Greg and I went to the same high school, but just far enough apart that we were never in the same building until we became colleagues and friends through SCBWI New England. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Galaxy Games expand from a pinprick of fusion energy into a growing hardcover series (and I’m already hooked on volume 2).
We didn’t have a locker room, but Greg kindly granted this interview anyway.
For folks who weren’t in the room at the time, please tell the story of how you invented the Galaxy Games.Thanks, Greg! And now, today’s Galaxy Games puzzle piece.
The room in question was a breakout session at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Los Angeles. An editor was presenting a workshop on writing series for middle grade boys. She assigned us all genres in which to create a pitch, on the spot. Mine was sports. Since you were in the room, you heard me give a pitch for something I called “Galaxy Games” that was a lot like how the Galaxy Games series really did turn out.
For folks who were in the room but weren’t inside my head, I can go into even greater detail. Actually, I was disappointed at being given sports as a genre instead of fantasy or science fiction, which I thought of as my strengths. I follow sports, but I’d never read any sports series books, and I’d certainly never considered writing them. The first thing that came to mind was a manga called Slam Dunk, which follows a boys’ basketball team through a season of ups and downs. Another thing I had in mind was a baseball movie called The Bad News Bears, which was full of funny moments and dysfunctional players. The third thing was aliens, and lots of them. That’s where my high concept came from: The Bad News Bears in space, battling aliens in a season-long sports tournament.
How has Galaxy Games grown over the years since you first had the idea?
My original idea was to write a whole bunch of short chapter books. Now I have a smaller number of thicker and more complex books. The starting point has also changed. Originally, Earth was already in the tournament on Page 1 and we really didn’t know how. The Challengers tells that story and lets us see the first aliens arrive and the chain of wacky events that turn an ordinary Earth kid like Tyler Sato into a planetary team captain.
As a writing colleague, I've heard about a lot of your interests—the law, website design, real estate, schools, the Red Sox, wife and child—but until I read Galaxy Games: The Challengers I didn’t know about your experience with Japan. Tell us about that and how it fed into the book.
I studied in Tokyo during law school and have spent more time in Japan than in any other country outside the United States. I’m also a fan of manga and had an anime/manga style in mind while I was writing the series. When it came to fleshing out a team of kids from all over Earth, it was natural for me to put a special focus on Japan.
Are you choosing other Galaxy Games settings based on places you’ve traveled? Aruba? Ossmendia?
Since you’re read some early chapters from Book #2, you know that there will be a prominent character from Aruba for which I’m thankful to have spent some time in the Caribbean. I’m quickly running out of places I can write from actual experience, though, unless there’s a travel grant I can apply for. Ossmendia is like Europe in that I’ve only been there in my imagination.
Who or what are some of your influences as a storyteller? What storytellers did you find funny as a kid? What science fiction did you like most?
My mother is my greatest influence as a storyteller. She can take any incident and make it more dramatic and humorous at the same time. For science fiction influences, I’ll go with Isaac Asimov, Madeleine L’Engle, Piers Anthony, Frederic Brown, and Douglas Adams. For humor, I’ll single out Bugs Bunny.
Tyler Sato, the hero of Galaxy Games, gets a reputation as the best young athlete on the planet, but his skills are really average. And his choices for Earth’s true top young athletes seem questionable (though el Gatito would disagree). Were you aiming to write a sports book for kids who aren’t terribly good at any sports?
I could have made all the kids into superstars, but what fun would that be? My goal was that each member of the team would be chosen for exactly the wrong reason but would turn out to have some other quality, trait, or skill that would make them exactly the right player to be on the team at exactly the right time.
The Galaxy Games series takes the structure of a sports book: the training, the team dynamics, the higher and higher levels, the “big game” that decides everything. But a lot of the competitions are iffy. Adults keep trying to fix the games. The players all take advantage of loopholes in the rules. What does that tell our planet’s young athletes and sports fans?
That I’m a cynic? No, that’s not right. I think the key point is that sports is about more than just what happens on the field during game time. There’s training, practice, the locker room, the clubhouse, the team bus, the owner’s box, the bleachers, the bench, the talk radio shows, and everything else. This can’t just be a story about kids playing a game because too much planetary honor is on the line.
Which Galaxy Games Challenger do you identify with most?