interview with michael buckley, new york times bestselling author

the future looks grimm – magic and other misdemeanors

The Sisters Grimm takes readers to a world where fairytales are fact and not everyone is who they seem. This bestselling children’s book series tells a story of two orphaned sisters, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, who learn they are descendents of the Brothers Grimm and that the famous Grimm tales are actually a collection of case files. The girls live in a fairytale town filled with magical characters, some good, some bad. When one mysterious character sets a giant loose on the town, it’s up to the Sisters Grimm to save the day. 

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Michael came up with the idea for the books after reading an old copy of The Brothers Grimm, where he learned they actually had a sister (who knew?). He soon began conjuring the story of Sabrina, Daphne and the magical realm of Ferryport Landing. But what would a sleepy Hudson River town be without a whole slew of fairytale characters? To make the world of the Sisters Grimm a real fantasyland for kids, Michael added characters from Hans Christian Andersen, then Charles Perrault. Now Ferryport Landing is filled to the brim with every great children’s literature character, even including Puck from Shakespeare. 

He’s currently writing the seventh book in the series, and a whole host of adventures have unfolded since the first book came out in 2005. Yogi Times had the opportunity to catch up with Michael and muse about the books and the “grimm” events in store for the future. 

Lisa Johns: As parents, what do you think we can do to help enliven our children’s imaginations? 

Michael Buckley: Above all, don’t hesitate to let your kids read something silly even if you think it doesn’t have any value. I meet many parents who say they won’t let their kids read Captain Underpants, but I think this is a terrible mistake. Anything that gets children excited about books is a good thing. The silly ones are always fueled by the most imagination.

LJ: Whether it’s Captain Underpants, Aesop’s Fables or The Sisters Grimm, what can parents do to encourage their kids to read? 

MB: READ! Reading makes good writers. Actually, it makes good human beings, and nothing fuels imagination like a book. I meet far too many parents who do not like to read. We even have a president who says he doesn’t like to read. That is a lousy thing to say when you’re supposed to be a role model. If you want your kids to be excited about books and ideas, you have to be excited about them as well.

LJ: Are there certain characters you love? 

MB: I love writing about the Big Bad Wolf. I’ve imagined him as a regretful hero—someone who has done terrible things but has committed himself to redeeming his vicious past. The character, Mr. Canis, is an avid yogi but he’s secretly the Big Bad Wolf and uses yoga to control the monster inside him. Kids always get a kick out of this. He’s still a troubled character with ups and downs, but I enjoy chronicling his journey.

LJ: What characters do you love that you haven’t brought into the story yet?

MB: I’m eager to write about Pinnochio, Mowgli from the Jungle Book and Alice. The great thing about fairytales is there are millions of them, so I might never run out of characters to explore.

LJ: Are there certain characters you cannot bear to part with?

MB: I haven’t had to get rid of anyone dear to my heart, but that’s certainly on the horizon. The closest I have come is having Sheriff Hamstead (one of the Three Little Pigs) leave town and get married. I miss him, but I plan to bring him back soon.

LJ: As a kid, where did you go on vacation?

MB: We spent nearly every summer with my grandmother Relda in a tiny little town in West Virginia called Kenna. It didn’t even have a traffic light.

LJ: Is Granny Relda the only character in the book who is fashioned directly after someone from real life?

MB: Granny Relda is the one character most like the real person she’s based on, but most of the other characters are based on people I’ve known throughout my life. Many are old friends, some are bullies I knew as a kid, there are even elements of myself in some of the characters. 

LJ: What are some of your favorite locations created in The Sisters Grimm?

MB: Ferryport Landing is such a fun place to work with and everyone there is a fairytale character. Ferryport Landing is an amalgamation of lots of towns in upstate New York: Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Cold Spring, Hamburg—all of them nestled against the Hudson River. I also enjoy writing about Granny Relda’s crazy house and all its bizarre rooms.

LJ: What would you say most prepared you for being a writer?

MB: Believe it or not the best training I had was doing stand-up comedy. It taught me to write jokes, understand how to set up ideas and most of all, it gave me the confidence to speak to hundreds of kids at a time. Doing stand-up taught me how to work a crowd and get them excited about what I do.

LJ: You recently closed a deal with New Regency Films, who is now in the process of creating a feature based on the first three books. How do you think the film will differ from the book?

MB: Well, considering how some movies turn out I suppose it will be very different. I am eager to see how they want to do it, but I’m sure it will be a gut-wrenching experience. I just hope it leads kids to the books. Hollywood never seems to trust the source material for their films—this thing could be Roots when it’s finished. Who knows?LJ: Who are your favorite authors?

MB: I love Norman Mailer, John Irving, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Jon Krakauer, Susanna Clarke and J.K. Rowling.  

LJ: What makes you laugh?

MB: Everything! I have a big sense of humor—Monty Python, Will Ferrell, The Daily Show, SNL … I recently rented Hot Rod, which received terrible reviews, but I thought it was hilarious and brilliant.  

LJ: What makes you cry?

MB: Onions.LJ: And for our readers who suspect they may be infected with Sisters Grimm fever, what signs should they be on the lookout for?MB: If you’re desperately awaiting the release of the next book, if you’re just dying to find out if Puck and Sabrina get married when they grow up, if you fancy getting cast in the film, developed an unhealthy preoccupation with Prince Charming, practice yoga with the Big Bad Wolf, are thirsty to discover the identity of The Master and his Scarlet Hand, or you find yourself saying “That’s so punk rock!” all the time, I’d say you’d better go see a doctor.

Michael Buckley’s previous books include a New York Times bestseller, a Kirkus Best Fantasy Book and two Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum winners. He lives in New York City with his wife Alison and their son Finn.

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