Before he was a best-selling author, before he went to college and majored in communications and English, before he wrote anything at all, Brandon Mull was a daydreamer.
"I made up stories in my head," he says.
Growing up in Connecticut, he lived close to the woods, and when he got bored, he loved to make up stories about the monsters that might live there. "Then I read the 'Chronicles of Narnia,' and that kicked open a door in my imagination that has never closed," he says.
After awhile, Mull's daydreams began to coalesce into one very big dream. He wanted to become a writer. "I've just always felt that it would be the best use of my talents, but I knew it was very difficult to do."
For a time, he treated it as a hobby. "I was embarrassed to admit I wanted to be a writer. I'd just get pitying looks. I knew you could have talent and still not get a break."
But, he felt compelled to keep writing. He grew up; he went to college; he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile; he worked as a comedian, filing clerk, piano installer, movie promoter and finally as a marketing copywriter, but he kept writing his stories.
It's easy to look back at that time now now that he has four published novels to his credit; now that his latest installment in the Fablehaven chronicles debuted at No. 3 on the May 11 New York Times Bestsellers List for Series; now that he's attracted a huge following of fantasy-lovers around the world; now that he has been able to give up his day job to become a full-time writer.
That last one pleases him more than anything. "To be able to do something that I love so much I'm thrilled. But I also know I have to keep working hard, so I can stay there."
Writing a book is a very strange thing, he has discovered. "It's such a private thing when you write it; then it becomes such a public thing. People everywhere comment on it. There's a lot of chatter. It's interesting to watch how it all evolves."
So far, that evolutionary process has been nothing less than spectacular.
His first book in the Fablehaven series came out in 2006 and generated an immediate buzz among fantasy-readers. His basic premise is that there are magical preserves scattered around the world where mythical creatures have gathered in order to avoid becoming extinct. Kendra and Seth, the two young protagonists, are amazed to learn that their grandfather runs one such preserve, which they soon discover, is being threatened by growing forces of evil.
The books are published by Shadow Mountain, an imprint of Deseret Book. Mull plans on five books for the series, so he has reached the mid-point with the release of "Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague" in late April.
After the second book, "Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star" came out in 2007, Mull was chosen by Borders to represent the bookseller at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the country's largest book fair.
Mull was chosen after book signings in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, Calif., attracted upwards of 400 people, Borders representative Mike Gibbs told Publishers Weekly. "It's very unusual to get this kind of turnout for an author from a small publisher."
Mull, who now lives in Highland with his wife and three children, has also traveled around the country, visiting schools and talking to kids on his "Imagination Can Take You Places Tour."
That's been a lot of fun, he says. The kids are fascinated by his monsters and want to know where his ideas come from. "I tell them the best way to build their imagination is to read and to create. I tell them to find creative hobbies and to read all the books they can."
Fantasy is a great way to get kids to read, he says. "It's such fun, so imaginative. It's a good gateway for reluctant readers."
He chose both a girl and a boy as main characters so no one would think it was a girl's book or a boy's book. He admits that Seth is a bit headstrong early on. "Adults think he's obnoxious, but 10-year-old boys see him as a hero. That tells me I got it right."
His main goal, he says, "was to write a fun book that parents and kids could both read, and no one goes brain dead."
A "fun ride, that's the main thing," he says. "But moral themes do bubble to the surface: good vs. evil, choice and consequence."
Although he's read a lot of things, fantasy has always been Mull's genre of choice. "I'm a sucker for the fantasy classics: 'Narnia,' 'Harry Potter,' 'Lord of the Rings."' But he also cites the influences of Orson Scott Card "I love 'Ender's Game"' and Louis Sachar "I'm a huge fan of 'Holes"' and puts Frank Herbert, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut and Ayn Rand among others on his list.
Mull's books have been praised for their imagination, but also for their character development, for their groundedness as well as for their unique world-building.
He admits that fleshing out the creatures has been "the fun part." Most of the Fablehaven creatures are drawn from mythical traditions. "My premise is that all the world's mythologies have some truth to them. Fairies and satyrs come from Celtic and Greek tradition. Golems are in Jewish legends. I see my job as the writer to set the rules as to how they would behave if they were real, and then to give them personalities that fit the rules."
But he also throws in a few of his own creations. He figures that even with all the myths and legends out there, "there might be some we've never heard of."
Mull is also the author of "The Candy Shop War," a stand-alone title that features magical candy and villains who use it to manipulate children. It, too, has received critical acclaim. And both the first Fablehaven and "Candy Shop" have been optioned for movies. Avi Arad, producer of the Spiderman and X-Men movies, has the rights to Fablehaven, and New Regency has picked up the other.
"They are both in the screen-writing phase right now," Mull says. "But they tell me to have two projects going on at the same time is not going to happen often, so I'm thrilled about that."It is pretty amazing, he says, the places that imagination can take you.