Carter Roy, aka Michael Stearns, founder of the Upstart Crow Literary agency, is taking in the view from the other side of the desk with his children’s book debut, The Blood Guard (Amazon/Two Lions, Mar.) The middle-grade fantasy adventure introduces 13-year-old Ronan Trueblood, who learns that his family is connected to a secret organization appointed to protect a tiny segment of society called the Pure: 36 individuals whose inherent goodness sustains life on Earth. Ronan joins forces with an immortal pickpocket from 19th-century England, Jack, and a quick-witted redhead from his previous school, Greta, to battle the Bend Sinister, a nefarious faction determined to destroy the Pure and hasten the end of the world. PW spoke to Roy about the appeal of writing for children, the origins of the ideas behind The Blood Guard, and how his years spent in the publishing industry have informed his creative work.
So we have to ask: why the pseudonym?
In the past, I’ve published stories and part of a memoir, which are “adult” in terms of language and content. Thanks to the Internet, kids can easily find these and other things I might publish online. Better [my work for children and adults] should be separate worlds. Or that’s how it strikes me, anyway.
Is there any significance to the name Carter Roy?
My middle name is Roy and I loved the John Carter stories when I was growing up. As there is a bit of swordplay, fantasy, and derring-do in The Blood Guard, I thought it was a nice tip of the hat.
You’ve served many different roles in the publishing field over the years. Can you talk a little about your background and your relationship with children’s books?
After I left film school, I spent a period of relative unemployment painting houses and picking up odd jobs, and I saw and applied for a temp job at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. I’d never planned on working in children’s books, but I came to understand that they matter to the world much more than adult books do. As a kid you read a book and it can change your life; as an adult, not so much. And the books kids read and love they remember their whole lives.
Which books have influenced the books you wanted to publish, represent, and now write?
I read a lot of Beverly Cleary – the Henry Huggins books and The Mouse and the Motorcycle – as a kid, but also great scads of fantasy and science fiction stories, such as [Edgar Rice] Burroughs’s John Carter novels. Books brought the thrill of adventure to my life; they were my escape hatch. With The Blood Guard, I wanted to write the sort of incredibly action-packed, humorous book that I longed to read when I was a 10-year-old. But I also wanted the events of the story to be something that they could imagine happening to them. Ronan’s not the son of a god or a wizard; he’s just an ordinary boy.
How do you separate your roles as writer and agent? Do you find that you have been influenced in any particular ways by the books you read “for work”?
My voice and the way I write were probably set in stone 20 years ago. But working in the industry has made me more aware of the market while in the process of writing. It doesn’t guide my decisions as a writer, but it has helped to stop some writerly indulgences that typify a lot of writing for adults. I make better judgment calls about what content is worthwhile.
Greta is a strong female character and so is Ronan’s mother. Do you think girls will be as drawn to the book as boys?
I certainly hope so! In children’s books, the older the readership, the more girls tend to dominate. At this age [middle-grade], it’s a crapshoot. But I consider Greta to be as important a character as Ronan. She’s really a tough, smart, no-nonsense girl.
And though Ronan’s mother isn’t present throughout the entire book, her influence is there. Can you talk about her character? Was she based on anyone in particular?
She’s not necessarily my mom, but some idealized version of my best friend’s mom when I was a kid: Mrs. Morrison. You didn’t mess with her. As I was writing her character, I thought about how it’s more interesting if the responsibilities of adulthood are shared by moms and dads, whether that means doing the dishes or wielding swords.
Can you discuss the origins of the idea for the 36 Pure in the book?
The idea for the 36 Pure originated in a mystical idea from Judaism called Tzadikim Nistarim, which means The Hidden Righteous Ones. Drawing from this idea, I started thinking, what if there really were 36 people so saintly that they are the reason the world exists? Who would protect them? What if they stubbed a toe? Initially, there was a tad more religious material in the book, but this is entirely not a religious story, so it was stripped out of the novel between drafts.
Any additional information to give readers about the second book in the series?
Our heroes start the book in a bit of a bind; they’re essentially trying to make up for the mistakes of book one. They encounter characters who should be long-dead but mysteriously are not; four dogs almost named after the Four Horsemen – War, Pestilence, Famine, and Brenda – and discover disturbing connections between the good guys in the series, The Blood Guard, and the bad guys. There are lots of surprises and action set pieces and funny business. I hope it’s as fun to read as it has been to write. There have been days when the writing hits a certain rhythm that left me cackling. Those are moments when all the pieces just drop into place and everything feels right in the world.
The Blood Guard by Carter Roy. Amazon/Two Lions, $17.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-4778-4725-1