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The City Journals

Local author Brandon Mull shares secrets of his success

May 17, 2017 04:51PM ● By Natalie Conforto

Kiah, Gage and Kaden Maw met author Brandon Mull at the launch party for “Dragonwatch.” While reading “Dragonwatch,” Kaden said he wished it would never end. (Taylor Maw)

By Natalie Conforto [email protected] 

“Fablehaven.” “The Candy Shop War.” “Beyonders.” “The Five Kingdoms.” “Spirit Animals.” And now “Dragonwatch.”

All of these New York Times bestselling series were hatched here in Utah by someone who can’t type. That’s right—Brandon Mull published 15 novels using what your junior high typing teacher would disdainfully dub “the hunt-and-peck method.” For him, however, typing with just his index fingers has been one of the secrets of his success.

Mull admits that he could probably type faster if he did it “right,” but home row was just something he had to give up in order to find his writing rhythm.

“I did try to learn how to really type, and I just hated it,” he said. “It was killing my joy of writing. It’s similar to playing the piano. If people try to make me read music, I just can’t do it, but I love to play around by ear.” Mull plans his sentences to coincide with his typing pace, so he feels his typing style doesn’t hamper his writing.

Connecting with his readers is another way Mull has found success. His large fan base in Utah is mostly due to his many local events and school assemblies. When people recognize him on the street, Mull says it’s “probably not from my picture at the back of my books, but because they saw me at their school or a live event.”

The author maintains a rigorous tour schedule, traveling three to five months of the year and visiting as many as five schools or events per day. His book tours have taken him all over the U.S. and to far-off places such as Russia, Singapore, Indonesia and Poland, which have fed his imagination and inspired new realms and characters.

Mull spoke about the first book of his new series, “Dragonwatch,” at the Viridian Library this April. “Dragonwatch” picks up right where “Fablehaven” left off, so that readers could have more adventures with the characters Seth and Kendra.

“I’ve had really good turnouts at my Viridian events in West Jordan,” Mull said. “Because I’m a local Utah guy that lives in the Salt Lake City area, it’s nice to have local fans, close to home.”

Many Utahns are proud to call Mull one of their own. Taylor and Natasha Maw of West Jordan took their kids to the launch party for “Dragonwatch,” which Taylor Maw said was “a great way to get excited about reading. We like our kids to meet authors, especially those like Brandon who are such a positive force for reading. Not only are his books imaginative, but Brandon is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.”

The Maws noted the author took time to meet his fans, and he inscribed their books with a personal message and autograph.

Another success tip from Mull was finding inspiration. For him, reading was the key.

“When I was a kid I read ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’” he said. “The big imagination in that story started me daydreaming about my own stories. It became how I coped with reality—I would escape into daydreams. It became an important part of who I was, and I wanted to share it by writing it down.”

After the “Chronicles of Narnia” opened Mull’s creativity to the fantasy genre, the “Harry Potter” books showed him a blueprint for success. He cited JK Rowling as his favorite author.

“’Harry Potter’ influenced me more than any other book,” he said. “I wanted to make characters smart and twisty, even dark or scary. The young main characters could appeal to kids and adults, so entire families could enjoy the story together. I didn’t even know that was possible until I read ‘Harry Potter’ and saw how much kids liked it, how much I liked it and how much my parents liked it.”

Humor is also an essential element in Mull’s stories. Before writing fantasy, he wrote comedy as a member of BYU’s comic troupe, Divine Comedy.

“I lean on the comedy with the fantasy,” he said. “To me, that’s really challenging and fun—to make people laugh.”

Mull’s formula of comedy and suspense to appeal to all ages has worked for the Maw family.

“The other day our reluctant reader told us he wishes ‘Dragonwatch’ would not end because he loved reading it so much,” Taylor Maw said. “He even declared his excitement by writing ‘Dragonwatch is awesome’ in bright, bold chalk across our driveway. Kids who read become people who think, who then change the world.”

“Write what you know” is a success tip Mull borrowed from Stephen King, which Mull uses when concocting his characters. One of his favorite characters in his own books is Seth Sorenson from “Fablehaven.”

“I like his reckless curiosity, inspired by my brother Bryson,” Mull said. “It makes him a fun character to write. He doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, but he makes interesting decisions, which makes the story unpredictable.”

Like his storybook counterpart, Bryson actually kept an “emergency kit” made out of a cereal box. As a kid, Bryson once snuck into a game room through an air vent so he could open the door for his friends to play some pool.

Success for Mull didn’t come without its many failures. Hopeful writers can take heart that even Brandon Mull once faced “nonstop rejection.” Mull said that he first tried “lots of terrible short stories,” which got rejected for years. He kept trying, and wrote his first novel.

“I finally found a publisher who didn’t like my first submission, but they liked my style and asked for something else,” he said. “That something else was ‘Fablehaven.’”