This week we are talking with Tom and Phaedra Mintun, authors of Margaret Magee Meets Morris.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Tom and Phaedra, thanks for making the time to join us for this interview.
Thanks for the opportunity, we are really excited to be here!
AA: What is Margaret Magee about?
Margaret Magee Meets Morris is the first book in a series about a little girl and her robot. As the title implies this is the story of how they meet. Margaret is rescued by a dock robot, who she calls him Morris, while visiting the docks with her father. Margaret instantly sees him as her friend and decides to take him home with her.
The story is really about how people are more than they might seem at first. Margaret is small, but she is very strong. Morris is this huge robot, but being taken out of his environment makes him vulnerable. Their story starts with him saving her, but Margaret gets the chance to return the favor later in the story.
AA: That is a great premise for the story and the messages in it. What was the motivation for creating Margaret Magee?
We are children of the 80’s we grew up with wonderful adventure stories like the Gummi Bears, Teddy Ruxpin, and DuckTales it seems like these stories are dying out. A lot of the entertainment for children today follows formulas, and focuses of education basics that rely on repetition and simplifying things down to a level of condescension. Good storytelling and plot development have gone by the wayside, and we are deeply bothered by this trend. Kids are extremely smart and perceptive and they are being done a disservice.
We talked a lot about how to contribute to the world and make it a better place. We are both storytellers so this seemed like the natural place to start. We wanted to create something that was both fun and had a positive message without beating kids over the head with a moral. It was important to us that it be something parents and children would both enjoy, and that holds that feeling of adventure and possibility that were present in the stories we grew up with.
AA: Margaret Magee is a collaborative effort for both of you, along with artist Jeff Egli. How did that work for you, who did what? How did Jeff get involved with your project?
Tom and I work extremely well as a creative team, we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Margaret Magee Meets Morris is the first book in a series that follows these characters as they grow up. So readers that start out reading this book will be able to move up to the early chapter books, chapter books and young adult books and stay with the same characters. We are also beginning to have stories that follow the early adventures of Scottie, a sub character from the young adult books as a serial on the website that are much more pulp fiction style. We set out to create a whole world for these characters to live in, and we wanted to have many points through which people could enter the Inari Steam universe.
Tom is amazing at character development and the over all structure of a story. No matter what age level we are writing for we like to start with an outline. During that process Tom paces around the room and I sit at the computer and type. Sometimes we outline on long car trips, Tom drives and I carry a note pad. We talk about the characters, who they are, what they want, where they are and where they are going. While we lay out the rough plot we both throw out ideas and decide what works best for the characters. We go back and forth making suggestions and building on each other’s ideas. We know WAY more about every character, detail and back story than could possibly make it into a book!
Once we have the main points of a story I sit down with the outline and put words to it. For the children’s books that means putting together the script (the words you see on the page and a short description of what each page looks like.) For the novels this part of the process is a lot more involved, I have a short paragraph describing the events of a chapter and I turn that into about 2,500 words.
The biggest challenge with creating the script for Margaret Magee Meets Morris was making sure that things were revealed by turning the page. I ended up pulling blank paper out of the printer and throwing it into a binder and writing out each page so I could make sure every page was exactly where it needed to be for the experience of revealing the story.
Then I hand everything back to Tom and get his opinion. We make changes and adjust from there. When we work on the novels I write each chapter and then pass it off to Tom and he gives me feed back, so we are always on the same page, so to speak.
Before we went to Jeff we had tried working with other artists. People would commit and say they were able to do it and we wouldn’t get any art, deadlines would go wooshing by and we would have nothing. We had planned on having a completed book ready for Steamcon but it was only a few weeks away and we had nothing, we thought our project was going to die.
Jeff is one of the co-owners of Iguana Comics, the awesome comic shop in Grants Pass, and we have admired his art for years! We honestly thought there was no way on earth he would work on our project but we called him up and asked if he would meet with us. When we met with Jeff we had the script for Margaret Magee Meets Morris, a handful of reference material and a crazy tight deadline for Steamcon. Jeff loved the project and was without a doubt our hero! He jumped in and had the first character sketches within days. He was honest with us that there was no possible way to have the book done right and have time for it to be printed for the con. After we all talked it over we picked our favorite pages and he drew those first and we used those for promotional material. Jeff Egli and his wife Sunda, who did the beautiful water coloring in the book, went above and beyond to help us get everything ready. The buttons we handed out at Steamcon were all made at Iguana Comics by Sunda hours before we left for Seattle!
The rest of the book just fell into place (Which is code for Jeff worked his butt off and we got started on other projects in the Inari Steam universe). Jeff would send us rough sketches and we would look them over and make adjustments if need be and he would make it happen. It was incredible to see our mental images for the book appear on the page. It was a big learning process for all of us and turned out to be a fantastic collaboration. I look at the finished book and I can’t imagine anyone else having done this. Jeff is so talented and his art just makes these characters come to life!
AA: That’s very inspiring to hear how well you work together with each otherand come to a collaborative vision of the Inari Steam universe, as well as being able to express the stories in it to people of all ages. Were you looking for any particular style to illustrate the story? What were some of the design concepts involved in creating the visual theme?
We didn’t look for a particular style at first. When we were looking at Jeff Egli’s art it really resonated with us and the collaboration with him really created a lot of the visual theme. While we had core concepts for what the characters looked like and how they behaved, Jeff and Sunda really fleshed out the environments with the little details that make the pages come alive.
AA: Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their stories. How did this play into Margaret Magee
As I mentioned above, Tom and I were both heavily influenced by the cartoons of our generation. We both love hero stories with a lot of adventure. We talked about what kind of characters we wanted to write about. We put a lot of time into thinking about who was needed in the world today, what role models are lacking and what we would want to give to the next generation. Margaret and Morris are less about us and more about the readers.
AA: What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating the Margaret Magee world?
Our research ranges from robotic mechanics, to air currents, to the electro chemical properties of pickles, to fashion, design, and social interaction of the time period. We want our characters to feel authentic, relatable, and timeless. The world itself is meticulously plotted, the characters time lines are written out, and the way the world works is consistent between all of our projects.
We’re going to take a break in our interview with Phaedra and Tom Mintun. Please join us next time when we continue talking about their first book and other projects coming up. Until then, visit their website for more information.
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