the next three years, we realized we needed help if we wanted to keep Animorphs going. We really had great ghosts (we sucked as editors, as I may have mentioned). It's not a perfect solution, but when a book comes out every month, it's often the only solution.
After I gave birth to Jake and Michael and I didn't sleep for the next three years
Wait a second... you gave birth to both of them?
Real question: Would you say developing a good book through a ghost was harder than writing a good one yourself?
Um. . . edit that.
I know that you and Michael have had interest in an Animorphs movie, but Hollywood apparently has not. Is there a possibility of it ever getting off the ground? And please tell me that you'd wait for an offer that could provide enough funding to do it justice. I'd hate to see a bad movie kill future chances for good adaptations. There's so much in Animorphs that would be best expressed onscreen.
We agree. It would kick ass as a movie. (3-D? Yes or no? Not sure.)
If you could, would you go back and end Animorphs differently?
No. But if you had any idea the crap I've taken over it . . . . I was doing a school visit for a book I wrote called Home of the Brave (not a plug, I swear). It's in free verse, about a Sudanese immigrant to Minnesota (so, okay, not a bestseller), and I'm giving it my all, chatting away to these bleary-eyed seventh-graders, and all of a sudden this kid in the back raises his hand. I think, hey, he wants to ask me about metaphors or some such thing, and he screams, "WHY DID YOU END ANIMORPHS THAT WAY????"
While we can kind of catch the drift from your other answers, how has Scholastic been to work with?
"Animorphs" and "Scholastic" are both words very sentimental to my childhood. Thanks for a great series.
The editors at Scholastic are first-rate. They seem to "get" kids and to be able to reach them.
I mean, KFC Animorphs kid meal toys?! That's when we knew we'd really made it.
When I was a child you first helped me deal with my mortality when I read that one of those Animorphs was actually killed by a T-Rex... I hated it at the time, but I am now thankful.
That's really gratifying. Now would you help me deal with mine? That whole death thing sucks.
How did the series end... I must admit I stopped reading as I got older.
Everyone lived happily ever after. Right.
Did you realize what a monster you had created in the yeerks? I was so afraid of mind control for a long time after that. And slugs crawling in my earhole.
And yet it never happened. Or did it? Are you sure it was you writing that question?
We figured it out as we went along. Neither of us plans worth a damn.
Ms. Applegate, if I had to calculate I'd say you were responsible for at least 30% of my personality, particularly the bits that steered me towards fiction rather than a less socially acceptable psychosis. Your works have impacted me on a level that I sometimes have difficulty conveying to skeptics. But, you are used to hearing adulations and things here, so I have a couple of questions instead:
*The Animorphs go to some pretty dark places- characters ruminating over their status as killers and debating acts of genocide and execution. Did you ever have difficulty publishing some of the ‘heavier’ content of your books, or was Scholastic pretty supportive?
*As a premise, Animorphs sounds like pretty standard 90s children fare at first- “teenagers with attitude and special powers fighting an evil invasion” is a concept we’ve seen from the likes of Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, Ben 10 and Harry Potter. To what extent do you see Animorphs as a deconstruction or commentary of these less ethically complicated and realistic texts?
Thanks and/or sorry for remark on forming your personality.
Honestly I think Scholastic only really paid attention to the first few books. After that we could have been writing Nazi promotional materials. Okay, I'm kidding. Mostly. Tonya -- our editor -- was with us all the way through.
I don't think we thought of anything beyond, "This is a great premise."
DOWN WITH THE YEERKS
LONG LIVE THE ANDALITE PEACE!
Holy shit. Thank you. Those books were an integral part of my childhood. My teen self loves you greatly. Animorphs was probably what turned me onto reading in the first place.
In case you get around to this:
Man. I'm all tapped out. I wish I could go back in time and talk to my teen self, he had a shitton of questions, but now I can't remember anything other than that Animorphs was awesome. Thank you for the memories and if you ever suspect the impact of your work, know that you turned me onto the wonderful world of literature. The world needs more YA fiction like Animorphs.
We've thought about doing a follow-on book or two. That's up in the air. For one thing we don't write together anymore. So we'd have to see whether we can still do that voice.
Yes, Jake went to a dark place at the end. Here's the thinking: we had done 50+ books full of action, violence, philosophy etc... We were at the end of a war story and we did not want a Star Wars ending. You know, trumpets and parades. I don't want to sound too full of it, but we thought "let's leave this with something real."
David was even darker, wasn't he? I'd kind of forgotten about David. Harsh.
To this day all 54 regular chapter books, 4 Megamorphs, 2 Alternamorphs, and the Ellimist, Andalite, and Hork-Bajir Chronicles are still proudly displayed on my bookshelf and have helped me turn all of my younger siblings on to reading. I still read them occasionally when time permits. Before Lord of the Rings, before Harry Potter, before anything else, Animorphs was my obsession. I was 6 when the first book came out, and loved it from page one. Rachel's death at the end of the series was the first time a book ever made me cry. When friends and I would play, we were never pirates or spies or whatever else kids imagine they are, we were always the Animorphs. I know that this is probably coming off as the rant of a crazy obsessed fan, but I don't care. I can't thank you enough for the impact you made on my childhood. I admit that other than the Animorphs, I only ever read the first Remnants book, and then stopped. But it was because by then I had moved on to more advanced books, not because the series was any less good.
I can't believe that I actually get to tell you how great you are. I just wanted to let you know, that you have a special place in my heart bigger than J.K. Rowling could ever hope to achieve, and that the Animorphs will always be number one to me.
Thanks for all that you've done.
Edit: Sorry for spoiling the ending for you! I never thought in a million years I'd be the top comment, and so I didn't bother. On top of that, I don't know how to do the text hiding thing. I'M SO SORRY!!!!
Edit 2: I love all the stories about roleplaying as Animorphs when you were younger! Especially the one about making the sounds and going through the whole process, because I DID THE SAME THING :D
JK Rowling? Who is this Rowling of which you speak?
To you, KeeperofTerris, and to all the crazy, obsessed fans, if I may be allowed a moment of sincerity: we love you guys and girls. As a writer nothing is cooler than thinking you had some kind of long-term impact. It's humbling which I know sounds like a bullshit thing to say, but it is because Michael and I look at each other and we know we're just these two idiots, and we know there's no reason anyone should take us seriously.
So when the reaction started coming in we were like, "Oh, my God, they think we're grown-ups." Kind of disturbing in a way.
And for 15 years the hardcore fans have kept it all alive, kept writing and drawing, and best of all felt things they might not otherwise have felt, and thought things they might not otherwise have felt, and the effect went both ways. You guys affected us as much as we did you.
I admit, I'm leaping on your reply here because there are SO MANY posts, and I am crying inside that this was the one night I chose to work for an extra few hours. And I'm also one of the most appropriate redditors to be in this thread (TheEllimist is also a cool dude).
Basically: you guys are awesome. I don't know how many times I've read your SF books (yeah, all of them, although I am behind in Michael's series), and yet I keep reading them. I even keep on discussing them on the Animorphs LJ. I spent a lot of my two months in America (I'm from England) travelling to used bookstores trying to buy all of the Remnants series. I didn't even have to read them to know I would love them (and I do, I didn't start reading until I got back home with them all - because I had to periodically post them back).
I want to tell you a story, just because I need to let it out. When I first started reading Animorphs, I didn't know when it would end (so many books), so I skipped a few out. Notably, I skipped Cassie's books, because I thought she was my least favourite character. As I got older and went higher education, I started studying philosophy and ethics. During a re-read I realised why I didn't like Cassie: she reminded me too much of myself. I thought I wanted to be like Jake, all brave and strong.
Knowing how much of myself I saw in her, and how much her ethical stances shaped me as I was growing up was kind of a revelation (to be melodramatic). It effectively showed me that I had to start loving who I was and the principles I hold. And I do. :)
(After that, I also spent a crap load of money buying the books I'd missed off eBay. Hahah. I also intended to buy the re-release. My god, I'm addicted).
I know that probably is a bit deeper than you had intended for the characters, but I do love your characterisation. It's one of the best things about Animorphs, that I can sit and discuss the intricacies of these amazing characters for hours on end.
So yeah: LOVE YOU BACK ATCHA. <3
My background, btw: http://lackofa.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d3cfn5z
Great, now I'm crying. I am also Cassie.
Do you realize that you, along with Robert Lawrence Stine, are responsible for getting kids of my generation to actually enjoy reading?
I just wanted to thank you. I read pretty much all of your books when I was a kid.
Stine was who we were trying to be. Then later we would email him and he was always very generous.
RL Stine, why refer to him as Robert?
I think he's known as Bob.
<The Andalite Chronicles changed my whole perspective on shit. The ellimist, the strands of time, Al Fangor.....soooo good. I also loved the Hork Bajir Chronicles.
When I was in first and second grade I was put in a "remedial" english class. I started reading the animorphs books in '96, devouring one after the other, and by the end of third grade I was kicking ass at reading. To this day I always think about how instant messaging, texting, fb chat, etc. all equal thoughtspeech! You ever think about that?
I'm 23 now, and am in law school. Honestly, K.A., I wouldn't be here without you. Thank you!>
Coolest part of the job hearing that didn't completely screw up a generation of kids.
How do you pronounce "Hork Bajir?" My fifth grade self would love to know. I read these with a group of friends and still often think of it, especially when I see a cool animal I want to be, or when I see a slug and have an unreasonable fear.
What was the reason for making Ax's favorite food cinnamon buns?
whenever my mother makes her cinnamon buns for the holidays my brother and i look at each other and scream CINNAMON BUNS and try to devour them as quickly as possible. my mother thinks we are weird
Because we loved cinnamon buns. When we started ANIMORPHS we were usually still broke, and a Cinnabon was a good night out for us.
And you know what? Never even a note from Cinnabon.
Oh, WOW. My 10 year old self is screaming with excitement. My now-former fiancé and I loved your books as kids. I found Everworld again in 2008 and read through it again; would you consider expanding on the story's origins a bit? Why did it end so abruptly, as opposed to continuing the story in Everworld?
Animorphs was my favorite series as as a kid; my son is named Tobias after your character.
Tell me he doesn't eat mice.
Ms. Applegate, I read each and every one of your Animorphs and Everworld books (and even watched the Animorphs TV show...). They really spurred my interest in reading, and for that I can't thank you enough!
A few questions (I would love answers to all, but I'm particularly interested in the first three):
What was your favorite book as a child? What about right now?
What books would you consider essential reading for any adult?
Who was your favorite Animorphs character to write and why?
Did you base characters off of people in your life/yourself?
Any plans to ever revisit the Animorphs universe? (I know you mentioned there have been no attempts to convert it to film, but I think there are a lot of 20-something year olds who would be there opening day.)
Again, thanks so much for your contributions to the world of literature and for doing this AMA! It's clear you have a lot of fans here, and we really appreciate it.
Favorite book as a child was Charlotte's Web.
Hmmm. I don't know about essential. That will be different for each person. That's something you have to find for yourself.
The most fun to write was probably Marco or Rachel, although I identified most with Cassie. Cassie was closest to being me. She was ambivalent, and inconsistently moralistic, and didn't dress well, and was into animals.
I don't usually use real people. Michael used the kids for GONE and then ended up horrified when he realized he'd hooked up our "son" and "daughter" romantically.
Wow, I used to love those book. I guess I have a few questions.
What was with David? I just don't understand his motivations one bit. I can understand not wanting to risk you life fighting aliens, that's one thing, but why did he go and try and kill all the animorphs? Amoral but also very dumb.
David's actions must have given Ax some doubts about helping humans. True, the five he knows are okay, but it must have occurred to him he only really knows five. Are one in six like David?
The Suspicion. Tiny aliens. What was with that book? At the time I felt like the series was jumping the shark, and, unfortunately, made me stop reading. Were you feeling burned out on animorphs when you wrote it?
Do you realise how trippy Ellimist's backstory seems? While it doesn't make that much sense if you think too hard, I have to give full marks for creativity. It's pretty much exactly the level of bizarre I'd expect for the origin story of someone like Ellimist. (Edit: actually, come to think of it, the same could be said for a lot of animorphs where aliens were involved though Ellimist was the strangest.)
I hate to be that fan, but did you realise you got relativity wrong in Elfangor's backstory? Going faster always gets you there sooner, not the other way round.
Okay, I'll stop myself here. I could probably keep thinking of questions until I had hundreds. I loved those books.
1) Sometimes people are crazy, sometimes they're evil, sometimes they're both. I think people expect book characters to make sense. Meanwhile in real life Hitler says, "You know what would be a great idea? Killing all the Jews and invading Russia."
2) In book #54 you'll notice the Andalites are quite leery of humans. Who wouldn't be?
3) No, we were feeling like we just wanted to do something that was purely funny. And we knew the fans would probably hate it, but we felt like, Okay, if they can't let us go off the rails every now and then, f*ck 'em.
4) Trippy? I am not familiar with this word. Michael? No he also does not know this word.
5) Hah! This is one of my favorite things when someone asks about the science. Because here's what you need to bear in mind: between us we have one BA in English and one GED. When it comes to science we are dumb and dumber. Ask jakemates. He can paint you a picture of just how technologically pathetic we are. Somehow he ended up being a tech genius. Some weird DNA aberration. And our daughter is a jock with grace and rhythm and physical courage. She's adopted so at least we don't have to doubt DNA to understand that.
It's a weird household.
I loved your books as a kid, thanks a ton for giving me something to do in those horrid depressing times of my childhood before I was able to get away from my abusive mother and stand on my own two feet. I have to say there is an animorphs book in my old elementary school that more than likely has my name numerous times on the checkout card...I wish I remembered which one.
Thanks for everything!
On the contrary, thank you and all the fans.
I am 23 years old, and I'll still occasionally go to McDonald's for a "Happy Meal with Extra Happy", just to see if anything will happen.
Oh God I'd totally forgotten that line.
Sorry, I'm gonna ask kind of a tough question here.
When you started using ghostwriters, why'd you let the quality slip / what happened? I hate to sound like a jerk, but it was clear to me even at a young age that the same person wasn't writing the books--the first-person narratives were clearly inconsistent in their personalities over different books, or at least I thought so, and there was some variance in the quality. Actually, it kind of led me to stop reading the books, that and growing out of that reading level. But I really did love your books when I read them.
Secondly, how did you even begin getting published, let alone so massively published? There's so many people writing out there, and if the world of writing is anything like the world of music, a lot of excellent stuff never rises to the top for who-knows what voodoo reasons.
Thirdly, what are you doing now? I could probably wikipedia this up but I'd probably get a better answer here.
Fourth, if a yeerk and a go'uald got into a fight in someone's head, who would win?
Sorry about that. Look, it was go with ghost writers or hang ourselves. We had Jake around book #11, and a 14 books-per-year schedule is a wee bit rough. I know the ghosts were good writers, but it's very hard to capture someone else's voice. Especially when Michael and I lacked the editorial skills to keep things on-track. Our bad. Our fault.
We got into publishing by ghostwriting SWEET VALLEY TWINS. We got to be very fast and very reliable. The "packager" asked us to do some YA so we did. Then, when we came up with the idea for ANIMORPHS we knew we wanted it to go to Jean Feiwel who was then the Queen of Scholastic. So we did all the stuff you're not supposed to do: we sent her a box of books we'd written, and a pitch for ANIMORPHS. And we said, "This is a cool idea."
It turned out it was a cool idea, and Jean's a very smart woman. In like 3 weeks we were signed up.
And as for now? I (Katherine) am writing more literary things. HOME OF THE BRAVE, THE BUFFALO STORM, and younger things, ROSCOE RILEY RULES, and coming soon, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Michael is doing the GONE series, and THE MAGNIFICENT 12 series and a series he can't talk about.
We are no longer writing together, except that we have a book called EVE AND ADAM coming with the aforementioned Jean Feiwel.
You are my hero! SO MANY QUESTIONS!!!
Okay, so did you know what Tobias' relationship with Elfangor would be when you wrote the first book or did that scene just conveniently match up with the The Andalite Chronicles?
And when you imagined the Andalites, the Taxxons, the Hork-Bajirs, and whatever the Ellimist is, did the cover artists do a good interpretation of what those species looked like in your head?
Also- how far into the series did you decide that The Ellimist and Cryak were playing a game or did that just come up in The Ellimist Chronicles? I still have all of the Animorphs books in my dresser back home. Including the mega morphs and all of the chronicles and the book about the Visser.
And I just have to say I flipping LOVED Everworld and I think it's a pity that has never been made into a movie series or something, because that series was genius!
How much research time did you spend while writing that series? How much research went into the Animorphs?? I never saw the Animorphs show, but the books were amazing and have been a huge favorite of mine and my siblings' growing up! You are an amazing author!!
No. That was a surprise. Sometimes you just write along and you get a "Holy Shit!" moment.
I always liked the cover art. Wasn't sure about the Ellimist, but honestly I didn't have clear image in my own head. So it was like, Okay, fine.
I don't recall to tell you the truth. It's hard to retrace the steps of a thought process that long ago. Or to remember what I had for breakfast. (Yogurt?)
Thanks re: Everworld.
There was a lot of animal research. This was before the internet so we owned about 100 books on animals. So depending on the book, many hours. As for the science, like Zero Space, that was much easier: we just made that up. At least that's what I'm telling you. I totally have the whole zero space thing worked out, but just for personal use.
To this day I STILL subconsciously distrust anyone by the name "Chapman."
As you should. they are all bad people.
ZOMG you're a redditor?!?!?!!? You have no idea how many hours I spent reading your books over and over again, analyzing every detail, storing all that mythos, laughing, crying, daydreaming about the universe you'd created. I read your books from 4th grade on and have to say you helped me start to think outside the box.
Nothing to ask you. Simply gratitude to extend. You rock.
Thanks, but jakemates is our in-house Redditor. He's the one who brought me here.
why did you mention thermals so much throughout the series?
I guess I just liked the idea of floating on air.
Thanks for your service. My dad was in the army for one tour and Michael's dad -- who I love, by the way -- was a 20 year career soldier. (Chief warrant, Michael says.)
It's both cool and a little intimidating to think of actual soldiers considering our tiny, safe, sitting on our butts in Minnesota and Chicago (at the time) thoughts on the morality of war.
We've both always accepted the necessity of war in some circumstances, and accepted that it's a pretty fucking awful thing to put our young men and women through. What we wanted to say was that there would be times it would be necessary, that some soldiers would find joy in it (Rachel,) some would find a sort of addiction (Jake,) some would hate it but do their best, (Cassie,) some would sail right through, (Marco,) and others would be the victims left behind, (Tobias.)
I don't know how that meshes with what real soldiers learn.