1. Why were you interested in writing a fantasy series for hi-lo readers?
When I was a kid, I was a reluctant reader. My parents were immigrants from China who could speak a little English but couldn’t read it. They didn’t have the ability to teach me to read, so I was behind the other students when it came to literacy levels. Some of the books other kids were reading were far beyond my abilities, and I was stuck reading the kinds of books that were more suitable for young kids. It was embarrassing walking around with these books. When I became a writer, I wanted to make sure there were books that reluctant readers could read and not feel embarrassed for having them in their lockers.
2. What elements were important for you to include in the Keepers of the Vault?
I wanted to set the book in Edmonton because that’s where I live. The city has many old schools, and some are rumoured to be haunted. I couldn’t resist using one of the schools as the setting for my book. For me, it was a chance to play out my fears of my old elementary school. For readers, this might a familiar sight in their neighbourhoods.
3. When you write a series like Keepers of the Vault, do you have an idea of where the series is going as a whole, or do you plan it out book by book? Do the characters and their stories surprise you as you go along or do you know where it's all heading?
I have a general idea of where the series might go, but I don’t know all the details. I like having a vague idea of direction, but I love having the freedom to explore and get lost in the story and characters. Some writers loathe the idea of getting notes on their drafts, but I welcome them, because they give me a chance to revisit the world and play with the characters. I compare the process to playing a beloved video game. Even though I’ve finished the game, I like seeing if there’s anything I missed, and I always get a thrill when my editor points out something I didn’t notice before. Sometimes, I’ll make a discovery about a character or story as I’m working on the draft, and it will change the story. In the case of Keepers of the Vault, I was looking for something the students could be studying in class, and I decided to use the novel Frankenstein. As I wrote the teacher’s dialogue, I realized I could use the thematic connections in Mary Shelley’s novel to connect with the theme in my book. I hadn’t planned this; it was just a happy discovery. The way I look at this process is that I will find the story I need to tell while I’m trying to figure out the story I want to tell.
4. You've written funny stories, mysteries, picture books and teen fantasy in the past. How have your past, real-life experiences been helpful to you in writing this series?
An urban legend about my old elementary school inspired the book. I attended classes in a four-storey convent that had been converted to a school. The kids heard rumours that the fourth floor was off-limits because it was haunted. Some claimed that the ghosts of people who died during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 walked around the fourth floor. While this myth was the starting point for the book, I took my story in a different direction. I like having an anchor point in something real. I guess it’s my way of being able to connect to the story. I often picture myself as the protagonist in the story so I can drill down into the heart of the story and make it real for readers.
5. What sorts of books did you like to read when you were a "tween"? What sorts of books do you wish had been available to you back then?
I lived in a small town with a tiny school library, so the options were few and far between. I read non-fiction books about VTOL planes and the Hobbit. With all the great books around today, I wished even a fraction of them existed when I was a tween. I look at books by Arthur Slade, Kenneth Oppel, Susin Nielsen and Susan Juby, and I think, “Why couldn’t you guys have been around when I was a kid?”
6. You are going to be touring Ontario as part of TD Book Week. What are you most looking forward to?
For me, school and library visits are a chance for me to connect with readers. While I love meeting fans, I’m particularly interested in meeting the kids who don’t know my books or me. My greatest joy is to stand in front of group of surly and bored kids and then slowly but surely win them over with my presentation until they’re talking about my books for days after the visit. My presentations incorporate storytelling and stage magic to illustrate key points about the writing process. I love the look of wonder in the kids’ eyes when they realize writing is more interesting than they assumed. That’s the fuel that keeps me going through long road trips, restaurant food and uncomfortable hotel beds.
7. Can you give us a hint about what will happen to Kristina and Dylan in book two?
In book two, Kristina and Dylan are going to chase down the person who broke into the vault, but they will run into a bit of musical trouble, and they may have to pay the piper.
Want to book Marty for a school or library visit?
Visit his website at www.martychan.com. Also, check out how to book an author visit as part of the TD Canadian Children's Book Week Tour! Applications are being accepted now.
Keepers of the Vault is a hi-lo fantasy series for reluctant readers ages 12+ and uses a dyslexia-friendly font.