Author Interview: Michael Spradlin
By Amanda Lynch, The Children’s Book Review
Published: July 30, 2009
As I mentioned back in April, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Michael Spradlin’s The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail. The book seemed so well-done, so well-researched, I couldn’t put it down–or stop recommending it to anyone and everyone who I thought might have even a passing interest in it! Needless to say, I was extremely excited to interview Mr. Spradlin on the newest installment in Tristan’s journey, which comes out in September: The Youngest Templar: Trail of Fate.
Amanda: The Youngest Templar series seems to be a big departure from your other books. What made you decide to write a book about the Crusades?
Michael: Growing up, I love reading stories like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, and all the other stories about the middle ages. The Third Crusade in particular, is so full of rich personalities, that I just knew that some day I’d have to write my own adventure set there. It’s been great fun.
Amanda: The book is clearly-well researched, and all of your descriptions of the places they travel to–Dover, Tyre, Acre–all seem very authentic. How much research did you have to do, and did you get to travel to the sites of any of these places?
Michael: Well first of all, thank you for saying the book is well-researched. I often tell kids during school visits that most writers I know do far more research than we do writing. As to the locales in The Youngest Templar, wherever I travel in the world, I always take a video camera and digital photos of wherever I go. Hoping that it might come in handy someday if I want to write a book set there. I did travel to Dover and visited the castle, the surrounding countryside etc.
I did not travel to Tyre or Acre (mainly because I have very little value as a hostage) but my agent grew up in Israel and visited Acre and gave me lots of details about the city. The caves below Acre where used by Pirates and bandits. There is a secret passage from the Crusaders Palace to the caves below the city that was built by the Templars. All those things are real.
The internet is also a useful tool for this kind of research because you can see photos and maps of where you’re writing about without having to travel there at great expense. But one of the things I always remind people is when you’re writing about things that happened 1000 years ago, that world no longer exists. Things have changed, buildings have been altered, roads and trails no longer exist. The best you can do is try to give a sense of what it was like and be as accurate as you can.
Amanda: How long did it it take to write the first two books?
Michael: The first book took much longer than the second, probably a year and half at least. That’s always the case when you’re writing a series or trilogy. You need to establish the back story, create the world your characters live in, and set up the plot. In the second book, all that work is done and you just go with the story. Book two probably took me six months to complete.
Amanda: Where did you draw your inspiration for Tristan?
Michael: Most of Tristan’s character is drawn from my son, Michael Jr. They are a lot alike in many ways. Both of them are soft-hearted, compassionate and when it comes down to it, always try to do the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing.
Amanda: Will we get more information about Tristan’s true identity in the second book?
Michael: Let’s just say yes, and I think readers are going to get some real juicy nuggets about Tristan, but there is still going to be some mystery surrounding him.
Amanda: I loved the characters of Robard and Maryam. What made you decide to make Maryam an Al Hashshashin assassin?
Michael: When I was doing research, I came across stories about Al Hashshashin (which translates to The Assassins) and found them fascinating. They were ferocious and fanatical, yet they lived by a code of honor that was every bit as fundamental to their beliefs as the Templar code was to the Templars. So I knew I had to weave them into the story and I knew there was going to be a girl character, so I said: “A girl assassin with twin golden daggers who is every bit the equal of the boys? Sign me up!”
Amanda: Keeper of the Grail ended on quite a cliffhanger! Are we in store for another one at the end of Trail of Fate?
Michael: Hmm. I guess we’ll have to read it and find out.
Amanda: Did you always want to be a writer?
Michael: I think it was a natural progression. I grew up loving to read, but if you had a time machine and went back and asked 9 year old Mike Spradlin, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He probably would have said, “Third baseman for the Detroit Tigers.” Loving reading was the first step. Then as I got older and went to college where I majored in History and minored in English, I had several professors who nourished and encouraged my writing. It was then that I began to think. “Maybe I can do this.”
Amanda: Are you currently working on any other projects?
Michael: I have two new picture books coming out next Spring one is called Off Like the Wind: The First Ride of the Pony Express. 2010 is the 150th anniversary of “The Pony” and this book follows the first mail delivery on its ride across 2000 miles of wilderness. It’s illustrated by Layne Johnson and his paintings are magnificent.
I also have a picture book coming out called Baseball From A-Z: A Baseball Alphabet and it’s for younger readers, but it’s illustrated by Macky Pamintuan and his work is fantastic.
This fall I have a fun little book coming out called It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies: A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols. Illustrated by a brilliant artist name Jeff Weigel it’s traditional Christmas Carols rewritten from a Zombie point of view. So you have I SAW MAMA EATING SANTA CLAUS, GOOD KING WENSCESLAS TASTES GREAT and DECK THE HALLS WITH PARTS OF WALLY. It’s zany fun.
Then in 2011, Penguin will publish The Raven’s Shadow. I think it’s the best novel I’ve written so far. It’s set in 1825 Washington DC and a teenage Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin and Edgar Allan Poe meet under a series of unusual circumstances and must save the world from an ancient evil that the modern world will come to know as Dracula. It’s 20 pounds of fun in a 5 pound sack if I may say so myself.
Amanda: What advice do you have for kids who are interested in history?
Michael: Dive in. Whatever person or period you’re interested in, learn as much as you can. Read and explore. If possible visit the battlefields, or the places where the events took place. Immerse yourself in that world.
Amanda: After you finish with The Youngest Templar Trilogy, will you continue to write historical fiction?
Michael: There’s no question. The Raven’s Shadow is Historical Fiction even though it has a League of Extraordinary Gentleman/Paranormal element to it. I’ve still done meticulous research. When were oil lanterns first invented? When did the first match appear? Who invented the propeller and when? All of these are small parts of the story, but still accurate and researched.
Amanda: So it looks like we have a lot of great offerings to come from Mr. Spradlin! I’m especially looking forward to that book of Zombie Christmas Carols….