Bloomsbury Children’s Books has just acquired the DarkDeep, a middle-grade duology scheduled to debut in fall 2018, which the publisher is describing as “Stranger Things meets The Goonies with the heart of Stand By Me.” The books are being co-written in alternating chapters by bestselling YA authors Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, who describe themselves, in Reichs’s words, as “super-duper best friends.” The two will also write, as part of the deal, a stand-alone novel. After Reichs moderated a keynote panel featuring Condie that concluded the YALLFEST literary festival in 2014, they cemented their relationship the following year at YALLWEST, when they found themselves the sole occupants of a table and ended up eating lunch together. The two have been buddies since, and disclosed that they even decided at that fateful 2015 lunch to attend the same program at Vermont College of Fine Art in pursuit of M.F.A. degrees in Creative Writing for Children and Adults.
Asked how their friendship survived, first, being in the same M.F.A. program, and, secondly, collaborating on a series, Condie responded that it’s “easier to write with somebody else, because when you have someone who cares about the book as much as you do, you have access to double the ideas.” The collaboration has only made them closer: they are planning a ski trip in Utah with their families over the holidays.
The DarkDeep is a paranormal mystery set in Still Cove, an eerie mill town in the Pacific Northwest. After four children discover a hidden island in the middle of town, they come across a gateway to another dimension that turns figments of their imaginations into reality. While, at first, this discovery is wondrous, things quickly take a turn for the worse, as nightmares and frightful imaginings emerge and begin spreading out of control.
“The DarkDeep is a uniquely exciting mash-up of contemporary middle grade genres,” explained Cindy Loh, publisher of Bloomsbury Children’s Books. “The characters are lulled deeper and deeper into the fringe and it’s their internal journeys—with a little help from their friends—that leave me both dying to know what will happen next and asking the same question they do: if your dreams could come true, is that actually a good thing?”
“We mesh well,” Reichs recently told PW, and the two demonstrated the truth of this declaration by conducting a Q&A with each other about the series and how it came about.
Condie: Brendan, since you’re the fun one of the two of us, tell everyone how we came up with the idea for our new book and make them excited about it.
Reichs: Ally and I were both looking to write something a little different from our current projects, just for fun, and we thought it would be really cool if we could do something together. I think it was Ally who first had the idea for The DarkDeep, and it spiraled quickly from there. As we were discussing things we liked in kids’ books, this whole framework kind of fell into place.
Reichs: Ally, since you’re the smart one, please explain how we came up with our heroes in The DarkDeep.
Condie: We both knew right away we wanted two main characters, a girl and a guy. We knew we wanted them to have been friends in the past—true friends—who have drifted apart. So there’s that tension, but there’s also a certain level of past trust they can draw upon. As we brainstormed the characters, we decided that Opal was tough, and had recently become part of the popular group at school—but felt conflicted about it. We also realized that Nico had a tight-knit group of friends and that he’s dealing with some fallout from something his father has done.
Condie: Brendan, how do we know each other, anyway?
Reichs: Because we never don’t hang out. Ally and I have been friends for years, having done dozens of panels on the festival circuit together and through our involvement in YALLWEST, a literary festival in Santa Monica. It was there three years ago that we both decided to attend Vermont College of Fine Art and get MFAs in creative writing for children and adults. And it was on the VCFA campus that we first started planning The DarkDeep.
Ally, are any of the friendships in The DarkDeep based on those in our real, amazing, incredible lives?
Condie: So far, they aren’t completely based on anyone in our real lives, but they are based on the kind of buddy movies that we connected to as kids and still love as adults—The Goonies and E.T., for example. The mysterious elements are important to the story, but the most important part to us is the connections between the characters, and to the reader.
Reichs: There is danger. You eat danger for breakfast. Are you flight or fight?
Condie: I’m actually fall. As in, fall to the ground and curl up in a ball. I know this because my dad, who was a judge, wanted to find out if I had good survival instincts and could escape danger. So he hid in my closet when I was a teenager and jumped out to surprise me. He was really annoyed that I fell down instead of running or punching him. He has since realized that this is a terrible parenting technique and apologized.
Both: In a friend group you are usually the…
Condie: I’ll answer for Brendan. Brendan is a great friend because he has a big heart and a way of making everything fun. He’s funny and smart—he’s the friend who always gets the party started and cracks everyone up—but he’s different from a lot of people in that he genuinely wants everyone to be part of it all.
Reichs: I’m answering for Ally, because she won’t say that she’s the best. She’s the kindest, warmest person in every room, someone that everyone is happy to see at all times. Ally is actually interested in you, and what you have to say, and she makes everyone feel heard and appreciated. I could have no better partner for writing a book.
Condie: Brendan, is there anything else you totally naturally want to say about this new series?
Reichs: This has been the most fun I’ve ever had working on a project. Ally and I seem to naturally get each other’s humor and pick up where the other one left off. We cover each other’s weak spots really well and the drafts have been surprisingly fun to write. I can’t wait to do more books together and see where this series goes. We can only promise that it will be shocking, interesting, and a little weird, and that we will always pay attention to our characters.