Playwright and novelist Mark Dunn’s debut book for young readers marks a new chapter for MacAdam/Cage Publishing as well. The Age of Altertron launches The Calamitous Adventures of Rodney & Wayne, Cosmic Repairboys, the first children’s book series to be published by this San Francisco house. Starring 13-year-old twins who live in a town where the natural laws of the universe have ceased to apply, the novel will be released in June, with a second installment to follow, likely in spring 2010.
Dunn has published three critically acclaimed adult novels with MacAdam/Cage—Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters, Welcome to Higby and Ibid: A Novel. In fall 2009, the publisher will release Dunn’s latest novel for adults: Under the Harrow, written in the voice of Charles Dickens.
The author explains that his move into children’s books was the result of several factors. “This was a very personal book for me,” he said, “since I lost my twin brother, with whom I was very close, in 2006. The twin characters I created for this series exhibit much of the twin dynamics that he and I had. One is more cerebral and the other, like my brother, is more visceral and from-the-gut. And so this series is a tribute to him, and I’ve dedicated the first book to him. As I wrote, I felt in a real way that he was looking over my shoulder, lending his youthful voice along the way.”
Also inspiring the series was the fact that Dunn grew up watching The Twilight Zone and got caught up in what he calls “that whole fantasy world tradition.” The plot of each Rodney & Wayne installment—the author has written outlines for 15—involves “something happening to the town residents that radically changes their lives in a Twilight Zone kind of way, and it’s up to the twins and their professor friend to restore reality.”
Switching his focus from adults to the series’ middle-grade audience was not a big leap for Dunn, who is accustomed to juggling the writing of plays and novels. “It was a challenge, though less so since I’ve been shifting gears for years,” he says. And the author observes his first adult novel, Ella Minnow Pea, also had a strong fantasy element and was selected by the New York Public Library for its annual list of best young adult books. “That novel was not intended for young adults, but it was really adopted by that market,” says Dunn, who understandably felt quite comfortable rooting his first children’s books in the fantasy realm.
Praising Dunn for intelligent and accessible writing that “so easily brings people into the story,” MacAdam/Cage publisher David Poindexter welcomes the author to his children’s list with obvious enthusiasm. He explains that the house, whose books have been distributed by PGW since January 2008, has a children’s backlist of approximately 20 titles since entering the market in 2004, and acquires books for young readers very selectively.
“We are building our children’s list the same way we have built our adult list,” Poindexter says. “When we think something is brilliant and we are very excited about it, as was the case with Mark’s series, we will publish it. Once we began to acquire children’s books several years ago, we realized we’d rather do fewer books of higher quality than publish books to fill a slot.”
Future highlights of MacAdam/Cage’s children’s list are 11 titles by Astrid Lindgren, previously published in the U.S. by various publishers but currently out of print. Not yet scheduled for publication, the books include Emil in the Soup Tureen, Emil’s Pranks and Emil and His Clever Pig. Poindexter notes that some of the books, which will be released over a period of years, “have sold as well in Europe as Pippi Longstocking.”
For now, the publisher is eagerly gearing up for the debut of Dunn’s series. Poindexter reports that The Age of Altertron has had “very good advance sales. We sent pre-pub copies out to booksellers and got a great reaction. Everyone seems to be yakking about it, which is surely a good sign.”
The Calamitous Adventures of Rodney & Wayne, Cosmic Repairboys: The Age Altertron by Mark Dunn. MacAdam/Cage, $12.95 ISBN 978-1-59692-345-4