SELECTION OF AWARDS: Best New Children's Book series, 1997, Publishers Weekly FAVORITE GENRES: Science fiction & fantasy, adventure
Want the inside scoop on K. A. Applegate? Here are her (tongue-in-cheek) answers to some questions about herself, her writing, and the creation of Animorphs.
What were you like as a child? I was a perfect child who never caused any trouble. I was beloved by my teachers and respected by my classmates, all of whom became lifelong friends. I always did my homework, always got straight A's and did the dishes without being asked twice. Also, I loved animals . . . well, at least the part about loving animals is true!
What did you want to be when you grew up? I grew up with a menagerie of dogs, cats, gerbils — not to mention three younger siblings. I was sure I wanted to grow up to be either a veterinarian or a writer. In fact, I worked for a vet during high school, doing everything from cleaning cages to assisting in surgery. Eventually I realized that, as a writer, I could spend time not only with cats and dogs and the occasional ferret, but with any animal under the sun — and perhaps a few from a galaxy down the road.
Do you have any pets? I live in a high-rise apartment building, so I just have two cats. They're both pound kitties. One of them, Dick, is an evil, foot-biting cat. When I write a tiger morph, I'm always imagining Dick.
What other jobs have you had besides writing? I went through a series of jobs — typing (badly), waiting tables (also badly), and taking care of plants (many of which did actually survive). I'd always known I'd be a writer someday. Or at least I hoped I would be. It was just a question of finally getting serious about it. It turns out that in order to become a writer, you actually have to start writing.
What do you like about being a writer? I really love writing, but I am very easily distracted: my two cats fighting, a rainbow, a TV show . . . I have to use every trick to keep myself at the computer. Then, I just look at the world and ask, “What if . . . ?” The hard part about writing is finding the right way to make an idea come to life. But it is also — by the way — the best part of writing.
What gave you the idea to write Animorphs? I wanted to give readers as accurate an idea as possible of what it would be like to become a completely different species. When Tobias becomes a hawk, I want the reader to see the world as a hawk might see it — to soar on the warm breezes and hurtle toward the ground to make a kill. When Marco becomes an ant, I want to convey the ant's lack of individuality, his blind world of scent and touch. When Cassie becomes a dolphin, I want the reader to feel the water rushing past, to experience what it must be like to leap from cold ocean into warm sky.
How do you research the animals you write about in Animorphs? I have a huge library. But I also talk to zoologists and zoo curators. The zoo guys are the best, because they observe the animals all day long. And sometimes I go out into the field. When I was writing about Tobias becoming a hawk, I went to a raptor center where they rehabilitate injured birds. I spent time with the birds, and with a falconer and a vet. But after a certain point, it's just guessing. Climbing into the head of an animal is like climbing into the head of another human being. It becomes pure imagination.
What are some of your hobbies? I'm an amateur cellist. Fortunately, I live in a well-soundproofed building. I also enjoy traveling, reading, and gardening.
If you were able to morph, what kind of animal would you like to be? I would like to morph into a dolphin. I've spent time with dolphins and their trainers. I love their beauty and their sense of freedom. Of course, I'd also like to morph into a bird so I could fly. And a dog, just because they're so silly. And maybe a housefly. I'm working on a housefly morph. They're gross, but they're great flyers — right side up, upside down. . . .
What can you tell us about upcoming Animorphs adventures? Hah, like I'm going to tell you? No way. You have to keep reading the books. But I'll tell you this: The adventure has just begun. And any time you think you know how it will turn out, guess again, because I am going to do my best to surprise you, scare you, and amaze you.
Do you believe that there is life on other planets? I want to believe there's intelligent life on other planets. It's fun to think there's something out there.
Do you have any words of wisdom for Animorphs readers? Two things: I hope my books help give you respect and awe for the natural world. Animals are at least as incredible and amazing as any alien species. The other thing is that in the books, it's up to kids to save the world. In life, that's true as well.
NOTE: This encounter courtesy of Scope magazine and Scholastic.com.