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April 7, 2017

In conversation: Authors Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz discuss BLAZE OF EMBERS

Posted by Rebecca M
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We love a good binge-worthy series, especially when it combines fierce, brave characters with an original setting and plenty of edge-of-your-seat excitement. Luckily for us, The Books of Ore series covers each of these conditions and so much more. In this imaginative series, readers meet spoiled heiress Phoebe Plumm and her servant boy, Micah Tanner, both of whom live in a highly technologically advanced world called Meridian. When Phoebe's father is kidnapped, however, Phoebe and Micah learn that the technologies they enjoy every day are, in fact, harvested from the beautiful world of Mehk against the will of its inhabitants. Determined to make things right, the two join with the rebellious mehkans against the powerful forces of The Foundry, a massive corporation that controls all metal production, only to realize that the the worlds' fates are deeply entwined. Below, you can learn more about the series and the third book, BLAZE OF EMBERS, from authors Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz, the dynamic team behind The Books of Ore. Read on to learn where they got their inspiration for their books, what they like most about co-writing, and what they're each working on next.

Tell us a bit about BLAZE OF EMBERS --- and the Books of Ore cycle in general, for new readers.

The Books of Ore tell the story of Phoebe Plumm and her servant, Micah, two kids from the technologically-obsessed metropolis of Albright City. While trying to rescue Phoebe’s kidnapped father, they discover that all of the luxuries and gadgets they know are actually creatures poached from Mehk, a world of living metal and organic machines. As they join with the rebellious mehkans against the powerful forces of The Foundry, a massive corporation that holds a monopoly on all metal production, they come to understand that the fates of these two worlds are deeply entwined. The second book ends with a shocking betrayal which forces Phoebe and Micah to question everything they thought they knew. At the start of BLAZE OF EMBERS, war threatens to destroy the kids' home country of Meridian, and an unfathomable new power rises in Mehk, shattering old alliances and launching our heroes on a last, desperate mission.

Describe Phoebe and Micah in 140 characters (each).

Phoebe grew up as a spoiled little rich girl, but she will sacrifice everything --- and use her talent for trickery --- to fight for justice.

Micah dreams of escaping servitude and poverty by becoming a great military hero, but will learn that war is not anything like he imagined.

How did the two of you begin collaborating? What is the best part of co-writing? The most challenging?

We met as students at CalArts, sitting in the back of a boring History of Experimental Film class, and arguing about everything from music to psychology. As we debated passionately about horror films, we realized that our heated disagreements were the perfect fuel for collaboration. It’s been great fun, working on kids’ shows and R-rated comedy scripts, making each other laugh and occasionally trying to disgust one another.

The best part of collaborating is that there is always someone to push you further, to say “That solution is not as clever or elegant as it could be.” You have to defend your choices, which makes every choice deliberate and conscious. You also get to have someone you trust take a kernel that you plant and help fertilize it into something bigger, so that the piece each of you contributes grows into something beyond what either would have come up with alone. Of course, the challenge is that sometimes you have an idea, or a phrase, or a solution that seems like gangbusters to you, and then the other person comes along and knocks it over. And we got really good at arguing about every little thing. We once argued for 20 minutes about a single punctuation mark.

You both have a background in art/animation. How has your background informed your writing and storytelling, particularly with the Books of Ore?

We are both stop motion animators, meaning we move inanimate objects frame by frame, trying to imbue them with an illusion of thought, intention and life. This started messing with our heads, as we were looking at appliances and furniture and vehicles all around us and imagining them as breathing creatures. That got us to thinking about a world where all of these organic machines may have originated. Our background also led us to think carefully about how creatures moved, which led to questions about the sorts of environments they evolved in, which led us to expand the boundaries of our fantasy world further and further from our own.

Along the same lines, can you share some background on the artwork the two of you and others created for the books? Readers: you can take a look at a number of images on BooksOfOre.com.

Some of the images were created by Jon Foster, a talented illustrator who made some development art for us. There are also a number of images that we made originally for ourselves, as a way of communicating ideas between us, and to allow us a visual guide for writing consistent description.

How does it feel to conclude an epic saga like the Books of Ore? Is it difficult to "move on" from the world you've created, or are you excited/relieved?

In some ways it is a relief. This was an all-consuming labor of love for both of us, and we ate, drank, dreamed and lived this world for years. To finally have every word put into print is amazing, now that the story we imagined can be experienced by readers all over. At the same time, there is an element of sadness, since we grew so attached to these characters and these worlds. We hope to revisit them in the future, as we think there are many, many more stories to tell about these worlds, and hope that there will be enough interest from readers to justify more tales.

What has been the reaction from kids? Do you have a favorite reader encounter?

We have been so lucky to meet kids who are incredibly enthusiastic about the books, jumping up and down to ask us about the fates of different characters and for spoilers of what is to come. We recently got a great letter from a kid that included a super cool drawing of a mehkan. That made our day! It’s hard when you are writing because you are sort of shouting into a dark and silent chasm, and it’s not until months later that you get to feel any response to all that work.

Have you heard from parents who are struggling to find books for reluctant readers? Besides your own books, do you have book recommendations parents should "try out" on their children?

Stimulating reluctant readers is always a challenge, and we are of the opinion that there is such a wealth of variety out there, there is something that can speak to every kid. If the kid is into music, or astronomy, or history, there is a writer who has explored a novel and stimulating aspect of that topic. For us as kids, we sought the visceral thrills of adventure and horror stories, hungry for the adrenaline rush only those can provide. John Bellairs and RA Salvatore were particular favorites, great because they both wrote prolifically, which meant we were never at a loss for more chapters

What books (any age/genre!) are each of you looking forward to reading this year? What movies are you looking forward to watching?

Without question, we are most excited for Phillip Pullman’s new series, The Book of Dust, which is a companion trilogy to His Dark Materials (THE GOLDEN COMPASS, THE SUBTLE KNIFE, THE AMBER SPYGLASS). The original trilogy blew our minds and filled us with tremendous admiration for its ambition, imagination and depth. The chance to return to the worlds he created is incredibly enticing.

What are each of you working on now? Can readers expect more collaborations? Solo novels?

Together, we are working on a new fantasy book, one that we are particularly excited about because it is a version of the very first project we ever worked on together, nearly twenty years ago. It’s been bubbling and brewing for a long time! In addition, we have our own projects. Cam has been working as a screenwriter for TV animation studios and playing an awful lot of D&D. Benny has a picture book in progress and is also writing a new novel, a weird twist on classic ghost stories.