Their “Wildwood” series of novels hit the best-seller list for middle-grade readers. We sat down with them to hear about their experiences working together, and what new projects they have in the works.
Q&A with Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
Aaron Scott: How did you come to do a story for middle-grade readers?
Colin Meloy: Carson and I had been talking about doing a project like this for a long time, even before the Decemberists were a band — finding a way to collaborate using her art and my writing. But music was sort of my main focus of the time. We both loved folk and fairy tales. I think we didn’t want to make an illustrated novel for adults. We wanted to go straight to the kids with it, right?
Carson Ellis: Yeah, right. There was a precursor to “Wildwood” we had started working on maybe 10 years before that was sort of like a middle-grade novel. The protagonist was a 14-year-old girl. It also had a lot of enchantment and magic in it, but it was wildly inappropriate for children. We were like, ‘Well, we’ve got this idea. Maybe she goes on an adventure, and meets some drunk soldiers and maybe she gets pregnant and … (laughs).’
Colin Meloy: We were just writing it for ourselves.
Carson Ellis: So however many years later, after illustrating books for kids and having children, having a better sense of what children read, and what appeals to them, then we kind of came back to it.
Aaron Scott: What attracted you to setting the story in Forest Park?
Colin Meloy: I think we always loved stories that combined the real and the imaginary, the fact that you start “The Chronicles of Narnia” in England but there’s a real live connection between these two worlds. It’s not something that takes place entirely in its own imaginary fictive world.
Carson Ellis: We started with the setting. The first thing we did was draw a map of the world we wanted the book to take place in. We just took the boundaries of Forest Park and traced them onto a big piece of paper and made this map, and populated it with places, real and imagined.
The Skyline Tavern is on there, and the Zoo, and Pittock Mansion, as a seat of government. So we started with this map and built the story around it. We’d go for walks and Colin would talk through the story.
Aaron Scott: I know (the Portland animation studio) LAIKA had optioned “Wildwood” in 2011, where does that stand?
Carson Ellis: Oh my god, we don’t know, but we ask all the time! They’re notoriously secretive — even with us. They’re kind of keeping us in the loop. We ask, ‘Are we the next movie?’ and they’re like, ‘Maybe …’
Colin Meloy: It’s happening as far as we can tell. We’ve seen a few drafts of the script. We visited them a few months ago and they took us to a room that was filled with concept art. We know they’ve gone that far.
Carson Ellis: And it looked really good.
Colin Meloy: Sometime in our lifetime, I think that movie will exist.
Carson Ellis is also working on a new picture book for kids, written entirely in gibberish. Listen for Saturday’s State of Wonder to hear the full interview — including Colin’s sister, Maile Meloy, who’ll talk about her own best-selling novels.