In "Masterminds," several 13-year-olds in the picture-perfect town of Serenity -- where there's no crime and nobody even lies -- discover a deep, dark secret that connects their ideal community to some of the worst criminal masterminds in history.
What is that secret? Some of the kids are clones of those criminals, their parents are scientists, and the whole New Mexico town is an experiment to see if the kids can shake their DNA and grow up as positive, productive people if they're raised in an artificially wonderful world. As main character Eli Frieden asks: "Can exact copies of criminal masterminds turn out to be decent citizens if you call their street Harmony instead of Oak?"
"Masterminds" is the first book in Great Neck author Gordon Korman's new trilogy for middle readers ages 9 to 13. Korman's presentation, question-and-answer session and signing are at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at Barnes & Noble in Carle Place launches the book before Korman travels to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Texas on tour.
Korman, 51, has written about 85 books, including the "Swindle" series, some of "The 39 Clues" series and the "The Hypnotist" series. He published his first book when he was only 14. He's got three kids ages 9 to 16, and his wife, Michelle, teaches reading in the Great Neck school district.
How did you dream up the idea for "Masterminds"?
It's not from personal experience -- I'm not cloned. I wanted to write something that was really different and a little bit more intense, but also really, really character-driven. Sitting there just sort of thinking about why characters do what they do, you sort of think about: Is it environmental, or is it sort of your nature? I thought about this idea of kids who are really, really nice kids and yet they carry around this terrible baggage that they are identical to these awful, awful people.
The town revolves around a traffic cone factory that is the main employer. Why traffic cone factory? Did that just pop into your head?
It did just sort of pop into my head. It just sort of seemed like a ubiquitous thing that on the one hand has a certain humor to it just because we all live with them, we drive around them, and we know in our minds that somebody must make them.
Each chapter is narrated by one of the teenage characters. Do you have a favorite of the four main characters, Malik, Eli, Amber and Tori?
I had the most fun writing Malik. The characters writers see as close to themselves, we're never able to have as much fun with them as the ones we see as very different from ourselves. Malik is tough and he's certainly brasher; he's the least "Serenity" of the four. Because he's so tough and in your face, in ways he's very wimpy and can be more scared than the others and have more visceral reactions to things than they do.
How did you get your first book, "This Can't Be Happening at McDonald Hall," published when you were so young?
It was my seventh-grade English project. I wrote it when I was 12. I signed the contract for it when I was in eighth grade, 13. The book was actually published when I was 14, a freshman in high school. It was kind of a humorous book. It was kind of the story of a couple of pranksters, class-clown roommates in a private boarding school in Canada, which is where I grew up, just outside Toronto.
When you grew up, did you do Scholastic book orders? I was the class monitor for Scholastic books. I'm thinking I'm practically an employee of these guys already. I mailed it to the address on the book order forms. The guy in the warehouse got it and brought it to an editor. That was how I got a real editor to read my seventh-grade English project. It was very fluky. It would be hard to reproduce those conditions for a kid writing a book today.
[But] you can self-publish, and you've got a lot of places online you can post original writing. There have been some really great examples of some self-published things that have been picked up and gone huge -- The "Eragon" books, the fantasy series that was originally self-published by a teenager [Christopher Paolini].
For kids who are interested in writing, can you give a little advice on how to get a book onto paper?
There's a lot of fear that comes from the unknown when you're not sure you can pull something off. I can tell you that for something like "Masterminds," ... I created the characters based on ... who they were ultimately going to be revealed to have been cloned from, and how those talents would sort of manifest themselves in their personalities in a couple of ways. In what ways were they going to be similar to their genetic matches, and in what ways were they going to be dissimilar, and in what way were the talents they had inherited through DNA going to help them to survive?
Do you encourage kids to do an outline if they're going to write?
I do. Kids are always saying to me when I talk about outlines, "I'm too lazy to make an outline." My response to that is, "I make an outline because I'm lazy." I feel like outlines are made for lazy people, because you waste so much less work when you know what you're doing and you know where you're going. What I recommend to kids who are sort of reluctant to make outlines is to plan the beginning, the ending, and maybe three places in the middle. And that way, you can still wing it, kind of, but if you ever get lost or you ever feel like you're rambling, you've got the bare bones of an outline to attach yourself to and work toward the next thing that needs to happen.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at Barnes & Noble, Country Glen Center, 91 Old Country Rd., Carle Place
INFO Free; book is $16.99; 516-741-9850, bn.com