If you think breaking into book publishing is hard, you should try screenwriting. And actually, writers Andrew Jacobson and Adam Jay Epstein, authors of the new middle grade series The Familiars, did just that. The pair hit Hollywood nearly a decade ago and made a name for themselves with comedy films like Not Another Teen Movie. But when they first came with the concept for The Familiars, they saw it as a book — first, at least. The film version is due to hit theaters in 2014. In the meantime, we caught up with the L.A.-based pals to talk collaborations, concepting and the best writing advice they ever got (or gave). Plus, we got the inside scoop on their new literary development company, Endcap Entertainment, and how you can submit!
What were you guys doing before you “officially” became writers?
Adam: I grew up in Great Neck, NY and attended Wesleyan University in Middletown CT. Although I always loved writing and stories, I didn’t realize that it was a career I would pursue until my junior year in college. After moving to Los Angeles, I temped and had day jobs while writing in my free time. As a kid, I would make up stories in my head and now I enjoy being able to share them with children and adults everywhere.
Andrew: I grew up in Wisconsin and moved to Los Angeles to write about ten years ago. I met Adam in a parking garage and we started writing together. I worked briefly as an assistant at a Hollywood talent agency while writing with Adam in the evenings at coffee shops (oft times closing the place down). I always loved playing with action figures as a kid and coming up with elaborate stories for them. Writing became an extension of that and now I am fortunate enough to do it full time.
Can you give us a quick synopsis of The Familiars? How did you come up with the concept for the series?
Andrew and Adam: The Familiars is our debut novel. It was published by Harper Collins Childrens and released last September. Book two in the series, The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown, will be released on September 6th, 2011. 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.
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 is targeted at middle readers, ages 8 to 12, but we really believe it will appeal to anyone who loves animals, magic, or fantasy. It takes inspiration from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and hopefully puts its own unique spin on the classic hero’s journey.
Andrew and Adam: One of the unique things about this book is that we co-authored it. The two of us literally sat in the same room for months and months (we pretty much put in banker’s hours, 9 to 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 first book 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.
What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?
Andrew and Adam: We began writing screenplays together just out of college. Our first script sale would become the 2001 Sony film, Not Another Teen Movie. That led to years of steady film and television writing, on various features and the MTV Movie Awards (working with comedians ranging from Jimmy Fallon to Jack Black to Andy Samberg). Then, in 2008, we decided to write our first novel, The Familiars. It was picked up by Harper Collins in May of 2009, and optioned for film soon after. The journey from writing teen comedies to middle grade fantasy fiction has been quite a ride!
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?
Andrew: Best advice I’ve ever gotten: Butt plus chair. Advice I’d give aspiring authors: Butt plus chair.
What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?
Adam: I loved the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. That was the equivalent of middle grade fantasy when I was little. Now I am reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, which is just great.
What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?
Andrew and Adam: We have recently completed book two of The Familiars, which will be out in September of 2011. And we have been concurrently adapting the screenplay for the 3D animated film, due in theaters in 2014!
Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?
Andrew and Adam: What is great about having a writing partner is that we have a permanent “bloc.” We are always there to help each other with advice and criticism. The constant encouragement is extremely needed in this tough creative business. So… yes. For writers without a partner… a bloc is critical. In fact, we are starting a literary development company to give new writers that protection and help that we get everyday.
Can you tell us a bit about the literary development company? What made you guys decide to start it? What are you guys looking for?
We started Endcap Entertainment to give writers something we never had when we started ten years ago: a creative mentor and support system. Trying to get access to the publishing, film, and television world is extremely challenging, and not knowing the needed gatekeepers to break into these industries can keep out talented authors worthy of success. Moreover, when a writer starts out, they often don’t know what is a commercially viable idea; and while it may seem crass to think in those terms, to get published in these franchise/series/transmedia times, having the right idea is crucial to launch yourself.
The way the company works is simple. We are looking for writers with a solid sample under their belt who might benefit from working in a collaborative partnership on a commercial idea that we provide. If we are excited by a writer’s work and they agree to collaborate with us, we will find the best idea suited for that writer and begin an outlining process together. Once that is agreed upon, the writer will take a crack at a few chapters and we will go back and forth until they are ready. Then, with a synopsis for the remaining chapters, we will submit to publishers. In success, we will try to sell the work to ancillary markets such as film and television as well.
We’re looking for authors excited to work in the YA/MG space. Everything from Alex Rider to The DUFF. Samples can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: HarperCollins; Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson