We had the opportunity to meet and interview the authors and illustrator of the “Dork Diaries” and “Max Crumbly” series, authors Rachel Renée Russell and her daughters, Nikki Russell and Erin Russell, at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan. Rachel and Erin write the “Dork Diaries” and “The Misadventures of Max Crumbly” series, and Nikki illustrates them.
Rachel, what inspired you to write the “Max Crumbly” book?
Rachel: Whenever we would go out to schools and bookstores and talk to guys and girls, the boys would always say that we should write a book that has a boy main character. “Dork Diaries” has girls and guys, but we were mainly answering our fans’ suggestions.
Do you think there is the possibility of a “Max Crumbly” movie, and if so, who should play the lead?
Rachel: I would love to have a “Max Crumbly” movie! I don’t know if anyone is planning it yet.
Are you planning to make a book series about your character MacKenzie Hollister?
Rachel: “Dork Diaries” Book 9 is MacKenzie’s diary only because she stole Nikki Maxwell’s diary and wrote in it for a few weeks. I hadn’t thought about doing a series, though. If my fans have an interest, I would consider it.
How did you feel when you first found out that “Dork Diaries” was on The New York Times bestsellers list?
Rachel: I was very, very happy, and I almost didn’t believe it. My full-time job before I started writing was an attorney. So I used to have to put on a suit and go meet clients at my office and go to court. It was pretty nice, but it was nothing like being an author. So when “Dork Diaries” made The New York Times bestsellers list, I realized I could quit my day job, which means I didn’t have to be an attorney anymore. That was the coolest thing about it. I could actually make a living as a writer.
Will you be writing the screenplay for the “Dork Diaries” movie?
Rachel: No, I will not. I would like to do that, but at this point, no.
What is your favorite middle grade book besides your own?
Rachel: I like reading Rick Riordan’s books — you know, “Percy Jackson.”
Erin: I like “Timmy Failure” [by Stephan Pastis]. It is hilarious. When I was younger, I loved “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket.
Nikki: Since I am an illustrator, I am head over heels with the illustrations that I see in a book. Two of my favorite middle grade books are “Whatever After” [by Sarah Mlynowski] and “Ever After High” [by Shannon Hale]. The artwork is just so phenomenal in both.
What is it like to help your mom out with the books?
Erin: It is kind of like, “Erin, get those pages done or you are grounded!” Your mother always has your best interests in mind.
Nikki: I have a different perspective of it. You know how you may go to work or to school and you are not feeling well, you have to plow through the day. With your mom as your boss, she will say, “Honey, are you feeling well? Maybe you should go home and rest.”
Who is your favorite character from any of your books?
Rachel: My favorite character is Nikki Maxwell. She has Nikki’s name, but she is probably more like Erin. My second favorite character is Brianna, and she is a lot like Nikki when Nikki was little. So I like them because they remind me so much of my daughters.
Erin: It is tie between MacKenzie and Brianna. It is a tie because of how crazy they are. I love reading that and writing that. I always think how can I push it a little further so you can see how nuts they are.
Nikki: Brandon. He is a really nice guy, and he sees Nikki for who she is. He doesn’t judge her for being a dork and even loves her more for being that way. He is a really page-turning character.
Did you like being the inspiration for “Dork Diaries”?
Erin: There are some things . . . when I told my mom about my bully and my crush, I didn’t know that 10 years later she would put it in a book. That is kind of like TMI and embarrassing at first, but seeing all the kids who could relate made me think there is something to this, and I thought, sure, I will embarrass myself for you guys.
Nikki: I enjoy having my name be the namesake. It feels good. I feel proud that Nikki Maxwell is a dork like me.
Rachel: When I first came up with the idea, I did ask for their permission. Erin wasn’t so sure, so I left her name out. After “Dork Diaries” became really popular and kids could relate to them, Erin said when we started the “Max Crumbly” books she was ready to have her name in the book.
Do you ever argue about ideas for the books?
Erin: No. Nikki is very patient and open to ideas. She transfers our thoughts into images. We get along really well.
Nikki: I try to be a free-spirited, open artist. My goal is to make into art what their thoughts and visions are. But if it happens and my artsy inklings jump in, I will say, “It should be this way.” Or, “It should be that way!” I have a little secret — I step back into my little space in the office that Mom put together for us and then let it all roll off my shoulders. I get myself together and remind myself that I am part of a team, and we have to work together as one. It is about the book.