Thank you for your great letter! I hope you like the first Heck book enough to read the others (the fifth one, Snivel, comes out on Tuesday, May 22nd!). I think they get better and better as they go on, mainly because I think I get a better grasp of the characters and the (under)world of Heck as I continue to write. It’s interesting that you mention them painting a picture in your mind (hopefully not using that stinky kind of paint) because I write what I see in my head as I am a pretty visual person. I kind of see Heck as a movie then just write down the images.
Okay, with further ado, here are the answers to your specific questions:
1) Why does Bea “Elsa” Bubb want to starve Lucky, Milton’s ferret?
Answer: Well, since I wrote the first book about six years ago, some of the details are—like Luck the ferret—rather fuzzy. My impression is that Lucky starved himself in order to squeeze through the bars of his cage to escape. I’m assuming this is the scene you mean, right? (I don’t know why I ask you this in the letter, it’s not like I’d be able to hear you on the other side of this letter).
2) Why hasn’t Marlo stood up to Bordeaux and Lyon yet?
Answer: When Marlo is first in Heck, she is very confused. She’s outside of her comfort zone. She’s used to being the bad kid and now she’s surrounded by bad kids and is unsure about her identity…her place in Heck. So she probably lets Lyon and Bordeaux get to her more than usual because of this. Bordeaux and Lyon appear in future Heck books and Marlo is better prepared for them.
3) How did Bea “Elsa” Bubb know that Milton, Marlo, and Virgil escaped?
Answer: Again, it’s been a while since I’ve written the book, but I know that Principal Bubb was initially tracking them by using Cerberus, who was disguised as Lucky. Once alerted, she realized that there was a ruse, and she corners them just outside the Gates of Heck for the standoff at the end of the book.
4) Why did Bea “Elsa” Bubb give Milton and Marlo the Gummo Badger candy to shut them up?
Answer: Principal Bubb did this for two reasons: One, to be mean by providing candy that really wasn’t candy, and Two, this candy happened to seal their mouths shut like cement. So while she could have simply told them to be quite, this way provided more wicked fun for her.
5) Does Annubis show up in other Heck books?
Answer: Yes, he does. I won’t tell you which ones, specifically, but he does appear in a couple of future installments.
6) Why was the happy song playing in the sad bank like place?
Answer: Because, in my experience, sad bank-like places are always playing depressingly happy music in an attempt to soothe the irritated people that are forced to wait and wait and wait in an irritating place. Plus, there seems something particularly cruel about playing happy music in a sad place…kind of rubbing your face (or ears, actually) in a happiness you will never experience.
7) Why did Marlo lie to the Praying Mantis teacher to get into the Time-Out room? Why did the Teacher believe Marlo?
Answer: I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. I re-read the scene and don’t recall Marlo lying to the teacher. Maybe I read an earlier draft.
8) Why didn’t the kids notice that the clock didn’t change in the Almost Christmas house? How did you think about the Almost Christmas house?
Answer: The children were locked in a state of perpetual anticipation, as punishment. By being impatient when alive, their sentence in the afterlife was to be forever trapped in a moment, and not just any moment, but the moment right before it’s Christmas, which never comes. If they had the ability to notice that time didn’t advance, then they’d be able to step out of their anticipation and realize it’s a trick. I came up with the Almost Christmas house because it seemed like a fitting punishment for edgy, impatient kids. I remember how excited I’d get right before Christmas. It’s almost unbearable!
9) Why did Blackbeard pick on Virgil and Milton?
Answer: The real reason is because I wanted Virgil and Milton to do something interesting, which was walk the plank. In the story, Blackbeard probably picked on Milton because he asked too many questions, and Virgil was sitting right next to him, and that’s usually how teachers operate, even dead pirate teachers.
10) What is your favorite book that you wrote?
Answer: So far, my favorites are Fibble: The Fourth Circle of Heck and Snivel: The Fifth Circle of Heck. Fibble was fun because I used to work in advertising, and Fibble—since it deals with lies—focuses on advertising. I’m proud of Snivel because it’s rather ambitious: there’s a lot going on!
11) What other books of yours would you recommend to a reader like me?
Answer: That’s easy since I’ve only published five so far, all of them in the Heck series! I’d just be curious how you enjoy the next installments of Heck. I view them all as one really big book rather than a bunch of little ones. The Heck books will now be released every nine months, so I don’t have much time to write anything else. When I’m through with the series, I’ll be pursuing a lot of other ideas I have: a few for younger kids but most of them for teens.
12) How many books are there in the Heck series?
Answer: There will be nine: Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck, Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck, Fibble: The Fourth Circle of Heck, Snivel: The Fifth Circle of Heck, Precocia: The Sixth Circle of Heck, Lipptor: The Seventh Circle of Heck, Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck, and Dupli-City: The Ninth Circle of Heck.
13) What inspired you to write the Heck series?
Answer: My brain, mostly. That’s where I get most of my answers from. Once I got an answer from my left foot, but that was only because I stepped on a Post-It note. Okay, seriously: I’ve always had a dark sense of humor, and one day I was thinking about Hell. I mean, that seems way too intense a place to send bad kids, so maybe bad kids would go to Heck since that’s not as bad a word as Hell. Plus, I was thinking about my days in middle school. I really didn’t like that time of my life too much, because I wasn’t a little kid who could just have fun all of the time, but I wasn’t a big kid who could drive and stuff. It’s sort of this weird “limbo” time…where everything seems to just go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on…you get the idea, Elizabeth. So I did a mental mash-up of those two thoughts and came up with Heck! The rest was pretty simple. There’s lot of material to work with regarding the afterlife!
14) What inspired you to make some of the characters?
Answer: In general, I’m a little bit like Milton and Marlo mooshed together. I can be overly cautious and think too much like Milton, and I can be a little reckless like Marlo. It’s fun to bounce back and forth between both of their perspectives. The other characters either just came to me or were based on people I know.
15) Did you read books that inspired you to write Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go?
Answer: When I’m writing a book, most everything inspires me: what I read, what I hear, what I see…If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader. It’s sort of a fuel that helps you write, or at least to help you think in terms of “words.” For the first book, I was reading a lot of Roald Dahl (Willy Wonka). He was wonderful. Really dark sense of humor but a lot of heart also. I also liked the Golden Compass books. I tried to get into Series of Unfortunate Events when it came out, but it was just too dark…even for me! When I write, I try to have enough humor and hope so things don’t get too bleak.
Well, I hope that helps answer some of your wonderful questions! Thank you again, so much, for reading my books, Elizabeth!