Chris Columbus has done a bunch of really awesome stuff, including writing the screenplay for The Goonies (I devoted an entire post to The Goonies last month), and directing the movies, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Having written HOUSE OF SECRETS (Balzer + Bray) with co-author Ned Vizzini, he is now officially a children's book author as well.
I got to interview Chris Columbus face to face when I attended his author talk last month at the San Jose Public Library. The event was hosted by Hicklebees, a fabulous kidlit bookstore.
HOUSE OF SECRETS, a MG fantasy novel, is about three siblings who discover that their new house in San Francisco can drift straight into the stories written by the home’s former owner, an author of books with occult themes. While combating live skeletons, creepy pirates, and the evil Wind Witch, the kids are also on a quest to find the The Book of Doom and Desire, a wish-granting object. HOUSE OF SECRETS captivated me with its twisty magic, non-stop action, and occasional warm and fuzzy moments between siblings who need to fend for themselves without the protection of their parents.
From my interview with Chris Columbus:
How did you write your story?
It’s a matter of figuring out the characters, the storyline, and doing a summary for the book. This started out as a screenplay in 1999. I did 90 pages. It felt too big for a movie- it would be too expensive- so I put it in a drawer, and I went off to direct the first two Harry Potter movies. When I came back to America four years later, every couple of years, I’d take the manuscript out of a drawer and try to figure out what to do with it because I loved the story. Two years ago, I decided it’d make a great novel. So I hired a co-writer so I could still make films while I was writing. It took us two years to finish writing this. It all worked out, and we’re happy with the book and proud of it. We hope this book will help get kids into reading.
What is your philosophy on writing about magic?
The rules of magic are the rules you set up. I don’t look at books about the occult or anything.
How do you develop your characters?
I’ve had 23 years of experience raising children so I base a lot of these characters on my own kids. You want the characters to feel real, to be three-dimensional. Character growth and development is essential.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We’re hoping the book is successful enough so that kids would read it and tell their friends about it. My goal is to have kids walking around on the beach reading this book during the summer.
From Chris Columbus' author talk:
On having J.K. Rowling critique his writing- After reading one of his drafts, J.K. Rowling gave him the advice to slow down with the writing and reveal more character, and that’s what he worked on during his revision.
On films he is most proud of working on- He's happy he got to direct the Harry Potter movies and Rent, and produce The Help.
On getting to direct the HARRY POTTER movies- He sat down with J.K. Rowling for two hours at a café where he told her his vision for the movie. After she heard what he had to say, she said that was her vision too.
On dealing with writer’s block- He runs every day.
On his favorite books from childhood- He loved comic books. He read a collection of Ray Bradbury short stories, and it changed his life. He also liked THE AVENGER series by Kenneth Robeson, stuff by Charles Dickens, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.
On attending New York University’s film school at Tisch School of the Arts- His parents were both factory workers and he knew when he went to film school, he didn’t have any choice but to make it and carve out a career for himself in film making.
On why he hasn’t written a sequel for The Goonies- Chris said, "If they’re 35 years old, and they’re still riding around in bicycles looking for treasures, that’s pathetic. If [people] want more Goonies, then they should read HOUSE OF SECRETS.”
...As for me, I'd still consider aging Goonies as the cool kids, even when they’re playing Mah Jong in pajamas with their dentures put on wrong.