This week I am delighted to be chatting with Benny Zelkowicz and Cam Baity, the hilarious authors of THE FIRST BOOK OF ORE: THE FOUNDRY’S EDGE. Before we get to the interview, here’s a little more about the book:
For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief Surveyor for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on technology, Phoebe’s father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal, one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.
The Foundry’s Edge is the first book in a trilogy that will transport young readers down a mechanical rabbit hole and send them on an adventure that explores the hidden costs of indulgence, the perils of unchallenged nationalism, and the world-altering power of compassion and conviction.
The dreaded but inevitable question—what inspired the Books of Ore?
That’s actually an easy one for us. We are both stop-motion animators, so we have a tendency to look at objects differently, to invent their personalities and imagine how they might move if they were alive. As animators, we need to conjure the illusion of life out of inanimate lumps of wire, fabric, and foam all the time. We have to make decisions about every aspect of a puppet, from how gravity affects it, to its mood, its thoughts, and its physical capabilities. This process got us thinking about everyday gadgets, all the bicycles and remote controls and electric toothbrushes, and what they might be like if they were sentient. Who were they? Where did they come from? And most importantly, why are they no longer alive? This question into the origin of objects and technology sparked the concept for the Books of Ore.
So you wrote this book together. How did that come about? And what’s collaboration like? Which of you is Lennon and which is McCartney? Which of you is the brains and which is the beauty?
We’ve been working together for fifteen years, ever since we sat in the back row of our experimental film history class and found ourselves disagreeing on everything. It turns out to be our greatest strength! And like any relationship, our dynamic is constantly evolving. In fact, we are approaching book two of our trilogy with a very different method than how we wrote book one. But the general approach is this: Benny writes the good stuff, and then Cam comes along and mucks it all up.
Okay, not exactly. We hammer out the big picture together, working out a detailed outline, beat by beat. Then we leapfrog chapters, discuss the minutia to make sure we are seeing things in the same way, then we both draft. Next, we trade, discuss and argue, then we each take a pass on the other’s chapter. We go back and forth until we are both happy with the result. Rinse and repeat.
So in summation, Cam is the beauty, and Benny is Ringo. Sort of.
If your main characters Phoebe and Micah were going out for karaoke, what would they sing?
Phoebe has some significant pre-teen angst, so something like The Smiths would likely be in her repertoire. Micah would definitely be a fan of country-western music, though we can easily imagine him singing TV show theme songs, maybe something like “Secret Agent Man”, or (if this Karaoke bar magically has it) the theme song from his favorite TV show, “Maddox.”
What was your favorite scene in the novel to write? (spoiler free!)
Since we don’t really have a favorite, we will mention one off the top of our heads – the introduction of Mr. Pynch and the Marquis. These guys are a pair of bizarre but lovable rascals that our heroes encounter midway through their journey, and they have a lot of Cam and Benny in them. Benny is taller, a huge aficionado of silent movies, and a walking slapstick machine (like the silent, dapper Marquis.) Cam is shorter, gruffer, and fond of perspicillious words, like Mr. Pynch. The way they constantly bicker while still retaining a productive partnership and affection for one another is dear to our hearts.
What can we look forward to in the next book?
To momentarily eschew all modesty, some pretty spectacular stuff. At the end of book one, Phoebe and Micah find themselves in an unlikely position with an overwhelming responsiblility. Book two follows their desperate efforts to accomplish something so grand that it is almost certainly unattainable. We explore the conflict unfolding both in Mehk and Meridian, and the rules of this world of living metal come much more into focus. There is an emphasis on the species of Mehk and how they relate to one another, as well as a process of constant discovery as new lands and lifeforms appear, alongside new allies and terrifying enemies. Then it all winds up with a doozy of a climax.
Suffice it to say, we think it’s pretty cool.
What has the debut journey been like for you? Is there anything about publishing that surprised you?
It has been both the most challenging and most rewarding venture of our careers. The years of intensive labor put a strain on our wallets and our relationships, to be sure, but nothing compares to the smell of the first opened box of books with your name on it. And yes, there have been many surprises along the way, but the biggest would have to be the amount of marketing we have to do. Between establishing relationships with bookstores, setting up school and library visits, and trying to get on panels at conventions and expos, there is barely any time to do the actual writing. Marketing is not the most enjoyable part of the job, but it is necessary.
And finally, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.
Cam is afraid of the “Idiocracy” effect, where our future is a dumber place. Cam is not afraid of failure.
Benny is afraid of “Mr. Boogedy”, from a mid 80’s ABC Tv movie of the week. That movie was freaky as hell. Benny is not afraid of spiders, unless they come bearing overdue bills.
CAM BAITY & BENNY ZELKOWICZ are writers, animators, and filmmakers who began collaborating after meeting at California Institute of the Arts. A Texas native, Cam has made several short films, which have been screened at festivals around the globe, including Cinequest and the BBC British Short Film Festival. With fifteen years of experience in the film industry, his work includes SpongeBob SquarePants, Team America: World Police, and Robot Chicken, for which he won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation. Canadian-born Benny studied science before turning his attention to animation, and his celebrated short The ErlKing was an official selection at both Sundance and the New York Film Festival. He has directed the BBC/CBC animated series Lunar Jim, and in the U.S. his work has been seen in The Simpsons and The LEGO Movie. Visit them and learn more about their books at booksofore.com.
|Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, Diet Coke fanatic, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. Her YA reimagining of Frankenstein, THIS MONSTROUS THING, will be published by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins in 2015. Find her on Twitter, Pinterest, or on her blog, where she talks about books, Boston, and Benedict Cumberbatch.