You’re a producer, director, painter, writer and a father of two. When do you find the time to do all that and write a book?
All the time. From the shower to the bed and everything in between, I cram moments…
How long does it usually take you to get from first idea to finished book? Are you an outliner, where you know the end from the beginning, or does it come to you as you write?
Each project is very different, but nothing under one or two years. I love outlines but I also originate a lot through drawing and painting my ideas… So things change.
Is your creative process the same throughout all your different mediums?
Kind of, but I’m using different channels in the brain since books, tv, art, film and documentaries have different formats. A few years ago, I created a videogame with Deepak Chopra called LEELA for Kinect on Microsoft and Wii. It all started with a conversation about breathing with Deepak. So every medium has its adventure.
You hinted at the inspiration behind Genius: The Game—something to do with my husband! Can you explain?
We grew up with people like the adventurer and writer Michel Peissel, with film makers and artists and then Diego [AKA Dman, my hubby — Ed.] did his show, Don’t Tell My Mother. I loved the spirit of some of the people he would interview. In the Genius book series, I wanted to explore the world because in the YA space there is plenty of dystopia, magicians, super powers. I wanted to explore the brain, imagination, creativity—where being a superhero is a possibility but you don’t need to have super powers because you have your brain.
Did you always have a YA audience in mind as you wrote this? What is it that appeals to you about the YA reader?
In this book, yes. My kids are hitting that YA age group and there’s a freedom and imagination of the storytelling space for readers that age. But I think Genius is for people from 8 to 150 years old.
I heard there’s some complicated tech in the story. What’s your fascination with tech and how big a role does it play in your storytelling?
Yes, I had an extraordinary team of advisors so my science would work out. Plus, I did exhaustive research. I wanted to explore tech in a liberating way that shows it’s ultimately positive. Twenty years ago, if there were a Nigerian kid in a village with an amazing brain but no access, he probably would not have had many opportunities. Today, there are many examples of how technology has opened doors for people who wouldn’t have had a chance otherwise.
LES LOLOS is about expat/international life. You were raised in Mexico, but studied in London and have lived in NYC for 20 years. You also speak French! Do you identify as Mexican, European, American?
I’m Mexican but feel I’m somewhere between a Zapotec (my dad carries that blood proudly…), a European Jew, and a mishmash of all sorts of boiling, conflicting bloods in me.
How does that kind of multicultural viewpoint inform your life and your work and art? How do your children see themselves? As New Yorkers?
I love the world, people, other cultures. I love to explore the world [in my work] and show kids of all ages that this planet is stunning. My kids feel like MexicaNewyorkers.
Is it important for you and them to retain their Mexican heritage/culture? If so, how do you do it?
Sure it’s important, but my wife, Caitlin, is American. I can’t push them too hard or they will rebel like we all did—look at you (in a good way!) My ethos is failing upwards. I know that I will screw up but I will leave them with some cool backbone to support them.
You always have a ton of projects on your plate, but you’re also a devoted husband and father. What’s your secret for managing it all? Delegation, organization, do you only sleep 3 hours a day?
Caitlin is the rock in our home. She loves building a nest and foundation for me to fall into and fly out from.
Do you think being a man makes it easier than, let’s say, for a woman in Paris with two kids, running a website and working on a novel?
Yes, unfortunately. I am a feminist and I believe in women. For this book, I surrounded myself with the incredible women at [publishing house] Feiwel & Friends/McMillan. We have an amazing editorial and publishing team that I’m very lucky to have. On the film side, we have a movie called Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life that’s being edited right now. It comes out in the US on October 7th and is based on James Patterson’s bestselling kids books. We have an amazing crew with lots of women in all departments.
I was raised by a spectacular mother and two kick-ass sisters and I believe women should have more opportunity. I’m doing what I can to contribute to this. I took a long time to develop the character of Cai (A.K.A. Painted Wolf). She is one of my favorites. She is a confident, cool, young Chinese girl. And although you are Korean—and from a very different background—I did steal elements about you, Maggie, that are embedded in Cai. Sorry! But you are a powerful, kick-ass woman and it’s impossible for me not to be influenced by my friends. [Wow, no apologies necessary! — Ed.]
Are we to expect more Genius books since your website is called geniustheseries.com? I’ve seen there are several early readers who are hoping for sequels. What’s next?
Yes, I’m officially contracted to write 3 books but I believe this series could go to 20. I have stories from all over the world that I couldn’t fit into 3 books! As the kids in these novels grow, I’ve prepared other kids, sub-characters, who will become key factors in books 4, 5, 6 and beyond. Regardless, I have an incredible ending for each book and an awesome ending arc for the entire series. I’m very passionate and excited to see where we’re going with this series. But if you want to know, I guess you have to get the books! Of course, I’m also working on films and a possible TV show at the same time.