By David Mullen
It might not be easy, but writing young adult books comes naturally to Max Brallier. Sometimes under the pen name Jack Chabert (an amalgamation of his grandfather’s names), New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Brallier has written more than 30 books and is noted for his middle-grade series The Last Kids on Earth.
By the way, he just celebrated his 36th birthday.
“From a very early age, I always wanted to do something like telling stories, sort of like the James Bond, Indian Jones and ‘Star Wars’ type. Something big. It was what I loved,” Brallier said. He started writing as a 6-year-old.
“I liked writing. I was kind of OK at it,” Brallier said. “But I wanted to write for the movies and that is what I studied. I started as a production assistant, which is a six-day-a-week, 18-hour-a-day job.” He worked on “Fear Factor” and “The Sopranos,” but the rigorous job cut into his time for writing. “Then I went to work for a publishing company. But on the side, I was designing video games, not programming, but from the writing side.”
He also wrote activity books, trivia books, guides and journals for The Cartoon Network. Brallier published a “pick-your-own-path” series entitled Can YOU Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? for adults. But soon he found an audience of young adult readers.
He decided to take a year and just focus on writing. He realized “I like the kids stuff better that the adult stuff.” His revelation came while designing games targeting youth, but saw the success that books like Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid were having. “They were a mixture of text and illustration and I am very visual,” Brallier said. “It allows me to ‘direct’ from the page.”
Brallier liked the everyday life scenarios of other young adult literature, “but I wanted to write adventures and I always liked monsters,” he said. “It was the first thing I ever wrote that really came naturally to me. I was able to tap into my kid brain. And these were stories that I always wanted to read.” He would text his old childhood buddies for inspiration. “Remember when we were in the tree house …?”
He is the creator and author of the Eerie Elementary series for Scholastic Books and Galactic Hot Dogs, a middle-grade adventure series, and has written books for properties including LEGO, “Adventure Time,” “Regular Show,” “Steven Universe” and “Uncle Grandpa.”
Previously, Brallier was a game designer for the virtual world Poptropica and worked in marketing at St. Martin’s Press. He bounced around New England and Pittsburgh as a youth “which got me started in the zombie business,” Brallier said. He went “to the other college in Ithaca [Cornell is there], Ithaca College” and currently lives in New York City “for the action” with his wife Alyse and baby daughter, Lila. He often writes at local coffee houses.
“The Last Kid on Earth” Netflix animated series began on Sept. 17. His newest book, The Last Kids on Earth and the Midnight Blade, was released by Penguin Random House to coincide with the Netflix show launch.
“The way the series resonates with readers around the world is absolutely humbling. I’m so pleased that the adventures of Jack Sullivan and his friends will continue to grow, both on the page and now on screen,” Brallier said. Despite being an accomplished writer, Brallier is still a film junkie and made sure that he would be an integral part of the new TV series as a writer.
The show focuses on a battle against the zombies. Nick Wolfhard voices the lead character Sullivan, a 13-year-old who is joined by a band of suburban middle schoolers living in a decked-out tree house, playing video games, gorging themselves on candy and battling zombies in the aftermath of the monster apocalypse.
Other character voices include Rosario Dawson, Catherine O’Hara and legendary “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill. “I was in the recording studio with all of the actors. Hamill was like being with a hero who is actually a regular guy. It was beyond your wildest dreams.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 2, Half Price Books at 5801 E. Northwest Highway will host a book signing and talk by Brallier. The public event is free and begins at 6 p.m. Just beware of the zombies.