Two Nice Humans Talking About One Evil Cat With Emily Chenoweth and Johnny Marciano
Emily: Okay, so we talk all the time these days–via text, email, and even on that antique piece of human technology, the phone–but this is the first time we’ve really set out to discuss our writing process on the Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat series. So thank you, Nerdy Book Club, for giving us the opportunity to fight in public over who did most of the work. Seriously, though, this project has been a long time coming, hasn’t it?
Johnny: We’ve been talking about collaborating on something practically ever since we met, back in the dark ages of the 1990s. But as far as Klawde goes, it really started when my daughter and I flew from Brooklyn to Portland to visit you and your daughters. While the girls did the playground thing, we talked shop. You mentioned wanting to work on a middle grade book; I brought up an idea I had for one: EVIL ALIEN WARLORD CAT. All I had was the title, but it made you laugh and we decided to co-write it.
Emily: We had some really complicated plot ideas in the beginning (as I recall, we spent a few months arguing about them), but we eventually decided that there would be twin stories: that of Klawde, a nefarious feline emperor who is exiled to Earth, and Raj, a kid from Brooklyn who feels like he’s been exiled to small-town Oregon. These two characters take turns narrating chapters and telling their sides of the story. At first we tried it with one of us writing Raj’s voice, and the other writing Klawde’s voice.
Johnny: But that was problematic for a couple reasons. One, the voices were jarringly different–in tone, pace, and humor, the dueling POVs were clearly the work of different authors. Two, we both wanted to get in there and “fix” what the other was doing. Because of all this, the first book took far longer to write together than it would have for either us to do alone.
Emily: But we did get more efficient about things along the way, and now, ironically, we can hardly even tell who wrote what. We go over the manuscripts dozens of times–reading, rereading, rewriting, and tweaking–so by the time we’re done, it’s anyone’s guess which one of us wrote which funny line. Though I do have some favorites of yours–like when Klawde is trying to understand what it means that Raj “loves” him. Is love, he wonders, “an emotion, like pride or aggression, or a type of illness?”
Johnny: Is that my line? I really have no idea. That’s what makes it so weird–it’s almost like we’ve combined into some other writer that is the both of us, but beyond us. That said, what really is great about collaborating is having someone else to go through the bookmaking process with. No matter how attentive an editor is, they can’t answer my questions in real time as they come up, but I can text you and as often as not you respond immediately. (Thank you for that.) And how great is it to have someone work on the parts you don’t feel like doing?
Emily: Totally. But whether it’s the subject matter, the collaboration, or some combination of the two, working on Klawde is like 90% fun–which anyone who writes will recognize is a ridiculously high percentage. When you’re writing from the point of view of an alien cat, normal everyday things seem super funny. Like, say, forks. Klawde can’t understand why humans use metal tools to bring their food up to their mouths when they could simply bright their mouths down to the plate. And probably a lot of kids would think he has a point. My daughters, for instance, still have very little interest in forks.
Johnny: The bizarreness of human customs is just a never-ending source of humor. Why do we light cakes on fire and sing an ode to people on the anniversary of their births? Or give our stuff over to people bearing paper portraits of dead humans? And because Klawde is an evil warmonger, we also get to question human ethics. So while his advanced feline intelligence allows him to quickly comprehend all Earth languages, he is utterly baffled by such words as “friendship,” “love,” and “morality.”
Emily: And he’d cough up a thousand hairballs to hear us–two boring and insipid humans–droning on about cooperation, a concept that definitely doesn’t exist in the feline world of Lyttyrboks.
Johnny: In fact, he would use his molecular disintegrator on us if we droned on any longer about our pointless human affairs.
Emily: So should we shut up now?
Johnny: Yeah. Especially since we’re going to have to go back over this and rewrite what each other says. So thanks again to the Nerdy Book Club and all you other readers out there. Hope to see you all on Lyttyrboks.
Johnny Marciano is a New York Times-bestselling author and illustrator. He has written non-fiction books for all ages such as Anonyponymous, while his work for children includes The Witches of Benevento Series, The No-Good Nine, and Madeline at the White House. Johnny lives in Headquarters, NJ, with his wife, nine-year-old daughter, two cats, and a dog.
Emily Chenoweth is the author of Hello Goodbye and the ghostwriter of several young adult New York Times bestsellers. Under the name Emily Raymond, she has co-authored eight books with James Patterson, including First Love, Expelled, and Witch & Wizard: The Lost. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her partner, the writer Jon Raymond, and their two daughters.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Klawde is not your average cat. He’s an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant… and he’s about to become Raj Banerjee’s best friend. Whether he likes it or not. Klawde had everything. Sharp claws. Fine fur. And, being the High Commander of the planet Lyttyrboks, an entire world of warlike cats at his command. But when he is stripped of his feline throne, he is sentenced to the worst possible punishment: exile to a small planet in a quiet corner of the universe… named Earth. Raj had everything. A cool apartment in Brooklyn. Three friends who lived in his building. And pizza and comics within walking distance. But when his mom gets a job in Elba, Oregon, and he is forced to move, all of that changes. It’s now the beginning of summer, he has no friends, and because of his mother’s urgings, he has joined a nature camp. It’s only when his doorbell rings and he meets a furball of a cat that Raj begins to think maybe his luck is turning around…