Without further ado, here’s the rest of my coverage of the special talk between Rick Riordan (author of the first 39 Clues book, The Maze of Bones) and David Levithan (executive editorial director and overall 39 Clues mastermind). Get ready for Rick’s Answers Revealed . . .
After introductions and thank yous, David asked Rick a bunch of questions about his experience working on the series and writing The Maze of Bones. My top three fave moments:
1. Benjamin Franklin history plays a critical role in the first book, so Rick revealed some Franklin fun facts:
- “Benjamin Franklin basically invented Sudoku.”
- “He one time electrified his front-yard fence as a joke on his friends.”
- “He wrote an essay on farts — how could you not like the guy?”
2. Rick used to be a middle school teacher, so he explained that he always keeps his toughest critics in mind when he’s working on a new book: “I always imagine when I’m writing a book that I am reading it to my classroom. I try to put myself in 5th period after lunch.” I’m sure you’re always well-behaved and have no idea what he’s talking about, right?
3. When he mentioned that there’s an online game for The 39 Clues, Rick made a confession: “I’ll admit to being a game geek!” The crowd cheered.
After David finished with his questions for Rick, they opened it up to the audience for our questions. And let me tell you, folks were ready and waiting! You know how sometimes in school, your teacher tries to start a discussion and an awkward silence falls over the classroom? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: that also happens in the working world! Like, all the time. But this was not one of those
occasions — 18 people got an opportunity to ask their questions, and I’m sure there would have been more if we hadn’t run out of time.
The first question focused on the fact that although Rick set up the overarching arc for The 39 Clues, a different author is writing each book. The audience member wanted to know how much of the series outline has already been done. David answered this way: “We compare the outline to a blueprint for a house, and now each author gets to decorate their own room.”
Here are my other favorite answers from Rick and David:
1. Gordon Korman is writing the second book in the series, and someone asked if there was any back-and-forth between Rick and Gordon. Rick said that since he and Gordon are friends, they had had some informal conversations about the book, but nothing beyond that. This prompted David to tell a funny story about how he and Rick and Gordon had to communicate in very vague
language when they saw each other in person during the period when the entire 39 Clues series was a secret. So they would be at conferences together, and they’d have to say things like, “So, how’s that project going?” As David put it, the whole thing was very “wink, wink.”
2. Someone asked about Rick’s writing process, and he described himself as “a real hit-and-run writer” because he has a short attention span and can’t sit down and write straight for long periods of time. I can relate to that! What about you?
3. Of course, the question came up: Why 39 clues? Well, it turns out that at first, the concept was to have 79 clues. But then the team realized that they would be crazy to try to have so many! So they decided to go with 39 clues because there’s an Alfred Hitchcock film called The 39 Steps. There’s no connection between the movie and the Scholastic series, but the 39 Clues team just thought it would be kind of fun; they figured that since the film is so old (it came out in 1935), people wouldn’t necessarily immediately think about The 39 Steps when hearing about The 39 Clues. Except — oops — a theater adaptation of the film was on Broadway for a few months earlier this year! So apparently, people would ask David, “So, how’s The 39 Steps going?” — which drove him crazy. David reported that they almost got shirts made saying, “Clues, Not Steps.”
4. You may have heard that there’s a movie version of The 39 Clues in the works. As you can imagine, the audience was very curious for the inside scoop. Unfortunately, once again, mum was the word . . . BUT Rick did recount the hilarious way that he found out about the movie deal: Apparently, he got a phone call from Deborah Forte, the president of Scholastic Media. According to Rick, she said, ”And you know Steven’s working on it?” But Rick couldn’t quite believe that the legendary Steven Spielberg was interested in The 39 Clues, so he just had to double-check. Deborah’s response: “Rick, you know there’s only one Steven.”
5. One person wanted to know about Rick’s research for the books, and Rick said that his best resource for The Maze of Bones was an actor who does a one-man show based on Benjamin Franklin’s life — and Rick already happened to know the guy! David also revealed, “Many
people on the 39 Clues team have become obsessed with the carrier pigeons of WWI.” Hmm . . .
Even with all the funny stories and inside info that came out during the talk, I think the most exciting thing I learned is that the 39 Clues team is going to take reader reaction into account as they
continue to work on the series. Because the game is online and Scholastic can get real-time data on how people are using the 39 Clues site, it’s what David calls “a totally reactive medium.” That means that if the 39 Clues folks see that everyone is really into one particular part of the game — like, say, WWI carrier pigeons — then the later books can be shaped to focus more on message-carrying birds. In other words, YOU can affect the series! How cool is that?
Kerry Prendergast, who manages the Scholastic Library, posed the last question to Rick, and she ended the Q&A session where the whole talk began — with cupcakes:
Kerry: I get to ask the final question. Rick, what kind of cupcake would you like?
Rick: Any kind of cupcake is a good cupcake.
— Karen, STACKS Staffer
P.S. — He chose yellow cake with vanilla frosting, in case you were wondering.