Behind the Book

From the Desk Of . . . D. J. MacHale

I’m often asked the question, “Where did you get the inspiration for the Pendragon story?” I wish I had an easy answer, like “It all came to me in a brilliant flash of creativity, fully articulated and ready to go.” It didn’t. The truth is much more complicated.

Bobby’s adventure didn’t start out as Bobby’s adventure. It sprang from multiple ideas about many different things. I always like to write about things that I know. Of course I’ve never traveled through a flume or battled a quig, but so much of what is contained in the Pendragon story jumps from real life . . . blown up to fantastical proportions. I’ve written about things I’ve done and things I’ve observed. I had an idea for a story about a bunch of people who became addicted to a video game; a discount store that took control of society; a primitive tribe that discovered a devastating, natural weapon; and a world that was in danger of being wiped out by a tainted food supply. I guess the only “brilliant flash of creativity” came when I decided not to write any single one of these stories, but to string them together as part of one overall saga. Being a TV guy, I realized it was a decision that made it impossible for the story to work on television and too big for movies. That’s what brought me to writing books.

The question then became, how do I string these together? The answer came pretty quickly. I’ve always written character-driven adventures about young people. That’s what I do. So I created the character of Bobby Pendragon. Unlike most hero stories about young people, I didn’t want to go the standard route of making him a loser who somehow finds the hero within. That might work for a single adventure, but it’s hard to maintain over ten stories! That would have been a REALLY SLOW character arc. Instead, I made Bobby a guy who had it all going on . . . and lost it. He became a very real guy who made mistakes and didn’t have all the answers. I didn’t give him superpowers. In my mind he had to be someone who readers could relate to, so they might think: “What would I do if I were stuck in this situation?” Bobby couldn’t wave a magic wand or fly or calculate options at the speed of heat. He acted and reacted the way normal people do. And over the course of the adventure, he grew up.

That is the essence of the Pendragon story. A real person dealing with very real and understandable conflicts where, as in life, there aren’t always right answers. The trappings may be bigger than life, but the core is very real and relatable, both with character and with story.

Maybe the most amazing thing about Bobby’s journey is that it worked! Meaning, I outlined all ten stories in the very beginning. I knew the theme and setting of each book, and the major events in Bobby’s personal journey from the get-go . . . and I stuck to it. When The Soldiers of Halla is published, Bobby’s journey, and mine, will come to an end. I am thrilled and delighted to say that it all worked out the way I planned it. All it took was a lot of work . . . and maybe a touch of inspiration.