Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of The Last Kids on Earth and the Forbidden Fortress! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and how does it fit into the larger Last Kids on Earth book series?
Max Brallier: Thanks! Always exciting – and a bit scary – to have another book out there in the world.
The Last Kids on Earth and the Forbidden Fortress picks up directly after the events of Book 7, The Last Kids on Earth and the Doomsday Race. We’re getting closer and closer to the endgame now – so things are really picking up.
I try to give each book its own feel, mood, vibe. The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road was “the road trip” book. Doomsday Race was “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – but with some Election thrown in.” The shape of this one is very much classic “dudes on a mission” thing – like The Guns of Navarone plus The Dirty Dozen plus Suicide Squad, with some David Cronenberg and Alien mixed in. But for kids! Ha.
Our heroes – who were separated during Book #7½ (Quint and Dirk’s Hero Quest) - are reunited. They’ve tracked their nemesis, the evil villain Thrull, to a very bizarre other-dimensional fortress that seems to have crash-landed here, in our dimension. So, our good guys have to break in into the fortress and blow the whole thing up, Death Star-style. But once they get inside, of course, they make some discoveries that mess up their plans and cause them to rethink a lot of what they thought they knew.
This book answers some big questions raised in previous books, raises a few new questions, and sees one major character’s story come to a close. It was a tough one to write!
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in returning to this world and characters? Do you find that there is a creative shorthand to writing the characters’ voices and dialogue?
MB: Because of the series’ schedule – I do two Last Kids books a year – I never really feel like I’m totally away from this world and the characters. So, there’s not that much actual “returning.” Which is good and bad. It’s hard to get a 30,000-foot view of things when I’m sort of forever in the trenches on it… if that makes sense? But the flip side of that coin is: I’m never left staring at a blank page, thinking, “Who are these characters again? How do they talk? What’s the voice of this series?”
I’ve certainly got a creative shorthand with the voices and dialogue now. Though, I must admit, I have a habit of letting whatever I’m reading or listening to on audio around the time I’m writing bleed into that book. When I was writing Doomsday Race, I was binging The Expanse books on audio – and Amos’ voice started to creep into Dirk a bit. And that was great, actually – it caused Dirk to grow up a bit.
BD: Do you feel that Forbidden Fortress would be a solid jumping-on point for new readers, as well as those returning to the Last Kids on Earth series?
MB: It’s a great returning point, for sure! But I always recommend new readers start at the beginning of the series – either Book 1 or Book 2. We’re 11 books in to the series now, if you include the side quest adventures, and it’s grown in scale and scope. Each book picks up where the previous one ends, roughly. That makes it harder for a new reader to just dive in. Anyone that’s watched the Netflix series could pick up with Book #4, The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond. And book #5½ – that’s June’s Wild Flight, another one of those sidequest adventures – works well as a standalone.
We always do a little comic-style recap at the front of each book – and, of course, I do my best to remind readers of important events and moments and things they need to remember. But, yeah, I do recommend starting near the beginning.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that this story will connect with and impact readers?
MB: When I think about the ways stories have impacted me, especially when I was a young reader… I realize they kind of hit me in two different ways.
First, they inspired me to daydream and then, later, dabble in writing, and then, later again, write books of my own. I often get asked what one author or one book or one person really inspired me to write – but there isn’t one. It was all of it, everything I consumed. Worlds and characters that I loved would cause me to get lost imagining myself in that world or imagining beloved characters going on adventures with me and my friends. Specific writing styles that I loved caused me to try to imitate that style – which was part of finding my own voice. And stuff that I read but didn’t love – that would always cause me to think, “That was okay, I guess, but I wish it was more like this.” And then I’d quickly be daydreaming and imagining what I would have done had I been given that story to write.
Second, stories allowed me an escape. I always gravitated toward adventure stories, mysteries, and weird/funny stuff – books and comics and movies that would probably be classified as “escapist.” So, those stories were important in allowing me to do exactly that: escape. They’d let my brain – which was usually going a little too fast, probably – relax and breathe. They’d let me check out of the real world for a few hours when something tough was going on in life, after I’d had a bad day at school, etc.
So, when I think about readers connecting and being impacted by my books – first and foremost, I want to offer an escape. A fun, inspirational escape. And if my books ever inspire readers to create something of their own – that’s the icing on the cake.
BD: In light of the series’ success with young readers, it has been adapted to other mediums, including video games and television. What has been your experience in seeing the property reach so many new audiences through various artistic mediums?
MB: It's been amazing… truly. Many, many out of body experiences and “pinch me” moments: lightsaber-style battles in my backyard with my daughter – but played with the life-size toy versions of Jack’s baseball bat blade. Working for 18 months on the Last Kids on Earth video game – and then going to the local gaming shop, buying a copy, and sitting on my couch and playing it. Those are things that would have been almost impossible to imagine a few years ago. So, really, it’s all just been absolutely amazing.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MB: Yes, actually! We’re doing the first true Last Kids on Earth spin-off – a full-color graphic novel series titled The Last Comics on Earth. It’s very different from Last Kids and, I think, a little bit unexpected – which is part of what makes it fun.
The big idea: Jack, June, Quint, and Dirk are down at their local comic book store, enjoying a nice end-of-the-world afternoon reading comics – until they discover they’ve just finished the very last issue of their favorite superhero comic book, Z-Man: Defender of Apocalyptia. And the issue ended with a brutal cliffhanger! And… there are no new issues coming, ever, on account of the apocalypse!
So, the kids decide to continue the Z-Man series on their own – writing and drawing it themselves. But the first thing they do – and I love this, because it feels very true to what I would have done when I was a kid – is kill off their beloved hero Z-Man and cast themselves as silly, oddball superhero protectors of the city of Apocalyptia.
This new setting, Apocalyptia, is really fun: It’s the nexus of all apocalypses – a city full of survivors from every possible end of the world ever (most of them weird and goofy). So there are Martians, talking dinosaurs, giant Kaiju-creatures – along with a lot of fun nods to stuff like Planet of the Apes and Maximum Overdrive.
The series is a little sillier and weirder and bizarre and joke-filled than the main series – and that made it an absolute blast to write. Plus, I got to co-write this one with a good friend of mine, Josh Pruett – which made it all the more fun. And illustrator Jay Cooper draws the “book within a book” -- bringing Doug Holgate’s art to life in an entirely new and wonderful way.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Last Kids on Earth and the Forbidden Fortress and your other work?
MB: I’ve got a website, which I try to keep up to date. I do a decent job, I think? Maybe? I try! I’ve also got an author Facebook page. And my Instagram handle is Max_Loves_Pants. No twitter account; that place is Hell on Earth.