I recently had a chance to chat with the author of the Danger Boy series, Mark London Williams. For those of you not familiar with the wildly popular middle-grade series, Danger Boy follows the adventures of twelve-year-old Eli Sands, aka Danger Boy, who happens to be a time traveler. During his adventures he teams up with the most unlikely group, consisting of an intelligent dinosaur and an ancient nerd from the lost Library of Alexandria. They continue to quest in this series to unravel ancient mysteries.
My eight-year-old has begun devouring these books as part of his summer reading program. So far he has made it half-way through the second book, which is usually tough for him considering it is cutting into XBOX time. If he enjoys these, I bet your kids would love them also.
Sims: What made you try your hand at young adult literature? Your resume boosts plays, magazines, and comics; why novels?
Williams: I was a young dad at the time, with a then-lively day job in showbiz and technology journalism, with an also-lively toddler at home. I no longer had time to head down to the theater for rehearsals, and missed storytelling. I’d come within a whisker of publishing a novel in my 20s, and missed prose, too. And at the time, there was a boom in series fiction for young readers — like Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Animorphs, etc.
I thought, “What if you took this series template and made it a bit darker, more expansive? What if people aged between books?” etc. Of course, this was before certain fantasy adventures set in a certain British boarding school had come to market, but it turns out something was in the water, or the air, back then.
Plus, of course, my then-toddler uttered the fateful phrase, “I’m a Danger Boy!” so what else could I do?
Sims: What can you tell us about the near future that is the setting for Danger Boy?
Williams: When I was writing the books for their “print era” release, the near future always became more troubling. Originally, “circa 2020” was farther off. It’s not now, of course. And between each book, I’d find out that the things I was “predicting” in the stories — like climate change, government paranoia, etc. — were actually going to be more pronounced, starker, than what I’d written. So I’d have to scramble to catch up.
The near future is almost here. Despite the prognostications, I’m pretty sure I’m not ready.
Sims: What makes your hero, Eli Sands, special in this world? What is going on with him?
Williams: Because he’s a time traveler, he’s untethered from any “grown-up” interpretation of history or the long march of events. Popping in and out of different eras, he can compare and contrast on his own. And he realizes, very early on, that “grown-ups,” so called — the ones running the planet and making the history — are mostly insane. Which is a pretty sobering realization. And which, I think, makes him hold on harder to the friends he has — namely his traveling companions, the daughter of Alexandria’s last librarian, and a sentient, teenage dinosaur from an Earth where saurian evolution never stopped.
Sims: Where did the idea of a dinosaur sidekick come from?
Williams: When my then-toddler uttered “I’m a ‘Danger Boy!” the next phrase out of his mouth sounded like “dino-sword.” So “Dino Sword” became the original title of book #2 (since retitled “Dragon Sword” by its second publisher). So, I figured there needed to be dinosaurs and swords in the thing.
For the saurian, I wanted a more evolved version of a Troodon, returning to Earth from a similar planet. He serves as a kind of field observer of aberrant mammalian behavior, since we’re the only planet he’s encountered where it’s the mammals who evolved to run things. He’s somewhat alarmed.
As for the sword, well, what else? Excalibur.
Sims: I noticed that you are a dad also. Does your inspiration come from your own kids? Does your ‘playtime’ involve taking notes?
Williams: Well, I think they let me take fewer notes as they get older! That first former toddler is now, wistfully and all too soon, off to college in the fall. He’s pursuing storytelling himself, in different media. Often now we’ll discuss comics or movies (especially) together. He’s also in the latter stages of a YA demographic, having aged quite past the mid-grade readership of the Danger Boy books.
His younger brother is in “middle school” however (formerly known as “Jr. High”), and in an entirely different social matrix (and school) than his big brother was. I’m still trying to figure out how to chart and decode it. Little brother plays a lot of sports, too, so I’ve gotten some ideas that way, as well.
Sims: I noticed that you mixed some historic names and events into your writing. Do I sense a bit of ‘learning can be fun’ idealism?
Williams: Heck, history can be fun! When it’s not terrifying. Part of what I wanted to do though was give those young readers-on-the-march a lot of the history they don’t get at school. So for example, when we meet Thomas Jefferson in the third book, we also meet Sally Hemings. When we go to ancient Jerusalem in the fourth book, the prophet Jeremiah’s in the ruins, but so is the more obscure female prophet Huldah. And we get to examine women’s roles in western scriptures, etc. Plus, of course, there’s the Library of Alexandria, and Hypatia.
As for the modern elements, when I do school visits, most kids still think I made up DARPA!
Sims: So you have time travel, dinosaurs, gadgets, espionage, and humor – am I missing anything else that the Danger Boy series can claim?
Williams: Baseball! Joe DiMaggio and Satchel Paige are seen at different points along the way, along with the bearded, apocalyptic “House of David” barnstorming baseball team. Who were real.
Oh — and there’s a winery in Sonoma, too. Though sadly, it’s not used for wine-making anymore, due to climate change. But it has a second life as a time travel lab.
Sims: What is next for Danger Boy, Eli Sands? Can you give us a sneak peak?
Williams: He’s back out on eBook platforms now, acquiring new readers. And there’s still a fifth, final book that I wrote that my previous publisher didn’t release, as publishing was hit with a downturn and my main editor had left the imprint, leaving the books somewhat undefended when they started to pare back releases as their way of mustering through. It was a baffling decision, since I’d been paid to write it and readers were waiting for it. But publishing is a baffling business. Called Fortune’s Fool, it wraps things up — in a time-travely way – in Shakespeare’s England. And in Area 51. And other intriguing locales. We’re hoping to get that into eBook formats in the next several months. I still get mail asking when it’s going to be released.
Sims: What is next for author Mark London Williams? Anything special?
Williams: The universe seems to be throwing surprises my way of late, so I can never quite tell myself. But I have several non-“Danger Boy” projects in the works, including something more horror-themed I hope to go out with early next year. Then there’s another baseball book with perhaps a spooky twist. And an illustrated fable involving trickster figures in the Depression-era West, that I’m doing with artist Douglas Potter. But that’s mostly for those aforementioned “grown ups.” And there’s probably a bunch of other stuff I need to sit down and prioritize.
Sims: Anything else?
Williams: Well, as my own built-in “mid-grade” and “YA” readership grows up and leaves the nest, it’s occurring to me I can probably spend more time in rehearsals now.