Author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi’s latest, “A Hero for WondLa,” hits shelves today with plenty of fanfare — a glowing review from Wired, a CNN appearance and a signing appearance tonight in Santa Monica that kicks off his spring book tour. “The Spiderwick Chronicles” co-creator splits his time between Massachusetts and Florida but he was born here in Los Angeles so the event tonight is a homecoming of sorts as he delivers the second installment of his planned “WondLa” trilogy. The story follows the ongoing journey of Eva Nine, a girl raised by machines in an underground sanctuary; when that refuge is attacked, Eva begins a quest in a strange, dangerous world to find a place where she belongs. We caught up with DiTerlizzi to talk about the particular challenges that come with the middle installment of a trilogy.
HC: The first book, “The Search for WondLa,” was a great success and there’s talk of a film franchise, but what would you say is the anxiety or deeper challenge presented for you by this follow-up?
TD: It’s the second book and that’s a critical point in the trilogy. To me, the second book is the one that makes or breaks it in a trilogy. It has to, in some way, answer the questions that were presented in the first book but also elevate the dangers and the threat and also set the stage for what will be the final book. It was really tough in some ways to write it because it is that middle and it’s the glue between everything that’s introduced in the first and all that is concluded in the third. In there, though, you can have so much fun as a writer and as a story creator. The fun is putting the characters and the hero to the test to see how everything will shake out.
HC: There is a hazard, I would think, of a middle installment feeling too much like a transit piece. You don’t get the total discovery of the first book and the satisfying clicks of the finale.
TD: The way I approached it was saying that there are certain themes of the protagonist that are going to carry through the entire trilogy and those thoughts and ideas will be explored all the way through. But there’s still [a sense of discovery in the middle installment] as you introduce new characters and see how they affect and interact with the main characters. You can also test your main characters in ways that may not have been appropriate in the first story. The first book was so much about “What is family? What constitutes family? Does it have to be flesh and blood?” In this story, family is still key but there’s also so much more because now there’s the new question, ‘What happens if you’re introduced to a family member you never even knew you had? What happens if you are disconnected from one of your family? What happens if a family member is taken away?’ When you’re the hero of the story, it’s a lonely road. Whether you’re Frodo Baggins or Luke Skywalker, it’s a lonely road and in the end you have to face off against the big bad all by yourself.
HC: As far as the scale of the project and the tests that come with it, what have you learned about yourself as a storyteller or what surprises have you encountered on the journey?
TD: I ask myself a lot of the questions that I’m posing and — I have no idea if this is the right thing for a writer for kids, if this is the way you should be doing it — but now instead of offering solutions or answers I just pose huge questions and quandaries and the characters just react according to their personality type. Especially with this second book, the black-and-white of a good guy and a bad guy are so completely blurred. It’s much more gray. Eva and the other characters have to start making almost like moral decisions. And that’s life. It’s not just good guys and bad guys. That’s the kind of stories [I realized that I connected with] when I was 10, 11, 12 and reading books like this.
— Geoff Boucher
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