Today it’s my pleasure to interview fellow Enchanted Inkpot member, Mary G. Thompson, about her fabulous, fantastical, novel, ESCAPE FROM THE PIPE MEN!, which is available now!
Here’s a brief description from Amazon:
Thirteen-year-old Ryan Hawthorn has spent his life on display as a human exhibit in the multi-eyed Pipe Men’s intergalactic zoo. When his father is accidentally poisoned, it’s up to Ryan and his seven-year-old sister, Becky, to scour the universe for the antidote. Along the way, they encounter many strange creatures—from the doglike Hottini to the spindly-legged, hairy Xaxor—and learn that the Pipe Men (or, as Becky calls them, “overgrown drainpipes”) are not kindly overlords, as they had been led to believe. It's not only the humans who are planning to rebel! A wildly imaginative middle grade space-travel adventure.
Mary G. Thompson
I loved your unique concept, of having humans in alien zoos, traveling to and from their “cages” through portals. Can you tell me a little about where the concept came from?
I always wanted to do something about an alien zoo. The original kernel of an idea was that these kids lived in a house on Earth, but they hardly ever left their house, so everyone thought they were these very religious home-schooled kids. But in reality, they were spending most of their time in the zoo living with aliens. So after that I had to create the aliens who ran the zoo, and the Pipe Men popped into my mind pretty much whole.
You did a significant amount of world building – since you had to create different species, planets and aircraft, and all were so distinctive and memorable. What was your world building process?
I made a conscious effort to make each alien species unique but still somewhat recognizable. Well, the Pipe Men aren’t that recognizable! Part of the point is that you can get used to anything if you live with it day in and day out. But Ip the Horn-Puff is a big galoot; the Xaxor is buglike; the Hottini look like big blue dogs. All the aliens have their own TV shows. Aside from the aliens, the big world-element is the portals. I started with the passage with the doors and then created the calculator and figured out what it could do. Once I figured that out, it became clear why everyone would want it, and the motivations of the different species fell into place.
I loved how you seamlessly wove the seeds of revolution into your story, and nothing was how it seemed. How did you keep track of it all?!
Many drafts! To me it actually does not seem that complicated. I had a few species that all basically wanted the same thing in their own way—freedom. For some people that meant getting out of the zoo, and for others it meant taking over from the Pipe Men. But all Ryan and Becky want is to save their dad and be reunited as a family, so that simple concern kept the story grounded.
I had so many favorite characters. Becky was so funny, smart and dead on right all the time, and I loved Front and Ip. Which is your favorite character, and why?
How can I choose?! Of course I love Becky because she is smarter than her big brother and is probably going to rule the universe some day. My favorite alien is the Xaxor because he has complex motivations. He’s out for his species like everyone else, but at the same time he understands friendship. He’s actually the most individual to me even though he technically doesn’t have a name!
If you had to visit one of the planets from the book, which one would you choose?
The kids don’t actually go there in the book, but I’d like to visit Ip’s planet, Hdkowl. Even though the Pipe Men have ruined the environment, I imagine the Horn-Puffs would be a lot of fun. I think they probably like to sing and dance.
I was struck, when I finished the book, by how all the “froms” were so distinct in appearance and personality and yet most all wanted the same things. The issues of bigotry and racism are powerful and thought provoking in the book. Are you planning a sequel?
Everyone petition Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! I would love to do a book starring Becky that begins five years later. Ok, let’s be real. I would love to make it a trilogy!
What are you working on now? (if you feel comfortable sharing that)
My next book is a fun, humorous middle grade called Evil Fairies Love Hair. It’s about a town full of ravenous, hair eating fairies. If you grow one hundred fairies, you get a wish. But you can’t let them near your own hair, and you have to follow all the rules. Be careful—there’s a reason everyone calls them evil fairies. Look for it next spring!
That sounds fabulous, Mary! I look forward to reading it!
Interview conducted by Erin Cashman, author of THE EXCEPTIONALS.