The following is an interview with Mark Jeffrey, writer of the Young-Adult series Max Quick. He is also an internet entrepreneur who currently serves as the CEO of the ThisWeekIn network of podcast television shows. In the following interview, Jeffrey explains his motivation behind the Max Quick series, his desire to transition from novel to film, and the similarities and differences between being a writer and an internet entrepreneur.
This interview was conducted on Sunday, March 13, 2011.
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics: Hi, this is Barbra Dillon with Fanboy Comics. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Mark Jeffrey, writer of the exciting Young-Adult novel, Max Quick Book One: The Pocket and the Pendant. Mark, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
Mark Jeffrey: Hey, Barbra. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
BD: Absolutely. I have a few questions for you. The first being that the Young-Adult Fiction has swept the nation in the past few years in the form of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and, most recently, The Hunger Games series. What was it about the genre that interested you the most?
MJ: Interestingly enough, when I first starting writing I wasn’t really sure if I was going to write an adult book or a Young-Adult book. And, I initially made the decision to write a Young-Adult book, because I felt as a first time writer or a first time novelist it would be easier. My feeling at that time would be that the emotions would be… they are kid emotions so they would be smaller. (Laughs.) This is what I thought at the time. I came to a very different conclusion at the end. But, I thought, OK, I’ll work with a toy world, I’ll have toy characters; everything would be on a smaller scale, so I felt it would be more manageable. And, what I discovered as I dove into it was that it is actually more difficult than writing an adult novel, because you’re writing things that are universal. You’re writing things that are, you know, everyone was a kid once. Right? So, you’re dealing with… I think that kid emotions are a lot bigger. And so, I unwittingly bit off the harder task.
BD: (Laughs.) But you did a great job with it.
MJ: Well, I really appreciate you saying so. Thank you so much, because I know that you are a big fan of the genre. And particularly, I tend to love the genre. I tend to love things like Star Wars. That’s really what excited my imagination growing up was things like Stars Wars and more recently Harry Potter. But, of course, his dark materials. I love that whole series. Ender’s Game, which is I guess probably not a Young-Adult novel, but things like that I love.
BD: Excellent, I’m a big fan of the Ender’s Game series, as well. My second question for you is… what can you tell us about Max Quick – the book and the character, and how does it compare with other Young-Adult novels?
MJ: I actually thought really long and hard about what would make my book different from things like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc., and so space has been done to death. It’s been done all over the place – Star Wars, etc. So, I said, alright, I have to stay away from that. Sword and sorcery has been done to death, pretty much Lord of the Rings. And, I sort of loved Harry Potter with that, because the world operates on magic. So, if you go to a magical land or a magical school of some sort, that was off the table as well. I was sort of like, what’s left? When I started writing Max Quick, I didn’t really know what to call it, because it takes place in our world in the real world, and pseudo magical things happen but they have a pseudo scientific explanation. You’re never sure, you know, what is that? I didn’t really know what the sticker to put on that was. And so a friend of my said, “Oh, what you’re doing is magical realism.” And, I had never heard that term before. And, so I wanted to look it up. And, it turns out that there are were whole bunch of South American writers in the 50s who pioneered this writing. I would say Lost, the television show Lost, is probably the most recent example of magical realism. You have an island, it takes place in our world. Crazy things happen on the island, but it’s not really magic, but it’s not really science, either. So, it’s sort of something in between. I would say what makes Max Quick different is the fact that it’s magical realism vs. space vs. magic or vampires.
BD: Most novels in the genre portray protagonists that are the same age as the readers to outline the issues that young readers face. In what ways do you hope that readers will connect with Max?
MJ: Well, I think… one of the things that I was telling you, was that I liked the idea of kids being separated from adults. And so, because kids rely on adults a lot. Even more so than they may realize at 12 or 13. And so, one of the things that I wanted to accomplish with the book, is I was thinking of something like The Stand. What would it be like if The Stand happened and only kids were left? I can’t really do something as gruesomely as The Stand. I can’t really do Young-Adult novels that gruesome, although The Hunger Games makes me rethink that. Now I’m not afraid to do certain things that I was afraid of doing before I read The Hunger Games. Which I absolutely love by the way. I know I told you that but…
BD: We share a great love of the book series.
MJ: Absolutely; it’s great. Well, what I wanted to do was to separate the kids from the adults. I wanted it to be an empty world. The (inaudible) to have stopped time became the mechanism by which I accomplished that. In fact, in some ways it was better than The Stand in terms of a device of what I was trying to do. Because you could see the adults. They were all still there, they were just unavailable. And that almost made it more terrifying, I think. I’m not sure if that answers your question at all.
BD: Yes, very much so. Many popular YA novels have reached larger audiences by crossing over into film and TV adaptations. Do you have any plans to make the same leap into Hollywood with Max Quick?
MJ: I have plans. (Laughs.) So, I can talk a little bit about this. We are actually actively talking with books right now. When I wrote the book, you know, I’m a big fan of movies. So I really was thinking, as I wrote the book, I thought very consciously of what the book would be like as a movie. And almost sort of imagined it as a movie as I was writing it.
BD: When you’re reading it, it really does play like a movie. You can definitely see all of the characters, and they are really well developed.
MJ: Well, I really appreciate that. I think it’s a very visual experience. It could be a great movie. I very often have thought about what it would be like as a movie and the things I would like to see in it. I would specifically want to see the chase through the Serpents and Mermaids town. Put that in a movie and I would love to see that.
BD: Definitely! Your first novel has already had great success in the digital market as an audiobook, and, before our interview today, we have previously discussed that you are already expanding the book into a series. What can you tell us about the expansion and where can fans find more of Max Quick?
MJ: Well, as you pointed out, well, people probably don’t know this, but I self-published the book in multiple formats initially before I had a publishing deal. Probably the biggest thing that I did was I read it aloud as an audio book, and then put it out there as a podcast, which what that means is you can go on iTunes or podioworks.com and search for Max Quick and you’ll find a bunch of free mp3s that you can download and listen to the book. Or… actually the old version of the book. The original version which existed before I had an editor at Harper Collins punch me in the head a couple of times and make me rewrite it. The book is actually an awful lot better, the one that you read. The Harper Collins version is much better than the one that’s out there for free. And I really have to say that. I’m very thankful for my editor helping me do that. But the old version of The Pocket and The Pendant and the subsequent book which is called Max Quick and The Two Travelers is also out there as a podiobook and that’s still up at podiobooks.com. And the second book is a lot bigger, it’s actually twice as long, actually it’s about 3 times as long as the Harper Collins version. The Harper Collins version is much shorter than the original version. They felt that kids would see a big, giant book and gets scared.
BD: Absolutely. And, it’s enough that it grabs your attention and leaves you wanting more. So, the fact that there is a second book, that it’s twice as long – even better I think.
MJ: Yeah. So, I honestly… I believe that Harper Collins pushing me to do that was the right decision. Because I feel that, if you don’t know what the series is, you don’t know if you want to invest your time in it. And, if you see a big giant book, you’re going to go, meh, I don’t know, maybe I’ll read that. So, I feel like it’s fair that I as an author earn the right to write a bigger book. I think that’s a completely fair thing
BD: Well, I think you have definitely earned it.
MJ: Well, I hope that I have. I think I might have. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, May 1st is when the book comes out in bookstores, so I’m hoping on that day or not far afterwards I will know whether I have the right to write the second, the third, or the fourth books. Oh, and to finish answering your question, I have about half of the third book finished, and the third book is called Max Quick 3.
BD: Well, we will definitely keep our fingers crossed for you.
MD: Well, thank you.
BD: Now, Mark, aside from your work as a writer, fans may already be familiar with your work in online media through projects like The Palace and your most recent company, Mahalo.com. How do you compare your work in online media versus your work as a writer?
MJ: Um (laughs) to me it’s very different. I’ve actually thought about this quite a bit. First, I will say, I didn’t write the novels while I was working. Both novels were written while I was off of work. The first, The Pocket and The Pendant I wrote, I had a terrible failure of a company that I started in 1999 that completely went under in 2001. I’ve had a couple of successes but I’ve also had one really horrific failure. Right after that horrific failure I started writing The Pocket and The Pendant. ‘Cause I was sort of like, I have nothing to lose. I can actually do the thing that I’ve always wanted to do. It took me about a year and a half to write it, so I wasn’t working. And when I wrote The Two Travelers in 2004, I started a company in 2003 and sold it to Barry Diller, who is the head of Interactive Corporation in 2004, so I made a bunch of cash and didn’t have to work for awhile. So there were a couple of years that I took off, just because I could and I wanted to, and at that point was when I wrote the next Max Quick book, and that was like a full-time job, I took it very seriously. So, when I’m doing one of these companies, it’s very difficult to mentally slide into the mode of writing, where I have to be very imaginative and very almost hippyish in a way. I really do need to sort of get to that place to write these books, and I can’t really do it while I’m CEO of a company, because being CEO is a full-time job. Part of your brain is always worrying about things. I actually edited The Pocket and The Pendant while working at ThisWeek In, which is the company where I am now. Which is different, because you’re not making up new stuff. By and large, you’re editing, and you’re moving sentences around, so it’s very different. But, in some ways, it’s similar in that a lot of my projects have been very creative. The Palace was a virtual world sort of like Second Life is now, but we did it in 1995, so we were way ahead of time. But it was really fun, and it was very imaginative. And, I also feel ThisWeekIn is very imaginative. ThisWeekIn.com is the company I’m with now, and I’m the CEO. It is a network of web television shows. There are about 26 shows we get about 4 million views per month. That’s going really well and that’s sort of a creative endeavor as well. Although, I deal with a lot of the business side of it. It’s not like I write novels and I’m an accountant. There are some similar things with what I do, but I really think that they’re different in that I really couldn’t write and do this at the same time. At some point, I have to make a choice. And I hope to be able to write full-time, but I haven’t gotten there yet.
BD: Well, again, we will definitely keep our fingers crossed. If Max Quick Book 1 is any indication, I think that you will have a long successful career as a writer.
MJ: I very much appreciate you saying that, especially from you. Because I know that you love this stuff.
BD: I do. Honestly, I read Max Quick in about two days. I was just ravenous and ran through it. It was fantastic.
MJ: (Laughs) That’s awesome. I love hearing that. Thank you so much.
BD: Well, Mark thank you so much again for taking time to speak with me. It has been such a pleasure. And, all of us here at Fanboy Comics wish you the best of luck with Max Quick and your continued success as you mentioned with the ThisWeekIn podcasts. We really love them here at Fanboy Comics.
MJ: Well, thank you, Barbra. I appreciate you having me on.
BD: This is Barbra Dillon for Fanboy Comics, and I encourage our fans to keep an eye out for more upcoming projects from Mark Jeffrey.
Barbra Dillon is the Managing Editor of Fanboy Comics, an independent comic book publishing company based in Los Angeles, CA. She has produced numerous short films including Something Animal and Batman of Suburbia, and served as Legal Advisor for the film Walken on Sunshine. For more interviews, blogs, and reviews by Barbra and the FBC staff, check out the Fanboy Comics website at www.fanboycomics.net or sign up for the e-newsletter, The Fanboy Scoop, by emailing email@example.com.