Fighting crime, wielding amazing powers and visiting faraway magical places are things every kid dreams of, and author Michael Buckley helps them get there through his books. He writes fantastical and science ridden stories that children will love such as The Sisters Grimm and N.E.R.D.S. book series. Incorporating humor, imagination-expanding nerdy topics and protagonists that children can relate to, Michael Buckley has done more than his part in promoting reading for kids. As your children’s imaginations run wild in the Buckley’s fictional universes, you may just find that they become bona fide bookworms themselves.
Buckley’s fifth and final N.E.R.D.S. book comes out in September 2013. We thought now would be a great time to ask the author a few questions about himself and his work.
NWC: How do you make science exciting for girls who might read your books? Are the challenges different to ones boys face?
Buckley: Well, the science I write is more fiction than real. I truly think that boys and girls really want the same things from a story — excitement, laughs, suspense, and characters they can identify with. Hopefully they aren’t coming to me for too much fact-based science; the last books have had alternate realities and viruses that made people evil. Book 5 has time travel.
NWC: As a child, I loved science themed books that had potty humor in them. How do you incorporate subjects children would find funny in your books without coming across as crude or offensive?
Buckley: That’s a fine line that I dance. I use my instincts on what I would want my own son to read, but at the same time I don’t believe it’s wise to pretend that disgusting things aren’t funny. I don’t do a lot of potty humor in N.E.R.D.S. but that’s only because the characters don’t really lend themselves to it. Sisters Grimm has a lot of bodily function humor, but in the context of the characters it works very well. I guess, what I try to do is make a fart joke necessary. If it isn’t necessary it’s really not going to be that funny, either. To be honest, I’m more concerned with other things like gun violence in my books than I am a few off-color jokes. Safe but silly is the way to go.
NWC: What is your background? Where did you grow up, what did you do before you decided to write books, and what was your journey to becoming an author?
Buckley: I grew up in Akron, Ohio with a big house full of kids. I suppose having three brothers and two sisters cause you to find ways to get attention. I was always very creative and interested in books and art and performing. I started doing stand-up comedy at 16 and was the lead singer in a punk rock band at 20. After I graduated from college, I moved to NYC to be an intern for David Letterman and realized I had a knack for writing funny things. My first real job in the Big Apple was working on documentaries and TV shows for Discovery Channel, which led to some work for MTV, Nickelodeon, and so on. But TV was not my thing really — it’s insanely paced and it’s feast or famine. It was too hard to get something I really loved into the right hands, so eventually my wife said try writing a book. It was a daunting task for me because even though I liked to write, I didn’t have a lot of experience doing prose. Luckily, she was willing to help and soon became my agent. Together, we’ve put together almost 15 books so far.
NWC: Your children’s book series, N.E.R.D.S., seems to have a focus on science, “nerdy things” and independent thinking. Were these topics consciously chosen by you, or did they develop as the stories were being written?
Buckley: Everything is on purpose if you liked it. My main goal was to show kids everywhere that it’s truly the nerds, geeks, and dorks who do the most amazing and important things in life. I wanted to also give those kids their own heroes, play against the stereotypes, and show them that it’s the things that set them apart from everyone else that will be the things that everyone will respect about them some day. I didn’t want the kids to be nerdy spies — I wanted them to be amazing spies who just happen to be socially awkward, so I’m glad that kids are relating to it. When I go to schools and talk to kids they all identify themselves as nerds; they’re proud of it. That’s something I would never have admitted at their ages. For most kids, being a little different is a badge of honor.
NWC: Why did you decide to write books for children over young adults, or adults?
Buckley: I don’t know if it was a conscious decision. I think that N.E.R.D.S. and Sisters Grimm were just the best ideas I had at the time and seemed like the most fun to write. I don’t know if I have an adult novel in me, but a young adult book is something I’m working on right now.
NWC: What are your inspiration(s) for the N.E.R.D.S. book series?
Buckley: Mel Brooks films. When I was a kid, Young Frankenstein, History of The World Part I, Blazing Saddles — those were the things that made me laugh and I realized that sort of over the top comedy isn’t really out there like it used to be. I grew up listening to Steve Martin and Woody Allen records, watching Bob Newhart, The Smothers Brothers, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and SNL. That kind of humor has always been my inspiration for most of my writing. I suppose Austin Powers should be thrown in there as well because it’s sci-fi meets espionage thing is something I really enjoyed and use in N.E.R.D.S.
NWC: What has the response been to your books from the children in your life? Has their input had any impact on your creative choices?
Buckley: Most of the kids in my life are really little — 5 and under. My son Finn and his friends have been the test subject for my picture book Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show. When I walk him to school I’m always meeting some kid who shouts “The Potty of Doom!” at me. Little kids really seem to love that book and I couldn’t be happier.
NWC: Your creative sensibilities seem to translate perfectly to TV, particularly Cartoon Network. I was intrigued to see that you developed a TV show for Cartoon Network called Robotomy. What were the lessons you received from creating a kids TV show?
Buckley: If I learned anything from writing a kids TV show, it was to stop trying to write a kids TV show. It isn’t that rewarding of a career in the sense of creating something with longevity. It airs a couple dozen times and then disappears into the ether. Plus, the whole process is really pretty soul-crushing. Endless criticism, rewrites, backstabbing, and people who lie right to your face, what’s not to love? Writing books for kids is a lot more profitable and I sleep better at night.
NWC: What is the tentative release date for the fifth book in the N.E.R.D.S. book series?
Buckley: I would guess it’s probably late September. This is the last book in the series, so I hope they have a nice farewell for the kids. I’ll miss hanging out in the Playground with the rest of the team.
NWC: What are the tricks you have learned as an author to encourage children to love to read?
Buckley: I have three pieces of advice for an adult who has a kid that isn’t reading. First, don’t give them the books you liked when you were a kid (kids riding in boxcars, kids growing up on the prairie, etc…). Those books are old fashioned and well — not as good as you remember. Second, don’t be afraid to give them something obnoxious like Captain Underpants. Those books deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m not kidding. Just imagine how many non-readers turned into readers because of that series. Dav Pilkey has single-handedly created an army of kids who now have their noses in books, and there should be some kind of humanitarian award for that. Third — get caught reading. Your kid won’t read if you don’t. Kids emulate their parents, and if you are reading something so will he or she.
For more information about Michael Buckley, find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/michaelbuckleyfanpage.