Trail of Bones,
episode 3 in the time-traveling adventures of Eli Sands, Danger
Boy, was recently published by Candlewick
Press. The popular, critically acclaimed young adult series turns history
on its head as Eli encounters both real, fictional, and otherworldly events
and characters in a exciting sequence of time-spanning adventures. Mark took
time out of his busy schedule to talk with RevSF about time, politics, his sons,
dinosaurs and other fascinating things.
RevolutionSF: You began your literary career producing magazine
articles, plays, comic book scripts, and adult fiction. How did you emerge as
a young adult novelist?
Mark London Williams: It was thanks to my son, Elijah. When he was
a toddler (now he’s almost 11, and going by “Eli,”) he ran
down the halls of our house saying “I’m a ‘Danger Boy!’
I’m a ‘Danger Boy!’” I’d been looking for a
series idea for older readers, since getting back into the children’s
book section with him — what was he gonna read next? Nothing at the
time seemed very dark or complex, at least in the new series that were out.
Nothing with real “stakes.” This was about a year or so before
“Harry Potter” arrived on the scene. . . .
Plus: It was also an outgrowth of that comic book writing I’d been
doing, plus some videogame “script doctoring” here in L.A. . . .
What was the genesis of Danger Boy?
The next words out of Eli’s mouth were “Dino Sword” (he
may have been trying to say “dinosaur,” though, plausibly enough,
he can’t remember). I thought, well, there’s a boy having dangerous
adventures involving dinosaurs and a sword — and of course, that sword
will have to be Excalibur! So to weave all this into the same narrative, Danger
Boy’s gonna have to time travel!
Do your sons Elijah and Asher have any input on your Danger Boy stories?
Asher hasn’t asked for much yet — Elijah keeps pitching stories
and ideas my way! He wants to me write at least one episode/installment/book
where Danger Boy (also “Eli,”) goes to the future. But since he
already lives in 2020, this might be a double-whammy, structure-wise. . . .
Eli Sands, Danger Boy, has two unique companions through his adventures.
Who are they and why did you decide on these characters?
There’s the dinosaur, Clyne, who comes from a parallel earth, where
dinosaur evolution never stopped. They had a large head-start on technology
(about 60 million years or so!), and time travel is routine for them. Clyne
is time traveling for a middle school science homework project — for
the research — when he gets stranded here.
Thea is the daughter of the last librarian in the Library at Alexandria,
where much of book one, Ancient Fire, is set. The original editors
had a good gut instinct that there should be a recurring female character,
and Thea is the “gal scientist.” I’d had an “Alexandrian”
installment planned, and moved that up as the first book, and changed some
things around so Thea would be in all the books.
Their instinct was right, and Thea’s presence has made the books better.
Much of the material that became Dragon Sword (book two) was originally
planned for book one.
Book three was recently published and you have turned in book four.
How many more Danger Boys do you plan on writing? Is there an end to the series?
Do you have Eli's life mapped out?
His whole life? Only up to his mid-teens, or thereabouts — though with
each book, I speculate (worry?) about what will happen to him, and Thea, when
they become, as the characters say, “grown ups.”
The current story arc should conclude after a seventh book. But I’ve
wondered about stand-alones, and graphic novels, to round out the “Danger
Boy” universe. So maybe I won’t be done with “Danger Boy”
as soon as I think.
What are some of the possible stand-alones, graphic novels and other
spin-offs that you envision?
There’s a carnival in the fourth book. While writing it, I wanted to
put together an anthology of short stories just about that carnival, and its
wanderings in the west of 2020. And maybe a picture book about Saurius Prime,
Clyne’s home planet, for younger readers. I’d like to explore
Saurius Prime more myself. Perhaps a Thea story, as well. And then there’s
the “Barnstormer” game that Eli plays throughout the books —
the virtual reality baseball games featuring monsters on pick-up baseball
teams, who barnstorm through Depression-era America. I’d like to write
some stories about them. . . .
In book three you introduce Lewis & Clark, Sally Hemmings, and
other historical figures into the Danger Boy mythos. Do you see the Danger Boy
series as a way introduce kids to the joys and adventures of history? What other
historical characters due you plan on using?
The joys, adventures and tragedies of history! In the manuscript I just handed
in, the Danger Boy trio find themselves in the ruins of Biblical Jerusalem.
Given how touchy every one is about religion right now, it will be interesting
to see how the book is received. Down the road, be on the lookout for jerkins,
wineskins, pirate booty, and even psychedelic vinyl records, by way of anthropological
clues. . . .
I've encountered pre-teens, teens, and adults, both male and female
that enjoy your work. What is the mass appeal of Danger Boy?
Is it really “mass” yet? Gosh. I just try and write the kind
of book I would’ve wanted to read when I was about Danger Boy’s
age — which, actually, was the kind of book where adults who read it
would laugh at something, too, and I’d go back to figure out what it
was. . . .
Eli's father is a important aspect of Eli's life. Will his mother,
who was a major part of Dragon Sword, be making another appearance at some point?
Without giving away too much about the finale, let’s just say I’ve
been thinking of not making everyone — readers and characters alike
— not wait so long before crossing paths with her again. . . .
Are there plans for Danger Boy to appear in other mediums?
From your lips to . . . well, to whose ears, exactly? I’ve “taken
meetings,” as they say out here, and there’ve been some nibbles
on both the TV and film fronts, but no dotted lines signed yet. Of course,
when I visit schools – which us kid lit scribes do a lot — I get
asked about the videogame version, too, which seems to be at least as critical
— if not more so — for the series’ young readers.
But nothing definite to announce there, either.
Your DB stories jump from era to era from place to place with a variety
of characters and plot lines. How do you keep track of all of it?
It gets increasingly challenging with each new book; I think I need a fan
site to start charting the “Danger Boy” universe for me!
Do contemporary events influence your Danger Boy adventures? If a
more liberal administration was in power, would the books be different?
I think the third book, with Thomas Jefferson talking about politics and
“national security,” was influenced by the present moment, and
the fourth book, Eli’s present world, and the one he travels to —
ancient Jerusalem — definitely takes a darker turn. That turn was, indeed,
influenced by the darkness of the times.
What does the future hold for Danger Boy in particular and Mark London
Williams in general?
I should get one of those time-traveling baseball caps and find out!
For RevolutionSF preview of the first chapter of Trail
of Bones, click