Lisa McMann on Action, Empathy, and CLASH OF BEASTS
Nobody's better at balancing heart and suspense than Lisa McMann. Just take a look at her Going Wild trilogy. It's got a hint of Animorphs, a dash of Justice League, and plenty of down-to-earth moments between lovable, relatable characters. The result is a whole lot of fun—we can't wait for the series finale, Clash of Beasts, to come out on October 2. Coincidentally, that's the day we're hosting Lisa here in the shop for a fun event and book signing!
We recently caught up with Lisa to ask about writing, her influences, and (of course) what's in store for Charlie, Mac, and Maria. Read her responses below, then pre-order your copy of Clash of Beasts. Even if you can't make it to the event, we'll make sure you add a signed, personalized copy to your favorite shelf.
So, fans of the series have been waiting for Clash of Beasts ever since that wicked cliffhanger at the end of book two. Without saying too much, can you give your readers a little preview of what’s in store for Charlie and her friends in the final book?
Clash of Beasts is pretty much the ultimate showdown of good vs. evil, with a bunch of surprise twists thrown in. Readers will get to see a lot more of Kelly and what’s going on with her in her new role on Dr. Gray’s team (as well as getting a bigger glimpse into her personal life). And of course Charlie, Mac, and Maria, along with the scientists, are racing against the clock, trying to find Dr. Gray and his soldiers, and stop them from altering all of humanity as we know it.
One thing we loved about Going Wild was the way you balanced the action with the more universal moments of a thirteen-year-old’s life—making new friends felt just as important to the plot as figuring out the bracelet. Why was that balance important to you?
The majority of my main characters across all of my novels have some sort of special ability or power, and because of that it can be easy to forget that they are also just like us—with fears and desires and needs. I think it’s important to develop those things in a ‘super’ character. It’s what makes readers care about them. Sure, the mysterious bracelets with animal powers and the villains and the fighting are exciting and those elements make us think, “I wish I could do that!” But the feelings of loneliness and fear of not fitting in remind us of difficult things we have all experienced, and that draws readers into a empathetic relationship and camaraderie with the characters. It makes us think, “I remember when that happened to me.”
For action-packed superhero-esque stories, the Going Wild books are surprisingly educational! Did you do any special kind of research for the series?
I did a lot of animal research, trying to find just the perfect combinations of animal abilities to make Charlie a strong protagonist without making her totally invincible (because invincibility is boring), and giving Mac and Maria other abilities to help balance out Charlie’s. There was also a bit of scientific/DNA study, and I also researched most of the settings, although the main setting of the desert in Arizona is home to me, so that was easy—I’d never brought my home setting into a book before and it was really fun. Incidentally, the move that Charlie makes at the beginning of the first book, from Chicago to a fictional city in the Phoenix area, is very similar to the one my husband and I made when our kids were 11 and 8, so a good deal of Charlie’s discovery process and difficulties in her new environment mirrors my kids’ experiences.
Can you share some of your influences for the series, either from literature or other media?
I was a huge fan of the Super Friends cartoons when I was a kid. I remember thinking there weren’t enough girls with cool powers, and not enough kids in general in superhero roles—why did they have to be adults? Then more recent movies like Spy Kids and The Incredibles got me thinking in the Going Wild direction some years ago. Additionally I’ve always been a big fan of animals and the incredible things they can do. So I threw all of those influences together and came up with Charlie Wilde.
You've written series for both middle grade and YA. How do you decide where a series will end up? Do you start with a certain age in mind or does that come once you've developed the story?
This is a great question. I’m not sure I can articulate how I choose the age of the characters, which generally determines the category of the readers. Something about the initial concept speaks to me in the early stages regarding the story level. I’ll realize, “Oh, this feels like a middle grade idea,” or “This is better suited for young adults.” For Going Wild, I loved the complications that being twelve gives to this kind of story. These kids are on the top end of childhood, straining toward independence and young adulthood. They’re keeping secrets from their parents for the first time and dealing with the guilt that comes with that. They’re also conscious of the danger and depth of what they’re facing. Yet they yearn for parental approval and the comfort of consistency at home. They cling to the routine of family life, sharing a meal together when absolutely everything else they are doing is chaotic and foreign.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished an early copy of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s new Greystone Secrets: The Strangers book, which is phenomenal (and in stores April 2019), and I’m eagerly awaiting Sayantani DasGupta’s sequel to The Serpent’s Secret (Game of Stars, also coming 2019). While I wait, I’m rereading some old favorites from my days as a bookseller, like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, The Westing Game, and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.